14 Bellwood Road
Telephone: 02 65 694 294
Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-op is a regional language and training centre that provides strategic support to revitalise the languages of seven Aboriginal communities, that includes the Northern Rivers, Mid North Coast and Central Coast of NSW.
The co-op works with Elders and community /educational organisations to:
- conduct research
- publish accessible grammar-dictionaries
- conduct language classes and training
- develop engaging education courses and resources
In 1986, several Elders of the Gumbaynggirr people: Uncle Andrew ”Pop” Pacey, Aunties Maggie Morris, Jean Drew, Joyce Knox, Jean Brown (Ballangarry) and Ivy Smith (Long) had a dream to not only revive their local language. After a series of meetings they secured the help of a linguist teacher, Steve Morelli, and formulated a plan to recover the language. This process began with sourcing the last remaining recordings of the language in order to reclaim the full vocabulary and grammar.
In 1992, after securing federal government funding, these Aboriginal leaders achieved their first major dream with the publication of the very first Gumbaynggirr dictionary-grammar. This was followed in 1997, when Muurrbay was registered as a Training Organisation (RTO) through Vocational Education and Training Board (VETAB) offering language classes. In 2004, it expanded to become a regional language centre, supporting and teaching a further six languages. Then in 2014, Muurrbay received additional funding from ILS to revitalise languages.
As a result Muurrbay services include: linguistics, IT and teaching expertise, publication of dictionary-grammars, development of teaching resources, employment of language workers and delivering community based language workshops. It also provides development of research programs for documenting, archiving and publishing language/cultural materials. As well it offers collaboration with universities in language research and provides professional consultation for council and community groups.
Since its inception Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-op can rightly boast of significant achievements that affect, not only the local Aboriginal community, but the wider community. Central to all these has been the recovery of the Gumbaynggirr language by the publication of a vocabulary/ grammar dictionary and a book of stories. This single achievement has had important flow-on effects for the local Aboriginal community.
Secondly, since 1998 Muurrbay has been offering two courses that are accredited by VETAB – the NSW Vocational Education and Training Board:
• Certificate II in Gumbaynggirr Language and Culture Maintenance – 91257NSW
• Certificate IV in Gumbaynggirr Language and Culture Maintenance – 91258NSW
Hundreds of adult students have participated in these courses. When accreditation by VETAB lapsed, Muurrbay applied in 2015 to the federal government program ASQA (Australian Skills Quality Authority) for re-registration as a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) and for the accreditation of a new course:Certificate III in Gumbaynggirr Language and Culture Maintenance. In 2016 ASQA granted both RTO status and registration of this course.
The registration of Muurrbay as a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) means there is the continuation of a certification process that recognizes Gumbaynggirr language as a significant part of culture being recovered and promoted. This certification has further enabled the professional training and employment of local Indigenous people in teaching of language. As result Gumbaynggirr is being taught both in the local primary and secondary schools. Already, several high-school students who have completed studies in Gumbaynggirr language for the High School Certificate. There are also adult language classes for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. By the end of 2017, fifteen Aboriginal students had completed the first year of this two-year course.
Thirdly, Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-op has collaborated with local council, government and community groups about the appropriate use of Aboriginal history and names in signage of buildings, streets and parks e.g. hospital wards in Macksville. The naming of the local motorway “Giinagay” which means “Welcome to Gumbaynggirr country” has received popular support in the wider community. Muurrbay enjoys considerable respect from the academic world with universities keen to further linguistics studies through partnership in research. Muurrbay has for years revived and shared Dreaming stories which has resulted in the establishment of much story-place signage in the Gumbaynggirr area. The publication by Muurrbay in 2017 of “Gumbaynggirr Dreaming Story Collection – Gumbaynggirr Yuludarla Jandaygam” has encouraged such further signage.
Finally, the success of language recovery has led to the expansion of language services for Muurrbay Centre. These now include the teaching of, and the publication of dictionary /grammar books, for another five Aboriginal languages across the Northern Rivers, Mid-North Coast and Central Coast of NSW.
Connection to Indigenous Culture and Identity
Since language has been restored to Gumbaynggirr people, this has had a huge impact on the revitalization of not only language, but of local Aboriginal culture and people’s sense of Identity. The recovery of language has been a major catalyst for other cultural expressions.
The name of the centre is derived from a traditional story: “Muurrbay Bundani”. In this story the Gumbaynggirr “tree of life” (Muurrbay) was uprooted (Bundani) by the Father and taken up to the next world where two groups were arguing over its fruit. Other local traditional stories have been recovered using art and, as a result, they are used in local ceremonies and events such as funerals where the theme of “moving on to a special place” has special significance. The women’s art group has also been involved in a community project at Nambucca Heads telling traditional Aboriginal local stories.
Other cultural expressions that have seen resurgence as a result of language recovery, have been the renewed interest in Aboriginal music using Gumbaynggirr language and the use of photography to capture elements of local stories and people. In all of these events Muurrbaym has been led and motivated by key Elders, who have brought a renewed sense of pride in culture and identity for the Gumbaynggirr people.
Indigenous Success Factors
The dream of a few Elders in 1986 to recover their language has exceeded their wildest dreams with the establishment of Muurrbay Centre to maintain and promote language. The success of Muurrbay Centre as a program reveals some remarkable qualities of the local Gumbaynggirr Aboriginal community.
The most obvious element is the strong sense of community cohesion among the Gumbaynggirr people at Nambucca. This showed itself in respectful relationships for the Elders and respect amongst the whole community. The community worked together to achieve a common good. They co-operated and collaborated to support the revival of language through story sharing in traditional language using different cultural expressions. As a result of community’s support for the dream of language recovery, the Centre was built, which in turn led to a specific meeting place where not only language, art and music were revived, but culture and community were re-invigorated. The sense of community cohesion is reflected in the achievements of the Muurrbay Centre and there is a sense of identity and pride in being Gumbaynggirr people.
The other dimension of community is the strong leadership of the community. The Elders maintained a belief in the strength of their culture and had a vision to pass it on. They were strategic in decision making. Firstly, they invited their community to share in the vision. Next, they invited professional people to assist them in developing a vocabulary/ grammar dictionary. From there they pursued funding for programs, professional training of local people as language teachers which resulted in Muurrbay being recognized as an RTO. Then, to guarantee Muurrbay’s work into the future, the Elders and community formed a Co-op to sustain the future vision and governance of Muurrbay and its programs.
Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-op stands as a proud testament to the resilient qualities of the Gumbaynggirr people: a people with a sense of community cohesion and strong Elder leadership.