Last month on Neil Mitchell’s 3AW talkback show, a parent of a student at Wonthaggi North Primary School called up to express her anger that her child was being taught to sing the Australian National Anthem in “Aboriginal”. As part of the school’s music program, they have been teaching the children to sing the national anthem in Luritja, a language of the Western Desert. The school most likely received the teaching materials as part of a 2011 government funded project to make more school children aware of Australia’s Indigenous languages and cultures.
The school principal was brought on air to explain that the school normally sang the anthem in English, but this was the first time the students sang the Luritja version after working on it in class. She noted that this was part of the school’s program to make students more aware of other cultures.
It is disappointing to see how an attempt to teach kids to respect diversity and other languages and cultures failed to also have a positive effect on some of their parents. The anger of this parent demonstrates the fear and mistrust that so many monolingual Australians have of languages other than English. The parent in question voiced her concerns “I am so disappointed and I am ropeable. I am all for the stolen generation but ours is getting stolen from us”. It is really fascinating to imagine that she thinks it’s justified to compare a music class activity where children are taught a single song to the systematic enforcement of English-only residential schools for thousands of Australian Aboriginal children for over 70 years. You can read about Doris Pilkington’s experiences of residential schools here.
Learning more about other languages and cultures does not rob children of their own – but kicking up this kind of stink reinforces that Australians have a long way to go when it comes to accepting the linguistic diversity of our own country.