Skip to content

From the Torres Strait to Northern Territory: Keeping languages strong in Northern Australia

Connecting language, technology and environmental management: TSRA Senior Ranger Nelson Gibuma and Malu Kiai Elder on Boigu

Photo credit: David Fell courtesy of TSRA

Voices from the Torres Strait have helped inform the nation’s new language policy launched at the 8th PULiiMA Indigenous Languages and Technology Conference in Darwin this year.

The Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) supported its biggest-ever delegation of 26 language leaders, local rangers, linguists, performing artists and cultural advisors.

The diverse group of attendees – representing the five island clusters and two traditional language groups from eastern and western clusters – contributed from the ground up as part of the landmark national policy, Voices of Country – Australia’s Action Plan for the International Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022-2032.

The delegation included three TSRA Rangers Malu Kiai Rangers from Boigu, who feature in a powerful case study about the critical role of traditional languages in caring for land, sea and culture.

TSRA Senior Ranger Nelson Gibuma – a respected Malu Kiai Elder and Kalaw Kawaw Ya speaker – said language preservation was critical.

“Historically the names of the places on and around Boigu were passed down verbally,” Mr Gibuma said.

“In the 1960s, a map of Boigu was made but information on it was limited.

“Now we are working on a detailed map with the names of all of the places.

“This map is so that the people of Boigu, especially our children, can learn the names and pass them on to their children,” he said.

TSRA Board Member and Torres Strait Traditional Languages Association Chairperson Cygnet Repu said his community was inspired to look at new technology to preserve language.

“It was encouraging to see the young people connect with Elders under the guidance of those who have long kept the flame of culture and language alive,” Mr Repu said.

“On Mabuyag (Mabuiag) we are looking at creating language apps to preserve, maintain and practice traditional languages,” he said.

TSRA Indigenous Protected Areas and Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Senior Natural Resource Management Officer Ilana Foster said the national event highlighted new ways to use technology for language projects.

“I work within a project area conserving traditional language, so it was very interesting to hear about the different technologies that are available to help us work with communities,” Ms Foster said.

Voices of Country – Australia’s Action Plan for the International Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022-2032, provides a framework to guide Australia’s participation in the International Decade and is a call to action.

Despite its rich culture, the Torres Strait region’s two traditional languages (Meriam Mir and Kala Lagaw Ya) and six dialects (Mer, Erub, Kulkalgau Ya, Kalaw Kawaw Ya, Kawrareg and Mabuyag dialects) are all recognised as severely and critically endangered languages by UNESCO, the Australian Government and Torres Strait communities.

The Action Plan has been co-authored in partnership between the Directions Group and the Australian Government with the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities at its heart.

Learn more about the TSRA at www.tsra.gov.au or follow us on Facebook.

Watch the highlights from the International Decade of Indigenous Languages launch here.

  • community
  • Torres Strait Languages Map

Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal people are advised this website may contain names, images and recordings of people who have passed.