2 March 2022

National recognition for groundbreaking Wiradjuri language course in Wagga

| Edwina Mason
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Two hands exchanging soil

The collaboration between Charles Sturt University and Wiradjuri Council of Elders has been rewarded with a presitgious national citation for student learning. Photo: Charles Sturt University.

A Charles Sturt University team in Wagga Wagga has received a prestigious national citation for student learning which aims to restore and revitalise Wiradjuri language and culture.

The team, led by Professor Susan Green in the Charles Sturt School of Indigenous Australian Studies, has received a citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning from the 2021 Australian Awards for University Teaching overseen by Universities Australia.

Susan Green

Professor Susan Green of the Charles Sturt School of Indigenous Australian Studies is the course coordinator. Photo: Charles Sturt University.

The citation is for ‘Wiradjuri elders and community working in partnership with Charles Sturt University to ensure the restoration and revitalisation of Wiradjuri language and culture’, as manifested in the Graduate Certificate in Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage (GCLWCH).

Wiradjuri country extends from the Great Dividing Range in the east and is bordered by the Macquarie, Lachlan and Murrumbidgee rivers.

For that reason, the Wiradjuri are known as the people of the three rivers.

They have inhabited modern-day central NSW for at least 60,000 years, representing the largest cultural footprint in the state.

The GCLWCH – which introduces students to the Wiradjuri language and aims to help preserve the language for generations to come – is the only university course of its kind offered in Australia.

It commenced in 2014 with 19 students, growing to 57 student enrolments in 2021.

Professor Green – herself a graduate of the course – was previously a 2004 Neville Bonner Award runner-up and recipient of the award in 2005 for her work in Aboriginal education.

Her work has transitioned from focusing on increasing the opportunities for Aboriginal people entering higher education to assisting higher education providing cultural programs to Wiradjuri people and for other people to learn about Wiradjuri language and culture.

Wiradjuri country

Wiradjuri country extends from the Great Dividing Range in the east and is bordered by the Macquarie, Lachlan and Murrumbidgee rivers. Map: Reconciliation Australia.

The GCLWCH was established as a partnership between the Wiradjuri Council of Elders and Charles Sturt University with the aim of also reinforcing Wiradjuri cultural heritage and identity.

The course is delivered in a mixed mode of two intensive on-campus residential schools and online learning for each subject. The intensives – where students live and learn in a culturally-centred and responsive space – provide language immersion to supplement the academic, flexible (and sometimes mobile) staffing support and tutoring.

In turn, students and graduates create a living network of like-minded leaders who continue to engage with the program, as well as in and between their own communities in ways that, according to CSU, are continuing to generate transformative change throughout the Wiradjuri and wider society.

The current citation nomination was for the team Dr Green led and within Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage.

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This team includes four community elders – Uncle Stan Grant Snr, Harry Lambshead, Aunty Elaine Lomas, Uncle Pat Connolly and two Charles Sturt staff – Letitia Harris and Deb Evans.

“This award recognising the work of the Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage course team is a great honour,” Professor Green said.

“However, all this work would not be possible without the many years of dedication and hard work of our Elder Dr Uncle Stan Grant and our ancestors Aunty Flo and Wongamara. I thank them, and the whole team.”

By providing greater educational opportunities for Wiradjuri into the future, the course has been seen as a solution to the seemingly intractable problems in ‘Closing the Gap’ on Indigenous disadvantage, she said.

“It has been found that language revitalisation and restoration results in the reclamation of Indigenous cultural practices which, in turn, are fundamental for individual and community wellbeing,” Dr Green said.

The GCWLCH is unique in terms of longevity, the ongoing collaborative and governance relationship with Charles Sturt, and in its course design and operation.

Charles Sturt University Vice-Chancellor Professor Renée Leon, said she was delighted the award reinforced the university’s commitment to advancing higher education for First Nations people and promotion of Wiradjuri language in particular.

“I congratulate Professor Green and her team for this well-deserved achievement,” Professor Leon said.

“I thank them for their dedication which manifests the university’s ethos, expressed in Wiradjuri as ‘yindyamarra winhanganha’, meaning ‘the wisdom of respectfully knowing how to live well in a world worth living in’.”

“This is a true partnership of community and the university working to create a better future.

This recognition is the latest in a number of awards recognising Dr Green’s body of work with Aboriginal communities.

This includes a May 2021 national award for Dr Green from the Patji-Dawes Group which honours outstanding achievements in teaching languages other than English by an accomplished practitioner in Australia.

The name of that award commemorates the partnership which underlay the earliest documented language learning in Australia’s history – that between a young Indigenous woman, Patyegarang (Patji), and Lieutenant William Dawes.

Dr Green said she is proud the course is having such a positive impact on those who complete it.

“I thought that I had my life and work mapped out and knew where I was heading,” she said.

“The course completely changed life for me and my family. It is the best thing I ever did for myself.

“Everyone who does the course goes through a transformation personally and, for many, professionally as well.”

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I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to Graduate in 2016 with the Graduate of Wiradjuri Language, Culture & Heritage at CSU Wagga
It’s pleasing to see this course of our First Nation, go from strength to strength with strong leaders, who are mentioned in the article above.

Ha! fancy finding you here Julia Lucke old friend. I hope to enrol for 2023 especially now I know you have done it first. Great leadership.

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