Historic course for CSU

SECURE FUTURE: (Left) Ray Woods and (right) Mark Sadleir are looking forward to learning the Wiradjuri language under the guidance of respected Wagga Aboriginal elder Dr Stan Grant. Picture: Les Smith
SECURE FUTURE: (Left) Ray Woods and (right) Mark Sadleir are looking forward to learning the Wiradjuri language under the guidance of respected Wagga Aboriginal elder Dr Stan Grant. Picture: Les Smith

IT wasn't so long ago that Stan Grant witnessed his grandfather Wilfred Johnson suffer racist discrimination, ridicule and punishment for using his native Wiradjuri language.

"My grandfather was arrested while speaking Wiradjuri in a town in country NSW when I was a young fellow," the now 73-year-old Wagga Aboriginal elder said.

"He was imprisoned overnight for using his own language... Can you imagine that?

"After that he only spoke in Wiradjuri to me when we were in the bush."

Mr Johnson, who spoke seven different Aboriginal languages, insisted his young grandson embrace the Wiradjuri language as he believed it would one day play an important part in his life.

He was right.

Last week Dr Grant who received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters for his work in the recovery of the Wiradjuri Language welcomed 18 students to Charles Sturt University for a ground-breaking new course.

For the first time in the history of the university, CSU will offer a Graduate Certificate in Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage.

The course, which caters to indigenous and non-indigenous students, has been designed to contribute to nation building and add value to the Wiradjuri people.

Over the next 18 months 18 students will tackle the one and a half year program via distance education, completing four subjects Wiradjuri language, Wiradjuri culture and heritage, Indigenous nation building and a work placement in the Wiradjuri community.

"We are very fortunate to be in a position that is so different from what things were like for my grandfather," Dr Grant said.

"Here I am, able to stand in front of these students with a chance to teach them the language and the culture because they want to learn and because they can be here to learn.

"It is a huge movement forward and something that would have meant a lot to my grandfather.

"One day we hope this will be a full and proper degree in its own right."

Dr Grant said the opportunity to offer the course to students is only serving to strengthen and secure the future of the traditional language and culture.

Thanks to families embracing their heritage and seeking to pass on the Wiradjuri language to the next generation, Dr Grant is confident the centuries-old traditions will not be lost.

"It (the Wiradjuri language) is starting to be more commonly spoken," he said. "We all grow up with a few common words, but now there is this course and a very good course at TAFE that mean people can learn more.

"More people want to learn the language... I know I used to try and teach my kids and grand kids but they weren't willing. Now, they ring me up and say 'Dad, how do we say this word?' "The language is in a very healthy position.

"And it's not just important for us (Indigenous people)... the more people who learn the language and about the culture, the more respect we get for our people."

Dr Grant hopes the participating students, who include a former United Kingdom resident and a Slovakian native, will finish the course both fulfilled and inspired by what they have achieved.

"This is about giving these students their identity and giving them a sense of belonging that they can take back to their families, friends and into the community," he said.

"It is who we are and we should all be very proud of that."

Student Letetia Harris from central west NSW has previously completed a certificate III in Wiradjuri Language at TAFE NSW.

She describes the chance to learn through Dr Grant, or Uncle Stan as he is affectionately regarded, as one she could not pass up.

"The postgraduate course is an opportunity to learn more about the Wiradjuri nation and become more fluent in the Indigenous language," she said.

Like a growing number of families, Letetia speaks Wiradjuri with her young son at home.