Sharing some snaps from VACL's trip to Warrnambool & Heywood this week.

VACL is working with Warrnambool Primary School and Heywood & District Secondary College to create some exciting new digital story books.  Last week VACL members Paul Paton, Joel Wright and Emma Hutchinson, together with Victoria University student Ben Townsend, headed up to Warrnambool to speak with the staff and students of Warrnambool Primary School and Heyward District Secondary College.

The books will feature Gunditjmara Creation stories, illustrated and narrated by the students themselves. VACL is very excited to be collaborating with the schools and community to help see their creation stories come to life!

For more information about the Gunditjmara Qbooks Project click here.

For more information about the Schools Digital Resource Project click here.


Published in Blog

This July, VACL's own Bruce Pascoe and Mandy Nicholson shared fascinating knowledge at the NGV "Points of Knowledge" event. The event was held in reponse to Emily Kam Kngawarray's monumental artwork "Anwerlarr anganenty: Big Yam Dreaming". Pascoe and Nicholson presented alongside senior NGV curator Judith Ryan, celebrity food critic Matt Preston, artist Clinton Nain and author Ellen van Neerven.

As part of the event Pascoe shared their insight into Aboriginal agriculture and land management, while Nicholson spoke on the role of women in Aboriginal society.

If you missed the exciting event be sure to check out the live recordings on the NGV website (linked below):

Published in Blog

Annie's Story: fragments of agency and resistance


On September 16th, Dr Marguerita Stephens, the 2013 Redmond Barry Fellow, gave a free lecture at Melbourne University about her research on Assistant Aboriginal Protector William Thomas, and his important journal. Dr Stephens' research led to a collaboration with VACL staff, culminating in the publication of a four volume transcription of the journal of William Thomas in June 2014. 

In her lecture, Dr Stephens focused in on one of the many people whose story is brought to life through these transcriptions. The story of Guartugurck, who regularly appears under the name of "Annie" in Protector William Thomas' journal from 1863 to 1867. 

We have 'known her from a baby', wrote Thomas. She is 'very intelligent, .... a prudent fine Aborig/l woman', but, like Green, he was unsure how to deal with this rebellious woman. 

'I know not what to do with her', Thomas wrote. 'She would make a good rough servant. Mr Green has frightened her once more away. [Perhaps we could find] some farmer about Kew who would take her as a servant, she can milk cows[;] when at De Castella's at Yering she milked every morning, she is a good rough servant, can clean well, sew, iron and can read and write...'

A Taungurung woman, born around 1840, she was probably an occasional tiny scholar at Thomas' own rough school at the Merri Creek from 1843-5 when the Taungurung came to Melbourne, and was possibly one of the girls at the school run by the Baptists at the Merri Creek in the late 1840s. She married Pulbunyahung, or 'Tarra Bobby' of the Bratawooloong clan of the GunaiKurnai people around 1859. Their son, Tommy Yering, was born in 1860. Annie and Tommy fell out with John Green at Coranderrk and he banished them from the station but would not let them take Tommy with them. But Annie refused to accept the separation from her child. Protector Thomas recorded, 'by what I can glean, "Annie" is determined not to leave [Coranderrk] without her child'. 

The four volume set of William Thomas' journal is available for purchase through VACL, to find out more click here

Thank you to Dr Marguerita Stephens for providing the text for this story. 

Published in Blog
Monday, 15 September 2014 12:50

The exciting tale of the WANALA conference

Earlier in September our very own Executive Officer Paul Paton, Project Officer Mandy Nicholson and Board Member Brendan Kennedy had the privilege of attending the WANALA (Western Australia and Northern Aboriginal Language Alliance) Biennial Conference.

The three day conference held in Broome connected linguists, language specialists and language centres from around the state and the nation, providing them with the opportunity to share knowledge, resources, acquire skills and collaborate on ways of working together in remote and difficult contexts.

This year’s conference was full of exciting workshops focused on engaging youth in language and learning, developing strategies around training and meaningful employment in the language domain, and workshopping sessions on technology and multimedia formats.

Mandy shared insight on what she gained from the conference:

She says that the range of different workshops and excursions she attended at the conference helped her develop useful skills for current language projects at VACL and language work in the future.

The workshops taught her techniques for filming successful interviews out on country, which will help her in a film project she is currently working on. Mandy saw examples of online language dictionaries, and learnt how languages were catalogued before computers which "would be great to use for when you're out on the field". Mandy was glad to hear from a range of youth language workers, as "some were fluent in about seven languages and some were like me and Aunty Fay [VACL Project Officer], translating sentences and grammar, working with languages that no-one speaks fluently". 

Mandy, Brendan and Paul were also lucky enough to tour Broome and the Yawuru Country as part of the conference, with local Yawuru guides, to learn about the traditional and modern history of the land and sample local bush tucker - yum!

Thank you to Nyamba Buru Yawuru for providing the beautiful photos of the conference below.

Published in Blog
Thursday, 28 August 2014 15:53

Biyadin: Shearwater Festival 2014


Bringing Community Together

Shearwater Festival 221114untitled-802014 

One million shearwaters have their rookeries on Phillip Island and they fly 15,000 kilometres in their annual migration from Bass Strait in the Southern Ocean to the Bering Sea in the Northern Pacific. The short-tailed shearwater is celebrated as a symbol of creative, cultural and environmental interconnectedness.

The third Shearwater Festival held on Phillip Island on November 22 and 23 brought the community together in a creative, cultural and environmental celebration of the short tailed shearwaters. The Festival involved school children and families as well as Indigenous and non-Indigenous creative artists, musicians and Elders.

The two-day Festival began on Saturday morning with a colourful Street Parade along Thompson Avenue in Cowes, led by Indigenous Elders and artists and a shearwater puppet with a seven-metre wingspan. The ‘Moon Bird’ puppet had been made by Artist-in-Residence Annie Edney. Following the bird were drummers, percussionists and singers along with different kinds of sea creature puppets made and carried by local school children in the Shearwater Education Program leading up to the Festival.

The Street Parade made its way down to the Cowes Foreshore where Senior Boon Wurrung Elder Aunty Carolyn Briggs, welcomed people to her Country with a smoking ceremony. A group of Indigenous dancers and local Indigenous school children called Baarny Bupap (Water Babies) performed traditional Creation Dances and a Shearwater Dance choreographed especially for the occasion by Steve Parker and Lowell Hunter.

There were opening speeches from the CEO of the auspicing organisation, the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages, Mr Paul Paton. The newly appointed mayor of the Bass Coast Shire Council, Mayor Kimberley Brown also spoke. Phillip Island Nature Park Board Member, Stephen Davie and Bruce Procter from the San Remo Bendigo Bank also expressed their appreciation in being involved of the Festival.

On Saturday afternoon there were creative and cultural workshops at the Cowes Cultural Centre. They included singing and dancing workshops, Indigenous story-telling and an opportunity to learn to play the gumleaf with well-known Aboriginal Elder, Uncle Herb Patten. A participative ritual performance facilitated by local dance teacher, Tony Norquay completed the day.  

In the early evening, Graeme Burgan, Senior Education Ranger at the Phillip Island Nature Park, conducted an environmental talk on the latest research on the shearwater birds at the Cape Woolamai Surf Life Saving Club. He led dusk and dawn walks at Cape Woolamai to see the shearwaters return at dusk and take off at dawn from their rookeries.

The Sunday Concert at the Cowes Cultural Centre was filled to capacity. It featured high profile musicians Kutcha Edwards, Archie Roach, Yirrmal and the Yolngu Boys, Marcia Howard and Rose Bygrave and members of the Deep Listening Band and Friends, Steve Sedergreen, Mike Jordan, Ron Murray, ToK Norris and Uncle Herb Patten. Archie Roach, much loved Indigenous musician received a standing ovation at the end of the concert.

The Shearwater Festival is auspiced by the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation of Languages and sponsored by the Bass Coast Shire in partnership with Phillip Island Nature Park and ABC Gippsland. The Bendigo Bank and Ramahyuck District Aboriginal Corporation also contributed support to the Festival this year. 

The Shearwater Festival 2015 will be held on the 21st and 22nd of November 2015. If you would like to become a member of the Shearwater Festival Working Group, the Volunteer Team or become a partner or sponsor, please contact Dr Laura Brearley 0434 596800, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

You can hear Education Ranger Graeme Burgan from the Phillip Island Nature Park talking about the short-tailed shearwaters on

cape woolami




Published in Projects

Last month saw the first in a series of Regional Language Forums. VACL staff headed to Swan Hill for a day of presentations and discussion about language activity happening throughout Victorian communities and schools, training workshop opportunities and issues around language revitalisation.

Look out for an upcoming forum in your area soon!

Published in Blog

Vicki Couzen’s, VACL Board Member, lauched her first solo exhibition ‘Marooka – to take care of'’ at Maroondah Art Gallery in July. The exhibition showcased artwork, language, song, dance and ceremony “taking the audience on a journey into Gunditjmara Country” – (quoted from the Maroondah art gallery program).

As part of the exhibition Vicki Couzens and Dr Kris Eira held a free public lecture on the 12th of July during NAIDOC week, where they told their stories and connections to each other, as language workers and artists.

VACL Project Officer Mandy Nicholson performed with the Djirri Djirri dance group, and held language workshops for primary school students as part of the exhibition. To see a video clip of the students from the Village School Croydon learning to count to five in Wurundjeri with Mandy click here.

Below are a selection of photos from the exhibition.


Published in Blog
Wednesday, 30 July 2014 14:43

Reconciliation Week at Glenelg Shire

On Friday May 30, the Glenelg Shire held its annual Reconciliation Week event. A small group of Year 8 Aboriginal Language and Culture students from Heywood & District Secondary College attended, accompanied by Ms Tashkoff. The event took place at the Portland Civic Hall, in front of the Mayor, Councilor John Northcott, Shire councilors and around 200 invited guests. 

The gathering was opened in style by the Winda-Mara dancers, including HDSC's own Jamaine Jones, Braydon Saunders and Taram Frankland. Braydon Saunders and Steph Tashkoff gave the acknowledgement of country in the local Dhauwurd Wurrung language. A representative of each local secondary college was given the opportunity to speak and HDSC's Leyla Quartermaine gave her point of view on what reconciliation actually means and how she feels encouraged to aim high and participate at school. Leyla then pointed out what stills needs to be done in the reconciliation journey. During the lunch break, a video was shown which had been produced by local Koorie youth during film workshops run by the VCA during the last holidays. This humorous short film featured Braydon Saunders and Kiah Morgan (Year 8) and former student Sean (Macca) Bell. 

Guest speaker Deborah Cheetham shared her own journey about learning to be strong and confident in her culture. She referred positively to both Leyla's speech and to the Aboriginal Language and Culture program at HDSC. Deborah spoke of how important it is to Aboriginal and Islander young people to have their culture acknowledged and respected within their school environment and she affirmed HDSC for the work they are doing in this regard. 

For more information about the Gunditjmara Languages Program at Heywood & District Secondary College and to see more photos click here.

Thanks to Steph Tashkoff for this story and image

Published in Blog
Tuesday, 29 July 2014 14:35

Heywood & District Secondary College

Gunditjmara Languages Program at Heywood & District Secondary College, Yr 7 & 8

languageworkshops6At Heywood and District Secondary College in the state's south-west, the Gunditjmara Languages Program is in its third year and going really well. Year 8 students are offered two lessons per week in 2014, and Year 7 students one lesson per week. Language and local Gunditjmara history is further incorporated into the Year 7 Integrated Studies program to cover the gap in classes and enrich students' Koorie cultural learnings. 

"We started in the first lesson talking about kanang wanga - deep listening - and the concept is that you listen 110%, with your ears, your heart and your spirit." Stephanie Tashkoff, Program Coordinator

During Reconciliation Week 2014, Year 7 language students studying a Local Aboriginal History unit during Term 1 ran language workshops and Year 8 students went out on Country to the IPA in Tyrendarra to have a look at eel traps and farming irrigation systems. The unit they were focusing on was all about eels and the deep cultural and economic significance of eels for Victorian Koories. 

During Term 3 & 4 students will learn all about human and animal parts of the body, traditional Victorian Koorie body-counting systems, and the significance of land and the environment. In Term 3, Year 8 students commence studying a unit on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. They will also be developing a small possum skin cloak as they discuss the significance of the designs and patterns which were traditionally etched into the cloaks, and compare those with contemporary cloak design. The Year 8's Term 3 unit leads into Term 4 where story-telling is combined with art to enable picture story books to be designed, written and translated into Language by the students themselves.

"For the school community overall, there is a sense of pride in being a school that offers a Koorie Language, and being a school that is developing a sense of This is who we are!" - Steph Tashkoff, Program Coordinator

languageworkshops5Towards the end of 2013, students studied Gunditjmara traditional stories and focused on local themes, geographical features and places of significance. Students then wrote a story in English and worked on translating it into Language to produce a series of picture story books. As a result, the school now has a library of just under 40 picture story books which are all in the Gunditjmara Languages, and are looking at how they can transform some of these into animations to use as a wider resource, and work more closely with local primary schools around Gunditjmara Languages and culture. 

"The Gunditjmara Languages Program has been extremely beneficial for all students undertaking the course - making connections between the history and culture of where they live, developing understanding and appreciation for local language and cutlure, as well as encouraging their language acquisition and assisting the developmetn of the different neutral pathways that are engaged in language learning. 

For Koorie students in particular, further benefits are around developing an enhanced sense of pride and awareness of local language and culture, particularly for students who don't have strong connection to the community." - Steph Tashkoff, Program Coordinator

Images: Year 7 students from Heywood & District Secondary College running Aboriginal Language workshops with Grade 5 & 6 students from all around the district during Reconciliation Week, 2014 (images courtesy of Steph Tashkoff)

For more stories about Heywood students click these links below

Reconcilation Week Language Workshops

Glenelg Shire's Reconciliation Week Event

Reclaiming and reviving Aboriginal Languages in South-Western Victoria

 Thanks to Steph Tashkoff for this story and images

Published in Projects

The Hon Heidi Victoria MP, Minister for the Arts, invites you to celebrate at the launch of a new publication of Aboriginal Creation Stories of Victoria Nyernila: Listen Continuously.

Following the success of the Kulin Creation Stories Booklet published in collaboration with Arts Victoria, we have extended this project and are pleased to announce the publication of 'Nyernila, Listen Continuously: Aboriginal Creation Stories of Victoria'. Nyernila brings together stories of creation and Aboriginal life from Koorie communities across Victoria, capturing over 18 language groups.

"Language connects to spirit and the land. Languages uphold and reinforce Indigenous world-views held by previous generations. Reviving and maintaining language is core to reviving cultural and spiritual practices. Aboriginal knowledge is a resource to everyone and this publication provides an insight into the diversity and depth of Aboriginal people's connections to the land."  Paul Paton, Executive Officer, Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages

"Our stories are our Law. They are important learning and teaching for our People. They do not sit in isolation in a single telling. They are accompanied by song, dance and visual communications; in sand drawings, ceremonial objects and body adornment, rituals and performance. Our stories have come from 'wanggatung-waliyt' - long, long ago - and remain ever-present through into the future."  Vicki Couzens, Project Co-ordinator, Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages

Contact us at VACL to find out how to get your copy, or download a digital version through Arts Victoria by clicking here.

Published in Blog
Page 3 of 4