Fellowship will help revive Anaiwan language

The Anaiwan language was one of the first to be suppressed by European colonisation – but this once-dormant language is being reclaimed by the Armidale Aboriginal community.

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The language belongs to country. It was given to us. We’re custodians and caretakers of language, like we are of country.

We’re liberating knowledge and wisdom and those words on the pages and returning them to where they belong – back in country, back in community, back in culture.

Ern would be thrilled at the next chapter of the Fellowship; and importantly it will be driven by Indigenous people, kinship and community.

The Anaiwan language was one of the first to be suppressed by European colonisation – but this once-dormant language is being reclaimed by the Armidale Aboriginal community.

Callum Clayton-Dixon, award-winning author of the book, Surviving New England, and founding member of the Anaiwan Language Revival Program, is central to the effort to revitalise the language of his ancestors.

Now Callum has extra support for his work. He is the inaugural recipient of the Ern MacDonald On-Country Fellowship, which is proudly supported by Dusseldorp Forum, the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and the MacDonald family.

The Fellowship aims to advance Indigenous-led research. Callum, a UTS postgraduate research student, will be under the guidance of Distinguished Professor Larissa Behrendt AO, at the UTS Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research. Based on?country, Callum will visit the UTS campus to meet peers, share knowledge, teach and mentor.

As an Aboriginal linguist and historian, Callum is committed to the Anaiwan community. His PhD and his work with the N?wara Aboriginal Corporation focuses on regenerating the Anaiwan language and culture. To do this, he is delving into colonial archives that recorded knowledge from his community’s ‘old people’. Callum says,

At the end of the day it’s their words, their wisdom, their knowledge that’s been captured or imprisoned on the pages of anthropologists’ and linguists’ and other researchers’ notebooks, and we’re liberating that knowledge and wisdom and those words on the pages and returning them to where they belong – back in Country, back in community, back in culture.

Callum Clayton-Dixon

Under the Fellowship, Callum plans to continue producing language teaching and learning resources, mapping kinship systems from archival records, and collaborating with illustrator, Narmi Collins-Widders on a comic book that will tell the story of the New England frontier wars through the eyes of a resistance leader described in the colonial archives. He is also working on revitalising songs by blending traditional knowledge of story, place and culture with appropriate melodies to ‘rebirth’ this knowledge as songs.

“I’d be working on all of this anyway, but with the Fellowship’s extra support, we can take it further and extend the reach. I’m really appreciative of the opportunity to receive the Fellowship and the support to keep doing this work that I’m so passionate about,” says Callum.

Thanks to the N?wara Aboriginal Corporation’s #LandBack campaign, there are now more opportunities for this type of revival to happen on-country. The campaign recently attracted enough crowdfunding to buy back a 600-acre bush block on Anaiwan Country. The land will be used for cultural camps for Aboriginal children, on-country learning, growing and harvesting native foods and medicines, and gatherings of local Aboriginal men’s and women’s groups.

For Callum, seeing the language come back to life is rewarding.

The language belongs to Country. It was given to us. We’re custodians and caretakers of language, like we are of Country.  

Callum Clayton-Dixon

“It’s exciting – it’s about social change, building capacity for long-term change and lasting impact. I see it as having real transformative potential in terms of the positive impact it can have in our community, and our community’s relationship with country and assisting in the healing process by providing the opportunity for our community to connect back to country and culture and language.”

Ern MacDonald was a long-time colleague and friend of Dusseldorp Forum founder, Lend Lease Chairman, Dick Dusseldorp. Dusseldorp and the MacDonald family established a skills-based fellowship in Ern MacDonald’s honour in 2006. In partnership with WorldSkills Australia, the Fellowship has supported the careers of 18 young tradespeople.

This represents a new chapter for the Fellowship.

Ern would be thrilled at the next chapter of the Fellowship; it’s proactive, positive and based on research, and importantly it will be driven by Indigenous people, kinship and community 

Tjerk Dusseldorp, Chair of Dusseldorp Forum