It’s believed that before Australia was ‘discovered’ by white man there were 250 separate Aboriginal languages spoken. And now? Well the number that’s considered to be ‘alive’ and spoken as a mother tongue today is about 60.
On Palm Island, in Northern Queensland, the Worrongo language died out in the 1970s. However, there’s still a living speaker of it… in Japan!
Linguist Professor Tasaku Tsunodo travelled to Palm Island in the early 1970s as part of his university studies where he worked with Alf Palmer, one of the last two native speakers of Worrongo. Alf was very keen on Tasaku recording and preserving his language as he knew it wouldn’t survive. Tasaku learnt the language and also wrote a Worrongo dictionary.
Tasaku Tsunodo: ‘Language connects you with your ancestors… When a language disappears, it’s very difficult to transmit traditional knowledge… There are certain aspects of culture that cannot be translated into another language.’