SPEAK FREE: Aunty Rhonda Collard-Spratt sang the languages of her ancestors as part of NAIDOC week.
SPEAK FREE: Aunty Rhonda Collard-Spratt sang the languages of her ancestors as part of NAIDOC week.

Desperate to save a language

ONLY 60 people in Australia speak the language Rhonda Collard-Spratt was born into.

Her language and culture was taken away when she was just a child, the same way she was taken from her family and placed on a mission in Western Australia in 1954.

She was just three years old at the time and was forced to speak English.

Rhonda was too young to remember what her own family had taught her about her people's ways, but she picked up what she could from the other children at the mission.

When they sang Christian hymns, the Aboriginal children were allowed to sing in their own tongue.

Nowadays, Rhonda lives at Riverview and this week proudly sang the languages of her people as part of the Ipswich NAIDOC celebrations.

"I sang in two languages," Aunty Rhonda said.

"I felt proud and privileged to be able to sing the song I learned from other children like me.

"The song is about how we can learn from the innocence of children.

"They are friends and they play, then they fight, but they also learn to forgive.

"We learn from little children, through the kindness of their hearts and generous spirit."

Aunty Rhonda also sang Amazing Grace, a Christian song the children sang growing up at the mission.

"When I sing Amazing Grace, I don't think about Christianity, I think about my mission family and all us kids singing together.

"We were allowed to sing our language in the missions when we sang Christian songs.

"The kids I grew up with, they are my true family. We share the same history and the same experiences."

Aunty Rhona said many other languages are in danger of disappearing.

Only 120 of the 250 languages once spoken across the continent can still be heard today.

Rhonda's sister, who wasn't removed from her family because she is fairer skinned than Rhonda, speaks six Indigenous languages, plus English and creole.

"I am jealous," Rhonda said.

"I want to learn my father's language. Once these languages are gone, they are gone for ever."

Indigenous languages are traditionally spoken but as more and more elders pass on, taking their knowledge with them, those languages are being recorded for future generations.

Aunty Rhonda said language continued to create issues for Indigenous people, particularly in remote communities where English is not the language spoken at home.

Her book, titled Alice's Daughter, describes Rhonda's search for culture and family as she faced violence, racism, , and her father's death in custody; one of the first deaths investigated in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

Yumaji language lesson

Murra: Hand

Jina: Foot

Mugga: Head

Nyulu: Woman

Yungagee: Goanna