Skip to main content
Towards Truth

Themelaw and culture
  • Languages
  • Revitalisation

Language revitalisation 1998-present

Laws and policies in the 19th and 20th centuries prevented Aboriginal children from speaking and learning their language. More recent laws and policies have attempted to address this.

Laws, policies and government practices in the 19th and 20th centuries prevented Aboriginal people, particularly children through the protection and assimilation era, from speaking and learning their language. This had disastrous effects on First Nations languages, with some languages being extensively disrupted, whilst others completely lost.

Teaching Aboriginal languages in NSW schools was first considered meaningfully in the late 20th century.

The NSW Aboriginal Languages Interim Framework for Kindergarten – Year 10 (1998) () was the first Aboriginal languages framework in NSW. It provided guidelines for the local development of language courses across particular Aboriginal communities and schools.

At the time some NSW schools, such as Brewarrina Central school and Bowraville school, were offering Aboriginal languages programs through local arrangements with elders, but without official government support in law or policy ().

The first Aboriginal languages policy in NSW was released in 2004 (). It provided a framework for language revitalisation but did not ‘outline a commitment to additional resources.’

Aboriginal language programs in schools were also one component of NSW Government’s Opportunity, Choice, Healing, Responsibility, Empowerment (OCHRE) Plan, released in 2011 ().

However, there was discord at the time about how much language and culture should be included in State mainstream education (). Aboriginal language education programmes were also not widespread, and many Aboriginal students were not assured access to languages beyond Aboriginal studies ().

There was also occasional lack of community agreement about writing in language, who should be appointed as a teacher and which language should be taught on Country ().

In 2017 the Aboriginal Languages Act 2017 (NSW) () was the first law about Aboriginal languages in NSW. It established the Aboriginal Languages Trust to ‘provide a focused, coordinated and sustained effort in relation to Aboriginal languages.’ The Aboriginal Languages Trust has a number of functions to promote Aboriginal languages and prepares the draft strategic plan for the growth and nurturing of Aboriginal languages.

In practice, some language teachers only have access to a limited body of resources to support their own learning, let alone that of their students. Most if not all NSW languages are also under-resourced ().

The law and policy in this subject is accurate as of 1 October 2022.