Songs and nursery rhymes become board books to boost First Nations languages
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Songs and nursery rhymes become board books to boost First Nations languages

by Freya Lucas

June 22, 2021

In the wake of the excitement generated last year by The Barramundi Song the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF) is publishing a new series of board books for babies and toddlers in remote communities.


ILF ambassador Jessica Mauboy recorded the song in both Tiwi and Mangarrayi languages in September 2020 to mark Indigenous Literacy Day (ILD). The song is to be published in several Indigenous languages of the Northern Territory.


The ILF’s Regional Program Coordinator for the Tiwi Islands, Tictac Moore, said the work on the board books was “well underway” when she joined the team three months ago, making it easy for her to come in and continue the project by organising the illustrations.


At Pularumpi School on the west coast of Melville Island, the whole school got involved in supporting the project, primary and preschool kids alike.


“The teachers got all the kids to have a go at drawing animals for the book,” Ms Moore explained. 


“Some kids really went to town with it!” she continued. “They were very enthusiastic. And the illustrations are beautiful.”


Katherine Regional Program Coordinator Josie Lardy shared how she had begun working with several communities who shared that they would like to publish versions of The Barramundi Song in their own languages.


Josie was taught the Marra version of the song by Guluman childcare centre Assistant Teachers, who had already translated it when she went out to work with them.


“Once community members were given the opportunity to have their language of the song in a book, they thought it was a good idea,” she explained. “They say it’s good to see the lingo written down and to have it recorded. A lot of language is being lost and in some places only a few Elders can speak it.”


COVID-19 restrictions on travelling to remote communities have meant a lot of the publication process has been undertaken from a vast distance. ILF lifetime Ambassador Alison Lester would normally visit these communities, but instead the Sydney-based team worked with Alison to create a digital tutorial on illustrating board books so communities could produce their own paintings and drawings.


Josie sent the digital link to the Families as First Teachers (FaFT) leaders she works with ahead of any illustrating workshops so she could build on Alison’s tutorial when she visited them in person. 


“In some communities the FaFT parents did the illustrations, mostly crayon drawings, cut outs and using sponging. But at Jilkminggan, a big group of school kids did them after watching the digital tutorial,” she explained.


Each community translated and illustrated their versions of The Barramundi Song in their own way, and the board books in Tiwi, Alawa, Marra and Mangarrayi are now in the final stages of production.


After layout of the pages in Sydney, the digital files have been sent to the communities to make sure members are happy with the design and so they can make any changes.


The FaFT leaders, assistant teachers and school staff in each remote community “have done an amazing job pulling together the translations of the songs, recording the audio files and creating these fantastic books for future generations to read and love,” an ILF spokesperson said.


By October, these beautiful board books will be ready for gifting to the communities that produced them, and each book will have a QR code for scanning so an audio version of the song can be listened to.


“In Pularumpi, everyone is keen to do more books,” Ms Moore said. 


“The kids have been singing these songs for years, like The Kookaburra Song and Bingo. Simpy [who did the Tiwi version of The Barramundi Song] already has other songs translated, with the next work to be Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”


For more information about the work of the ILF, please see here

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