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Singing Lullabies to Preserve the Butchulla Language

Fraser Island by EVC2008. Used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Fraser Island by EVC2008. Used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Evidence discovered on Fraser Island located in Queensland, Australia, suggests there may have been Aboriginal inhabitants as far back as 5,000 years ago. The traditional owners of this land, the Butchulla people, called the island with its incredible natural surroundings K'gari meaning “paradise.”

However, the Buchulla people faced hardships after the arrival of colonizers, who eventually displaced them from their land.

Fraser Island, Queensland

The Butchulla language also suffered during this time, almost leading to its extinction in the 20th century due to governmental policies and missionary groups that prohibited it.

Thanks to present-day revitalization efforts by the Butchulla Language Program, the language is now returning. The program has produced new resources such as dictionaries music CDs, and organized activities, such as language courses at local libraries, all of which is helping to encourage younger generations to take an interest in it.

Digital media and the Internet are also playing a role in these revitalization efforts. As part of the ABC Open project “Mother Tongue” in which local communities partner with video producers from the Australia Broadcasting Corporation to create participatory videos focusing on Aboriginal language revitalization.

One such video collaboration took place between Joyce Bonner, a community linguist with the Korrawinga Aboriginal Corporation in Hervey Bay area, and ABC Open producer Brad Marsellos. Together they created this video sharing a traditional Butchulla lullaby sung by Bonner's own mother.

Yunma-n Walabai, Walbai Yunma-n
Bula walalbai mil nhaa Biral
Bula walalbai binang buranga ngunda yaalam
Kalim walalbai dunam yaalam galangoor
Yunma-n walalbai walbai yunman
Yunma-n walalbai walbai yunman
Yunma-n walalbai walbai yunman

Two little eyes to look up to God
Two little ears to hear his word
One little tongue to speak the truth
Sleep little baby sleep
Sleep little baby sleep
Sleep little baby sleep

The team also collaborated to produce another video teaching the Butchulla words for body parts:

These videos are one part of the strategy to revitalize the Butchulla language. Read an interview with Bonner here about the origins and the recipe for success of the Butchulla Language Program.

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