Christian Brother’s love of language honoured

Community elder Gary Williams (left) and Br Steve Morelli CFC (Supplied)

Preserving and promoting the languages of Australia’s First Peoples has been at the heart of the ministry of Br Steve Morelli CFC. Source: ACBC Media Blog.

The Lismore Diocese-based Christian Brother was recently recognised with Australia’s premier award in teaching languages other than English.

Br Steve is one of two teachers of Australian Indigenous languages to be jointly awarded the Patji-Dawes Award in this, the International Year of Indigenous Languages. The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages to raise awareness of the crucial role languages play in people’s daily lives.

The Patji-Dawes Award recognises outstanding achievements in language teaching by an accomplished practitioner in Australia, whether teaching in primary or secondary school, university, language schools or centres.

Only around 120 of the estimated original 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are still spoken today. Of these, approximately 90 per cent are considered endangered.

Br Steve, from Woolgoolga, has worked at the request of local Aboriginal elders for the past 30 years to help write a dictionary and teach the local language for the Gumbaynggirr people.

The 76-year-old teacher and linguist yesterday said he felt greatly honoured to receive the award, but the honour was one he shared with the local Aboriginal elders and community, which had shown great pride and ownership over their heritage.

In addition to spending years working closely with the elders to compile a dictionary and grammar of Gumbaynggirr, Br Stephen has also co-developed courses up to Certificate IV level, and co-edited the Gumbaynggirr Yuludarla Jandaygam Gumbaynggirr Dreaming Story Collection.

Gary Williams, Gumbaynggirr community elder, CEO of the Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Cooperative and co-editor of the Dreaming Story Collection, nominated Br Steve for the award.

“The elders in Kempsey in 1986 wanted me to help them get back some of their cultural language and knowledge,” said Br Steve, who was born in Hungary and migrated to Australia with his family in 1950.

“I can’t help but have languages in my blood. It’s only in our Anglo-culture that one language is deemed enough,” he said.

“The tragedy of Aboriginal language on the Coast here is that most of the languages have been hurt. This work is really ultimately about pride, identity … I want Aboriginal people to realise their value and part of that value is one’s heritage, one’s sense of place.”

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Christian Brother’s love of language honoured (ACBC Media Blog

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