An Australian parliament has moved to recognise and revive Indigenous languages for the first time in the nation's history.
- NSW Government will appoint independent panel of Aboriginal language experts, establish languages centre
- About 1,800 people speak Aboriginal languages in NSW
- For decades, speaking Indigenous languages was discouraged by state governments
Hundreds gathered outside NSW Parliament in Sydney on Wednesday to usher in an historic piece of legislation — the Aboriginal Languages Bill.
As part of the new legislation, the State Government said it would appoint an independent panel of Aboriginal language experts and establish a new languages centre.
Dr Ray Kelly from the University of Newcastle, who sung and spoke his Dunghutti language in the Parliament, said it was an emotional day.
"[The bill's] genesis is 30 years, 40 years old, so people have been talking about the rights for language and the protection of Aboriginal languages," Dr Kelly said.
"And [this is] for all of those older people who are no longer walking the path with us.
"If the resources are made available, we believe that we will bring great change to those languages considered dead."
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Sarah Mitchell read a preamble in the Parliament stating that past NSW governments tried to destroy Aboriginal languages.
"I'm so proud that this house has been able to play a part in ensuring the First Peoples of this state have their languages acknowledged, re-awakened and nurtured," she said.
'Our language belongs to us'
Ms Mitchell said about 1,800 people spoke Aboriginal languages in NSW, with Wiradjuri the most widely spoken of them.
An estimated 35 original languages are spoken across the state, with dozens of different dialects and varying levels of fluency.
Elders from many different clans gathered in the Parliament today, and in a rare move were permitted to sing and speak their own languages in the upper house chamber.
Barkindji man Murray Butcher spoke in language, urging the Parliament not to try to control the preservation of Indigenous languages.
"Let's do something right and help us save our languages. Put the power back in our people to save our languages and give us the power to control our destiny," Mr Butcher said.
"Our language belongs to us, it will never leave our hands."
For decades, speaking Indigenous languages was discouraged by state governments, missions and schools.
Language revival has mostly been a grassroots movement, and the NSW Aboriginal Land Council wants it to stay that way.
Council chairman Roy Ah See called for changes to the bill to ensure communities have the final say on revival efforts.
"The NSW Aboriginal Land Council is concerned that the legislation could seek to impose ministerial controls or intervention in relation to Aboriginal languages," he said.
"For many years, our communities have worked tirelessly to retain, teach and promote Aboriginal languages."