Lorraine Injie has devoted much of her life to sustaining Aboriginal culture in the Pilbara. But even with this level of dedication to her community, she fears her work has come too late to save some Australian languages – the oldest spoken in the world – from being lost forever.
Lorraine manages Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre, a project she helped establish more than 30 years ago. She has worked tirelessly to document and record traces of up to 31 Aboriginal languages from across the Pilbara and beyond.
Wangka Maya was emerged from an oral history and dictionary project in 1988 and, with funding from a national program in 1992, it has developed into an important facility for Hedland and the wider Pilbara, and a rich repository of linguistic and cultural resources.
Lorraine trained as a primary school teacher and later moved into the field of linguistics, including studying her Masters at the University of Sydney. She has worked to design curriculums for Aboriginal languages through TAFE WA, and in 2006 wrote the curriculum for Tertiary Entrance Exam courses in Australian languages, and provided oversight for the development of the Aboriginal Studies units for the WA Education Department.
Lorraine’s interest in language and culture started early in life. She grew up speaking the Yinhawangka language of both her grandmothers as well as the Banyjima and Yindjibarndi languages of her grandfathers. She realised the value of her traditional languages while studying at university in Perth, where she had none of her people around.
“I spent a lot of time in the library listening to old anthropological recordings of Aboriginal languages because I missed hearing Aboriginal languages being spoken,” Lorraine said.
Her wide volunteer experience in the Hedland community involved her in the early development stages of several key local facilities, including the Courthouse Art Gallery and Studio, Rose Nowers Early Learning Centre, the Youth Involvement Council and Wirraka Maya Aboriginal Health Service. Lorraine also spent 20 years on the board of IBN, the trustee body for IBN native title members, and set up its language and cultural history program.
Lorraine feels her linguistics work is a race against the clock to stop some languages from disappearing. “I feel like I may have started 20 years too late. I always feel like I haven’t done enough,” she said. “Today, there are as many as 10 traditional Pilbara languages that have had no speakers left, and one that there is just no documentation of at all.”
Lorraine has worked closely with the Wangka Maya board, in particular chairperson Bruce Thomas, in the huge effort to record and document dying languages.
“It’s a team effort, it’s not just me,” she said. The team includes the Elders who oversee the operation of Wangka Maya. They come from all parts of the Pilbara, Bidyadanga in the north, Onslow in the south and inland desert communities.
“We need to recognise and acknowledge the Aboriginal families who maintain the culture across the Pilbara,” Lorraine said. “Without them the situation would be more devastating.”
Thank you, Lorraine, for your leadership over many years to preserve and champion the cultural heritage of the Pilbara.