Australians will vote in a referendum for a First Nations Voice in the Constitution. This week I saw what it means to be heard

Home Politics Australians will vote in a referendum for a First Nations Voice in the Constitution. This week I saw what it means to be heard
Australians will vote in a referendum for a First Nations Voice in the Constitution. This week I saw what it means to be heard

Wiray ngiyang. Wiray mayinyi.

No language. No people.

This week I heard my people speak. I heard my language. This week I know we are still here. Here on Wiradjuri Ngurambang.

It is a miracle. Our survival was no given thing. At times my people have faced being wiped off the face of the earth. Wars were fought on my country — wars Australians are only now learning about. Martial law was declared on my people.

There was a time our language was silenced. But our old people held strong. They kept it alive.

This week the latest class of the post-graduate Wiradjuri language and culture program graduated from Charles Sturt University. Among them were family: My sister, my daughter, cousins and aunties. 

A group of university graduates stand under a tree in black caps and gowns. A man in a wheelchair in a green robe beside them
Stan Grant senior in green robes, with Uncle Pat Connolly (centre) and Stan Grant (right) alongside 2022 graduates of Charles Sturt University’s Wiradjuri language program.(Supplied)

There at the centre of it all was my father, Yemarran Budhung — Black Horse, they call him. Stan Grant senior. I have his name but I have never filled it out like he has.

Inspired by his people — his grandfather Budyaan, his brother Wongamar, his sister Flo — dad worked tirelessly alongside linguist Dr John Rudder, and together they revived our language. It has passed to Professor Sue Green who takes care of it today and teaches like many father’s sister, Elaine.

It was almost gone. Now it is written down in the first Wiradjuri dictionary. It is taught in schools. Dad made a point of going into our gaols — where far too many of our people languish — and teaching people how to speak back to a world that had never heard them, had never listened to them.

A photo of Stan Grant and his father
My father always says language is not who you are, it is where you are.(Supplied: Stan Grant)

Language is where you are

He’s old now. He’s fading. But he is strong, too. The love of his people keeps him strong. He can no longer walk into the graduation hall. But our people help him. They push him in his wheelchair and they sit alongside him.

My mother never leaves his side. All those old people, all his ancestors, were there with him too.

One by one the graduates received their certificates and each one embraced him. There were tears in their eyes.

There were also tears in mine. And in these moments a fear, too: What will we do without him? What will we do without all of our elders, our culture and knowledge keepers?

A well-thumbed English-Wiradjuri/Wiradjuri-English dictionary on a table.
With his friend and linguist John Rudder, my father wrote the Wiradjuri dictionary and revived our language.(ABC RN: Tim Roxburgh)

I can’t think of myself as an elder. Not like my father. I am not ready — I don’t know if I ever could be. 

When my father talks about his people, he is not just talking about Wiradjuri people but anyone on Wiradjuri land. He always says language is not who you are, it is where you are. Our language, our strength, our culture, our kinship comes from place. A deep, deep connection to place. 

Uncle Pat Connolly, a wise, gentle man, welcomed us to country in our language. And in that hall, white people spoke our language, too. As it should be, as my father wanted it to be.

And when the Australian anthem was played it was given new meaning because people did not sing it with triumph in their voice but with humility — because in that room there was something more enduring than an anthem or a flag.

What it means to have a voice

The day after the graduation I sat by the river near my parents’ house. I sat there and I took it all in, breathed it in.

In the quiet, with my heart still, it all came alive. The birds in the trees, the lily pads carpeting the water, the fish darting to the surface.

I noticed a tree with a perfectly formed scar where our people stripped it for bark canoes.

It was like nothing had changed. As though two centuries had melted away and this was how it was meant to be.

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