Pama Language Centre, an initiative of the Cape York Partnership supported by a grant from the Commonwealth Ministry of the Arts, is an important and historic step toward realising the Partnership’s longstanding commitment to the revitalisation and maintenance of Cape York Peninsula’s unique and precious linguistic and cultural heritage.

Cape York Peninsula is known as one of world’s cultural treasuries. Our languages are keys to stories and songs that follow the ancient dreaming tracks which snake across the Australian continent. Before the establishment of Pama Language Centre in 2015, there was no facility to enable the maintenance of our more than 42 languages and numerous dialects. Most of our languages are now threatened.

Guugu Yimidhirr teacher, Lillian Bowen, teaches children in Hope Vale.

We are at a crossroads.

We believe that every child born to an Indigenous nation has the right to grow up with an ancestral language as a first language. Our vision is that the Cape York languages, oral literatures and epistemologies will be documented rigorously in order to maintain and revitalise the oldest continuous living cultures on earth.

Of the forty-two or more languages once spoken across Cape York Peninsula, of which there are over a hundred dialects, even the strongest are now threatened by language shift.

There is much that can be done to support threatened languages, but without a systematic effort, the cultural heritage and peoplehood potential of the Indigenous nations of Cape York Peninsula are rapidly being lost. This situation has implications for individual and family wellbeing.

Wellbeing is connected with the health of traditional language. A strong language is an empowering context in which individuals are able to develop meaningful goals. The loss and degradation of traditional language is a catastrophe threatening the future of individuals as much as it threatens the future of our peoples.

The Indigenous peoples of Cape York Peninsula have long been aware of the absolute importance of our languages. This is said in plain words, again and again, echoing down the generations, from every nation, at every gathering, from young and old.

The future for the Indigenous nations of Cape York Peninsula will be a multilingual future.