elderly man and woman at a table sitting woman in high vis standing smiling to camera

Decades of work preserves priceless treasure

A small community grant from BHP Nickel West is having a big impact in the Goldfields, with over 60 years of work by two linguists, Dawn and Brian Hadfield culminating in the Cundeelee Wangka dictionary, published with the Goldfields Aboriginal Language Centre Aboriginal Corporation with support from BHP.

Cundeelee Wangka is a Pitjantjatjarra based language that developed on Cundeelee Mission in the Goldfields, during the mid-1900s.

First Nations people from several language groups were living on Cundeelee Mission from the 1940s, and a contemporary, inclusive Aboriginal language formed which included parts of all languages.

Linguists Dawn and Brian Hadfield worked with Cundeelee Wangka speakers from 1958 to the 1980s to record, analyse and document the language. They then started work with the Goldfields Aboriginal Language Centre Aboriginal Corporation to launch a dictionary, saying it was an absolute honour to work on this language.

The important dictionary was launched on 2 August in the Goldfields with the Hon. Wilson Tucker MLA, Jody Broun CEO of the National Indigenous Australian’s Agency, senior linguists from the Goldfields Aboriginal Language Centre Aboriginal Corporation, and Jacinta Parsons from BHP’s Kalgoorlie Nickel Smelter celebrating the moment with the authors and their family.

“This dictionary represents the preservation of an endangered language, which is important not just for Indigenous peoples, but for everyone,” said Jacinta Parsons, Acting General Manager at the Kalgoorlie Nickel Smelter.

“Nickel mining has a long history in the Goldfields region, with BHP having operated here for over 60 years – but this timeframe is just a drop in the ocean compared to the longevity of the Aboriginal language being celebrated here today.”

BHP provided funding support of $10,000 to the Goldfields Aboriginal Language Centre in 2020, through our localised Community Grants Program.

Aboriginal languages are used by 3,200 Aboriginal people of the Goldfields region. For approximately 60 per cent of people, an Aboriginal language is their first language.

Language is the fundamental way Indigenous peoples share their knowledge, communicate their understanding of the world and connect with their spirituality. It is not just a means of communication, it is a way to express knowledge about everything: law, geography, history, family and human relationships, philosophy, religion, anatomy, childcare, health, caring for country, land management, astronomy, biology and food.

Evidence suggests that language also plays a critical role in Indigenous peoples’ well-being, including their mental health and sense of community belonging and this grant recognises the importance of language in Indigenous communities.

“Language preservation is an essential part of ensuring Aboriginal culture is protected and shared for generations to come,” said Meath Hammond, Head of Corporate Affairs for BHP in Western Australia.

“We are very proud to help support the preservation of the Cundeelee Wangka language of the Goldfields.”