NSW Aboriginal Languages Information

Australia is home to more than 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages, though many of these were significantly impacted by European colonisation.

Aboriginal Languages are a verbal manifestation of the world’s oldest living culture, connecting people to Country and Country to people since time immemorial. For Aboriginal peoples, Language is a fundamental part of identity – a physical, intellectual and spiritual connection to culture, Country and community. Through place names, songs, stories and ceremony Aboriginal Languages imbue the landscape with cultural meaning. 

NSW is home to approximately 35 Aboriginal Languages, many of which cross borders into other States. Of the top ten Aboriginal Languages being renewed (in terms of speaker numbers), six are Languages used in NSW: Wiradjuri, Bundjalung, Gamilaraay, Gumbaynggirr, Yorta Yorta and Paakantyi.

In NSW, the 2016 Census showed that 1,792 Aboriginal people spoke an Aboriginal Language at home, an increase from 1,194 persons in 2011. Wiradjuri (from Central West NSW) was the most commonly spoken Language with 355 speakers, an increase from 109 in 2011.

NSW is home to some of the world’s leading Language revitalisation programs, such as the Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-operative in Nambucca Heads and the Miromaa Aboriginal Language and Technology Centre in Newcastle.

The NSW Aboriginal Languages Act 2017 (the Act) commenced on 5 March 2020 following months of consultation with Aboriginal communities, peak organisations and other stakeholders from all over NSW so that it would truly reflect Aboriginal community aspirations for their Languages. It is the first piece of legislation in Australia to acknowledge the significance of Aboriginal Languages, seeking to promote, reawaken, nurture and grow Aboriginal Languages across NSW. 

NSW Government’s Language and Culture Nests initiative

Aboriginal Languages are now being taught in 99 schools through the NSW Government’s Language and Culture Nests initiative.

Two satellite Aboriginal Language and Culture Nests (Dunghutti and Gomeroi) have been added to the five initial Nests. These original five Language Nests teach Wiradjuri, Gumbaynggirr, Bundjalung, Paakantji and Gamilaraay.

OCHRE recognises Aboriginal languages and cultures as a unique component of Australia’s heritage. It is a fundamental element of the Aboriginal culture which reaffirms Aboriginal identity, spirituality and connection to Country.

Aboriginal Language and Culture Nests provide a continuous learning pathway for Aboriginal people while recognising the existing language skills and knowledge of Aboriginal community members.

The establishment of the Aboriginal Language and Culture Nests enables Aboriginal people and communities across NSW reawakening, nurturing and growing their traditional Aboriginal languages.

For further information on this initiative visit: https://www.aboriginalaffairs.nsw.gov.au/policy-reform/language-and-culture/language-and-culture-nests/ 

The role of the Aboriginal Languages Trust

The Aboriginal Languages Trust is a NSW Government agency formed in 2020 as part of the Aboriginal Languages Act 2017 to provide a focused, coordinated and sustained effort in relation to Aboriginal Language activities at local, regional and state levels. The Aboriginal Languages Act is underpinned by the principle of self-determination. It is essential that Aboriginal Language communities guide the values, goals and priorities of the Aboriginal Languages Trust. The functions of the Trust are defined in the Act. They include:

  • promoting Language activity
  • identifying priorities for Language activity
  • managing the funding of, and investment in Language activity
  • promoting education and employment opportunities in Language activities
  • promoting the wider use and appreciation of Aboriginal Languages

The Trust will also work with other Government agencies to provide advice and guidance on Aboriginal Languages, and with the Geographical Names Board on the use of Aboriginal Languages in the naming of geographical places in NSW.

The Trust is also responsible for a five-year strategic plan for the growth and nurturing of Aboriginal Languages.

The Act has been proclaimed, the Trust established as its own separate agency under the Government Sector Finance Act 2018, a nine member Aboriginal Board has been appointed following a robust, independent recruitment process and the first five year Strategic Plan approved and launched.

The first year involved establishing the legal framework of the Trust, as well as corporate support arrangements within Aboriginal Affairs NSW, and the recruitment of an Aboriginal Executive Director. In 2022 the Aboriginal Languages grants programs has $1,600,000 available this Financial Year.

Over the last two years since the Aboriginal Languages Trust was established, 90 per cent of projects funded have been in regional NSW and 77 per cent have directly targeted Aboriginal youth.

Additionally, the Trust is embarking on research projects specific to the NSW Aboriginal Languages context, which will strengthen the Aboriginal Languages evidence base and support policy and program development and delivery, including a NSW Aboriginal Languages directory.