HAVE A LITTLE YARN AND LEARN AN INDIGENOUS LANGUAGE

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We chat with Gamilaraay woman Rudi Bremer, radio broadcaster and host of Little Yarns – an Australian podcast series for pre-schoolers – about teaching kids the many diverse languages, stories and countries of Indigenous Australia. 

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Can you share your journey to Little Yarns

I’m one of the producers of Radio National Awaye! It’s an Arrernte word that means listen. Awaye! is the Aboriginal arts and culture program on Radio National. 

On Awaye! we’d been doing a language series called Word Up. Each week a different Indigenous guest comes on, and they share three words from their language. Little Yarns is Word Up but for pre-school children. Each episode is around seven minutes and features one guest over three episodes. So it’s a little slower but, because there’s music and sound effects, it’s also a little more dynamic to help keep kids interested and learning.

How do you go about finding guests? 

It’s a very respectful and intentional process. We work really hard to find people who are passionate about teaching and learning language and culture. Making a show like this isn’t easy, and it can also take a lot longer than people expect. We have to make sure our guests really understand what we’re trying to do with Little Yarns as well as also build trust. And I think that has been a big part of why it sounds as lovely as it does, because of the people that are involved.

What is the process of making each episode?

Once a guest is happy with the script, and they’ve done their recordings, the next step is to work with the kids. All of those kids you hear are Aboriginal and they’re just gorgeous. Sometimes they say the most profound things. The very last steps are recording me, and adding the music and sound design.

Tell us about your journey into learning your own language.

Little Yarns is really special to me. It ended up being the final prompt to take on language lessons of my own. I’ve always wanted to learn my language, but I had a lot of reasons why I wasn’t doing something proactive about it. I think Word Up had a lot to do with it as well. You can’t spend weeks and weeks talking to people on their language journey without starting to question why you aren’t taking that step. A friend of mine was going to College for a night class and I happened to see her tweet about it. I felt a bit embarrassed but I messaged her and she really encouraged me to just show up. I called my mum, and another friend and we started going.

How was that experience, learning your language in a classroom? 

I knew a handful of Gamilaraay words growing up. I really think that if I was to sit down and count it was no more than 20. My mum grew up on a mission. She moved off the mission when she was a teenager. She has raised my brother and I in Sydney, so well off-country. Outside of those words that we used in our family, I just didn’t know my language. So being in that class was scary and confronting and wonderful. I definitely went through a lot of different emotions. In my head, it was always going to be this incredible experience. Then I actually got into a classroom with my mum who’s in her 60s and I couldn’t believe this is the way we have to learn our language. I really wasn’t prepared for the anger and sadness I went through. It’s wonderful to have that opportunity but I can’t help but wish that I’d grown up learning Gamilaraay. 

Was learning your language challenging? 

I noticed a big difference because I had mum as a comparison. She knew a bit more language than I did going in. She also had a better grasp on culture and country. She grew up on-country, so it was in her body and in her mind in a way that it wasn’t in mine. But I’m more used to being a student. I’d been talking to people about language quite consistently at this point. And I’ve been learning other peoples’ words, enough that when we were learning the sounds and words and doing the proper grammar and linguistic theory, it was clicking for me in a way that was not working for her. We had a habit of sitting at the front of the class and I always liked to make it clear that we sat there for her. Mum is a retired school teacher and ironically it’s made her a really unruly student.

Little Yarns inspired you to go learn your language, what has this taught you about yourself?

I’ve always felt very connected to my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, the people that I know, but it’s made me really rethink the life that my nan had, that her mother had. I’m also thinking more intentionally now about why certain things happened within our family, why my mum would have kept using certain words, and why they stopped talking about different things. It’s given me a whole new layer of context and understanding.

What excites you about Little Yarns?

We’ve had people reach out and ask us to do their language on the show, or ask for a particular word from the country they live on. And that’s humbling. People are connecting to what we’re making, but they’re also showing an extreme level of trust to ask us to do their language. We are very protective of our languages, of our country, of our culture. I don’t take those requests lightly. The dream is that we will eventually cover every language and then go back around again.

I have to say I don’t live on-country. I live on Dharawal Country. I work on Gadigal Country. And so, I am a very long-term visitor to where I live. That does change how you think about it, it’s a different level of connection. As much as Dharawal Country is where I’ve spent most of my life the idea of calling it home doesn’t go as deeply as a traditional owner calling it home, and it doesn’t go as deeply as when I talk about my own country. That’s a different sense of home.

When will the new season of Little Yarns drop?

We had hoped to start season three development a couple of months ago, right before the lockdown began. In particular because the earliest information about COVID 19, Aboriginal people were flagged as a vulnerable population. It was almost regardless of age. Hopefully as things start to ease up, we’ll start work. In the meantime, a listener requested that Noisy by Nature, which is another ABC kids Listen program — do a crossover with Little Yarns. We’re excited by the idea so we’re thinking about how in the short term we can make that happen.

To Listen to Little Yarns click HERE.

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