NCACL: National Centre for Australian Literature

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In July 2020, the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature (NCACL) quietly launched its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander resource, a database by, and about Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander Peoples one that is unique, more importantly free and a project I have happily been involved with for the last 12 months. 

It was exciting to experience the quantity and quality of the material selected for the database. One surprise was just how much Indigenous material NCACL has in its collection. A search of a shelf for one title always seem to reveal two or three others. We did not limit the database to the books NCACL held, but searched other resources for books and authors and other clues to material that would help build the Resource. 

One important aspect of the Resource is the inclusion of Language as a searching parameter. Where books included words in an Indigenous language the Language name and code was recorded in the database. A language may have a number of different names and trying to navigate the AUSTLANG database when searching for a language name and code can be quite an interesting challenge. 

Currently the resource has just over 300 titles, of these, approximately a third are considered bilingual books. There are over 250 known Indigenous languages in Australia, sadly, many have either none or very few speakers today. There is however a movement to teach and re-learn the languages and there seems to be a growing inclusion of words in language in recently published books not just by the established publishers such as Magabala Books but also by new organisations such as Children’s Ground and bodies like the Northern Territory Library who worked closely with communities and programs such as Families as First Teachers.  

Children’s Ground is an organisation being led by Indigenous communities. Their project in Alice Springs; Anwerne Ingkerrekele Mpwareke; By Us, For Us works with emerging authors and artists in doing so further developing their first language literacy and translating skills. To date five titles have been published, they are high quality publications centred on language, family, culture and country and are beautifully illustrated by community members. You can search for individual publisher’s books in the Resource.  

The Northern Territory Library has published, in conjunction with various NT communities, a series of small colourful board books. Each book is specific to that community and the text and illustrations were developed through workshops held in the community libraries and facilitated by programs such as Families as First Teachers. The range of topics is amazing. They may revolve around the first year of a baby’s life, or community activities or gathering food. A number have CDs with songs in language and all included extensive use of the particular community’s language generally with an English translation. 

2019 was the International Year of Indigenous Languages and it is fitting that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Resource began in that year. The inclusion of Indigenous languages is a vital and significant part of the database and I hope it continues to grow in use and usefulness. 

Ruth Nitschke 

National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature 

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