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The Ganai Project

On the Bataluk Trail

Context | Beginnings | Nambur Ganai: The CD ROM | The benefits for students



The Ganai Project is based around the Woolum Bellum KODE school, in the Latrobe Valley district of Victoria.

At one time, the Latrobe Valley had high rates of employment because of the power industry but today unemployment rates are among the highest in the country. For the Indigenous community, unemployment is a long term issue and youth unemployment is a particular problem. The majority of parents of students at Woolum Bellum are unemployed.

Many of the Koori families have been in the area for many years, after being resettled from a number of missions, such as that at Lake Tyers.

Ganai is a traditional Koorie language of the area. Woolum Bellum’s school charter priorities were developed in consultation with the Koorie community and include Culture, Communication and Information Technology. All of these are involved in the Ganai Project, which received IESIP SRP funds to develop a CD ROM teaching resource for Ganai language.



Doris Paton

Doris Paton was the manager of the Ganai Project and is now Program Coordinator of the Koorie Unit at the Central Gippsland Institute of TAFE. Lynne Dent was the first Ganai LOTE teacher at Woolum Bellum and is now Koorie Education Field Officer, assisting other schools to introduce Ganai language into the curriculum.

Doris and Lynne talk about the origins of the Ganai Project.


When the school started in 1995 there was an opportunity for the community to put the local language into the school. They thought it was appropriate for the kids in the area to learn their own language but at that time there were no materials. Absolutely no resources, no materials. Lynne was the only person in our community who had language experience so she was asked to teach the language at school and she went out and asked Elders if it was okay for her to do that, and they said yes. There was an Elders reference group and it was really their vision for the language to be revived in the community.



Lynne Dent

Because I taught Bandjalang for all of those years I could have easily done that, but I thought it would be really good to actually have our kids learn their own language. The idea was that it would work in with the school to build self esteem and I felt it was more important to have something that was their own.

There was absolutely nothing that I could go and draw on, like work books or resources or anything. I taught Preps to Year 10 and initially it was all in one day, so it was quite hard. But then I settled into it and I started to think of things to do that made the language alive so that the kids were using it every day. Some people believed that it was better to teach language to adults, and adults would pass it on to their kids, but I saw it coming from the other end, that if we taught the kids, they would be happy to use it and not be scared about it. So they would go home and greet their parents in language and that would start the parents remembering stories. And it did actually happen like that, so it was really good. Kids would come back with little stories, saying mum remembered this and dad remembered that, and it started snowballing.

And then we had a vision to target cultural workers and introduce language to them. They had a lot to do with tourists as well and we thought it would be good for them to at least greet people in Ganai and talk about specific sites using those language names.


In the community at the time we didn’t have many people who knew a lot of language. Elders used words when they spoke to each other and in our family both my parents speak some of the language, and that was quite common.


But later we found out that there were more Elders who knew language. They would come up to us and say ‘I actually still speak language’. We had thought this, but it took a while for it to happen. And they were able to help and the first thing we did was to make some audio tapes.

Lynne has compiled a set of notes about Indigenous language reclamation.

Nambur Ganai: The CD ROM


And then the IESIP SRP came along and we were able to develop the CD ROM. It was a huge opportunity but it took a while for the multimedia people to grasp what we wanted.



The CD ROM is introduced by an animated bataluk (goanna)

We didn’t want a lot of text. I said we don’t actually teach like that. If we were going to teach something, we’d go to the site and we’d talk about things there. We’d touch things and make it real and that’s how we wanted the CD, with a lot of visual and oral stuff. All of the ideas and the games that we play in class are on the CD, so it’s reinforcing what we do in class all the time.


When a student works on the CD they’re ‘going to the sea’ or ‘going to the bush’. And there’s information and cultural stuff as well. The language program is cultural language. It’s about cultural knowledge. The whole basis of it is the Bataluk Trail, which is a significant cultural trail in the area.


We see the CD as a stage of the language development of the community. It can be used in schools where the language has already been established and in kindergarten as well. We now have language workers in preschools and they will be trained in using the CD. Because it’s oral and visual, it can work at many levels.


And now we’re developing a whole kit to go with the CD. Our Elders reference group are thrilled with it because they see it as a way of keeping the language alive in the community and not just for now but for future generations. But the CD is only the next stage of the whole community program.

The benefits for students


Karen Cain

Karen Cain is principal of Woolum Bellum. She had previously been principal of a district high school in Tasmania but is also trained in Special Education and has worked in settings from Kindergarten to Year 10.

Karen discusses the benefits of having Ganai language in the curriculum.

We have an Indigenous teacher of LOTE and she’s using the CD ROM with every class. We know from experience that Indigenous students can really connect with information technology as a means of learning because it’s very visual, it’s controllable, it’s non-invasive and it’s flexible. But the CD ROM is literacy based. It’s about reading. It’s about following instructions. It’s about listening. It’s about children being able to record their responses. And it’s quite an interactive program.

With Ganai language, they see that we’re valuing it because it’s just a normal part of our school program. Children and community are starting to see that this is real schooling, and I think that’s important too. It’s building children’s confidence in using language, both Standard Australian English and Ganai. So it’s making the connection between the two languages and again that tells kids that both languages are valued.

Lynne and Doris talk more about the importance of Ganai language.


Some of it’s about pride and self esteem. Kids need their own identity and language is part of it.

Sometimes you can see real change, how proud they are, how confident they are. We have a big awards day every year where we invite principals from other schools and parents and the whole community. There was a Year 10 boy at the back of the room and he took the hand of a non-Aboriginal man, just saying wunman njinde [hello]. The man was just looking at him, like ‘what’s going on?’ And I turned and looked at him and he had this big smile on his face as he ushered the man to his seat. Pride and confidence.

Or at the Federation dance, the kids were really proud of getting up on the stage and doing a dance, interpreting a dreaming story. Whereas before they weren’t confident about doing that and they were too shy or too shamed. We had one girl who talked the whole of the story, in language.


Because of the history of the families of the area, being moved off the missions and being dislocated from culture and knowledge, the kids have found through the school and through the language program a way of reconnecting. The language has been an important part of that. Then they go out and learn about things in their country, and they’re really quite proud of the fact that they do have language and that they can use it and they do know a bit about their country. I think that’s really important for their own self esteem and identity.

I guess we realise that the kids can’t and won’t live the way we used to live. We’re just so far removed from it now. We’re urban people, but that connection to land and to identify and to culture… it really, really means a lot. For our survival even. We have a lot of things happening in the community that aren’t very good, but that connection will give kids a lot of benefits as they get older.


© Commonwealth of Australia 2020