This photograph is part of the Grounded series, produced for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and then toured in Australia from 2015 to 2019.
Kanytjupai Armstrong from Pukatja (Ernabella) is playing a major role as part of a group of people who are translating the Bible into Pitjantjatjara. Writing the language is another way of ensuring its survival.
Of the estimated two hundred and fifty distinct languages in Australia, each with many dialects, fewer than twenty are the first language spoken by children and likely to survive. A hundred and twenty-seven more are only spoken, in part, by some of the older people. Many now speak only English.
The loss comes due to historical government policies of removal of Aboriginal children from their families, banning of the languages, and people being made to feel ashamed for using them. People learned to survive by “being the white way”.
But language plays an important role in connection to place, belonging and identity. One Aboriginal man is reported as saying: “Oh, it (language) is our lifeblood. This is what we tell the young people. You have to know your language because you'll never be able to learn your Dreaming and if you don't know your Dreaming you can't identify where you belong. If you don't identify where you belong you may as well say you're dead. As an Aboriginal person you have to know your language to be able to learn your Dreamings.” (1)
The 'Grounded' exhibition addresses issues around the marginalisation of Australian Aboriginal people, their loss of land and language, and how their way of life has been destroyed by a culture with little respect for land and environment. These photographs are paired with stories and photographs from the Gaelic speaking Outer Hebrides of Scotland.
(1) Ros Bowden and Bill Bunbury, Being Aboriginal : Comments, Observations and Stories from Aboriginal Australians from ABC radio programs (Sydney : ABC Enterprises, 1990)