Recognising importance of Indigenous languages and traditions through art

Works by internationally renowned photographic artist Martine Perret are currently on display at St John of God Subiaco Hospital

4 Mar 2022

Photographic artist Martine Perret 

 The exhibition, titled Ngala Wongga (Come Talk), draws attention to the need to preserve at-risk Indigenous languages in Western Australia’s Goldfields.

Martine said the exhibition documents some of the last remaining Indigenous language speakers in the goldfields region, in a way that expresses their physical and cultural connections to their land.

“The project developed over 18 months, during which time I drove over 25,000 kilometers, between my home in Margaret River to and from the Goldfields’ towns of Kalgoorlie, Norseman, Laverton and Wiluna,” she said.

“I spent five months, on and off, on the ground with local Indigenous Elders, gaining their trust, listening to their stories, and recording and photographing.

“I came to appreciate how intertwined their language is to the land and to their cultural wellbeing, and I glimpsed the ominous impact of when a language dies out.”

The portraits of the Indigenous language speakers are accompanied by captivating aerial photographs of the Goldfields region.

Edie Ulrich, the daughter of Edna Sceghi whose photo was captured as part of the exhibition, said that sadly many traditional languages are not spoken anymore, having slowly died out as Elders passed away and younger generations use English as their main language.

“The more people who are made aware of the plight of the indigenous language, the more chance we have of saving our language for our younger generations who could use it as their first language and bring it alive again.”

St John of God Subiaco Hospital Chief Executive Officer Prof Shirley Bowen added that the hospital was pleased to be supporting such an important initiative and to be playing a part in recognising the importance of traditional languages and traditions.

“St John of God Subiaco Hospital is committed to playing a role in reconciliation and building on our organisation’s rich heritage of engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” she said.