1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2012  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/05/2012   
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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples


In 2012, Australia celebrates the National Year of Reading. This article recognises the year by looking at the Cherbourg State School's Language for Life project. It was contributed by Peter Sansby, Principal, Cherbourg State School.

Cherbourg is a small town in south-eastern Queensland, located 170 kilometres to the north-west of Brisbane. Formerly known as Barambah, the town was established in 1904 as a settlement under the 1897 Aborigines Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act, relocating people from many different tribal groups in Queensland, each with their own language.

Cherbourg State School caters for children from preschool to Year 7. In 2010, about 180 children were enrolled at the school, all of whom were Aboriginal. The school has a focus on improving outcomes for literacy in the early years of schooling. This was enhanced in 2007 by a special class-based project to support the school’s reading assistance program. With community support, the children designed and produced a series of picture books, based on their own culture and experiences. These books are integral to engaging young readers in the context of their own culture and experiences.

Image: Cherbourg State School classroom.

Image: Cherbourg State School classroom.

Image: Cherbourg picture books.

Image: Cherbourg picture books.

From 2007, improved reading outcomes for early learners at Cherbourg State School are evident in the results of the National Assessment Program: Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN). Average scores in reading for Year 3 at Cherbourg State School were above those of statistically similar schools in 2007 and substantially above those of statistically similar schools in 2009 and 2010. <Endnote 1> At time of writing, Cherbourg State School is continuing to engage school children in using local language in order to foster a love of reading and to preserve traditional language.


If the eyes are the window to a person’s soul, then reading is the window to a world of imagination, adventure, future employment, pleasure and a great life. At Cherbourg State School, the challenge of teaching children to read is made all the more difficult due to a complex local language background. 'Cherbourg Home Language', 'Cherbourg Talk' and 'Mission Talk' are all names given to what linguists would refer to as a creole born from a communication necessity during the development of Barambah Settlement.

“Who dat ova der? Em pinkin dat orse!”

The sentences above are examples of the written version of the oral language spoken and understood by the children, parents and community members of Cherbourg. For those who do not have the necessary language code for the sentences, it is impossible to determine an accurate meaning. For those with the code, translated into Standard Australian English it reads:

“Who is that over there? They are throwing stones at that horse!”

The language evolved from a common 'pidgin language' resulting from the forcible relocation to Cherbourg in the early 1900s of over 50 tribes of Aboriginal peoples, who were forbidden from using their traditional languages. The dilemma for Cherbourg State School is how to acknowledge and celebrate the reality of the Cherbourg Home Language, whilst promoting the need to develop Australian-English literacy skills as the language tool to navigate the education system.

The current Language for Life project is centred on a poster depicting Cherbourg Home Language, and was developed in partnership with the Cairns Indigenous School Support Unit. The project was undertaken by Dr Jennifer Munro, a specialist in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. Dr Munro initiated the project by coming to the community and building necessary relationships with elders, community members, parents, school staff and students. This was followed by numerous visits ensuring total community consultation and outlining in detail the project brief and the reasoning behind the project.

Image: Cherbourg student reading.
Image: Cherbourg student reading.

Thanks to the overwhelming generosity of the community people, and the dedication of Dr Munro, the 12-month project is in its final stages. Before the end of the year, completed versions of the poster will be distributed throughout the community and used widely within the school as conversation starters around the importance and acknowledgement of language. Once again, the community will resonate to the sounds of traditional language being spoken by Strong and Smart <Endnote 2> children from Cherbourg State School. However, this is not the end but merely the beginning. Future projects are already in the pipeline around traditional language reclamation. Perhaps in the future, the children of Cherbourg State School will have the opportunity to become trilingual.

Image: Cherbourg girl reading with elder.
Image: Cherbourg girl reading with elder.


1 My School. Similar schools are schools serving students from statistically similar backgrounds. <Back>

2 The Strong and Smart Values Program aims to teach children a set of core values that promote peace, truth, love and non-violence in all interactions both within and out of the school. <Back>


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Statistics contained in the Year Book are the most recent available at the time of preparation. In many cases, the ABS website and the websites of other organisations provide access to more recent data. Each Year Book table or graph and the bibliography at the end of each chapter provides hyperlinks to the most up to date data release where available.