On 3 July 2020, the Centre for Australian Languages and Linguistics hosted a symposium at the Batchelor campus in Alice Springs in recognition of the life work of linguist and academic Gavan Breen. The day was organised by Mary Laughren, Mark Harvey and Angela Harrison, and MC-ed on zoom by Margaret Carew. The day attracted more than one hundred participants from around the country. Many local Indigenous language custodians and colleagues, family and friends were in the room, and many others, including family and the broader linguistic world participated by zoom. It was a wonderful testiment to a man who has dedicated his life’s work to Indigenous people, language documentation and language education. Gavan has been based at the Institute for Aboriginal Development for more than 30 years where he has been involved in teaching many locals to read and write their languages. The stimulus for the day was a film of the narrated slideshow of Gavan’s Memories of field work in SW Qld in 1967.
The incredible significance of Gavan’s work across south-west Queensland became clear to participants over the course of the day. Gavan recorded more than 49 languages, in many cases recording the last known speakers of the language. His work has provided a body of highly significant material for current and future researchers and been greatly valued by generations of family members of those last speakers who Gavan knew. Many Queensland Indigenous family members have visited Gavan over the years at the Institute for Aboriginal Development wanting to connect with their language and history. Gavan has generously helped them to reclaim and learn their languages.
The day paid tribute to the hard work, human spirit and connections that typify this work. It was very moving to realise the connections that exist from those last speakers of languages and the documentation work to the present-day efforts in language maintenance of the younger generation of Indigenous people.
Film of Gavan's slides of his 1967 fieldwork in south-west Queensland narrated by Gavan in 2020. Audio recording and collation of slideshow by Angela Harrison with Gavan and Rosalie.
Talks presented at the symposium.
Margaret Carew - 28 March 2014
Margaret prepared this article as part of Gavan's nomination for an Order of Australia. Gavan was awarded the Officer of the Order of Australia on 26th January 2016.
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