Nyernila – Listen Continuously: Aboriginal Creation Stories of Victoria
Long before Melbourne was designated a UNESCO City of Literature – long before the existence of the city itself – this land had a rich culture of storytelling.
The first writing took the form of rock carving, bark painting, sand drawing and pokerwork on skins and bark, but there was also a strong oral language tradition.
Prior to European settlement, up to 700 languages were spoken across Australia, with 38 in Victoria. Today it is estimated 120 Aboriginal languages are being spoken and more than half of those are considered endangered. Not all of these languages and stories are widely known – but they form an important literary heritage and a platform for reviving language and strengthening culture.
Language helps us to define who we are, the place in which we live and how we got here. And if we listen closely, we can still hear Indigenous communities across the state tell their stories, celebrating their language and culture.
Nyernila – which means to listen continuously – brings together creation stories from across Victoria; stories about the land, the animals and the people.
Developed in partnership between Creative Victoria and the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages (VACL), it celebrates a tradition of storytelling passed down through generations for at least 30,000 years that imparts knowledge and provides guidance.
The Nyernila project began in 2010 with a series of language development workshops conducted by VACL in Aboriginal communities across the state. By transcribing the sounds, writing the words, defining the meaning, composing the sentences and publishing dictionaries with each community, VACL helped these communities tell their forebear’s stories in their own language.
The publication of these stories in Nyernila reflects the active process of language reclamation. Some communities have developed extensive vocabularies therefore entire stories appear in traditional language. Other communities are beginning the hard work, recovering one word at a time, some of the first steps in sharing their language and stories with the world.
This anthology celebrates the diversity of Victoria and will provide greater appreciation and access to Victorian Aboriginal culture to non-Aboriginal people.
Victorian literature - including the work many contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers – is flourishing. Melbourne’s designation by UNESCO as a City of Literature in 2008 is testament to that. Nyernila reminds us of the foundation stones upon which our City of Literature is founded.