Three Tasmanian Aboriginal children have starred in a new animated television series, broadcast in one of the state’s Indigenous languages.
The new animated television series Little J and Big Cuz is set in “nana’s backyard” and looks at everyday situations for Aboriginal children.
The 13-episode series has been recorded in both English and several of Australia’s Indigenous languages, including Tasmania’s palawa kani which is made up of nine dialects.
It was spoken across Tasmania until colonisation, when the Indigenous community was forced to speak English.
The language was revived in the 1990s and has been taught across the state ever since.
Seth Gardiner (left), Skye Cox and Peta Cabalza (right) starred in the series. (ABC News: Sallese Gibson)
Three local school children, who have been learning the language, were chosen to be involved in the series.
Seth Gardiner, 11, has been learning palawa kani for three years.
“[I find it] fun because you get to interact with other people and speak our own language,” he said.
“Our alphabet is different to English, we don’t have some of the letters.
“We went to the studio and we had to stand in front of the microphones and we had to go over our script again and again until it was perfect.
“The character I’m playing is … in a wheelchair and his favourite animal is kangaroos and he’s doing show and tell.”
Peta Cabalza, 10, has also been learning the language for several years.
“It can be a tricky language,” she said. “It was really nice to be able to do the voices.”
Twelve-year-old Skye Cox was also involved.
Fanny Cochrane Smith made wax recordings in her language in 1899. (Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery)
The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC) describes palawa kani as being “the revived form of the original Tasmanian Aboriginal languages. It incorporates authentic elements of the original languages remembered by Tasmanian [Aboriginal peoples] from the 19th to the 21st centuries. It also draws on an extensive body of historical and linguistic research”.
“There are no living speakers of the original Tasmanian languages.
“Spoken records of the original sounds are limited to a few sounds that can only just be heard when Fanny Cochrane Smith spoke on the records of her songs in 1899.
“So to attempt to recover the original sounds and meanings, we have to start from written records made by early Europeans of the sounds they heard, and the meanings they thought they understood when they heard our ancestors speak.”
Keeping the language alive
Rosetta Thomas, a youth language worker at the TAC’s Launceston office, is one of several Tasmanian adults who voice the other characters in the episode.
She started learning palawa kani on Cape Barren Island when she was 12, and is now passing on her language skills to school children.
“Language is a really big part of our history and our culture and it means a lot to us and it’s great to pass on to the children, so it can be happening for future generations,” she said.
Ms Thomas said the cartoon was a great opportunity for the kids to showcase the language to a wider audience.
“They’re famous, so they say. They’re super-excited. The kids who’re involved have worked really hard for years,” she said.
“I think it’s fabulous for the community, for families, for children to be able to view this for future years and see how far we’ve come from starting language learning in the late 1990s to where it is today.”
The lack of a cartoon speaking to Indigenous kids in Aboriginal language had irked the show’s director, Tasmanian Tony Thorne.
“Never before has an Australian animated show targeted an Indigenous four- to six-year-old audience. As an Indigenous person this seemed wrong,” he said.
The series, being screened on NITV, involved animators from Hobart company Blue Rocket and received financial support from Screen Tasmania.
Ned Landers said they set it in “nana’s backyard” to try and make it relatable nationally. (Supplied: Ned Lander Media)