Goodbye Indonesia, I will miss you

Indonesian President Joko Widodo being interviewed by Fairfax journalists Jewel Topsfield and Peter Hartcher at the presidential palace in Jakarta.Photo: Jefri TariganJakarta: I can’t pinpoint the moment I fell in love with Indonesia.
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A friend knows exactly. He tells this wonderful anecdote about a security guard at a Jakarta museum asking if he wanted to come inside and lie down to escape the heat.

The next day he quit his job in Singapore and moved here. “There is no way you could even sit on the museum steps in Singapore,” he told me.

I know what he means. Indonesia is everything Singapore is not: dysfunctional, chaotic and polluted. Jakarta, with its gridlocked traffic, is the megalopolis that expats love to hate.

And yet I have never felt more alive. The clogged streets with their treacherous footpaths might be hard to navigate but they pulse with energy. I love the wit of Indonesians on social media. I love the steamy nights, waking to the call to prayer and the drama of torrential downpours.

Anything seems possible here even when so much is bloody difficult. I was recently trapped in floods in Jakarta. The eight-kilometre commute from my office took three hours. As the water lapped against the side of the taxi, the driver got the giggles. It struck me, not for the first time, that no driver in would ever have the sanguinity to laugh about this level of madness.

I watched a fleet of green-helmeted Go-Jek motorcycle taxi drivers pick their way through the waves. Go-Jek was Indonesia’s first unicorn (a start-up with a value of over $1 billion). It’s the ultimate example of a company making lemonade out of lemons. Go-Jeks do not just ferry passengers around the congested streets, squeezing through spaces cars could only dream about, they also save you from ever having to leave the house. I have Go-Jeked (it’s a verb here) someone to wax my legs, cut my hair, deliver cranberry juice and drop off a pram I bought online. It arrived exactly 56 minutes later.

Indonesia is a country of extraordinary stories. The warmth, openness and generosity so many people have shown me has been incredible. My favourite word in Indonesian is boleh (you may). I heard it so many times – you may interview me, you may come in, you may visit.

And yet Indonesia is dogged by problems that can seem insurmountable. Barely a day goes past without a corruption scandal hitting the headlines. Last November 18 officials were suspected of graft relating to the Monument of Integrity erected in Pekanbaru, a city in Sumatra, to mark International Anti-Corruption Day. It was not satire. “Peak Indonesia,” someone tweeted.

There are concerns about rising Islamic conservatism and religious intolerance, with the former Chinese-Indonesian Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama – known as Ahok – jailed for blasphemy last year and an unprecedented crackdown on the nation’s LGBT community.

But there are also unsung heroes everywhere.

The Sumatran school doing its bit to tackle the national rubbish crisis by allowing parents to pay fees with recycled rubbish, the Muslims who provide security outside churches at Christmas, the women of Rembang who planted their feet in blocks of concrete outside the presidential palace to protest against the environmental damage caused by a cement factory, the Acehnese fishing communities who welcomed Rohingya refugees when the rest of the world turned its back.

Struggling to articulate Indonesia’s contradictions, I find myself craving my favourite comfort food, martabak manis, a sweet pancake stuffed with chocolate and grated cheddar cheese. It’s a much loved food combination here I once thought disgusting. Now I snap: “How is chocolate and cheese any different to caramel and sea salt?”

But unlike my friend’s instant crush on Indonesia, my relationship with the country was a complicated slow-burner.

Jewel Topsfield interviewed Indonesian President Joko Widodo, centre, with Fairfax Media’s Peter Hartcher, left. Photo: Jefri Tarigan

My first few months here in early 2015 were harrowing.

Within days of my arrival, Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, rejected the clemency pleas of Bali Nine heroin smugglers Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, despite their remarkable rehabilitation.

From this moment their death by firing squad seemed inevitable.

Reporting on the lead-up to the executions was like watching a film, heart in mouth, that you already know ends tragically. I barely slept for weeks.

Relations between the two countries soured, exacerbated by Tony Abbott’s disastrous reminder of the billion dollars in aid had donated after the 2004 tsunami.

” and Indonesia are like divorced parents who have to stay together for the sake of the children,” one Indonesian official told me.

The anger some ns felt towards Indonesia at the time was visceral. I deplore the death penalty – now more than ever – but felt a responsibility not to fan the flames of hate.

Many Indonesians see drug smuggling through a different prism to ns; a crime akin to cold-blooded murder or terrorism because it can lead to the deaths of addicts.

And there were also Indonesians who were deeply affected; among them the guards and fellow prisoners who became close to Chan and Sukumaran and their indefatigable lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis, who has been fighting to end the death penalty in Indonesia since 1979.

Mulya would later describe the night the ns were shot as the darkest moment of his life. “I failed. I lost,” he tweeted, heartbroken, at 4am.

For a long time I didn’t let myself acknowledge the executions had affected me. It seemed nothing in the face of the grief faced by Chan and Sukumaran’s loved ones.

But I was haunted by photos of them as children, Sukumaran with a broad toothy grin and Chan an impish smirk.

For weeks afterwards I dreamed my son, 18 months old at the time, fell into a swimming pool. I would dive in and try to rescue him but each time his slippery, muscular body would squirm out of my hands until I realised I was powerless to save him. I would wake soaked in sweat, again and again.

I remember reading former Melbourne radio journalist Brian Morley’s account of witnessing the hanging of Ronald Ryan in Melbourne and how it changed him. I marvelled he was still alive to tell the story. The last execution carried out in seemed so long ago although it was only 1967.

Jokowi last year suggested Indonesians would eventually change their minds on execution laws, as citizens of other countries have done in the past.

I hope one day to write a retrospective piece when the death penalty seems as remote and archaic in Indonesia as it does in .

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were executed in 2015. Photo: Anta Kesuma

I still have to pinch myself I got this job. I was terrified when appointed that I would never live up to the previous Fairfax Indonesia correspondents. I poured out my heart to a mentor. “No two correspondents are the same,” she said. “Follow the stories that interest you.” It sounds so obvious but it is among the best pieces of career advice I have received.

Fairfax Media is blessed to have two superb Indonesian journalists – Karuni Rompies and Amilia Rosa – who are gutsy, charming, dogged, unflappable and insatiably curious.

Accompanied by either one of them, I criss-crossed the archipelago in search of stories that interested me and (I hope) gave readers some insight into the complexity and wonder of one of ‘s closest but least understood neighbours.

The n media is generally blamed for this lack of understanding. We are told we are only interested in the three Bs: boats, beef and Bali.

There is no disputing that Aussies’ misadventures in Bali, the seamy underbelly of the Island of Gods and anything that might jeopardise the holiday plans of 1 million ns a year drives traffic to Fairfax websites.

Some of the stories read like Hollywood scripts. The n who escaped from Kerobokan jail via a sewage tunnel just weeks before his sentence finished and has taunted police on the run ever since and the Byron Bay woman Sara Connor jailed over the fatal assault of a Bali police officer.

But Bali made up only a part of our reportage.

We investigated the devastating legacy of toxic levels of mercury from illegal gold mines on child-bearing women in Lombok.

It can be difficult for foreign media to access Papua (the independence struggle here is one of the most sensitive topics in Indonesia) but we reported on the mysterious disappearance of Papuan Martinus Beanal as conflict simmered around the Freeport mine. The area surrounding the mine, which many indigenous Papuans see as the root of their oppression, has long been the site of a low-level insurgency.

We wrote about the “real estate deal of the millennium”: the forgotten Indonesian island of Run in the Banda Sea that was swapped for Manhattan 350 years ago.

Run Island, famed for its nutmeg, was once exchanged for Manhattan. Photo: Jefri Tarigan

The man expected to challenge Jokowi for the 2019 presidential election, Prabowo Subianto – usually referred to as a “former military strongman” – told us over breakfast that his love for animals meant he had to negotiate with ants.

We explored Indonesia’s struggle to come to terms with one of its darkest chapters – the massacre of an estimated 500,000 people suspected of left leanings in 1965 and 1966 – and the surreal paranoia about a resurgent red peril.

I wanted to highlight the inspirational stories too: the former extremist who established a school in Medan to deradicalise the children of terrorists, the footpath warriors reclaiming the pavements for Jakarta’s pedestrians and the charismatic crisis manager handling Indonesia’s natural disasters one tweet at a time.

We interviewed child brides, a rain shaman, street musicians, former political prisoners, participants in the world of competitive birdsong and a much loved defender of the waria, Indonesia’s transgender community of biological men who believe they were born with the souls of women.

In Toraja, South Sulawesi, where people are completely at home among the dead, I reflected on our sanitised buttoned-up attitude to death in the West, where the body is quickly dispensed with and grief is largely a lonely, private affair. We had witnessed manene, an intimate ritual to pay homage to ancestors, where corpses were removed from their coffins, groomed and dressed in new outfits. “Were you revolted?” a friend asked. In fact I had been moved. At its heart, the ceremony is an expression of love.

Living with the dead in South Sulawesi. Photo: Alan Putra

In Probolinggo, East Java, one of the centres of black magic in Indonesia, we investigated the killing of a woman suspected of being a sorcerer.

We met terrorist attack survivors, women who formed a support group for those who wear the niqab, religious leaders, fans of Indonesia’s weird architecture in the 50s and 60s and the president of Indonesia.

The access we were granted was extraordinary.

In June 2015, Amilia and I travelled to West Timor to investigate vague – but potentially explosive – claims an n official had paid people smugglers to return a boat of 65 asylum seekers to Indonesia.

I was highly sceptical. Then prime minister Tony Abbott had described people smuggling as an “evil trade”. Surely would not reward criminal activity?

We were ushered into a room at Kupang police station. I was astonished General Endang Sunjaya, the then police chief of East Nusa Tenggara, had agreed to even meet with us.

He told us the six crew members on the people smuggling boat had all sworn under oath they received about $US5000 from an n official to return to Indonesia. Their accounts were corroborated by asylum seekers who were separately interrogated.

“The money is now being kept as evidence that this was not a made-up story,” General Endang told us. “This is very unexpected. If it happened in Indonesia it would constitute a bribe.”

I was pouring with sweat and my eyes were beginning to bulge. I frenziedly scribbled a note to Amilia: “Let’s get out of here before he changes his mind and says this is all off the record!!!!!”. Amilia calmly ignored me and sipped her tea. “Could you show us the money sir?” she asked sweetly. “Boleh,” the general replied and showed us photographs of piles of crisp US dollar notes.

Later Amilia, bemused by my shock, asked if the n government was likely to respond. I said it would almost certainly not comment “on water matters”.

Sure enough Abbott refused to comment on “operational matters”, although he never denied had paid the people smugglers. “What we do is we stop the boats by hook or by crook,” he said. “I just don’t want to go into the details of how it’s done.”

Amusingly, Indonesian journalists were not familiar with the idiom “by hook or by crook” and translated it literally. “Abbott simply insisted that he would ‘stop the boat by inducement or with criminals’ and refused to elaborate on ‘how it is done’,” Antara news reported.

I’ll always be grateful for the refreshing – and generous – level of access that Indonesian officials have provided to us over the past three years. It is a world away from the team of media flacks employed to massage the message back home.

We won a Walkley Award for our coverage of the cash for boat turnbacks scandal and it triggered a Senate inquiry.

From left, seated: Captain Yohanis Humiang with head of the people smuggling division of Nusa Tenggara Timur, Ibrahim, and Rote police chief Hidayat. Photo: Supplied

Analysts have claimed Indonesia has been at a crossroads for so long it has been parodied by The Simpsons. “Look at me, I’m reading The Economist. Did you know Indonesia is at a crossroads?” Homer asks, after ordering a steak on a plane. “Nooooo,” deadpans Marge.

But once again things seem precarious.

Identity politics in Indonesia (and other southern Asian countries) has been named one of the top global risks for 2018 by US risk analysis organisation the Eurasia Group.

Islamists’ increasing sway over Indonesian politics was demonstrated in the lead-up to last year’s gubernatorial election, with massive street protests denouncing the reformist Chinese-Christian governor Ahok.

The allegations Ahok had insulted Islam and his subsequent blasphemy trial proved catastrophic for his re-election bid despite polls showing that Jakartans were overwhelmingly satisfied with his performance in office.

Former Jakarta governor Basuki ”Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama. Photo: AP

The 2016 and 2017 Islamist mobilisation has been recognised as an important shift in Indonesian politics. A new paper by n National University academic Marcus Mietzner and others says opposition to non-Muslims holding political office has hardened.

All eyes will be on the 171 provincial elections in June which are likely to be a bellwether of the 2019 presidential elections. Already there are fears religion, ethnicity and race will be used to sway voters.

I will be watching with bated breath. After three years reporting on politics I feel personally invested.

I recently met a man who had a map of Indonesia tattooed across his face to reflect his love for his country. He was an environmental activist working in a remote village in Bogor regency to turn plastic rubbish into fuel. This powered a generator and provided electricity for the village.

I thought it would make a great story. The tattooed man who loved his country trying to tackle Indonesia’s trash crisis. And then it struck me I had run out of time.

And in that moment I realised how much I will miss chronicling this complex and confounding country. Life will never be quite the same again.

Jewel Topsfield was the Indonesia correspondent for Fairfax Media from 2015 to 2018.

Speculation mounts over future of prime waterfront site as aquarium closes its doors

It has operated under a host of different names, and welcomed hundreds of thousands of families since it opened. But after 54 years, the Manly Sea Life Sanctuary is closing its doors.
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News of the closure of the aquarium on January 28 has sparked speculation about what will replace the Manly aquarium, as well as questions around the future of the animals that have called it home.

The aquarium was the first of its kind in Sydney and only the seventh in the world when it opened in 1963.

It was then named Marineland, and it boasted a 55ft circular tank holding four million litres of water surrounded by newly air-conditioned viewing galleries.

In the late 80s, $12 million was injected into the aquarium, refurbishing the interior and revealing the longest underwater tunnel in the world at the time.

Over the years, it has been known as Marineland, Oceanworld, Underwater World or Manly Oceanarium, before its current name was adopted in mid-2012 under the new owners Merlin Entertainments Group.

In March last year the company announced that the building was no longer feasible to maintain as an aquarium due to the projected maintenance required to keep the site up and running.

The site, owned by the Roads and Maritime Service, is a prime piece of real estate sitting right off the shore of Manly cove.

An RMS spokesperson said the service has “been approached by several parties with an interest in taking on the site once the aquarium departs the site this year,” and that it would be looking for expressions of interest for the lease of the site “in accordance with the current zoning.”

“RMS will go to market to determine the possible future use of the site, which is zoned W2, in the first half of this year.”

Under this current zoning the site is solely limited to boats sheds, kiosks, function centres, water recreation structures and marinas.

This would rule out the possibility of residential property replacing the aquarium at the current time.

Northern Beaches Council Acting CEO David Kerr told the Herald there are “no plans to change the zoning of this property.”

“If an application was lodged to change the zoning, Council is required by legislation to consider the application. Any application to change the zoning would be a matter for the elected Council to consider and determine.”

Speaking with Manly ward members of the Northern Beaches Council, Pat Daley and Sarah Grattan, both expressed their opposition to any proposed changes of the zoning.

“It is imperative that we keep this location for the benefit of the community,” Cr Daley said.

While Cr Grattan believes there “certainly would be no support for a residential site ??? it just would not be suitable.”

“It’s a local, public asset that should not be taken over by private residential groups,” she said.

Manly MP James Griffin also said it should remain in public hands.

“Ideally it would host a tenant in line with my community’s expectations and who would be sympathetic to the sensitivities of our local, coastal environment,” he said.

“I will listen closely to the feedback from my community and let RMS do the necessary work to hopefully find a new operator for the site after January 2018.”

As the closing date nears, aquarium staff are preparing to relocate the animals.

Life sciences manager Rob Townsend said the breed, rescue and protect program, which is being moved to the Darling Harbour Sea Life Aquarium, has helped change the community’s outlook towards animals like sharks and taking care of the environment.

This work has ranged from a primary focus on in-house breeding to minimise the impact of animal populations in the wild, rescuing injured animals and nurturing them back to health and protecting the environment by regular beach and dive cleans.

Mr Townsend has been analysing each animal to find the best suited location for it to be moved to, with a number of aquariums across and some overseas showing interest.

With the comfort of knowing all the animals will be safely taken care of, Mr Townsend admitted he will deeply miss the daily contact with animals.

“I’ve been lucky enough to be able to jump in the tank with big sharks, rays and turtles on a nearly daily basis,” he said.

“That’s going to be really hard to not have that anymore.”

Chris Lloyd-Mostyn first visited the Manly aquarium when he was 18 years old. More than three decades later, with four children and his wife Jane, Chris has returned to from London visiting for the last time.

“I came here exactly 31 years ago and have fond memories of diving with the sharks and turtles. I’m hoping my eldest son will go diving with me, like what I did when I was 18,” Chris said.

“I’m sad and surprised that it’s closing because it’s such a nice attraction.”

His wife Jane relished in the opportunity to visit the aquarium for the first time, “for 20 years my husband has not stopped talking about this place and how he wanted to come back here, so I’m thankful we got here just in time” she said.

Sydney’s great crane migration flocks to the ‘burbs

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
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No, the crane invasion of Sydney’s skyline has been visible for several years – a 65 per cent increase in just the last two years.

But new figures reveal the shifting shape of the flock, as construction migrates away from the CBD and into the suburbs along key public transport routes.

Politicians – from Joh Bjelke Petersen to Gladys Berejiklian – point proudly to the skyline as a mark their achievements.

But experts warn Sydney’s pattern of development is failing to deliver the relief first home buyers need.

Amid a record apartment building boom, a suburb by suburb breakdown of the Rider Levett Bucknall Crane Index reveals Sydney’s emerging crane hotspots, spreading wings across the northern, western and southern corridors of the city.

Back in 2015, the Sydney CBD was the unrivalled centre of crane activity, home to 25 cranes.

By 2017, that number slipped to 17, while Sydney’s satellite suburban centres climbed the ranks. When researchers counted cranes in September last year, Epping was home to 16, Wolli Creek 13, Parramatta 12 and Mascot 10.

Sydney’s inner west is also a hive of activity, with Burwood, Ashfield, Homebush Bay and Lewisham rounding out Sydney’s top 10 crane suburbs.

The director of research at Rider Levett Bucknall, Stephen Ballesty, said the pattern of crane activity in Sydney and Melbourne differed markedly from other state capitals.

“Interestingly, the two most buoyant markets of Sydney and Melbourne have seen a huge decentralisation of multi-level developments taking place. There are now 109 Sydney suburbs and 54 Melbourne suburbs with cranes, whilst other cities’ high-rise developments are focused in the CBD area.”

Of the nearly 350 cranes that dominate Sydney’s skyline, more than one in five are building residential blocks, rather than commercial.

“Residential cranes soared to 298 around Sydney, which amount to 43 per cent of total cranes erected within and 54 per cent of all cranes supporting the residential sector in ,” Mr Ballesty said.

Building work began on a record number of new apartments in NSW last year, figures from the n Bureau of Statistics show.

In the aftermath of the Sydney Olympics and Bob Carr declaring Sydney “full”, construction dwindled to a low of just 24,000 new homes in 2009, split roughly evenly between free-standing homes and apartments.

The last five years have seen a dramatic turn around.

Work began on 74,000 new homes last year, including 29,000 free standing homes and a record 44,000 apartments.

But experts warn that the state’s record apartment boom is not delivering the price relief that first time buyers need.

The head of Urban and Regional Planning and Policy at the University of Sydney, Peter Phibbs, said high land prices meant developers were building apartments in the million dollar mark range, out of reach of typical first time buyers.

Overall, Professor Phibbs said the Sydney experience showed the error of simply focusing on supply to improve housing affordability.

“We have run an international experiment about the inability of supply really to moderate housing price increases in a context of declining interest rates and a very tax friendly environment for investors.

“We will probably never see that supply response in Sydney again.”

Professor Phibbs backed calls for reform of generous negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts. He also urged economic policy makers to question the over reliance on ultra low interest rates to stimulate the economy, and focus more on government infrastructure investments to spur growth and deliver much needed transport links.

FSANZ apologises to nanotechnology experts for misrepresenting views

‘s food regulator had to apologise to its own advisory group of nanotechnology experts after it “misrepresented” the group’s views in its public slapdown of a study that found needle-like nanoparticles in baby formula, internal emails reveal.
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Fairfax Media reported last year that tests by an Arizona State University team showed the presence of needle-shaped hydroxyapatite nanoparticles – which the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety had concluded was potentially toxic – in two formula products.

Internal emails released under Freedom of Information laws reveal the depths of uncertainty and lack of consensus among ‘s top experts about whether the needle-like nano hydroxyapatite poses a health and safety risk to babies.

Following Fairfax Media’s article, Food Standards New Zealand (FSANZ) published a statement saying it had “reviewed all the available information and concluded it does not contain any new evidence to suggest these products pose a risk to infant health and safety. This conclusion is supported by experts from our Scientific Nanotechnology Advisory Group (SNAG).”

Later that day, one of SNAG’s six members sent an email saying she “objected” to the second sentence because in her opinion “it misrepresent[ed] what we were asked to comment on at the teleconference”, which focused on the study’s methodology and findings.

While one SNAG member said he “was not so concerned”, another member took the opportunity to again ask FSANZ for “information to support” the statement, namely evidence showing the nanoparticles “were not intentionally added and the concentration of nanoparticles in the samples were negligible, also, these dissolve when mix[ed] with water at a certain temperature”.

This member said if FSANZ could provide the requested information, she would not object to the sentence. It is unclear from the released emails whether FSANZ ever provided the materials.

A week later, FSANZ apologised to the SNAG members and changed the contentious sentence to read: “FSANZ consulted with members of our SNAG in reaching our conclusions.”

The internal emails, obtained and shared by Friends of the Earth (FoE), which commissioned the ASU study, show FSANZ held three teleconferences with SNAG, whose members hold positions at leading universities and government agencies, about the issue.

In summary, the group said: The nanoparticles were present in the samples and the testing method was valid;It could not be determined if the nanoparticles were intentionally engineered and added;Such nanoparticles can naturally occur from processing;

The emails show some disagreement within the advisory group at the time. Some members said the evidence in the study was insufficient to show that nano hydroxyapatite would dissolve in the infant gut and therefore it couldn’t be determined whether they posed a safety risk.

Some members held the position that nano hydroxyapatite didn’t pose a risk because they would likely dissolve in the stomach.

But one member pointed to the EU consumer safety committee’s concerns in relation to “potential toxicity” and said there was “insufficient evidence to draw a conclusion on safety”.

The EU committee’s report had concluded needle-like nano hydroxyapatite was potentially toxic and shouldn’t be used in oral care products such as toothpaste and mouthwash. It also found these nanoparticles were “fully synthetic”.

FSANZ at the time dismissed the report, saying it was based on “insufficient” data related to oral cosmetic products and therefore of limited relevance to the “trace amounts” of nano hydroxyapatite in baby formula.

FSANZ declined to comment for this article.

While nano hydroxyapatite can dissolve in the stomach, questions remain about what occurs in a baby’s stomach which is less acidic and the possible absorption through the gums.

On its website, FSANZ states: “Hydroxyapatite is soluble in acidic environments such as the stomach, so small amounts in food are likely to dissolve to release calcium and phosphate. These are essential minerals that are required to be in infant formula products”.

Regular hydroxyapatite is a naturally occurring, calcium-rich mineral that gives bones and teeth their rigidity, so its presence in formula is understandable. Sometimes it’s taken as a dietary supplement.

But it’s the needle-shaped, nano-sized version that’s alarming some health experts, as its extremely small size may give it unique properties and behaviours, some of which are unknown and could be harmful.

An FoE spokesman said they wanted affected products removed until safety was established.

Bringing back a language only 50 people can speak

All that’s left of the Gamilaraay language from northern NSW and southern Queensland are a few phrases spoken by fewer than 50 people.
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“The language stopped changing 70 or 80 years ago,” said John Giacon, a lecturer at the n National University who is trying to bring the language back from the brink of extinction.

“Many of the things we want to talk about today, there are no words for them.

“There are 60 hours of tapes [in the language] where they’re talking about hunting kangaroos, there’s no way you could practice with that.”

Dr Giacon and his team have been working with Aboriginal communities to develop a dictionary that now has about 2500 words, and is being used to teach an intensive summer course on the language run by the ANU, one of a few of its kind at the tertiary level.

Kevin Lowe, who is a former inspector of Aboriginal education for the NSW Board of Studies (now the NSW Education Standards Authority), said that figuring out how to translate simple phrases to Gamilaraay can take months.

“We wanted to talk to a class about boys getting on their bikes and going fishing, which is a simple idea and easy to say in English,” Dr Lowe said.

“So we emailed John [Giacon] and said ‘how would you say this?’ He came back two months later and said, this is my best effort by going back to the tapes and looking at what we know.”

Words such as mobile phone or computer need to be constructed from words that already exist in Gamilaraay or a close dialect, Yuwaalaraay.

???”The main things you need for language teaching are fluency, resources and infrastructure for learning,” Dr Lowe said.

“For most NSW languages, the resources we’ve got are all gone and it’s hard to find fluent speakers in any of these places because they haven’t had the opportunity to learn it or speak it.

“Kids in schools speak Japanese or French or German because that’s what they have access to.”

Garruu Victor Chapman, from Hebel in southern Queensland, said he spoke the language as a young boy but was punished for speaking it at school.

“They used the cane for speaking your language, it’s a very effective way of knocking it out of you,” he said.

“My parents spoke it but they were hesitant to pass it on because they were conscious of the fact that you were penalised for speaking your language.”

Priscilla Strasek, from Lightning Ridge in northern NSW, is doing the intensive Gamilaraay course as part of a bachelor of education from Charles Sturt University.

Ms Strasek said her grandparents spoke the language and she now wants to see it revived for her own children.

“A language is your connection to your culture and your mob,” she said.

“To be able to do it at uni is a really big change in 20 years.”

Sophia Brown, who lives in Tamworth and is also doing the summer course, said that language is a big part of developing a shared identity.

“If you say ‘Yaama’ [‘hello’ in Gamilaraay] in a sentence, you’ll be surprised at who’ll turn around and say, ‘I recognise that word’, and the next question is always, ‘Where are you from?'”

For Tracy Cameron, a tutor at the University of Sydney, learning the language is “a responsibility”.

“There’s a worldwide movement to revitalise languages, we can look to the Maori language, Indigenous languages in Canada, Welsh, Gaelic,” said Ms Cameron, who is learning Gamilaraay with her son Angus, a communication student at the University of Technology Sydney.

“We’re part of that movement.”

The summer course is being held at Charles Darwin University’s Sydney campus. The university also plans to establish the n Indigenous Languages Institute and begin offering courses in other languages such as Yolngu Matha in January 2019.