“My name is Shannon Bowe and I’m 34 years old. I was born in Toowoomba and raised nearby in a small rural town called Clifton.
My fathers family settled on the Darling Downs after emigrating to Australia from Kilkenny, Ireland during the ‘Potato Famine’. My dad is part of a large catholic family with 15 siblings.
My mother is a strong Aboriginal woman. My father met and married her in Cairns where she was born and raised by her Granny Eva Sweetland Coates. Granny Eva was a Butchulla woman, from K’gari (Fraser Island) where she was taken from as a child to Yarrabah Mission. There she met and married my Great Grandfather Charles Sweetland Coates. Like Granny Eva he too was forcibly removed from his country (near Hopevale) under past governments discriminatory assimilation policies and practices. I’ve been told he spoke Guugu Yimidthirr very strong – though sadly he was forbidden from speaking his language and transmitting it to his kids. Subsequently the only language passed onto future generations was English.
A lot of my family on mum’s side still live in and around Cairns today and some have even honoured Grandad Charlie’s dreams of the family returning to Hopevale.
I was 10 when my mother and some aunties and uncles took me to Hopevale. The trip to country left a lasting imprint in my mind. It was and still is a beautiful place, paradise. Despite growing up along way from family and country my mother ensured her children developed strong aboriginal identities, great pride in our ancestors resilience and a strong sense of social justice.
My wife Stacey and I have two daughters – Lily (7) and Poppy (2). The girls are at an important age in terms of the values we as parents are teaching them and ideal for starting the journey of learning language. This year we are embarking on a bit of a radical adventure. We have sold everything and left our jobs to travel Australia in a Caravan for a whole year. It is a great way for us to spend time with the girls and to share so many experiences together. Aside from seeing lots of remarkable countryside we have used the trip to take the girls to Hopevale for the first time, to meet some of their extended family in FNQ and to start learning Guugu Yimidthirr together.
Here are my Top 3 reasons for learning my language Guugu Yimidthirr
It is something I know my family members past, present and future would want and expect me to do. I have the opportunity and motivation to do it and it’s really Important to us. So I feel as though I owe it to my family to take this step forward for us all and start reclaiming our language which was wrongfully taken from us -in honour of my great grandfather.
I want to develop a deeper knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Bama culture, history, world views and connection to country. Importantly I want to pass this learning onto my children and their children.
I personally think it’s a tragedy that very few Australians, myself included are multi-lingual, which is in stark contrast to our nation’s multicultural values. Learning other languages is fun and good for your mind. So instead of taking French classes for a European vacation as some do I’ve chosen to learn and practise my ancestors language for the rest of my life.”