Translating Aboriginal language and culture is a labour of love for Veronica Dobson, an Arrernte elder in Central Australia.
Although her family worked on cattle stations east of Alice Springs, Veronica was always taken out bush when her parents and grandparents weren’t working.
Her deep knowledge of the Arrernte lands and language has formed the basis of a highly respected career, in which she has worked to educate Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
Veronica helped to establish Arrernte as a written language—a huge achievement and one strongly supported by her people. She has written educational materials to support her work teaching the language.
Through interpreting and translating, she has also served the wider community for many years.
Country is Veronica’s other great love. She knows the food and medicines of the Arrernte lands intimately and has co-authored books on botany.
For Veronica, land and language come together in efforts to educate and help the young people of Central Australia. Once a year, she goes out bush with other elders, teaching language, medicine and bush skills to Aboriginal kids.
‘It’s pretty effective,’ says Veronica, ‘People from all over seem to want to bring their troubled young people to go out and have a taste of the real tradition that’s still alive and going.’
‘To keep their culture strong, the next generations must have a firm grasp of traditional knowledge,’ says Veronica.
‘If they have to go and live out on land or country, wherever they come from, the knowledge is always there for them,’ she says. ‘They have to know how to survive on the land and find water or medicine or food.
‘We haven’t survived this long for no reason.’
In 2011, Veronica was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for service to the Indigenous community as an Arrernte elder and traditional owner, as a linguist, naturalist and ecologist, and for service to the preservation of Aboriginal language and culture in central Australia.