Shannon Bowe is 34 years old, was born in Toowoomba and raised in a small rural town called Clifton. His father’s family emigrated to Australia from Ireland and his 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 Hope Vale) under past governments’ discriminatory assimilation policies and practices.” After learning that his Great Grandfather spoke Guugu Yimidhirr, Shannon decided he wanted to do the same. “I’ve been told he spoke Guugu Yimidhirr very strong-though sadly he was forbidden from speaking his language and transmitting it to his kids.
Subsequently the only language passed on to 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 Hope Vale. I was 10 years old when my mother and some aunties and uncles took me to Hope Vale.
The trip to Country left a lasting imprint in my mind. It was and still is a beautiful place, paradise. Despite growing up a long way from family and Country, my mother ensured her children developed strong First Nation Aboriginal identities, great pride in our ancestors, resilience and a strong sense of social justice.
As soon as I finished my school I began my career in First Nation and Indigenous Affairs. For me, my career has given me the ability to contribute to the causes I am passionate about and provide for my young family. I’ ve been fortunate to have worked in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors in roles focused on different aspects of sustainable development in Indigenous First Nation communities.”
Shannon also wishes to pass strong cultural identities on to his own children, who are now learning their Guugu Yimidhirr language with their father. “My wife Stacey and I have two daughters-Lily (7) and Poppy (2). The girls are at an important stage in terms of the values we as parents are teaching them and ideal for starting the journey of learning our 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 Hope Vale for the first time, to meet some of their extended family … and to start learning Guugu Yimidhirr together.”
SHANNON’S THREE KEY REASONS FOR LEARNING GUUGU YIMIDHIRR:
1. “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.”
2. “I want to develop a deeper knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Barna culture, history, world views and connection to country. Importantly, I want to pass this learning on to my children and their children.”
3. “I have always wanted to learn a second language. 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. Leaming 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 practice my ancestors’ language for the rest of my life.”
Shannon took his first Guugu Yimidhirr lesson on May 9 2017. Shannon commented, “Lesson one was the perfect start to our learning journey. It’s clear already that a lot of thought and expertise has been invested in both the production of the material and structuring the learning plan.”