Friar Steve Morelli, a member of the Congregation of Christian Brothers in Australia, was honored with the “Patji-Dawes” Award, the most important Australian award dedicated to teaching languages other than English. This was announced in a note sent to Agenzia Fides by the Bishops’ Conference of Australia, stressing that “preserving and promoting the languages of the first Australian peoples have always been at the center of the religious’ commitment. In the last 30 years, 76-year-old friar Steve Morelli has worked, at the request of local Aboriginal elders, to write a dictionary and teach the local language of the Gumbaynggirr people”.
The award, the statement reads, comes at a particular time: the United Nations General Assembly has declared 2019 “International Year of Indigenous Languages”, to raise awareness of the crucial role that idioms play in people’s daily lives. In Australia, of the original 250 aboriginal languages and the islanders of the Torres Strait, just 120 are still spoken. Of these, about 90% are considered to be in danger of extinction.
“I am honored to receive the award, but the greatest honor was to be able to work with the elderly and local Aboriginal communities, who have shown great pride and respect for their heritage”, said Friar Morelli. Currently, the member of the Christian Brothers works in the diocese of Lismore and also teaches the indigenous language at the Muurrbay Aboriginal Language Center, in the city of Nambucca Heads.
The “Patji-Dawes” award is given to experts operating in the Australian territory who have shown exceptional results in language teaching, in schools, universities or language centers. It is named after the aboriginal woman Patyegarang and the lieutenant of the first fleet William Dawes, who represent the first documented testimony of linguistic exchange between indigenous and settlers.