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Woman Fights To Save Dead Language

Darug woman Jacinta Tobin is using NAIDOC week as a way to raise public awareness about the importance of saving Aboriginal languages.

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Growing up, Jacinta Tobin, 45, thought she was Spanish.

Darug woman Jacinta Tobin. (Supplied.)

Tobin's mother would say that her olive skin came from their latin blood. The truth was that they were Aboriginal and didn't know it.

Tobin's grandmother had kept their ancestry a secret, terrified of having her children taken from her.

At 17 Tobin learned the truth, that she was a descendant of the Darug people, one of the tribes that lived in western Sydney. One of Tobin's ancestors is Maria Lock, the first Aboriginal woman to legally marry a white person in Australia.

"A lot of people hassle the Darug, but you've got to remember we've had such vicious atrocities with our people. Men and women massacred, declared war against in the 1800's and we have a lot of hard history here on country that we have to deal with. Only now are Darug people speaking up," Tobin says.

After years of being denied her heritage, Tobin is now fighting to save the Darug language by educating people through lectures at universities and schools, she believes language is key to survival for her people.

Darug language is considered extinct, but parts of it remains in the Australian vernacular.

"We speak Darug everyday as Australians. We say words like wombat, wallaby, corroboree, boomerang. Parramatta [in western Sydney] is Burrumutta meaning place where the eels lay. Boogey board, boogey is to bath or swim, these are common words we use as an Australian and I think, how come we don't we know this?"

Sydney Aboriginal tribes at the "Native Feast" in Parramatta 1814. (National Library Australia)

This week Tobin welcomed people to her traditional land at Parramatta in the western suburbs of Sydney as part of NAIDOC [National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee] Week.

Performing a welcome to country for the crowd just metres from where her ancestor once lived in Australia's first ever Aboriginal children's home, the Parramatta Native Institute, Tobin says NAIDOC week is a perfect time for all Australians to learn a bit of the language that was once spoken lands in which they walk.

The theme for this year's NAIDOC week is "We all stand on Sacred Ground: Learn, Respect and Celebrate." Tobin has been using it to conduct Darug language workshops throughout the week.

"When I was a younger I used to always get on trains and hear other people speaking their languages and I thought wouldn't it be cool if we had our own language. Well we do and this isn't just for Aboriginal children, this is for all children."

Tobin is currently working on a children's book, called "Get Down With Darug," which will be taught in schools later this year.

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