Speaker: Dr Samantha Disbray 

Dr Samantha Disbray has recently joined the School of Languages and Cultures as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow. She has worked as a community, education and research linguist in Central Australia for two decades. She has documented two languages in Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory; Wumpurrarni English, an Australian Contact language, and the traditional language Warumungu. Her PhD research investigated child language development in Wumpurrarni English. Her other research area is Indigenous languages in education policy and practice. She has published extensively on the Northern Territory Bilingual Education Program.

Her research projects in the next three years will focus the social, economic and cultural value of languages learning, looking at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages teaching in Queensland and the Northern Territory, and modern languages teaching in Queensland.


Central Australia has a vibrant language ecology. It is home to many bi- and multilingual people, who are speakers of traditional Indigenous languages, new Indigenous languages, and migrant languages, including English.

Several of the 13 traditional Indigenous languages still acquired by children in Australia are spoken in the Centre and Top End of the Northern Territory (NT). According to the Aboriginal Interpreter Service, 100 Aboriginal languages are known or spoken in the NT, including new languages such as Kriol and Light Warlpiri.  Many traditional languages are endangered and all are vulnerable. Despite this linguistic richness and national awareness about the precarious state of Indigenous languages, in NT education settings, they have been variously supressed, neglected, acknowledged and taught.

In this talk I will share some insights into Indigenous languages teaching and learning in education settings developed over two decades living and working in Central Australia. My research interests and collaborations in the area of languages in education have included Warlpiri driven education initiatives (Disbray and Martin, 2018; Central Land Council, 2017; Disbray 2014), the NT Bilingual Education Program (Devlin, Disbray & Friedman Devlin, 2017), and Indigenous languages in education policy and practice in Australia (Disbray, (forthcoming); Disbray, Barker, Raghunathan, Baisden, 2018; Disbray, 2015a, 2015b).

I will also take this opportunity to raise some future areas of research that I will pursue in my new role at UQ.


Disbray, S. (forthcoming). Realising the Australian Curriculum Framework for Aboriginal Languages and Torres Strait Islander Languages. Babel. Special edition, International Year of Indigenous Languages. Edited by C. O’Shannessy, S. Disbray and J. Simpson.

Disbray, S., Barker, C., Arathi Raghunathan, A. and F. Baisden (2018). Global Lessons: Indigenous languages and multilingualism in school programs. First Languages Australia. https://medium.com/@FirstLangAU/global-lessons-indigenous-languages-and-multilingualism-in-school-programs-7be80f580646

Disbray, S., & Martin, B. (2018). Curriculum as Knowledge System: The Warlpiri Theme Cycle. In G. Wigglesworth, J. Simpson, & J. Vaughan (Eds.), From Home to School: Language Practices of Indigenous and Minority Children. UK: Palgrave MacMillan.

Central Land Council. (2017). Review, Assessment and Development of Future Options for the Warlpiri Education and Training Trust (WETT) and its Programs. Prepared by Samantha Disbray and John Guenther. Alice Springs: Central Land Council.

Devlin, B., Disbray, S., & Friedman Devlin, N. (Eds.). (2017). History of bilingual education in the Northern Territory: People, programs and policies. Singapore: Springer Publishing.

Disbray, S. (2015a). Spaces for learning: policy and practice for Indigenous languages in a remote context. Language and Education 30(4) 317-336.

Disbray, S. (2015b). Indigenous Languages in Education – Policy and Practice in Australia. In (eds.) M. Rose & M. O'Bryan UNESCO Observatory E-Journal - Multi-disciplinary Research in the Arts: Special Edition Indigenous Education in Australia

Disbray, S. (2014). Evaluating Bilingual Education in Warlpiri Schools. In (eds) R. Pensalfini, M. Turpin & D. Guillemin. Language description informed by theory. John Benjamins. pp. 25-46.


Sir Llew Edwards Building (#14), UQ St Lucia Campus