March 21 is Harmony Day, a time to recognise and celebrate Australia’s cultural and linguistic diversity. The Department of Human Services has focused on strengthening communication between government and remote communities through the placement of Indigenous Language Officers such as Damien Tunmuck in Wadeye.
Known as Mayirri, Damien Tunmuck – a Mati-ke man from Yederr – speaks over six different languages and is well-known and respected for his cultural knowledge and multilingual skills in the Wadeye community.
“Wadeye, in Diminin country, used to be a mission so there are many languages spoken here. The main language now is Murrinhpatha,” Mayirri said.
“English is not our first language, so language and cultural barriers mean many people often have difficulty understanding and accessing crucial government services.
“I grew up here so people know and trust me, which makes it easier to find out exactly what people need and make sure they can access the relevant government services.”
Mayirri’s efforts were recently recognised during the department’s prestigious Australia Day Achievement Awards for his valuable contribution to the department and the Australian community through his outstanding work.
Specialist staff like Mayirri, who speak languages other than English, are instrumental in ensuring government support and services reach all Australians regardless of their background.
Around one in five Australians speak a language other than English at home with over 400 languages spoken in Australia, and the department has an extensive range of services for people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
There are more than 600 bilingual service officers who provide direct language support to customers in their preferred language and over 40 of these communicate with customers in an Indigenous language.
The department also offers free interpreting services in over 200 languages, including Indigenous languages such as Pitjantjatjara, through more than 3000 accredited interpreters.