Jude Barlow knows what it’s like to be part of a family and people who, under legislation and policy, were forbidden to speak their ancient language.
“I know language has intrinsic value to culture – and I also know that removing someone’s language is about removing their culture.”
Ngunnawal land custodian Aunty Jude was giving the Welcome To Country at the National Museum of Australia (NMA) on Tuesday, 20 June, at the launch of a Ukrainian audio guide of its exhibition, Feared and Revered: Feminine Power Through The Ages, on tour in Canberra from the British Museum.
An audio message from the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, was played at the launch, which was also attended by the Ukraine Ambassador to Australia, His Excellency Vasyl Myroshnychenko and his wife Liana Myroshnychenko, and the director of the NMA, Dr Mathew Trinca.
The NMA is the latest leading world cultural centre to introduce Ukrainian language audio guides for the benefit of Ukrainian visitors and to promote that country’s language and culture. It follows the Palace of Versailles in France, the Colosseum in Rome, Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London in the United Kingdom, and the Charlottenburg Palace in Germany.
In her message, Mrs Zelenska said “although there are 14,000 kilometres between us”, distances, in the modern world “, were insignificant”. A war in one part of the world affects everyone, she said.
She thanked Australia for providing the Ukrainian language tour in the national museum, adding it “allows our people there to feel very much at home”.
“Thank you for giving our people a place in the Australian heart.”
The Ukrainian language tour was created so Ukrainians living or travelling abroad could engage with local history and culture and promote the Ukrainian language around the world.
But according to Mr Myroshnychenko, it had gone way beyond that.
“It turned out to be a way to reach displaced people, those people who are going through difficult times and see uncertainty in the world coming to countries where they don’t speak English, just trying to get on with their lives,” he said.
Mr Myroshnychenko said he had just returned from war-torn Kyiv, saying the situation was difficult to understand unless “you experience it for yourself”.
“I was in Kyiv about a week ago,” he said. “You can’t sleep there because every night you see missile attacks and drone attacks that wake you up in the middle of the night. There are explosions, and air defence systems are working, but this is what we have to live with on a daily basis. This is what we are seeing.
“It is extremely, extremely difficult to realise unless you come and experience it for yourself.
“Can you imagine … the world has not seen anything of this scale since World War II.”
Dr Trinca said the language tour had become an important way of demonstrating a real concern and support for people of the war-ravaged region.
He said an audio tour might seem like a small gesture, but it was important – if only as a show of support and friendship to Ukraine from the Australian people.
“It is these things – it’s language, it’s art, it’s culture – that make us human, that restores humanity to us,” he said.
The Feared and Revered exhibition showcases more than 160 objects spanning six continents and 5000 years, celebrating the power and diversity of female spiritual beings. It explores how goddesses, demons, witches, spirits and saints have shaped the understanding of our world.
The exhibition from the British Museum is on show daily at the National Museum of Australia until 27 August. Costs apply. Bookings via the website.