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May 3, 2022

‘It’s not tokenism’: Lord Mayor explains Kaurna language push

At last week’s Kadaltilla Adelaide Park Lands Authority meeting, members discussed the new Kaurna-centred name and logo. City of Adelaide Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor speaks with CityMag about why she's advocating for more use of Aboriginal languages in local government.

  • Words and pictures: Angela Skujins

CityMag meets the City of Adelaide Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor hours after she turned the sod at the hotly reported $250m Eighty Eight O’Connell development in North Adelaide last Thursday.

We’re grabbing a coffee at the pin-striped BTS Cafe – located around the corner from Adelaide Town Hall in the CBD – to discuss a lesser-known Adelaide City Council development: the renaming of the Adelaide Park Lands Authority as “Kadaltilla Park Lands Authority”.

“Kadaltilla,” Sandy tells us, “means green space or green park.”

The process started almost a year ago and went through numerous rounds of consultation with the Adelaide City Council Reconciliation Committee, the University of Adelaide’s Kaurna language team (Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi), and Kaurna elders, such as Uncle Lewis O’Brien and Uncle Mickey Kumatpi Marrutya O’Brien.


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“What I’m hoping is that eventually the authority is known as Kadaltilla, so that we don’t have to keep saying what Kadaltilla is,” she says.

“It’s a bit like Tarndanyangga – the more often you use it, the more often you recognise it.

“Like any language, you use it in its entirety and you use it constantly.”

Renaming the Adelaide Park Lands Authority to Kadaltilla Park Lands Authority was formally adopted by the Adelaide City Council in September 2021.

It is part of a larger drive to aid the overall reintroduction of Kaurna language in the city and bolster reconciliation, Sandy says.

CityMag contacted the new chair of the Kaurna Yerta Aboriginal Corporation, Les Wanganeen, for comment about the name change but we did not receive a response. We also contacted Uncle Lewis, Uncle Mickey and Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi but, again, did not receive a comment.

According to the 2020 Aboriginal Languages in South Australia report, compiled by the South Australian Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee, 46 Aboriginal languages are spoken in the state.

While exactly half are considered dormant – meaning they are no longer spoken “and may not even be remembered” – the report says Kaurna is one of the languages leading the charge in Australia’s language revival.

Bringing Kaurna into Adelaide Town Hall, whether by mandating that the Lord Mayor says the Acknowledgement of Country in Kaurna or that Adelaide City Council elected members participate in language lessons in their first year in office, is part of an “ongoing journey” towards reconciliation, Sandy says.

“The more that we can demonstrate and respect and have communities using language, the more it becomes natural, and we are all moving towards reconciliation without even realising,” she says.

“[But] reconciliation cannot just be words from your mouth: you actually have to continually be working towards them.”

When pressed about what reconciliation projects she is actively pursuing, Sandy references working towards increasing Indigenous representation at the Adelaide City Council, including legislative changes mandating a Kaurna voice to the Adelaide City Council and a First Nations Adelaide Park Lands ranger.

“One of the things within that is really looking at a Kaurna intern program, like a ranger program, so that we have them working with us in the [Adelaide] Park Lands and train the youth,” she says.


Read CityMag’s coverage of Kaurna Kardla Parranthi here.

On the Kaurna voice to council, first foreshadowed publicly in February then explained exclusively to CityMag in March, Sandy says she cannot provide a comment regarding whether she has spoken with Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Kyam Maher and Minister for Planning Nick Champion about the proposal.

The City of Adelaide’s 2021-2024 Stretch Reconciliation Action Plan highlights other opportunities for the advancement of Kaurna language at the local government level, including to “investigate” the use of Kaurna park names followed by the English translation, and Kaurna “spellcheck” in Microsoft Office, among others.

“I don’t want anything that we do to be ever, ever seen as tokenism,” Sandy says.

“It’s not tokenism.

“This is deeply ingrained, it’s a great conversation, and I do it with the elders and not to the elders, and it was always done [that way].

“My starting point is to have a conversation and then we move forward, if they think that this is something that they would like to see, and this is a good thing for us to do.”

The day before we sit down with Sandy, Adelaide Town Hall celebrated Colonel William Light’s 236th birthday with a public ceremony.

When asked how she balances the history of colonial Adelaide with the story of the Kaurna people, she says sometimes sees these narratives as “at odds with each other”. But she looks for her elders to help find the story and the facts.

“We have one history,” she says.

This is the opinion of Sandy Verschoor.

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