Borobi the koala will emerge from his post-Games (GC2018) hibernation for Borobi Day. The event will promote the usage of the local Yugambeh Aboriginal language from which his name is derived.
The adorable blue koala won the hearts of millions during the 2018 Commonwealth Games, but few would realise he was the first mascot in the history of the Commonwealth Games to bear an indigenous name.
“The plan was that the Gold Coast Games would be the most indigenous Games ever,” says Rory O’Connor, CEO of the Yugambeh Museum in Beenleigh.
“The Commonwealth Games had such an impact on Brisbane in the 80s; it turned a town into a city. We knew the 2018 Games would have a similar impact on the Gold Coast, and for the Yugambeh community, it was a big opportunity to include our story. We’re the locals, and this is our country.”
The plan worked. Yugambeh elders were invited to London to start the baton relay in the presence of the Queen, and with his name alone, Borobi put the Yugambeh language, once considered dead by linguists, into millions of mouths.
For the Yugambeh, the road to recognition has been long and treacherous. The journey began in the 1960s when one of the largest Aboriginal burial grounds in the Southern Hemisphere was discovered on the Gold Coast.
“The University of Queensland excavated the remains of 200 Yugambeh, some of whom had been buried for 1,000 years,” says Yugambeh elder Patricia O’Connor.
“For years, we fought hard to have those remains repatriated, a concept Australia wasn’t really familiar with at the time.”
In 1988, the remains were reinterred on the Gold Coast.
“We fought the University and won,” Rory says. “It was incredibly significant, and the repatriation ceremony is something I’ll never forget. It empowered our community, and we started thinking ‘what other victories could we achieve?'”
The win stirred a desire among the Yugambeh community to raise awareness of the people and their language, which had been passed down through the generations but wasn’t well documented.
Of the more than 250 Aboriginal languages spoken in Australia, 90 per cent are considered endangered.
“We were told our language was dead, that we were wasting our time,” Patricia says.
“But we were using it in our homes, in private. We had to pursue it.”
Their persistence led to the establishment of the Federation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages, which consolidated similar, smaller efforts from around the country.
“We were a bigger movement, so we had opportunities some of those smaller communities didn’t, and FATSIL gave them the chance to make use of those opportunities,” Rory says.
The Games gave the Yugambeh their biggest opportunity yet, and now Borobi is set to further their efforts. On Borobi Day, Gold Coasters are encouraged to speak the Yugambeh language as much as they can.
People can get involved by simply learning two words: “jingeri”, which means hello, and of course, “Borobi”, which means koala. Language kits and merchandise sporting the cute koala are on sale, while a free Yugambeh language app helps with pronunciation.
Patricia believes the event is the start of a new era for the Yugambeh community. “We’re doing this for the next generation, so they’ll feel that sense of belonging to our community. There’s so much enthusiasm to do this.”
The first annual Borobi Day was held on May 31.
“With Borobi Day, we’re doing something pioneering,” Rory says. “We can’t squander the opportunity, we have to get it right.”
This article first came from The Canberra Times.
Minor edits were done in regards to time since Borobi Day was over at the time of publishing.