By Julian Lee.
Australian advertising history will be made tonight with the screening of a television commercial featuring an indigenous language voiceover with English subtitles. The 30-second ad promoting greater literacy levels among indigenous children features the voice of an elder from Tennant Creek, a remote community in the Central Desert, speaking in Warumungu language.
Judy Nakkamarra Nixon speaks for most of the ad, revealing that only one in five children in remote indigenous communities is able to read to a minimum standard by year 9. The ad's screening marks the start of an appeal mounted by the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation – of which the Herald is a media partner – to change that.It also represents a milestone in advertising for an industry that until recently has largely ignored indigenous Australians.
The recent reworking of the Qantas I Still Call Australia Home ad, featuring members of the Gondwana National Indigenous Children's Choir singing in a Torres Strait Islands dialect, Kala Lagaw Ya, has gone some way to rectifying that. Tonight's ad goes a step further in featuring an indigenous language spoken for most of it.Jonathan McCauley, the director of Eleven Communications, the ad agency that made the clip, said he hoped the ad and the language used would grab the attention of viewers. "This isn't an issue that is top of mind for most people so we needed to jolt people into thinking about it," he said.
Mr McCauley said the director was forced to revert to English for the last 10 seconds of the ad because the word "donate" does not exist in Warumungu. The polysyllabic language, which uses at least two words for every word of English, presented challenges.The chairwoman of the foundation, Mary-Ruth Mendel, said Mrs Nixon, a former nurse and teacher, recognised the importance of maintaining her native language because she saw it as "a bridge between the old and the modern worlds".