The right to learn my language
At 12-years-old, UNICEF Australia Young Ambassador Xavier learnt he has Aboriginal heritage. He’s spent the past four years learning as much as he can about his history, language and culture - but it hasn’t been an easy path.
© UNICEF Australia/Patrick Moran

“Culture and language help you understand where you come from and where you are.”

My name is Xavier Berry, and I’m a proud Gumbaynggir man.

I didn’t know I was Aboriginal until I was in Year 7, when I was 12 years old – not that long ago.
At the time, I was studying LOTE (language other than English) at school, and we were studying the local Gumbaynggir language.

I asked my Dad if there was any Aboriginality in our bloodline. The next time I visited him he had a family tree that he had drawn after speaking to his mum. It turns out that my Aboriginal ancestors came from Victoria a long time ago, their last name was Day.

When I first found out I was quite confused. ‘Why I wasn’t told when I was younger?’ I thought. But then I realised there’s no point dwelling on the past, and I may as well look ahead to the future and start studying about it.

I also felt happy. I thought ‘there’s something else to me’. It’s pretty good having two cultures behind me.
 
​"It’s pretty good having two
cultures behind me."

 

 

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I think Australians are not always aware of some of the things Aboriginal people can face – not to be mean – but some of the racial aspects that come into it.

Before you judge someone, you should try to take a walk in their shoes.

I remember telling someone that I was Aboriginal, and they’ve went ‘oh no way you can be Aboriginal, you’re just a white man’, because of my skin colour. And that was confusing. I thought ‘Why would they say that?

 
​"Oh no way you can be Aboriginal, 
you’re just a white man"
It made me angry that people’s views are pretty much made by judging a book by its cover.  I’m not saying all people, just some people.
Xavier Berry, better known as X-Man. © UNICEF Australia/Patrick Moran

Since I found out, I’ve been studying the stories that have been passed down from generation to generation, and the language involved.
 
 
​"Culture and language are important
because they not only help you to identify
as yourself, but they help you understand
where you come from and where you are.
"

My language skills are still a bit ‘how ya going’ basic, but it’s cool listening to people who can talk fluent Gumbaynggir.

But, when I went to enrol in the Gumbaynggir language class in year 9, there were only three other people that also choose it, so the class didn’t run. I felt pretty sad that I couldn’t keep studying my language at school.

Article 30 of the Children's Convention says that "Children have the right to learn and use the language and customs of their families whether or not these are shared by the majority of people in the country where they live."

Now I study it through the NGO AIME Mentoring, they’re trying to teach as many young Indigenous people how to speak their language, which is really good.

But, I still believe it would be good if Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages were taught at school more. Especially for Aboriginal kids who want to learn their language but can’t, because they don’t have family or Aboriginal elders who speak it fluently any more.

Culture is significant to everyone, not just those from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, but for me, culture was something that I never got to learn, which I wish I did.
I think if you have any culture behind you, or if you think you have any, don’t be afraid to ask, and don’t be afraid to express it.

Be proud of who you are and who your culture is and what your ancestors represented. 

Xavier Berry, better known as X-Man, is a UNICEF Australia Young Ambassador. He is in Year 10 and attends the Navy Cadets on weekends. 

Xavier Berry and the UNICEF Australia Young Ambassadors class of 2018-19 © UNICEF Australia/Patrick Moran

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