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Interpreters deciphering govt-speak jargon

ELLEN Gapany knows six languages and is busy learning a seventh.

It's known among Australian as government speak.

As an Aboriginal interpreter in the Top End, Ms Gapany is the crucial link between indigenous territorians, many of whom speak English as their third or fourth language, and white Australia.

But just being able to speak English isn't preparation for the strange dialects of Centrelink and other bureaucratic departments.

When describing her job, Ms Gapany says, ''I've been learning jargon languages that every [government] organisation uses with their clients.''

It's a reference that cuts straight to the problem for many indigenous communities trapped by bureaucracy and isolation.


While there are many pressing problems, overcoming the language barrier in a culturally sensitive fashion can make all the difference.

Ms Gapany is one of 23 full-time community-based interpreters and more than 400 casual indigenous translators.

They provide translation services for more than 100 languages and dialects across the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia.

Their skills are called upon by justice, welfare, education, housing and health systems.

It's a long way from the six interpreters and two support staff when the service began in 2000.

Aboriginal Interpreter Service director Colleen Rosas said the service provided equity to indigenous communities.

''Unless Aboriginal people can access interpreters, they aren't receiving the sort of access to help that the rest of Australia enjoys,'' Ms Rosas said.

''It's a really empowering process to go to a community and see a meeting being held in language. For too long people haven't known what's going on and we're leading the way in providing that.

''The service is exciting, because it's the first time Aboriginal people have been employed for their own intrinsic skills.''

But it's not just about language, with the service tapping into cultural knowledge and preserving Aboriginal languages.

''It's about making the Aboriginal client comfortable and finding out the right information.''

But it's tough work.

Interpreter support officer Bernadette Nethercott came to the job after spending years translating for her family.

Since starting in 2000, she has gone on to study a diploma of interpreting through the Batchelor Institute and gained qualifications through the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters.

Her work has made her highly respected member of the Maningrida community.

''People look at me now, working in that area, they're so proud of me and see me as a role model,'' Ms Nethercott said.