A common query at the State Library relates to language areas or locations of where Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages were traditionally spoken. Within the collections, State Library holds a range of cartographic resources such as tribal or language maps that are valuable sources for researchers interested in the Indigenous cultural heritage of Queensland. Many of the linguistic texts contain language maps, while specific items found in the Maps collection provide examples of linguists or community groups who have mapped out respective language or dialect areas.
It should be acknowledged that when researching Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander tribal/language group names and boundaries there is no one primary source that is definitive. Researchers are advised to consult a wide variety of information sources such as some of the sources and items listed below. This material should be complemented by accessing knowledge held by local Indigenous Elders, traditional custodians, community groups, Indigenous Language Centres, IKCs and other organisations.
Traditionally, Aboriginal languages on mainland Australia were based on drainage systems and the associated catchment areas. While groups tended to stay within their own areas, there was a fair degree of interaction with neighbouring groups for trade, ceremonies and other social interactions. Consequently, Aboriginal people were multilingual and spoke adjacent languages. There were also many ‘shared’ or borrowed’ words across language groups.
Within the Torres Strait the two distinct languages were based on island groups: the Eastern islands of Mer, Erub and Ugar speak Meriam Mir; the Western islands (Mabuiag, Badu, Moa) and Central islands (Iama, Warraber, Masig and Poruma) speak Kala Lagaw Ya while the Top Western islands (Boigu, Dauan and Saibai) speak Kalaw Kawaw Ya which is a dialect of Kala Lagaw Ya.
The traditional language landscape of Queensland changed dramatically with European settlement and the impact of English on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, leading to the development of pidgins, creoles and Aboriginal Englishes. With the onset of the Protection Act and the establishment of Missions, blended or hybrid languages also came into being.
During this period, anthropologists such as Tindale were exploring the range of languages and the extent to which they were spoken across Australia. Tindale’s first map of Aboriginal Australia was published in 1940 after his extensive visits to Aboriginal communities in the 1930’s. Tindale’s map is the basis for a number of contemporary maps, including the Horton Aboriginal Australia Map published by AIATSIS.
To assist with language revival and research, State Library has developed a resource guide for Indigenous Language Maps. This guide identifies resources relating to mapping languages or depicting language maps and should be seen as a guide or starting point for discussions around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages and where they were spoken.
The primary purpose of State Library’s language maps and other material is to highlight the general location and diversity of Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages and support community language revival; it is neither designed nor suitable for Native Title research or claims. State Library acknowledges that the socio-cultural landscape is evolving in response to Native Title claims and associated processes and this will also exert influence over Indigenous language revival. In terms of this changing language landscape, further consultation should be undertaken with local community members and other groups, including Elders and Traditional Custodians to gain an insight into current contexts. Specific queries relating to Native Title should be directed to the representative Native Title body.
Indigenous Languages Coordinator, Queensland Memory
State Library of Queensland Indigenous Languages webpages
References and Further Reading
The following list is a selection of State Library collection items and websites that relate to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language maps and are useful starting points for schools, communities and Public Libraries.
Arrowsmith, J. Map showing the range of Southern dialects of Australia. MAPS 804 1844 00000 R
Arthur, W. & Morphy, F. (2005) Macquarie atlas of Indigenous Australia: culture and society through space and time. MAPREF 305.89915 2005
Helon, G. (1994) The Goreng Goreng tribe of South-East Queensland: its’ traditional tribal territory, clan divisions and proper names. MAPS 840 1998 02000 F
Hercus, L.; Hodges, F and Simpson, J. (2002) The land is a map: placenames of Indigenous origin in Australia. Q 919.4003 LAN
Horton, D. (1994) Aboriginal Australia. MAPS 804 1996 04700 C
Jupp, J. (1989) Australian languages: an introductory atlas. P 306.44 jup
Lawrie, M. The Margaret Lawrie Collection of Torres Straits Materials. TR2082
McGillvray, J. (1991) Map of Cape York, showing Aboriginal place names: Shells at Port Essington. (Microfilm). FILM 0708
Petersen, N. (1976) Tribes and boundaries in Australia. J 301.2994 TRI
Roth, W. (1975) Reports to the Commissioner of Police and others, on Queensland Aboriginal peoples 1898-1903. (Microfilm) Material drawn from Queensland ethnography: bulletin, nos. 11-18 / by Walter E. Roth. FILM 0714
Shnukal, A. (1988) Broken, an introduction to the Creole language of Torres Strait. J 427 shn
Sutton, P. (ed) (1974) Languages of Cape York: papers presented to the Linguistic Symposium, Part B, held in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Biennial General Meeting, May,1974. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies: Canberra. G 499.15 1976
Sutton, P. (1995) Country: Aboriginal boundaries and land ownership in Australia. G 333.20994 1995
Tindale, N. B. (1974) Aboriginal tribes of Australia: their terrain, environmental controls, distribution, limits and proper names. Q 994.0049915 tin
Tindale, N. B. (1940) Map showing the distribution of the Aboriginal tribes of Australia. RBM 804 1940 06250 E
Watt, R. (1966) Aboriginal languages of Australia. M 804 1966 00012 B
Watson, F. J. Railways map of south-east Queensland showing the Aboriginal tribes in the region. OM73-20 F J Watson Papers
Wurm, S. (1981) Language atlas of the Pacific area. ATLASL 409 1981
Online Indigenous Language Maps
There is also a range of online maps / websites that can be useful for communities and language workers to explore language maps.
- ABC interactive map based on Horton: http://www.abc.net.au/indigenous/map/default.htm
- ABC Holding our Tongues project: www.abc.net.au/rn/legacy/features/holdingourtongues/
- AIATSIS have an online version of their Horton map: http://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/articles/aboriginal-australia-map
- ANU Language Groups of the Torres Strait Islands: http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/mapsonline/base-maps/torres-strait
- AUSTLANG, developed by AIATSIS is a language database which features information on available resources, previous research as well as location of languages, etc.: http://austlang.aiatsis.gov.au/main.php
- South Australian Museum – Interactive/online Tindale languages map: http://www.samuseum.sa.gov.au/archives/collections/tribes