Researching Indigenous Languages at AIATSIS

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)

I was fortunate to spend a week researching the collections at AIATSIS for material relating to Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. AIATSIS is located in Canberra and is the peak collecting institution for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies, with a particular attention on cultures, languages, histories and lifestyles.

AIATSIS Library Collections

AIATSIS Library Collections

Their collections include historical and original items as well as published materials and audio-visual articles pertaining to a broad range of topics including language, culture, history and genealogy.  The collections are physically housed in Canberra at AIATSIS; however there are also on-line exhibitions and other documents available for personal and academic research. Mura is the online catalogue for AIATSIS Collections and enables researchers to identify relevant materials prior to visiting AIATSIS.

Selection of Language Texts at AIATSIS

Selection of Language Texts at AIATSIS

The focus of the week was identifying and analysing items in the collections that included Queensland Indigenous languages content; AIATSIS holds extensive materials so I concentrated my energies on primary source materials such as manuscripts and historical documents. Most of this linguistic content has been deposited at AIATSIS by linguists, anthropologists, academics and other researchers. AIATSIS then acts as a repository and manages this collection of print, audio and visual materials which has set guidelines and conditions for access and copying as determined by the depositor.

Comparative words for numbers

Comparative words for numbers.

In addition to print materials, the Audiovisual Archive holds over 45,000 hours of sound recordings dating from 1898. These are accompanied by field notes and transcriptions as well as Finding Aids to assist research. Additionally, some material has been digitised for preservation as well as increased access by community members. AIATSIS has a proactive policy of returning materials to the community through its’ Return of Material to Indigenous Communities (ROMTIC) initiative.

Biri Wordlist

Biri Wordlist

I spent most of my time poring through the manuscripts held in the Library and noting wordlists and vocabularies gather from across Queensland; specifically I was looking for language material not held in State Library of Queensland Collections. This included the areas of Central Queensland and North Queensland where due to frontier violence and forced removals extensive language knowledge was lost and not recorded. The following extract from Dennis Bannister’s work represents a comparative vocabulary of everyday words from languages of the Capricorn region, including Gangulu, Yuwibara and Mamburra.

Extract from Bannister Queensland Wordlists

Extract from Bannister Queensland Wordlists

The Bannister Papers are well-known and a rich source of language for community language workers as he has collated material documented from 1838-1975 in Queensland. Another treasure trove is the Arthur Capell Papers which consists of 22 archival boxes of linguistic notes, wordlists, grammar and other documentation from Capell who was an academic, linguist and anthropologist! The week at AIATSIS was very productive and provided an opportunity to explore collections with a strong emphasis on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages.

Screenshot of AIATSIS Website

Screenshot of AIATSIS Website

Thanks to staff at AIATSIS for their assistance; especially Eleanor and her team in the Library.

This research activity was made possible through the State Library of Queensland’s Indigenous Leadership Grant.

Des Crump – Indigenous Languages Researcher, State Library of Queensland