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150 year-old Hale notebook returns to Australia 

It is over 150 years since American linguist Horatio Hale documented the Awabakal language in Newcastle. His notebook is back in Australia for the first time for our Living Language exhibition.

Hale visited Australia from 1839 to 1840 and chronicled the work of missionary Reverend Lancelot E Threlkeld who worked with his informant Beerabahn (Biraban) to translate the Bible into the local Awabakal language.

Hale’s work is incredibly important to Aboriginal people and crucial for contemporary language revival work in Newcastle today. To see Hale’s notebook back on Country is extraordinary.

Up until now, the only way to see this important language resource was in person in Canada. We’re thrilled that the Western University in Canada has agreed to leave the Hale notebook here for an extended period for the Library to digitise and establish access protocols with Aboriginal stakeholders.

Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi artist and curator of our Sydney Elders exhibition, Jonathan Jones, visited the Library before the notebook was placed under glass for the exhibition.

He said: “Although these notebooks are authored by non-Aboriginal people, they contain our knowledge. They connect us to our old people, to how they sounded and how they thought. In this way they are a gift. They are important documents through which we can access tools for the future.”

Hale’s notebook and Threlkeld’s Bible are coming together for the first time to show some of the different ways language was understood and recorded by non-Aboriginal people. Also on display is a portrait of Beerabahn (c.1830) who humanises the snippets and pieces of language recorded in the notebooks and word lists of people like Hale and Threlkeld.

Marika and Damien with Hale notebook

Damien Webb (Palawa)
Manager, Indigenous Engagement