Community should always be the driver of any language project, be it the creation of dictionaries and vocabularies; or initiation of education programs. The first comprehensive investigation of Australian languages was conducted by Lt Dawes from 1788-1791, who focused on the Sydney language. Many local Aboriginal people contributed to his research, the most significant being a teenage girl named Patyegarang. Her beautiful name means kangaroo.
These notebooks contain a combination of random individual words out of context, positioned next to interactions full of meaning and background of how these conversations came about. My favourite interaction was when Dawes told Patye, as he sometimes called her, that she will become white if she washed more often, she yelled in despair after throwing down her towel “terabarrbowaryoau!” which means I SHALL NOT BECOME WHITE. This to me illustrates her incredible strength of character.
When Mr D, as he calls himself, returned to England he took with him his notebooks where they found their way into the collection of a linguist, who then gifted them to Kings College London, before being placed in SOAS in 1913. They lived there for a further 60 years before librarian Phyllis Mander-Jones rediscovered them while compiling her book on Australian and Pacific manuscripts in UK collections. It is incredibly special to have these cultural objects returning to the Country that they came from for the first time in many years.
It is incredibly special to have these cultural objects returning to the Country that they came from for the first time in many years. You can see the Dawes notebook at our Living Language exhibition, opening this Saturday 13 July.
Melissa Jackson (Bundjalung)
Librarian, Indigenous Engagement Branch