William Dawes and the revival of the Dharuk language

I recently watched the Bangarra production of Patyegarang. It presents to us the story of First Fleet officer William Dawes who, taught by a 15-year-old Aboriginal girl named Patyegarang, recorded conversational snippets of the Dharug language spoken around Sydney describing the social and cultural contexts, personalities, actions and feelings of the Aboriginal people he interacted with. Dawes was also a member of the 1791 expedition party to the Hawkesbury River which came to understand, for the first time amongst Europeans, that the languages and cultures of Aboriginal people differed in each area. Unfortunately his study into the Dharuk language was cut short as he was sent home.

Soon after Dawes left Australia in 1791 his notebooks came into the possession of the Orientalist and linguist William Marsden who presented his library to King’s College London in 1835. The notebooks were then transferred from King’s College to the newly-opened School of Oriental and African Studies in 1916. The significance of Dawes notebooks was only recognised in 1972, when were discovered by Australian librarian, Phyllis Mander Jones during the time she was working at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Listed by Phyllis Mander-Jones in Manuscripts in the British Isles relating to Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific, the notebooks came to the attention of Australian linguists. Since then they have continued to attract the interest of linguists, historians, and Aboriginal community members.

Examples of the language recorded by Dawes and Patyegarang
Patyegarang: Tyérun kamarigál                                    The kamarigals are afraid
Dawes: Mínyin tyérun kamarigals?                                Why are the kamarigals afraid?
Patyegarang: Gunin                                                      Because of the guns

Many members of the Dharuk (Darug) community live in and around Sydney. A few people retain some knowledge of the language, despite their people having suffered the longest history of colonisation, dispossession and displacement in Australia.

An attempt at a Dharuk language revival program was taught for a few years by Mr Richard Green to students at Chifley College, but unfortunately this Aboriginal Languages program is no longer available. Listen to Mr Green discuss Dharuk and the notion of dialects Dharuk language What a shame the program is no longer available Chifley students interview

Today, those interested in learning a few words are supported by the interactive website Dharug Dalang funded by the National Parks and Wildlife. This website contains soundbites of words as well as links to other language centers.

I am lucky to have heard Jacinta Tobin sing a traditional Dharuk song. This is the only clip I could find of Jacinta singing Welcome to Country (it is from the Macquarie University website). I personally would love to learn Dharuk as it is the land upon which I live.


Jemma Dunne

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2 Responses to William Dawes and the revival of the Dharuk language

  1. davidjnathan says:

    Although this is a nice little article it is terribly plagiarised from The notebooks of William Dawes on the Aboriginal language of Sydney (http://www.williamdawes.org). Aren’t students are learning about ethical and academic standards of attribution?

    • ling366 says:

      Hi David,

      Sorry to be tardy – only just noticed your comment. Can I ask you to be more specific about why you think this is inadequate referencing? The student here has linked to http://www.williamdawes.org/, described the notebooks, and attributed the snippet of quoted text to “Examples of the language recorded by Dawes and Patyegarang”.

      And where are you these days? I gather you’ve left ELAR, and Nick Ostler tells me you’re still active in FEL webwork, but are you back in Oz?

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