New ways with old words: An exploration of the papers of Daisy Bates by Nick Thieberger

The Australian Centre is delighted to present the first seminar in our pilot series.

Wednesday 10 August, 1-2pm

Atrium Meeting Room (213), Level 2, Old Arts

Lunch will be provided for our launch seminar.

Please RSVP to for catering purposes.

New ways with old words: An exploration of the papers of Daisy Bates. 

Nick Thieberger

This paper describes a text-encoding project treating the vocabulary collection of a number of Australian indigenous languages that was created by Daisy Bates in the early 1900s. Her work records words and sentences from a number of Western Australian Aboriginal languages.

The masses of papers produced over her long working life have been an ongoing source of information for Aboriginal people and for researchers (e.g. White 1985, McGregor 2012, Bindon & Chadwick 1992). The collection at the National Library of Australia (NLA) takes up 51 boxes and 8.16m of shelf space and contains a range of material, but here I will focus on the vocabularies of Australian languages. Bates sent out a questionnaire in 1904 that was filled in by various people by hand, creating a set of manuscript pages. She then supervised the typing of these manuscripts and amended the typescripts. I have been working with the NLA to make digital images of some 23,000 pages of these vocabulary manuscripts, and to create textual versions of the 4,368 typescripts, which can then be linked back to the page images of both the typescripts and handwritten questionnaire manuscripts.

I will contrast a method for preparing these records for reuse with earlier approaches to similar kinds of manuscripts. I weigh up the effort involved in the textual encoding compared to, first, the extraction of lexical information from the lists and, second, the online presentation of page images. The technical details of this work will be briefly discussed, but the paper focuses on the nature of the collection and research outcomes following the first stage of the digitisation and text encoding.

Nick Thieberger is a linguist who works with Nafsan, a language from central Vanuatu. He set up the Pilbara Aboriginal language Centre in the late 1980s. He is a founder and now Director of the Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures ( He is interested in new humanities methods and their potential to improve research practice and is developing methods for creation of reusable data sets from fieldwork on previously unrecorded languages. He edited the OUP Handbook of linguistic fieldwork and is the editor of the journal Language Documentation & Conservation. He taught in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Hawai'i at M?noa and is now an Australian Research Council Future Fellow at the University of Melbourne.

About the Series

The Australian Centre invite researchers in Australian Studies to attend a new cross-faculty lunch time seminar series. We are running a pilot series of three seminars in Semester 2, 2016 and hope to launch a full program for 2017 and beyond.

The aim of the seminars is to develop interdisciplinary connections across the faculty in Australian Studies.  We are especially interested in people from the Asia Institute, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, School of Languages and Linguistics, School of Social and Political Science, and the Melbourne School of Government joining the School of Culture and Communication in this new venture.    

Program details

Wednesday 7 September, 1-2pm

Art in the making: Mirka Mora’s techniques and materials

Sabine Cotte

Wednesday 12 October, 1-2pm

Family Historiographies: Reckoning with the Past in Contemporary Australian Literature

Ashley Barnwell and Joseph Cummins

Venue: Atrium Meeting Room (213), Level 2, Old Arts

Questions about the seminar can be directed to Amanda Morris ( or Denise Varney (