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John Oxley Library

Meston Notebooks

By Des Crump | 7 April 2014

Recently State Library digitised a series of notebooks compiled by Archibald Meston.

Archibald Meston, Negative number 68274, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Archibald Meston, Negative number 68274, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. 

Archibald Meston (1851-1924) was originally a journalist and politician but is best known for his role as the Protector of Aborigines for Southern Queensland 1897-1904. Meston was also the author of the ‘Report on the Aboriginals of Queensland’ which later formed the basis for the Aborigines Protection Act, 1897 (Queensland).

Archibald Meston at an Aboriginal camp during his Bellenden Ker expedition in North Queensland 1904.

Archibald Meston at an Aboriginal camp, 1904. Negative number 33262, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. 

In his role as Protector, Meston visited many Aboriginal communities and camps across Queensland and as an amateur ethnologist and linguist documented Aboriginal culture and language. Meston collected words and wordlists from sites across Queensland – these were later collated into various notebooks and cuttings.

Extract from Meston Notebook - Vocabulary Book 6.

OM64-17 is 'a collection of press cuttings, notes, correspondence relating mainly to Aborigines in Queensland, in particular, to language'. Of particular interest to community language workers and language researchers is a series of Vocabulary Notebooks compiled by Meston during the period 1898-1903. Notebooks 5, 6, 7 and 8 were the focus of this initial digitisation project and includes a broad selection of Aboriginal words gathered from across Queensland. For example, the extract above shows a listing of native birds and their Aboriginal names as collected by police officers in various Queensland locations.  From this page we can see that the Aboriginal language word for 'pelican' at Tinaroo is bilwarra; bombon at Montalbion; while at the Pine River it is cooloocan.

State Library language resources.

In the Notebooks, Meston does not always identify the name of the specific language, so the challenge for language workers is to cross-reference words to other materials. Tinaroo, located on the Atherton Tablelands, is an area where several languages and dialects meet, including Djabugay and Dyirbal. Further research using the State Library collections would help identify the specific language or dialect. Similarly for Montalbion, located on the Western Atherton Tablelands, further investigation is needed to identify the particular Dyirbal dialect this word belongs to.

Extract from Vocabulary Notebook 7.

As well as Meston's own material, the notebooks also draw upon other sources collated by Meston for further study; for example, Vocabulary Notebook 7 includes a listing of 250 words that were later published in James Devaney's The Vanished Tribes . Other wordlists included those compiled by Thomas Petrie from the Brisbane area in the 19th Century. In some instances, Meston has made comments or notes in the margins to these wordlists for his own reference for follow-up. Other language material included in the Notebooks refer to placenames of Aboriginal origins - another interest for Meston who often wrote articles for the various newspapers on the meanings of placenames. The image below is from Notebook 7 and identifies placenames for sites in the Bunya Mountains.

Notebook 7 - Bunya Mountains

In addition to language, Meston also documented cultural information including notes on individuals and families in the sites he visited. Often his notes would document Aboriginal families, outlining their traditional language names as well as English names - these are valuable pieces of information for Aboriginal families and communities. Through his writings, notebooks and other materials, Meston also provides a social commentary on events, people and other happenings in Queensland at the turn of the century. For example, the image below from Notebook 5 is a set of notes regarding theories of the origin of man.

Extract from Notebook 5

Extract from Notebook 5

These notebooks are valuable research material and provide an insight into the Indigenous languages of Queensland. Further information on Queensland's Indigenous languages can be found at State Library's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages webpages.

Desmond Crump, Indigenous Languages Coordinator, kuril dhagun

  • State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages webpages.
  • State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages blog.

References/Further Reading:


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