SLNSW Hidden Gems Symposium

The State Library of New South Wales hosted the recent Hidden Gems Symposium that explored the role of libraries and archives in cultural revitalisation.

This event brought together a range of national and international participants who shared their work in the documentation and archival of Indigenous languages and cultures. Michael Walsh, Senior Research Fellow, AIATSIS Centre for Australian Languages is serving as linguistic consultant for the State Library of New South Wales Re-discovering Indigenous Languages project and as opening keynote speaker set the scene for the Symposium. Rio Tinto has funded a three-year project to locate and digitise Indigenous language materials housed in the SLNSW collections. Michael has been tasked with finding these 'hidden gems' in the collections as part of the project's first (research) phase.

This initial research phase has uncovered some amazing items, many of which were previously unknown to linguists and researchers. Michael shared several examples, including the papers of Robert Brown (1773-1858) who had documented Murray Island language (1801), Nyungar language (1802) and Yolngu language (1803); these represent some of the earliest known records of languages from Northern Australia. The second (digitisation) phase is currently underway and involves taking material out to communities for consultation. When completed this project will make available an extensive range of materials from languages across Australia - while the majority will be from NSW, there is much anticipation around the possibility of discovering language material from Colonial Queensland.

Other speakers included:

  • Daryl Baldwin of Miami University, who – with the help of his wife Karen – revived the language of the Myaamia people by teaching his children and members of the local community;
  • Raymond Kelly, Community Language Worker who has drawn on sound files deposited with AIATSIS in the 1960s to assist with the repatriation of traditional language to the Gurri people of NSW;
  • Professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann, Chair of Linguistics and Endangered Languages at the University of Adelaide;
  • Paul Diamond, Curator, Māori and Ariana Tikao (Research Librarian, Māori) at the National Library of New Zealand; and
  • Dr Sarah McQuade, Director of Community, Learning and Discovery at the State Library of Western Australia and Project Manager for the NSLA Indigenous Group.


The Symposium was a great opportunity for networking with others working in the field with some insightful discussions around intellectual property and the digital repatriation of materials to communities. State Library of Queensland will be watching the Re-discovering Indigenous Languages project with interest and look forward to seeing more 'hidden gems' uncovered.

Des Crump - Indigenous Languages Researcher, State Library of Queensland


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