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Australian Indigenous Languages Collection

The Australian Indigenous Languages Collection (AILC) was established in 1981 and is held in the Library of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). The collection brings together over 3700 published items written in 102 of the over 250 Australian Indigenous languages, and is the only one of its kind housed in one location and catalogued as one collection.

Before the European colonisation of Australia there were over 250 languages and 500 dialects spoken by Indigenous people. Of these languages, only 145 are still spoken, and over 100 will cease to be used over the next three decades. Australian Indigenous languages are unique and spoken nowhere else in the world, so their loss is not only a loss for Australia, but for the world. The AILC plays a vital role in preserving these languages, and assisting Indigenous groups to revive them, and thus is of considerable community significance for Australia’s Indigenous people.

The collection covers languages from all parts of Australia: from Tasmania to the Torres Strait and from the Kimberley to the southern parts of Australia, and is a storehouse of cultural knowledge and tradition for Indigenous Australians. The collection provides examples of the types of materials produced in Indigenous languages, including early works such as children’s readers and Bible translations, dictionaries, grammars, vocabularies and language learning kits produced by Indigenous Language Centres, and works of the imagination. It provides an historical overview of languages that have been recorded for teaching and learning purposes. Some of the items in the collection are of aesthetic significance, particularly children’s readers illustrated by celebrated Indigenous artists such as Mawalan Marika, Djoki Yunupingu, both from Arnhem Land; and Dennis Nona and Alick Tikopi from the Torres Strait.

Inscription Number: #31

Year of Inscription: 2009

Physical Location: Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) Library

a photograph of Holly Rankin-Smith and Lenie Nungarrayi Namatjira

Holly Rankin-Smith (left) and Lenie Nungarrayi Namatjira (right) looking through AILC collection material at the AIATSIS Library.

Photo: Andrew Babington/AIATSIS

a portrait of Mervyn Japanangka Rubuntja

Portrait of Mervyn Japanangka Rubuntja holding a copy of ‘PMERE Country in Mind: Arrernte Landscape Painters’ in the AIATSIS Library. (L A561.075/1)

This publication from the Australian Indigenous Languages Collection was compiled for an exhibition titled Pmere, country in mind, held at the Birukmarri Gallery in Fremantle in July, 1988. It contains parallel text in English and Arrernte. In this text, Arrernte watercolour artists describe their work and the influence of traditional culture in their depictions of country; each artist provides some historical and biographical information; Jillian Namatjira, Gabriella Wallace, Clem Abbott, Wenten Rubuntja, Doug Abbott, Basil Rantji, Desmond Ebataringa, Ivan Panka, Therese Ryder, Kathleen Wallace; includes map with Arrernte names, significant sites and locations of the paintings.

Photo: Andrew Babington/AIATSIS