Keith Vincent Smith

Welcome to 2019, declared by the United Nations General Assembly as The International Year of Indigenous Languages (IY2019).

This weblog is intended to be an accurate account of the culture, language, social life and and personalities of the Indigenous People who inhabited the coastal area of what is now the City of Sydney. In January 1788, an  English convoy of eleven ships arrived in this place, which they called Port Jackson, to establish the convict colony of New South Wales.

It is estimated that there were originally some  250 or more separate Indigenous  languages spoken throughout mainland Australia. Today only 20 or so are spoken fluently and many of these are endangered.

One language united the Aboriginal clans or extended family groups in the Sydney area, from the north shore of Botany Bay in the south to Pittwater in the north and west along the river to Parramatta. It was spoken by some 30 clans,  including the Wangal, Wallamattagal, Gadigal, Burramattagal, Cameragal, Gweagal, Gabrogal, Bidjigal and others.

The officers of the First Fleet, who recorded many Indigenous words, never learned the name of this language. Marine Captain Watkin Tench called it ‘the dialect of the sea coast’ and said it was spoken at Rose Hill (Parramatta). David Collins, who acted as secretary to Governor Arthur Phillip, preferred ‘The Port Jackson Dialect’.

In modern times it was called ‘The Sydney Language’ by Dr. Jakelin Troy, whose work of the same title, published in 1994 and based on language notebooks compiled by Lieutenant William Dawes, began the revival which has brought this supposedly ‘sleeping language’ back to life.

Shane Phillips
CEO Tribal Warrior Aboriginal Corporation
Redfern, NSW

Young Koori boys and girls in Sydney’s inner suburb of Redfern have been learning the Sydney Language since 2011, when ‘Lingo on the Block’ classes were introduced by Uncle Shane Phillips, CEO of the Tribal Warrior Aboriginal Corporation, as part of the Clean Slate Without Prejudice project aimed at developing cultural awareness and pride among young people.

Phase 1 of the course, supervised by Paul Wilson of Augustinian Volunteers Australia, with Kareel Phillips and friends from Tribal Warrior, began the restoration of the original Sydney Language.

Since 2014 Tribal Warrior mentors have been tutored in the language by Jeremy Steele, who completed a Master of Arts research degree at Macquarie University, Sydney, The Aboriginal language of Sydney, in 2005, freely available online at http://hdl.handle.net/1959.14/738

The mentors pass this knowledge on to the young people in the scheme, in lessons based on Jeremy Steele’s database of Indigenous languages, grammar and phonetic respelling of words from William Dawes and other First Fleet vocabularies. The young learners can now sing songs, play games and welcome friends and strangers in Sydney’s original language.

The ‘Lingo’ sessions, Jeremy Steele has written, have been complemented by my own illustrated talks and presentations, based on decades of research into Indigenous culture, clans, social life and archaeology, including biographical sketches of such heroic Eora figures as Bennelong and Barangaroo, Colebee, Pemulwuy, Patyegarang, the Garigal voyager Bungaree, and many others.

Paul Wilson, who taught for several years at Cherbourg Indigenous community in Queensland, remains the coordinator of the Friday meetings – and much more at Tribal Warrior, now at 27 Cope Street, Redfern, New South Wales.

[Select Language on the EORA • PEOPLE Home Page for further information]

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2019