Hale’s Awabakal Notebook Returns

150 year-old Hale notebook returns to Australia for landmark exhibition.

American linguist Horatio Hale documented the Awabakal language in Newcastle more than 150 years ago.

His notebook is back in Australia for the first time in a landmark Indigenous languages exhibition.

Hales notebook ~ Notes on the natives of Australia and their dialects, 1839–40, Horatio Hale

Hale visited Australia from 1839-1840 and chronicled the work of missionary Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld who worked with Beerabahn (Biraban) to translate the Bible into the local Awabakal language.

Hale’s notebook and Threlkeld’s Bible are coming together for the State Library of NSW’s major Living Language exhibition, opening this weekend (13 July 2019).

Hale’s work is important to Aboriginal people and crucial for contemporary language revival work in Newcastle today.

For the State Library’s Damien Webb (Palawa) and Marika Duczynski (Gamilaraay), seeing Hale’s notebook back in the Country is “extraordinary.”

Up until now, the only way to see this important language resource was in person in Canada,” said Damien, who leads the Library’s Indigenous Engagement Branch.

We’re thrilled that the Western University in Canada has agreed to leave the Hale notebook here for an extended period for the Library to digitise and establish access protocols with Aboriginal stakeholders.”

The State Library’s exhibition, Living Language: Country, Culture, Community, co-curated by the Indigenous Engagement Branch with NSW Elders and language custodians, shares stories of joy, strength and survival.

Damien Webb (Palawa) & Marika Duczynski (Gamilaraay), State Library of NSW Indigenous Engagement Branch inspect Hales notebook

Another major international loan for the exhibition is First Fleet Officer William Dawe’s notebooks (1788-1791) which is the earliest attempt to transcribe and understand the Sydney coastal language. The notebooks are coming back to Sydney (from the University of London) for only the second time.

State Librarian John Vallance said: “This is a watershed moment for the State Library of NSW and I’m proud that we are leading the charge coming to terms with complex questions around first contact, language revival and renewal .”

“This exhibition is just one of the ways we’re inviting people to consider Aboriginal voices as living traditions, and more than collections of artefacts and documents. The authority held by Aboriginal Elders and language speakers comes through very strongly in what you will see when you come to visit,” said Dr Vallance.

Living Language is a free exhibition, 13 July to May 2020. www.sl.nsw.gov.au/galleries