Dreaming the Keepara

Dreaming the Keepara: New South Wales indigenous cultural perspectives, 1808-2007

Kelly, Raymond

Institution:University of Newcastle. Academic Division, The Wollotuka Institute

This interdisciplinary study investigates the Aboriginal intellectual heritage of the Mid North Coast of New South Wales, through a combination of family history, oral tradition, and audio-recorded songs, stories, interviews, discussions, and linguistic material. This research has uncovered an unsuspected wealth of cultural knowledge, cultural memory, and language heritage that has been kept alive and passed down within Aboriginal families and communities, despite the disruptions and dislocations endured over the past seven generations. This study’s findings are presented in three interrelated forms: a dance performance that incorporates traditional and contemporary songs, stories, and lived experiences of an Aboriginal extended family; an oral presentation within the framework of Aboriginal oral transmission of knowledge and this written exegesis, which is itself an experiment in finding pathways for the expression and progression of Aboriginal knowledge within the context of academic discourse. The theoretical framework of this work is grounded in my personal experience of Aboriginal traditions of knowledge production and transmission, maintained through everyday cultural activities, family memories of traditional education, and our traditional and present-day language forms and communicative practices. The performance, oral and written components connect this intellectual and cultural heritage with historical and photographic documentation, linguistic analyses, and audio recordings from my grandfathers’ and great-grandfathers’ generations. The written component establishes the background to the study, and reviews relevant literature with a prioritisation of Aboriginal voices and sources of knowledge, both oral and written. It explores aspects of my family history from the early 1800s to the present, including my childhood and early educational experiences and leads on to a detailed look at the work of my late father, Raymond Shoonkley Kelly in documenting and maintaining out intellectual and cultural heritage through the NSW Survey of Aboriginal Sites. The final part of this study focuses on language, which is central to all of the preceding investigation. This work demonstrates how operating from an Aboriginal knowledge base allows us to see beyond surface differences in spelling and pronunciation, to reach a deeper understanding of the cultural meanings and ways of speaking that have allowed us to preserve and maintain out cultural integrity. This knowledge base also enables the linguistic unpacking of previously unanalysable song material from the audio recordings. Indigenous people in New South Wales are continuing to engage in a cultural and political struggle to maintain and protect our identity in the face of an ever-present threat of assimilation by the mainstream Australian society. The success of our struggle will depend significantly on our ability to keep our language and our intellectual heritage alive.

Keywords dreamingKeeparaAboriginal Reservesindigenous cultural perspectivesAboriginalAborigineDreamtimerace relationsAborigines protection boardAboriginal Welfare BoardAboriginal Missions

Edible insect larvae in Kaytetye


Journal of Ethnobiology 37(1):120-140. 2017

Edible Insect Larvae in Kaytetye: Their Nomenclature and Significance
No Access

Insects have traditionally constituted an important source of food in many cultures, but changes in dietary practices and other lifestyle traits are threatening the transmission of insect-related knowledge and vocabulary to younger generations of Indigenous Australians. This paper describes the rich cultural and culinary traditions surrounding an important insect group, namely a class of edible insect larvae consumed by a desert community in central Australia. Twenty-nine different edible insect larvae are named in the Kaytetye language, with the names encoding the identity of the host plant on which the larvae are found. We describe the complexities involved in the naming system, paying special attention to cultural and linguistic factors. The difficulties in the scientific identification of these ethnotaxa are discussed, as are the significance of our data to (1) questions of universal patterns in ethnoclassification and nomenclature and (2) the purported lack of binomially-labeled folk species in the languages of hunter-gatherer societies.

Genomic history of Aboriginal Australia

The most recent issue of Nature has an article on internal diversity in Australian genetics. It includes intriguing data about the mapping between linguistic diversification and genetic diversification.


A genomic history of Aboriginal Australia

The population history of Aboriginal Australians remains largely uncharacterized. Here we generate high-coverage genomes for 83 Aboriginal Australians (speakers of Pama–Nyungan languages) and 25 Papuans from the New Guinea Highlands. We find that Papuan and Aboriginal Australian ancestors diversified 25–40 thousand years ago (kya), suggesting pre-Holocene population structure in the ancient continent of Sahul (Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania). However, all of the studied Aboriginal Australians descend from a single founding population that differentiated ~10–32 kya. We infer a population expansion in northeast Australia during the Holocene epoch (past 10,000 years) associated with limited gene flow from this region to the rest of Australia, consistent with the spread of the Pama–Nyungan languages. We estimate that Aboriginal Australians and Papuans diverged from Eurasians 51–72 kya, following a single out-of-Africa dispersal, and subsequently admixed with archaic populations. Finally, we report evidence of selection in Aboriginal Australians potentially associated with living in the desert.


Country-lines is a wonderful archive of story-telling from Aboriginal Australia. The site has a growing collection of animations created in collaboration with Aboriginal communities in different parts of Australia. For example, Yanyuwa people from Boorooloola have a set of stories of saltwater dreamings, narrated in Yanyuwa and illustrated. This is a wonderful teaching resource.

Phylogenesis of the Dreamtime

by David Rose. [unpaywalled version here]


The aim of this paper is to sketch some possible correlations between phases in the development of languages in Australia, and phases in the archaeological record of people in the continent. The technique is to compare Australian language groupings, at the scales of phylum, family, group, language and dialect, with events in the climatic and archaeological history of the continent. The emerging historical account is also correlated with other evidence from linguistics, anthropology and mythology, to identify four broad historical phases associated with expansions and contractions of resources and human populations. Universalist maxims about rates of language and cultural change are challenged by these data, suggesting that rates of change in Australia may have been considerably slower than rates in Europe, where such maxims originate. It is argued that this gradual change is more consistent with Aboriginal communities’ own accounts of their histories.

Redressing the Balance on Australian Stop Contrasts: Comments on Austin’s (1988) “Phonological Voicing Contrasts in Australian Aboriginal Languages”

by Andrew Butcher and Nicholas Reid.

Read the paper here. Below is the introduction:

Although the above article has appeared in a volume of Working Papers, rather than in an established journal, it is nevertheless widely available in Australian linguistic circles and, since it claims to be an “Australia-wide survey”, the result of twelve years of research (title footnote), it is likely to be recommended reading for many students of Australian linguistics. It is for these reasons – the claimed scope and the likely readership – that we feel it appropriate to express a number of criticisms we have of this work. These criticisms fall under two major headings: (1) The comparatively scanty treatment of the area of Australia which has the highest concentration of languages with two stop series, namely the ‘Top End’ of the Northern territory; (2) The failure to distinguish adequately between the level of phonological contrast and the level of phonetic parameters underlying the contrast.

The lexicography of indigenous languages in Australia and the Pacific

by Nick Thieberger.

Read Dr. Thieberger’s paper here. The following is its abstract:

The Australia and Pacific region is home to nearly a quarter of the world’s languages. Wordlists of a few of these languages date back to the first European explorers, while detailed dictionaries have been prepared for somewhere less than 5 % of them. Where an indigenous language is the official language of a country of this region it is more likely to have a dictionary and ongoing administrative support for lexicographic work, and, in a few cases, a corpus from which terms can be sourced. For most indigenous languages dictionaries are prepared in the course of language documentation efforts by researchers from outside of the speech community, using modern lexicographic database tools and resulting in structured lexicons. As a result, it is possible to produce various output formats of these dictionaries, including print-on-demand, multimodal webpages, and mobile devices as increasingly popular methods of delivery. A major use of these dictionaries can be to support vernacular language programs in schools. This region was a test bed for computational bilingual lexicography, and is home to the two largest comparative lexical databases of indigenous languages.