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Unique archive of Indigenous stories opens to the world

By Leanne Coleman

Thousands of stories in more than 25 Indigenous languages are being digitised Thousands of stories in more than 25 Indigenous languages are being digitised

A living archive that is breathing life back into thousands of Indigenous language books created decades ago is being launched by Charles Darwin University.

The archive is part of a project aiming to preserve thousands of stories in more than 25 Indigenous languages as a resource for Indigenous communities, students, academics and the public to use and to contribute to.

CDU Northern Institute Professor of Education and project leader Michael Christie, who will deliver a public lecture as part of the launch, said the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages project aimed to build a digital archive of endangered literature in collaboration with the language-owning communities.

“We are now launching Stage I of the project, which is an archive of more than 800 books, with more to follow,” Professor Christie said. “People can visit the website and click on a community or language to see stories. Some also have recordings of a community elder reading their stories.”

The project began in 2012 when the team of language specialists from CDU travelled throughout the Northern Territory in search of the stories produced in 20 Literature Production Centres.

“Thousands of books and other school materials were produced in Australian Indigenous languages by Aboriginal people, in collaboration with staff in school bilingual education programs across the NT,” he said.

“The stories are valuable tools chronicling Indigenous cultural heritage, and range from environmental knowledge to traditional practices, oral literature, ethno-botany and history.”

Professor Christie said the next step of the project involved more partner organisations to expand the number of languages and document types that would be available through open online access.

“We want more people to get involved,” he said. “Stage II of the project will allow us to preserve books and other materials including many items from language communities, which never had bilingual programs but still produced written stories in Indigenous languages by Indigenous authors. We’ll also be able to focus on re-engaging people in communities with these stories, in classrooms and research organisations all over Australia and the world.”

Professor Christie said that the web-based archive would enable researchers nationally and internationally to engage with the texts and related resources, and with the original language-owning communities to pursue collaborative research.

“This resource will make publicly available a large archive of previously unavailable resources,” he said. “As a living archive that will continue to grow, this resource will facilitate connections with knowledge and language owners, most often descendants or relatives of the original story tellers.”

The archive will be launched by Dr Tom Calma AO, with a public lecture by Professor Christie entitled “Aboriginal languages, literatures and technologies in the Northern Territory since the 1970s” on Monday April 7 from 5:00pm to 6:30pm at the Northern Territory Library, Parliament House, Darwin. For more information visit W:

The project is funded through the Australian Research Council, and is a collaboration between CDU, the NT Department of Education, Australian National University, Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, Northern Territory Library, and the NT Catholic Education Office.