Edward Micklethwaite Curr (1820-1889) was born in Hobart and educated in England and France. He published two major works. In 1883 his Recollections of squatting in Victoria: then called the Port Phillip district (from 1841-1851) was published. It included information about the local Bangerang people. This was followed in 1886/7 by the monumental The Australian race : its origin, languages, customs, place of landing in Australia, and the routes by which it spread itself over that continent, a four-volume continental survey of Aboriginal peoples.
From 1841 to 1851 Curr managed a station his father had purchased in Victoria in the Heathcote area. In 1851 he visited Europe and the Middle East for three years. He owned properties in Queensland and New South Wales, however by 1862 he was back in Victoria and was appointed as an Inspector of Sheep in the state and later, in 1873, became Chief Inspector of Stock. He had collected information from a few stock owners on local Aboriginal groups and his interest in finding out more about the cultures and languages of Indigenous Australians led him to send out questionnaires to ‘Gentlemen scattered through the Australian Colonies and Tasmania’ as well as to the editors of several newspapers. The questionnaires included a list of questions about local Indigenous culture and a word list in English, for which Curr asked for the local Indigenous equivalents. Diane Barwick notes that Curr was a member of the Board for the Protection of the Aborigines in 1878, the time the questionnaire was circulated.¹
Some of the language was provided to the 'Gentleman' by local Aboriginal people. For Example, word list no. 155 from the Barcoo River and forwarded to Curr by Mr Hyde was written by a local Torraburri man who was a trooper in the Native Mounted Police. W. O. Hodgkinson, the Goldfields Warden at Maytown, wrote word list no. 121 from information given to him by Wonduri, a middle-aged Breeaba woman living at Maytown. He also wrote the Princess Charlotte Bay word list no. 108 from Mal, a ten year old Mukinna boy.
From the information received, Curr compiled The Australian Race. It is made up of four volumes consisting of 23 ‘books’. The first book presents his remarks on Aboriginal languages and vocabulary, manners and customs, marriage, weapons and implements and origin of the ‘Australian Race’. The following books present the information received from the respondents to his questionnaire as well as information gleaned from other writers such as Ridley. Some of the material presented by Curr would be considered culturally sensitive information. Often, word lists alone are presented without any accompanying information.
It is for these reasons that the AIATSIS Library has digitised just the word lists.
For more information on Curr search Mura®, the AIATSIS online catalogue.
Barwick, Diane, Mapping the past: an atlas of Victorian clans, 1835-1904, Part 1 in ‘Aboriginal History’, Vol. 8, No. 2, p. 102
Curr, Edward M., The Australian race: its origin, languages, customs, place of landing in Australia, and the routes by which it spread itself over that continent, Melbourne, John Ferres, Government Printer, 1886-1887, Vol. 3, p. 78