From 2 to 13 September 2019, AIATSIS worked with 15 community researchers from five language groups - the Yorta (VIC/NSW), Wergaia (VIC), Anaiwan (NSW), Wakka (QLD) and Ngunnawal (ACT/NSW) - to explore the archives, research historical records and repatriate important material to their communities.
The workshop was the result of a collaboration between AIATSIS and Living Languages, inspired by the United States’ Breath of Life Institute - which was in turn inspired by the original Paper and Talk workshop run by
Nick Thieberger at AIATSIS in 1993. Ngunnawal researchers, the traditional owners of the land on which AIATSIS stands, welcomed participants to
AIATSIS, leading a special on-country trip and closing the workshop with a moving smoking and water ceremony.
The researchers delved into archives at AIATSIS, the National Library of Australia and other institutions, discovering and reconnecting with family histories, cultural information and descriptions of their languages. Linguists and other experts shared skills in working with archives and understanding linguistic methods and terminology. The ongoing impacts of colonisation, and what decolonising language work means, were the subject of much discussion. Findings presented at the end of the fortnight included new language teaching resources, the discovery of old word lists, and plans for future language work.