Community collaboration and the Gamilaraay web dictionary

This post was jointly written by David Nathan and Peter K. Austin.

In an earlier post, we discussed how the 25 year old Gamilaraay/Kamilaroi web dictionary used cutting-edge software technologies and data structuring and management principles to create the first fully hypertext dictionary on the web. Today, we highlight another aspect of the project which was becoming increasingly common at the time, namely community consultation and collaboration before, during, and after publication.

In 1995-1996 David was working as a Visiting Research Fellow in Interactive Technology at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), responsible for their website, and maintaining and developing the Aboriginal Studies Electronic Data Archive (ASEDA) that was set up by Nick Thieberger in 1991. He also fostered a number of web and multimedia projects (including the Gamilaraay dictionary), and developed the WWW Virtual Library – Aboriginal Languages of Australia, which he has continued to support since he left AIATSIS in 2000.

Some 25 years before the recent interest among language documenters and other professional linguists in issues of community consultation and collaboration (see, e.g., Linguistic Society of America 2009; Czaykowska-Higgins 2009; Glenn 2009; Leonard & Haynes 2010; Dobrin & Berson 2011), linguists in Australia voiced their concerns with ethics and rights in relation to research in Indigenous communities, especially through forums hosted by the Australian Linguistic Society (ALS). Published expressions can be found in the 1984 ALS statement on “Linguistic rights of Aboriginal and Islander communities” (ALS Newsletter 84(4), October 1984), the 1989 ALS statement of “Ethics” (ALS Newsletter 90(4), November 1990), as well as the seminal paper by Wilkins (1992). So, David’s work on the web dictionary involved extensive travel throughout northern New South Wales, funded by AIATSIS, for consultations and negotiations with Gamilaraay community groups, elders, and organisations in Moree, Walgett, Collarenebri, and other areas of Gamilaraay country. This culminated in an official launch of the web dictionary, organised in collaboration with Gamilaraay leader the late Tom French at the State Education Department office in Moree, and attended by nearly 100 community members and key elders (the late Auntie Rose Fernando and the late Uncle Ted Fields gave speeches about the project at the launch — see Giacon (2919: 403) on their later role in Gamilaraay language revival). There is an online video of the launch which has considerable historical significance (viewers should be aware that the video shows people who have since passed away). Following the launch, David made some adjustments to the website in accordance with feedback from community members.

David and I have remained involved in Gamilaraay language work over the past 25 years. I have published some academic articles (e.g., Austin 2008), and I am currently completing a second edition of my 1993 unpublished A Reference Gammar of Gamilaraay, northern New South Wales (available here or here) which will soon be available for free download. David has worked closely with John Giacon on various projects, including Gayarragi Winangali: Find and Hear (begun 2008), a downloadable app that is an interactive multimedia resource for Gamilaraay and Yuwaalaraay containing thousands of dictionary entries and example sentences (with sound recordings), as well as songs, games, and other learning aids. They are presently preparing an updated mobile app version of this material.


  • Austin, Peter K. 2008. The Gamilaraay (Kamilaroi) language, northern New South Wales – a brief history of research. In William McGregor (ed.) Encountering Aboriginal languages: studies in the history of Australian linguistics, 37–58. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. download link
  • Czaykowska-Higgins, Ewa. 2009. Research Models, Community Engagement, and Linguistic Fieldwork: Reflections on Working within Canadian Indigenous Communities. Language Documentation and Conservation 3, 15-50.
  • Dobrin, Lise & Josh Berson. 2011. Speakers and language documentation. In Peter K. Austin and Julia Sallabank (eds.) The Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages, 187-211. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Giacon, John. 2010. The development of the Gamilaraay, Yuwaalaraay & Yuwaalayaay Dictionary. In John Hobson, Kevin Lowe, Susan Poetsch & Michael Walsh (eds.) Re-awakening languages: theory and practice in the revitalisation of Australia’s Indigenous languages, 402-417. Sydney: Sydney University Press. download link
  • Glenn, Akiemi. 2009. Five Dimensions of Collaboration: Toward a Critical Theory of Coordination and Interoperability in Language Documentation. Language Documentation and Conservation 3, 149–160.
  • Leonard, Wesley Y. & Erin Haynes. 2010. Making ‘collaboration’ collaborative: An examination of perspectives that frame linguistic field research. Language Documentation and Conservation 4, 268-293.
  • Linguistic Society of America. 2009. Ethics Statement May 2009. download link. Revised version adopted July 2019.
  • Wilkins, David P. 1992. Linguistic research under Aboriginal control: a personal account of fieldwork in central Australia. Australian Journal of Linguistics 12(1), 171–200.


The web dictionary was hosted from 1995 on the Coombs Server at ANU (the National Library of Australia’s Trove catalogue has a webpage snapshot captured on 25 Feb 2002), and on the AIATSIS server from 1996 (the Trove catalogue has a webpage snapshot captured on 10 Feb 2009). After having been subsequently deleted from both these servers, the 1998 version has its current permanent home on

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