About Jeremy Steele and the Aboriginal Languages of Australia website
Jeremy Macdonald Steele (1938-...)
Jeremy Steele wrote a thesis entitled ‘The Aboriginal Language of Sydney’ for a Macquarie University master’s degree in 2005. This came about following retirement from a career in university administration. Steele, an Australian from Perth of non-Indigenous background, was to spend a number of years in the UK after a brief period in Italy as a teenager. Following his arrival in Sydney in 1969, modest interests in history and languages led him to the story of European upheaval in Sydney in 1788 and eventually to the Sydney-language sentences recorded by First Fleeter William Dawes in notebooks kept in a London university library. Steele’s way of coping with the words he came across was to make lists. In due course these became databases with thousands of entries.
The insights afforded by the capacity of the databases to sort and match words made the writing of the thesis possible. Thus it was that a little of the language spoken here for millennia could be recovered and described — a language first swamped by English and later further overlaid by other tongues that can be heard in passing used by immigrants from practically everywhere.
This website is primarily about the Aboriginal Language of Sydney [Biyal Biyal]. It looks at
some other Australian Aboriginal languages. This was more accidental than deliberate.
Languages near to Sydney sometimes had shared or similar vocabulary to Sydney, and
helped illuminate and amplify the study. Some word lists included words from other
languages. Sometimes opportunities arose to look at other languages. Often the result
was a separate database to organise the language information. These new databases
then often revealed word links: the same or similar words occurring in different languages.
Sometimes another language was deliberately targeted, such as Nyungar in south-west
Australia, where Jeremy Steele grew up. Or Tasmania, where he visited in 2015.