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The Bayala Databases

The Bayala Databases are a set of relational databases containing words and sentences in Aboriginal languages from across the country. In the databases, words appear in full and also as broken up into their stem and one or several suffixes (and sometimes prefixes). The databases began simply as lists of Aboriginal words and their corresponding English meanings. Since then they have become increasingly complex, and now provide much more. To give a single instance of their power, you can find virtually all the words for 'kangaroo' (or anything else) used across the entire country—limited only by the amount of information that has been added to the databases. That is to say, not every last instance of Aboriginal words for 'kangaroo' has yet been added to the databases, although a large number have been.

While it would be ideal to have the databases as part of this website, this has not proved possible. They were devised using the database platform or application Filemaker Pro, and to access them one has to buy it. This website and the databases have no other connection with Filemaker Pro: Filemaker Pro just happens to be the platform that was used when developing them. Because the databases have become as complex as they have, this explanation of how they work has been prepared for the benefit of anyone who might purchase Filemaker Pro and obtain a copy of the databases, the originals of which are held by Jeremy Steele who may be contacted through this website.



Baya is the Sydney Aboriginal language Biyal Biyal (BB) word for ‘speak’. With the reciprocal and/or reflexive suffix -la it becomes ‘speak reciprocally’, or ‘converse’. The databases have been collectively named the Bayala databases because they are intended to interact or, in a sense, ‘converse’ with a person who uses them (the User). They were commenced sometime before 1999, beginning as a simple word list with associated meanings as in a basic foreign-language dictionary. They are the work of Jeremy Macdonald Steele (the Developer) and in 2005 were submitted as part of a Macquarie University master’s thesis on the Sydney Aboriginal language. This thesis may be freely downloaded at <>.




The purpose of the databases is to enable the finding out of as much information about the Indigenous languages covered as possible. Take for instance the word naabawinya, deriving from a record made by William Dawes (and used by the Developer in association with a blog, now discontinued, <>):

Fig. 1_edited.jpg

Fig. 0.1 na-ba-wi-nya

Dawes wrote it as “Nābaou-ínia”, which on respelling in its simplest form (without double letters or hyphens) becomes nabawinya. The databases enable words such as this to be displayed revealing their constituent parts—here stem: na; future tense marker: ba; and two pronouns: wi; ‘I’ and nya: ‘thee’. All four parts of this word can then be separately searched for, and compared with other instances in other words across all of the languages covered. The databases reveal that in south-east Queensland na still means ‘see’, but in Perth na is an exclamation of surprise: ‘Oh! Ah!’


The Bayala databases were begun on a Macintosh computer, using the application Filemaker Pro. Its increasing sophistication over time enabled the databases gradually to do more. A particular advance by Filemaker Pro was to become ‘relational’, making it possible to search across one or more linked databases at the same time.

Fig 2 Summary of links
Fig. 1.2 Summary of links within the Bayala databases.JPG

Fig. 0.2 Summary of links within the Bayala databases

The graphic illustrates the interrelationships operating for any of the main databases.

Combined database compilations

—COASTAL (North, South, coastal parts of Curr and Antsoc)

—INLAND (Wiradhuri, Kamilaroi, Muruwari, Darling and inland parts of Curr, Antsoc and Murray)

The reason for combining certain databases is that it often saves opening up each constituent database, and checking each separately.


There are tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of lines, or ‘records’ in the various Bayala databases. Here is a source for one of them. It is a word for ‘water’ as recorded in the ‘Anon’ notebook kept by the early governors of NSW, including Governor Phillip of the First Fleet.

Fig. 1.3 Bādo.jpg

Fig. 0.3 "Bādo"      badu      "Water"      water      Anon (c)  [c:26:1]  [BB] [NSW]

The caption to this record shows the following:

“Bā,do”:    the original recording in the Australian language

badu:       the same, respelt according to a consistent system

“Water”:   the original translation

water:      the simplified modern translation

Anon (c):  the source

[c:26:1]:     notebook, page number, and line number

[BB]:         the abbreviation for the language (here Biyal Biyal, the term used in these databases for the classical language of Sydney)


The summary line used as a caption to the above illustration is a complex piece of typing, yet it was in fact done with a single key combination: ⌘3. This effect was achieved through a Filemaker Pro calculation field, and the following ‘script’:

Go to Field [ALLSYD:: summary ]

Select All

Copy [Select ; ALLSYD::Summary ]

Go to Field [ALLSYD::word for word JS ]

Paste [ Select ]


In the summary line in the caption to Fig. 0.3, the double quotation marks indicate that the entry captures the original record as closely as possible.

Here is another example, for the future tense of the verb ‘to see’:

Fig. 4 Naabaou
Fig. 1.4 Naabaoú.jpg

Fig. 0.4  "Naabaoú"  nA-ba-wu  "I shall or will see etc." see-will I        Dawes (a) [a:1:13] [BB] [NSW]

           "Naabámi"  nA-ba-mi   "Thou [wilt see]"           see-will thou  Dawes (a) [a:1:14] [BB] [NSW]

Analysis of the first line, by components, as with badu:

“Naabaoú”:    the original recording in the Australian language

nA-ba-wu:   the same, respelt (with hyphens)

"I shall or will see etc.": the original translation

see will I:       the simplified modern translation

Dawes (a):     the source (Dawes’ Notebook ‘a’)

[a:1:14]:           notebook, page number, and line number

[BB]:               the abbreviation for the language


This is recorded in the ALLSYD database as follows:

Fig. 1_edited.jpg

Fig. 0.5 “Naabaoú” and “Naabámi”

As this reproduction is too small to read, the key segments are shown in larger size:

Fig. 1_edited.jpg

Fig. 0.6 Source information for “Naabaoú” and “Naabámi”

Fig. 1.7.jpg

Fig. 0.7 Respelling and analysis of “Naabaoú” and “Naabámi”

Fig. 1.8.jpg

Fig. 0.8 Date and translation of “Naabaoú” and “Naabámi”

The colours have little significance. Since there are a large number of columns in the databases, colours were applied to more easily distinguish one column from another. Not all columns are used for every entry or record. The colours are applied consistently across all databases. For example, grey is used for original records, a darker shade for the Australian language, lighter for English. Brown is used for respelling; yellow for the standardised English, with shades of yellow for subsidiary parts of the standardised translation.

To read further, use the MENU button at the top of the page to access a drop-down list of the main areas of the website. Hover over Bayala Databases to access a second drop-down menu listing the other pages which describe the operation of the databases.

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