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Sarah Payne wins inaugural Patji-Dawes Award for outstanding achievements in language teaching

Date: 25 November 2015

Sarah Payne, a teacher of French and German at Canberra Grammar School, has taken home Australia's first ever national prize for language teaching.

(Read her acceptance speech.)

Inaugurated by the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language in partnership with LCNAU, the Patji-Dawes Award recognises outstanding teaching achievements in an often-neglected area of education. 

“Australia boasts some of the world’s richest linguistic resources, but we have failed to harness them effectively” says Professor Jane Simpson, Chair of Indigenous Linguistics at the Australian National University and Deputy Director of the Centre of Excellence.

“This award aims to bring prestige and a bit of glamour to an area of vital national interest.”

The award itself was conferred by writer and translator Robert Dessaix whose impassioned message for language educators was that "to stop teaching is a kind of dying", and for language-learners that "to learn well, you must be hungry and full of joy".

The full text of his address is here

Ms. Payne's nominator was a former student Derek Bayley who went on to use both French and German in his professional life as an international lawyer. 

The name of the award refers to an historic language-teaching event that took place some 225 years ago in Sydney Cove.

The teacher was Patyegareng, a gifted girl of around 16 whose mother tongue was the Eora language. Her student, William Dawes, was a lieutenant who arrived on the First Fleet. Evidence of Patyegarang’s remarkable skill as a teacher has been preserved in a series of notebooks that Dawes maintained over the course of their regular lessons. A reproduction of the notebook served as trophy for the award. 

“It is testimony to the power of language-teaching that Dawes was later to take such a courageous stand against colonial violence,” says Professor Nicholas Evans, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language. (His speech is here.)

Dawes was expelled from the colony for refusing to participate in a punitive expedition against Eora people. He went on to dedicate much of his life to eradicating the global slave trade. 

Photographs of the event may be viewed here

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University