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Director weekly highlights 3 June

Nicholas Evans, Outreach

Date: 3 June 2022

Through a happy coincidence, this update will reach you on Mabo Day, one of the defining moments in Australian history and on the path to reconciliation, which was commemorated in the week that has just gone past.  

I would like to dedicate this issue to the memory of Eddie Koiki Mabo and all who fought alongside him to overturn the doctrine of Terra Nullius and set in train the events that led to ten years of legal debate starting in the Queensland Supreme Court and progressing through to the High Court of Australia. 

Thirty years ago today, the High Court announced the historic decision that a group of Torres Strait Islanders, led by Eddie Mabo, held ownership of Mer (Murray Island). Through this acknowledgment of the traditional rights of the Meriam people to their land, the court also held that native title existed for all Indigenous people in Australia. This then laid the foundation for Paul Keating’s Labor Government to pass the Native Title Act in 1993 which established a legal framework for Native Title claims throughout Australia by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.  

Many in our community, including myself, have been involved in such claims in various capacities, with linguistic questions creeping in in many places, from the use of linguistic evidence to establish which groups are the rightful claimants, through assisting with interpretation and translation, to explaining the semantics of ownership in the languages of the region being claimed. I remember in 1999 being asked by a barrister in the Wellesley Islands Native Title case ‘what is the verb for to own in Kayardild’, which triggered a linguistic explanation that instead a suffix is used — which fortuitously was glossed as the proprietive suffix -(k)uru, and for which the Kayardild grammar and dictionary abounded in expressions like dulkuru dangkaa [land-PROPRIETIVE person] ‘custodian of country, land-owner’. What struck me from that process was how material that I had recorded many years earlier, for purely linguistic purposes, could have broader import in such vital matters as a Native Title claim. There is still much unfinished business in the whole program of establishing Native Title across the continent and we should remember that our whole vast program as linguists — which so often includes recording and translating life histories, place names, and information about country — is potentially relevant to this and other legal projects contributing to the deep goal of reconciliation. 

Meanwhile it's particularly good timing that Anjilkurri Rhonda Radley, Birpai Elder and CoEDL members at the WSU node, has this week been presenting the ‘Blackmans Point Massacre’ film which she made with Big Mob Films — definitely something to watch as a wrap-up to Reconciliation Week. Congratulations Anjilkurri from all of us in CoEDL. 

For the next few weeks, I’ll be handing the baton of these introductions over to Jane Simpson — thanks again Jane for taking these on. And now, over to Caroline Jones, who will turn this week’s CoEDL spotlight on Clair Hill. 

Have a good Mabo Day everybody and a creative week to come. 


Nick Evans


CoEDL Spotlight: Clair Hill 


Introduced by CoEDL CI Caroline Jones

Clair Hill took up a CoEDL postdoc position in December 2019, coming to Western Sydney University from a postdoc at Lund University in the Netherlands and with a PhD (2018) from Radboud University (Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics) and University of Leuven. With her typically unflappable style and deep talent, Clair adapted swiftly to the research flexibility required by COVID-19 pressures, co-supervised CoEDL PhD student Maddie Radnan to completion, organised research group meetings in MARCS, and taught and coordinated undergraduate and Master’s offerings (online during COVID lockdowns) in the School of Humanities & Communication Arts at Western. Throughout, Clair balanced her CoEDL postdoc at Western with a part-time Lecturer role in the School of Humanities and Languages at UNSW, and from January 2022 she has shifted east across town to a full-time role at the University of New South Wales where she remains a close collaborator and a positive, wise and resourceful colleague. 



Greetings from the Morven Brown building at UNSW where this week the neighbouring library lawn is filled with student hubbub and happy graduation scenes. It’s a pleasure to see the bustle after the quiet days of the pandemic. Through 2021 I’d been dividing my time between a CoEDL postdoc at the MARCS Institute at Western Sydney University and a lecturer in linguistics role in the School of Humanities and Languages at UNSW. The start of 2022 saw a move to a full-time role at UNSW and the closing of a wonderful two years as a CoEDLer under the supervision of CI Prof Caroline Jones. In this role I enjoyed the stimulating and interdisciplinary research environment of the MARCS Institute. It was a busy time of writing up publications and forging new collaborations, along with many other activities like running a fortnightly writing group, teaching and convening in UG and PG level courses, developing online teaching expertise, co-supervising a PhD student. The skills I learnt balancing these various tasks, and positions across two institutions, are invaluable as I now attempt to master the big juggle that comes with the 40-40-20 workload split of a lecturer position. 

Key collaborations from my postdoc continue into my UNSW days and in my ongoing role as Adjunct Fellow at MARCS at Western Sydney University. I’m working with Julie Warradoo, Lucy Hobson and other Lockhart River Aboriginal community members, Mark Richards and Caroline Jones at MARCS, and Sarah Bock at eLearn Australia to develop an Umpila/Kuuku Ya’u language learning app utilising the Listen N Talk app shell developed with CoEDL funding. I’m continuing my collaboration with Maddie Radnan and Caroline Jones exploring the dynamics of familiarity in group interaction in older adults in aged care, drawing on a corpus (collected by Maddie Radnan, jointly supervised by Weicong Li and Kate Stevens) in the project Time Travelling with Technology. The research translation value of these projects is no coincidence, as this is a key strength of Caroline Jones’ research and MARCS more generally. This approach also informs new work at UNSW to develop curriculum with a translational focus and research opportunities for HDR students to collaborate with community partners. Amongst other teaching, I’m busy revising a newly developed course on Indigenous Languages of Australia that ran in an intensive format in the summer term. This course has resulted from requests from student groups and the Dean Indigenous BJ Newton to see increased representation First Nations knowledge and languages in the curriculum in the new Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture. This is an exciting development and hopefully one of many in this direction. Lastly, to highlight new research collaborations and give a plug to a new website, check out this short blog post on our first in-person meeting of the Oz Space project (Landscape, language, and culture in Indigenous Australia) at Macquarie University in April. 

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