Digital Daisy Bates

Daisy Bates (1859-1951) was a remarkable and quite controversial ethnographer who spent all of her adult life living in Aboriginal communities around parts of Western Australia and South Australia. Her priceless collection of written records documents a great deal about the language and culture of the many different people she worked with. Her 'Native Tribes of Western Australia' (White 1985) is a detailed collection about Aboriginal people of WA. Significantly, it is an edited version of all of her notes except the section containing thousands of pages dealing with Aboriginal languages.

In collaboration with the National Library of Australia (NLA), these web pages make accessible this extremely valuable collection of over 23,000 pages of wordlists of Australian languages, originally recorded by Daisy Bates in the early 1900s, made up of the original questionnaires and around 4,000 pages of typescripts. This will enable reuse of the collection by Aboriginal people searching for their own heritage languages and by other researchers. For more details on how these pages have been built, see the technical information page.

Access to these historical records of Australian languages will benefit from the interdisciplinary cooperation of linguists and musicologists with technology experts and with the premier collecting agency, the National Library of Australia.

The output of this project has been a web page with the text of all the vocabularies, each linked to the image of the source document.


"I’d again like to express how incredibly useful is for our work here at GALC: I don’t know what I would do without it!!"
Goldfields Aboriginal Language Centre

"I have done independent analysis for research and have comfortable understandings that make seeing your new work exhilarating at times, as I can see the pencil work (of recognisable institutions to me) behind the original hand written material that otherwise I would have been troubled with. I will rely on your new work much more in the future. I consider it of extremely high worth. I think your work on this project is invaluable Nick. I have visited many times since I was told about it, and that was not too long ago, by another local researcher."
(Anonymous, 2020)

"I spent all day yesterday exploring the above website and wanted to congratulate you on creating it. It's a wonderful research resource that I'll be consulting often." Stephen D. Hopper AC
Professor of Biodiversity
Centre of Excellence in Natural Resource Management and School of Biological Sciences
The University of Western Australia

Using these pages

There are several ways to navigate through the thousands of pages and words in this set of materials. You can use the 'Map of words' to see the key terms that Bates asked for in the questionnaire. This will give you an overview of the spread of languages recorded. It will also show the geographic location for words. Because the people who filled out the questionnaire added new words and did not answer all questions, there are more than just the words in this map presentation. To find them you can use the 'Search' function and you can also browse through the typed version of the work, each of which you can find by looking at the 'Map of vocabularies'.

You can hear a five minute podcast about this project here.

You can see a short video presentation of this website here

Please cite this work as:

Nick Thieberger. 2017. Digital Daisy Bates. Web resource.

You can also cite this work by reference to this paper: Nick Thieberger. 2016. Daisy Bates in the digital world. In Austin, Peter K., Harold Koch and Jane Simpson (eds) Language, land and song: Studies in honour of Luise Hercus. London: EL Publishing.


Nick Thieberger and Conal Tuohy. 2017. From Small to Big Data: paper manuscripts to RDF triples of Australian Indigenous Vocabularies. In Proceedings of the 2nd Workshop on Computational Methods for Endangered Languages.

Isobel White. 1985. Native Tribes of Western Australia Canberra: National Library of Australia


The project has been part of Nick Thieberger's ARC Future Fellowship (FT140100214). Contact him for any queries about the Digital Bates project.

This project has also been supported by: the Faculty of Arts, University of Melbourne; the Australian Research Council; the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language.

Thanks to Conal Tuohy for scripting and general TEI implementation. Thanks to Lauren Gawne and Jill Vaughan for their work on renaming files. Thanks also to Andrew Tanner and Nadia Faragaab for editing work. Designs by Jilalga Murray.

These pages are made available under a Creative Commons CC-BY licence