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.


The wordlists in these pages were collected in the early 1900s. They were written by a range of people, and in a range of spellings. They are not presented here as an authoritative representation of Australian Indigenous languages. They are presented as historical sources of information.

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

Citing this work

To cite a page in the collection, please use the two numbers at the end of the URL for that page, so for example, the page "" can be cited as page "48-144T" which relates directly to the NLA's folio and page reference. It is best to use the page image URL rather than the text page, so a page image would be 43-079T.jpg and the reference would be 43-079T. A more complete reference to cite this work is:

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; The National Library of Australia.

Thanks to Conal Tuohy for scripting and general TEI implementation. Thanks to Mary-Louise Ayres and Margy Burn at the NLA for their ongoing support. Thanks to Cheryl Hoskin at the Barr-Smith Library for permission to use the Bates material. Thanks to Lauren Gawne and Jill Vaughan for their work on renaming files. Thanks also to Katya Zissermann, Andrew Tanner and Nadia Faragaab for editing work. Designs by Jilalga Murray.

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