Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project


School of Oriental and African Studies


Aboriginal Affairs NSW

Aboriginal Affairs NSW

The Aboriginal language of Sydney

The language documented by William Dawes has frequently been called ‘The Sydney Language’, following Jakelin Troy (1994). The language spoken at the coast and that spoken a little inland were probably dialectal variants of one language, with other, more distinct languages spoken further afield (as were ‘discovered’ by the 1791 expedition mentioned above).

Although there is no consensus amongst historical sources, and the actual name given to the language by its speakers is not recorded, it is widely known as Dharuk (and other variant spellings of this name, such as Dharug or Darug). The Aboriginal people encountered by Dawes used the term ‘Eeōra’ to describe themselves, but this was a term for referring to themselves as people, not the name of their language (see Book B, page 6). Today the two names co-exist; for example, in A handbook of Aboriginal languages of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, the authors chose to retain ‘“Eora” as an alternative name for the coastal dialect ... and “Dharug” as an alternative name for the inland dialect’ (Jim Wafer and Amanda Lissarague, 2008, page 141). See also the Wikipedia entry for Sydney language.

Today, Aboriginal communities in the area provide more comprehensive descriptions of the various clans and their areas (see, for example, the website of the Darug Tribal Aboriginal Corporation and the Wikipedia entries for Darug and Eora people).

For academic descriptions of the language, see Jakelin Troy's items on the Sydney language and the Dawes notebooks, and Jeremy Steele thesis on the notebooks.

The Sydney Language is the source of many words borrowed into Australian English and several other languages. Examples, with spellings in today's Dharuk (courtesy of Richard Green) include:

English Today's Dharuk Meaning Notebook reference
boobook bubuk owlBook B Page 3
corroboree garriberri dancing eventBook C Page 8
dingo dingu dogBook C Page 16
cooee guwawi call of locationBook B Page 15
waratah warada type of flower; now emblem of NSWBook C Page 20
woomera wumara spear throwerBook B Page 22

Note that this website is not intended as a reference to the language of Sydney, or as a self-contained learning resource. Those wishing to find out more about the language, or to learn it, are recommended to consult the references page for further information and for courses.