Working together to bring legacy Pacific language recordings to light


This is the story of institutional collaboration at its best.

In 2013 Bill Palmer sent through a list of 78 rpm discs held by the National Library of Australia, summarised in their catalog as follows:

“The collection consists of two albums and 20 single sound discs, word lists, slides and photographs. Records include specimens of native languages of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate; speech of Hagen natives; gospel recordings; and titles in Fijian, Babatana, Owa Raha, Bilua, Marovo, Dobu, Ungarinyin, Hula, Tavara, Motu, Johore Malay, Western Sumatra Malay, Wedau and Police Motu. Brief typescript word lists are included with the Motu, Hula, Tavara, Dobu and Babatana sound discs. There is an English-Owa Rahan vocabluary for the Owa Raha disc.”

We sent a request to the NLA with whom PARADISEC has always had a close working relationship. They agreed in principle and then we had periodic contact about this. In July 2015 we approached the National Film and Sound Archive who have the necessary playback equipment. Further to-ing and fro-ing of emails finally resulted in agreement from the NLA in June 2016.

Beth Lonergan, delivering the discs to PARADISEC
Beth Lonergan, delivering the discs to PARADISEC

At long last, in July Beth Lonergan (Assistant Curator of digital archives, pictures, and manuscripts at the National Library of Australia) kindly collected all the items so that we could deliver them to the National Film and Sound Archives for digitisation.

Once at the NFSA, Gerry O’Neill (Audio Officer, audio preservation and technical services) was in charge of the cleaning and digitising of the discs.

And in case you are interested, these discs fall into two types, those which are shellac pressings, which once recorded upon, needed further processing and then could be “mass” reproduced, and those which are instantateous, and ready to be listened to without further processing.

And of the instantaneous discs we found, some had aluminium under a coating of acetate, and some had glass! These discs tend to be physically more fragile and contain one-of-a-kind recordings.

The cleaning process begins at the NFSA
AC discs getting cleaned at the NFSA

Approximately 50 disks have been digitised, catalogued, and are now archived with PARADISEC. You can can find these and other recordings collected by Arthur Capell here:


These exciting new additions can be found in the AC1 collection beginning with the item number 500. Here is an excerpt of one of these gems that just happens to have a bit of the text transcribed. The language is Sinaugoro (ISO 639-3 snc), spoken in the Central Province of Papua New Guinea.


If you’d like to listen to the whole recording, here is the direct link (once you are logged in) to item AC1-517 in the PARADISEC catalog: (click on the ‘audio’ link at the top).


Julia Colleen Miller (

Senior Data Manager, ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language

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