Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category.

Tape gumshoe

Finding tapes that need to be digitised often involves some detective work. Recently, while waiting for a dropoff of tapes (yes, in car park 3), I mused on the noir nature of the work and came up with this vignette.

Perhaps the trickiest collection I’ve dealt with was one created by Fr John Z’graggen in the 1970s, and housed at the Basel Museum in Switzerland. I started negotiating with the Museum curator in 2011, after getting information about the tapes from Prof Andy Pawley in 2007.

The former curator, Christian Kaufmann, warned me that it would be like getting information from officials in the GDR, and he was right. His successor decided the tapes were just fine in the cupboard where they were stored and no access was provided for a couple of years. But then a new curator saw the importance of digitising the collection. With funds we sent from CoEDL she took parts of the collection to Nijmegen in 2015 and 2016 over several train trips, where our colleagues at the Max Planck Institute kindly digitised the tapes, eventually sending us the hard disk of files. These became the Z’graggen collection of 171 recordings.

Another memorable exchange followed an mail that said: “We are in possession of a collection of records which contain sermons preached by a Methodist missionary in the Babatana language, from Choiseul Solomon Islands. They were recorded between 1954-1963. Do you have any suggestions about what can be done with them?”

This collection of 3-inch open reels needed to get from Auckland to Sydney.

I was in Auckland on a Saturday afternoon between 2pm and 6pm en route to Australia and met with the depositor at the airport to pick up the tapes. They were in poor condition, the edges were ‘cupped’ which meant the tape looked like it had frills. Nevertheless, Nick Fowler-Gilmore managed to extract a reasonable signal from the tapes and they became the Nancy Carter collection.

Once, when I had collected some tapes in Drehu from a colleague in Noumea, I was on the plane back next to a biologist who specialised in fungi, so I asked him if it was problematic to be bringing mouldy tapes into Australia, worried that they could be a prohibited import. He said that tape mould was likely to be as benign as bread mould, not problematic except that the inhaled spores can be an irritant. Those tapes became the LS1 collection.

Another major collection with ongoing work is the Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta’s reels and cassettes. These are stored in the ‘tabu’ room at the VKS building in Port Vila, but, with no open reel playback equipment the reels are in desperate need of digitisation. I got a Legacy Materials Grant from the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme to bring tapes back and they have now become the VKS2 collection. A hard disk of files went back to Vila with the original tapes. I got more tapes on a more recent visit, but there is no funding for them. On the left is a great example of the state of some of these tapes. Despite looking like it should be unplayable, below is a sample of the audio that was recovered from this tape (thanks to Nick Fowler-Gilmore for his work on fixing the tape).

Some of the tapes we have worked with, top left, the Hadfield’s’ tapes in Kalgoorlie, WA, then clockwise: Ambong Thompson, Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta; Ambong inspecting tapes; a box of tapes in Madang, PNG; Tony Heraoke, Solomon Islands National Museum; Z’graggen’s tapes at the Basel Museum; cassettes at the Divine Word University in Madang, PNG; Kalgoorlie again; Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta tape room.

Digitising a tape costs around $150, and more if it needs cleaning and special care. When a collection turns up we need to find funding to care for it. Another collection we worked with recently was Ian Frazer’s To’aba’ita (Solomon Islands) recordings comprising 376 items, and representing a detailed ethnographic collection of recordings for a language that otherwise has no recordings available (although there is a fine grammar and dictionary written by Frank Lichtenberk), see the listing in OLAC here. We had a Legacy Materials Grant from the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme to do this work.

And, most recently, we worked on Bob Tonkinson’s 58 tapes from Vanuatu , recorded since the 1960s. The files will go to the Vanuatu Cultural Centre and be available via our catalog. Other tapes in the queue are Helen Wurm’s recordings from Arnhemland, Edith Bavin’s Warlpiri recordings from the 1980s, and Neil Bell’s central Australian recordings. Work on these will be funded by the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language but, as tapes keep turning up, we will need to find funds to keep digitising them.

Donations to PARADISEC (Inc) are tax-deductible in Australia.

PARADISEC Activity Update – Jan 2021

Well, we made it through 2020! Archiving of new material has proceeded throughout various phases of lockdowns, workings-from-home, etc. A huge thank you to all of our staff, depositors, and broader community for their flexibility and patience.

We flew past the 100TB-archived milestone (for which our upcoming online conference is named, PARADISEC@100), and are now at over 112TB. The 595 collections in the archive contain 30,987 items, which in turn house 322,287 essence objects.

We’re also excited to be partnering with the British Library on the True Echoes research project, which “aims to reconnect a rich archive of early sound recordings of Oceanic cultures with the communities from which they originate.”

We’re looking forward to being joined by contributors and attendees from all over the world at the PARADISEC Conference, Feb 17-19 2021. Hope to see you there!

From film to file: historical manuscripts released by PARADISEC

We are pleased to announce the release of a number of historical manuscripts in and about languages of the Pacific. We worked with the National Library of Australia to digitise microfilms and have now made them available as pdf files for download from our catalog. This work was supported by the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language

Continue reading ‘From film to file: historical manuscripts released by PARADISEC’ »

PARADISEC Activity Update – May 2020

Well, this has been the strangest quarter on memory, I’m sure a lot of folks can relate. All PARADISEC staff and affiliates, across our three main institutional location (Universities of Sydney & Melbourne, and ANU in Canbera) have been working at home for the past 6+ weeks. This has slowed down some aspects of our operations such as processing and accessioning to archive large volumes of large files (especially video), and digitising certain tape media that require specialised equipment not easy to re-locate.

That said, we recently passed a significant milestone, adding our 300,000th file into the collection! As ever, we’re proud of the ongoing work we’re doing in keeping this amazing and valuable set of materials growing.

Connect with us on Twitter ( @PARADISEC_Aus ) , and Facebook

Current collection stats:

84.2 Tb total

572 collections
28,515 items
300,073 essence objects

94 universities

X-WAV    63,661 files   20.5 TB  12,343 hours

MXF 54.6 Tb

MP4 5,933 files 4.62 TB 1,146:30 hours

PARADISEC Activity Update – Feb 2020

We had a busy 2019, and are continuing that trend into 2020.

The archive now houses 541 collections, containing 27,126 items, and representing 1232 languages.

We have 74.4 TB of data, of which 20.4 TB is our 11,977 hours of audio files.



Honiara language workshop, August 2019

The Solomon Islands Kulu Language Institute (KLI) organised a workshop in August this year that attracted 100 participants representing 44 languages of the Solomon Islands.

The venue was the leaf house at Saint Barnabas Anglican Cathedral Grounds, Honiara. The workshop was sponsored by the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, the Kulu Language Institute, the University of Melbourne, The Research Unit for Indigenous Language, and Islands Bible Ministries. Continue reading ‘Honiara language workshop, August 2019’ »

50 words of Australian languages project

The Research Unit for Indigenous Language is running a project in 2019/2020 to collect and present words in as many Australian Indigenous languages as possible. Please consider contributing to this project.

This project aims to provide resources for schools to teach at least fifty words in their local language.

We are asking for contributions of at least fifty words in as many Australian Indigenous languages as possible. The typed words need to be listed in a spreadsheet, with audio file recordings attached. Full instructions on capturing the details are on this website.

Continue reading ‘50 words of Australian languages project’ »

PARADISEC Mystery Language of the Week

By Jodie Kell

Each week of this year PARADISEC is broadcasting a Mystery Language of the Week. Published on our website through a popular audio platform, as well as through social media, we are asking people for help in identifying languages in our archive by listening to short audio grabs and contributing their knowledge to the descriptive metadata.

2019 is the UNESCO International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL). The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues said that 40% of the estimated 6700 languages spoken around the world were endangered, and most of these are Indigenous languages. This puts the associated cultures and knowledge systems at risk, since Indigenous languages “represent complex systems of knowledge and communication and should be recognised as a strategic national resource for development, peace building and reconciliation.” (

One of the aims of the year is to mobilise and connect different organisations, communities and individuals for coordinated action on the “urgent need to preserve, revitalize and promote indigenous languages around the world” ( The IYIL website contributes to raising awareness about issues surrounding Indigenous languages by providing information, including a calendar of events and access to resources, and enabling organisations to register and actively participate. ( PARADISEC has registered and is planning a series of activities to support the IYIL and use the coordinated approach promoted on the website to expand the reach of our archival materials and our organisation.

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Local wifi versions of paradisec?


Getting records back to the places they came from is a major motivation for what we do at PARADISEC. Repatriation of unique analog artefacts is an important model, and digital records should, in principle, be easier to move to any place. However, not every place has capacity for access to or storage of digital files. In the Pacific there are few reliable digital repositories and the cultural agencies I know have little capacity to store or disseminate digital files. Internet connections are usually expensive and so discourage download of large files.

Earlier I talked about using Itunes to get records back to Erakor, the village where I work in Vanuatu. The computers that held the Itunes installation eventually stopped working and were replaced, but the language files were not copied over to the new computers.

Continue reading ‘Local wifi versions of paradisec?’ »

Texts and more texts: corpora in the CoEDL

Corpus development is one of the goals of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language (see this web page for more details). We have run a number of workshops on corpus-related themes (e.g. the 2017 workshop that included a day on converting early sources).

In addition to creating useable materials for the source communities (which we have a strong commitment to supporting) we are archiving records that include primary media, transcripts and associated annotations. We aim to produce from this material a subset of accessible texts for a number of languages.
Here it is worth noting that we have come up with this terminology (thanks to Jane Simpson for the formulation) to distinguish the objects we have collected:
Assemblage – all material collected, working files, early sources, multiple versions and drafts
Collection – the archived material, a subset of the above, but curated with sufficient metadata to allow the user to know what all items are
Corpus – a crafted set of texts in the language that can be used for further analysis

Continue reading ‘Texts and more texts: corpora in the CoEDL’ »