Underneath the southern end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the water laps at the edges of Dawes Point Park. On this spot, nearly two hundred and thirty years ago, a young Aboriginal woman Patyegarang would visit astronomer and soldier Lieutenant William Dawes and speak to him in Gadigal, one of languages of the Eora nation.
Lieutenant Dawes carefully recorded these conversations and words in his journal to create what would become the first Aboriginal language dictionary in Australia.
If you stand in Dawes Point Park, known as Tar-ra in the Gadigal language, at any point over the course of the Sydney Festival (6am-11pm, 7th-29th of January) you too can hear the words that Patyegarang spoke.
The sound installation ‘Patyegarang’s Notebooks’, running as part of the Bayala language revitalization program at the Sydney Festival, is voiced by Gadigal woman Lille Madden, a descendent of the same nation as Patyegarang.
The installation was a combined effort between Lille, an actress, her grand-father Gadigal Elder Uncle Charles ‘Chicka’ Madden and Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi artist Jonathon Jones.
“For me, to be able to listen to and speak the words of my grandfather’s people for the first time was an emotional and grounding experience,” Lille said. “It truly fills me with joy that others can now listen and learn too.”
Speaking to ABC’s AWAYE program, Lille shared some of her favourite words that she had learned through Dawes' journal.
The aim of the installation ‘Patyegarang’s Notebooks’ and the Bayala program is to further the sharing and celebration of the Indigenous heritage of Sydney, and the growing movement to reawaken local language.
The director of the Sydney Festival this year Wesley Enoch, a Noonuccal Nuugi playwright from Minjeribah (Stradbroke Island), hopes that by drawing on language and telling some of these stories through the Indigenous program, the Festival will start conversations with wider Australia.
“Understanding country through language is a first step and witnessing untold stories is another,” he said. “Much of Indigenous storytelling is about remembrance and sharing…”
The word ‘Bayala’ itself means ‘speak’ in Gadigal and the language program draws on the knowledge of local Eora and Darug community leaders and linguists to run language classes, culminating in a choral performance to be performed at Barangaroo.
For more information about ‘Patyagarang’s Notebooks’ and the Bayala language program visit the Sydney Festival website.