Researcher with the Endangered Languages Group at the Faculty of Education and Arts, Dr Mark Harvey, is charmed by times that have passed.

Marking the past

Researcher with the Endangered Languages Group at the Faculty of Education and Arts, Dr Mark Harvey, is charmed by times that have passed.

Dr Mark Harvey 

Times when people developed networks, communities and systems of living with much less access to information, knowledge and innovation.

Times which have primed how we live our lives today.

In particular, Mark is concerned with Australia's past. Aboriginal languages, Australian Aboriginal anthropology, historical linguistics, morphology and phonology are his areas of expertise – windows to our pre-history, and significant markers of societal change and growth.

A central question loiters in his mind and that is: Are all the languages of Australia related? Are they in fact, derived from a common source language or what is better known in scientific circles as proto-Australian?

The Australian Research Council (ARC) is also titillated by this query and last year, awarded Mark the ARC Discovery Project Grant to assist his research discoveries.

The project is being approached from two angles. One proponent involves working in partnership with the University of Western Sydney to extensively document the endangered Aboriginal language Yanyuwa; a language spoken by the Yanyuwa people around the settlement of Borroloola (Yanyuwa burrulula) in the Northern Territory of Australia. Mark is analysing the implications of 'yes' and 'no' responses to a series of questions relating to Australia's pre-history and general queries of human pre-history.

"This research will provide a descriptive grammar of Yanyuwa, a book evaluating the Proto-Australian hypothesis, and articles discussing the significance of the success or failure of the hypothesis for theories of the general human past," Mark said.

In conjunction, Mark is also working closely with the University of Ballarat to develop a clear understanding of Indigenous spatial knowledge to support the Australian tourism industry. This investigation involves discerning the Indigenous meanings of places, animals and plants; a study known as ethno biology, which examines the dynamic relationships among peoples, biota and environments throughout the history of time. This information will then be shared in a range of accessible and educational materials designed for tourists and visitors.

"Research on the construction of the landscape is accorded great significance both by Aboriginal people and the research community. It is of particular concern, that information collected should be archived in an easily retrievable manner, subject to culturally appropriate monitoring. This is, to date, an essentially uninvestigated research area."

"It is my hope that this research will help our tourism industry to grow by sharing what is a very significant part of our history," said Mark.

Over the past 30 years of his career, Mark has also focused much of his research on Aboriginal social organisation. "I differ from other analysts and propose that [the clan and kinship system] are not internally consistent, but should be analysed as on-going and variable compromises between other more consistently maintained and sometimes conflicting patterns.""The most consistently maintained system in Aboriginal social organisation is not clans or kinship systems but rather constructions of the landscape. I have detailed the specific ways in which these constructions anchor discussions of land ownership (clans, tribes) and kinship (particularly marriage). My analyses are based on extensive site mapping work with Aboriginal people," Mark said.

Remarking on his profession, Mark shares that he has consistently enjoyed his work. "There is continually new areas and concepts to explore and if there is an opportunity where I can make a contribution, I am always willing."

"This grant is one of these opportunities. The next while will be spent planning, collecting material through a database, studying the data, trialing the results and drawing conclusions to share with the broader public to raise awareness of our past, which plays a significant role in our present and future."