PARADISEC staff and equipment


Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures
In a race against time, PARADISEC is digitising analog records of materials from endangered cultures across the world.

PARADISEC is a digital archive of records of some of the many small cultures and languages of the world. Our research group has developed models to ensure that the archive can provide access to interested communities, and conforms with emerging international standards for digital archiving.

We have established a framework for accessioning, cataloguing and digitising audio, text and visual material, and preserving digital copies. A primary goal is to safely preserve material that would otherwise be lost. In this way we can make field recordings available to the people and communities recorded, and to their descendants.

The archive provides a place for Sydney Conservatorium of Music researchers to preserve and provide access to their valuable fieldwork materials. These include; Michael Webb’s audio-visual recordings collected during his PhD fieldwork in Rabaul in the 1990s, Linda Barwick’s extensive collection of Italian popular music performance, Myfany Turpin’s interviews with elders who remember the Wanji Wanji travelling song and Steven Gagau’s collection of Sulka Pomio culture recordings from Papua New Guinea.

The Sydney Lab provides a range of digitisation services including reel to reel, cassette tape, photographic scans and our preservation laboratory deals with a range of issues such as mouldy tapes, sticky tape and vinegar syndrome. We support researchers with fieldwork equipment that is available for borrowing as well as logistical support and advice. Our catalog is an Open Source media management system called Nabu, which allows depositors to create robust descriptions of their multimedia collections, and provides access through a range of search options. Our systems conform to international standards for digital archiving and in 2019 PARADISEC received the international Core Trust Seal  based on the DSA-WDS Core Trustworthy Data Repositories Requirements.

Current Projects

Researcher and creator: Dr Graeme Skinner

Australharmony is an online resource toward the history of music in colonial and early Federation Australia. It documents Australian music and musicians, both settler and Indigenous and is  created and curated by Dr Graeme Skinner, a writer, musicologist and historian of Australian music. Australharmony builds on research begun in Dr Skinner's doctoral thesis. Graeme Skinner is an Honorary Associate in Musicology at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

CoEDL is the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, a team of Australian and international scholars collaborating across disciplines to investigate the world’s diverse, dynamic and evolving language systems. CoEDL has established a repository for their data that is integrated with PARADISEC. The primary and derived material produced by the Centre is prepared in ways that allow it to be  archived in an accessible form and re-used later.

  • Funding Source: Leverhulme Trust
  • Researcher: Isobel Clouter (British Library), Amanda Harris, Don Niles (Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies)

This project funded is by the UK Leverhulme Trust, in partnership with the British Library, Institute for Papua New Guinea Studies and museums and cultural centres in the Pacific, Australia and the UK. This project uses participatory research to find new ways to understand the earliest sound recordings in the British Library’s collection (including the 1898 Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits wax cylinders and recordings made over the subsequent two decades in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Australia). These rare recordings document oral traditions from Oceanic communities, where cultural rituals and histories are primarily recorded in music and song. PARADISEC’s work on the True Echoes project is co-ordinated by Steven Gagau, with technical support from developer Marco La Rosa.

Warlpiri people from Yuendumu, Northern Territory, aspire to maintain and vitalise their highly endangered song traditions and associated dancing and painting through engagement with digital technologies. The Warlpiri Digital Space aims to utilise digital modes of sound, video and photographic documentation and present them through an interactive website.

PARADISEC’s Jodie Kell is working with Dr Georgia Curran and Sarah Bock of eLearn Australia to develop a digital tool that is accessible and usable in community spaces. This involves sourcing resources that document the songs, dances and body designs and through a series of community workshops facilitated by Warlpiri woman Enid Nangala Gallagher collaborate on a suitable website design. From here, PARADISEC will develop the capability for the website to be accessed from offline locations. It will be trialled at a song and dance workshop held in a bush site near to Yuendumu, testing its offline viability and usability for Warlpiri people. Through utilising the Warlpiri Digital Space, it is hoped that past and present generations can engage together in teaching and learning the songs, dances and designs necessary for maintenance of Warlpiri culture.

This project is funded by the Indigenous Languages and Arts Program (ILA) Open Grant Round 2018.

In 2019 PARADISEC received two grants from the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme Legacy Materials to work on two collections in the PARADISEC online catalog, DWU and IF01.

DWU is a collection of 180 reels and cassette tapes from the Divine University in Madang (PNG) including Fr. John Z'graggen's sought after recordings from his fieldwork in the region in the 1960s. This collection required intensive work in the preservation laboratory documented in the PARADISEC blog article.

IF01 is a collection of more than 300 reels and cassette tapes from North Malaita in the Solomon Islands made by linguist Ian Frazer between 1971 and 1985. The recordings document traditional stories, history, customs/culture and music (traditional and contemporary) including the unique work songs from the harvesting and processing of the Ngali Nut.

These collections can be found in the PARADISEC catalog.

Our People

Sydney Unit

PARADISEC is a collaboration between The University of Sydney, University of Melbourne and the Australian National University.

  • Associate Professor Nick Thieberger | Director, Melbourne Unit
  • Dr Julia Miller | Senior Data Manager, Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, ANU

Honorary Associates

Publications and Web Resources

  • Thieberger, N. and Harris, N. (2022). “When Your Data is My Grandparents Singing. Digitisation and Access for Cultural Records, the Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures (PARADISEC)”. Data Science Journal, 21: 9, pp. 1–7. [More Information]
  • Kell, J. & Gagau, S. (2020). 'New Collaborative Research on Ethnographic Collections: Bridging Archives and Communities through Podcasting'. University Museums and Collections Journal, Vol.12 No.1, p37-46. [More Information]
  • Harris, A., Gagau, S., Kell, J., Thieberger, N., Ward, N. (2019). Making Meaning of Historical Papua New Guinea Recordings. International Journal of Digital Curation, 14(1), 136-149. [More Information]
  • Kell, J. and Booker, L, (2018). Working with ‘Women Only’: Gendered protocols in the digitization and archiving process. Language Documentation & Conservation 12. 461-480.
  • Barwick, L., Thieberger, N. (2018). Unlocking the archives. FEL XXI Alcanena 2017: Communities in Control, Hungerford, UK: Foundation for Endangered Languages. [More Information]
  • Harris, A., Thieberger, N., Barwick, L. (2015). Research, Records and Responsibility: Ten Years of PARADISEC. Sydney: Sydney University Press. [More Information]

Wadeye Song Database:  This database presents the results of the Murriny Patha song project, conducted by Linda Barwick, Allan Marett, Michael Walsh, Joe Blythe, Nick Reid and Lysbeth Ford in 2004-2009. This research was funded by the Australian Research Council project DP0450131 “Preserving Australia’s endangered heritages: Murrinh-patha song at Wadeye” (2004-2008).

Songs of Western Arnhem Land: Documentation of more than 50 different songsets compiled by Linda Barwick, Allan Marett, Nicholas Evans, Murray Garde, Isabel O'Keeffe and Bruce Birch, as sang by Aboriginal people of Western and Southern Arnhem Land from various different linguistic and clan groups, mostly resident in the communities and outstations of Minjilang, Kunbarlanja, Bulman, Warruwi, Barunga, Wugularr and Weemol.