Creation of this website was through a project of the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project, with support from SOAS University of London, the NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs, and the Darug Tribal Aboriginal Council ... see Acknowledgements.


Patyegarang, a young woman aged about 15, appears to have been Dawes’ main language teacher. She was to prove vital to his understanding and documentation of the Sydney Language.

In the colony’s early days, Governor Phillip had several Aboriginal people captured in a largely fruitless attempt to learn their language and foster communication between the Aborigines and colonists. Dawes would have started to learn the language from captured men such as Arabanoo and Bennelong. Most Aboriginal people were afraid to enter the colony’s main encampment at Sydney Cove. Eventually, many people, both Aboriginal and English, came to regard Dawes’ small, relatively isolated hut as a safe and welcoming place to share friendships and knowledge. It was here that Dawes was able to spend time with – and learn from – many different people.

The notebooks record Patyegarang’s frequent visits to Dawes’ hut and their increasingly complex and intimate conversations. Expressions she shared with Dawes, such as Putuwá, suggest a warm and trusting relationship:

Putuwá. To warm ones hand by the fire & then to squeeze gently the fingers of another person (Book B Page 21)

Evenings saw them together in Dawes’ hut, speaking together in her language:

Taríadyaou “I made a mistake in speaking.” This Patye said after she had desired me to take away the blanket when she meant the candle (Book B Page 30)

Patyegarang: Nyímuŋ candle Mr. D. “Put out the candle Mr. D.” (Book B Page 34)

Dawes: Mínyin bial naŋadyími? “Why don’t you sleep?”
Patyegarang: Kandúlin “Because of the candle” (Book B Page 36)

In Australians: Origins to Eureka, Thomas Keneally describes Patyegarang as the “chief language teacher, servant, and perhaps lover” of William Dawes (page 166). Keneally also attributes Dawes’ refusal to take part in the 1791 punitive expedition to Patyegarang’s influence (p 167).

Whatever their relationship, Dawes’ notebooks clearly show that he and Patyegarang spent time in each other’s company and shared emotion, humour, intellectual discussions, and mutual respect.

Note that the examples here are adapted for clarity; see the notebook pages for the original.


Thomas Keneally 2009. Australians: Origins To Eureka: Volume 1. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. [Link]