The Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures


Australia lies in the most linguistically and culturally diverse region on the planet. Over 2,000 of the world’s languages are spoken in Australia, New Guinea, the South Pacific Islands and Southeast Asia. And many of these languages are endangered.

CoEDL research has shown that, within the next century, only a few hundred of these languages may still be spoken [1]. Most of the languages from Australia and the surrounding region — and their associated cultural expressions, such as music and dance — are poorly documented, so no record may exist if they fall out of use or knowledge. Even in better-documented languages, many genres of song, ritual and similar practices of immense cultural and historical significance are poorly archived, protected and understood.

Established in 2003, the Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures (PARADISEC) facilitates the preservation of this knowledge. Australian researchers have made unique and irreplaceable recordings in the region since portable field recorders became available in the mid-twentieth century, yet, until the establishment of PARADISEC, there was no Australian repository for these invaluable research recordings made outside of Australia.

Supporting PARADISEC’s work was central to CoEDL’s Archiving Thread — a concerted effort to train researchers across the Centre with the aim of improving and exploring the documentation and archiving of linguistic and heritage materials.

About the archive

PARADISEC is a digital archive of records from some of the many small cultures and languages of the world. A primary goal of the archive is to safely preserve material that would otherwise be lost. Following from this, another of PARADISEC’s central tenets is to improve access to field recordings, especially for the people and communities recorded and their descendants.

As of 2022, the archive holds over 15,000 hours of audio recordings and 2,300 hours of video recordings capturing performance, narrative, singing, and other oral traditions. This material amounts to over 175 terabytes and represents at least 1,300 languages.

CI and research lead of the Centre’s Archiving Thread, Nick Thieberger co-founded PARADISEC with Linda Barwick in 2003. Its operations are based at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music at the University of Sydney; the School of Languages and Linguistics at the University of Melbourne; and the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University.

As of 2022, the PARADISEC team includes:

Nick Thieberger Co-founder and Director; CoEDL Chief Investigator (Melbourne)
Amanda Harris Sydney Unit Director (Sydney)
Linda Barwick Steering Committee Chair (Sydney)
Nick Fowler-Gilmore Audio Preservation Officer (Sydney)
Nick Ward Project Coordinator (Sydney)
Jodie Kell Laboratory Coordinator (Sydney)
Steven Gagau Research Assistant (Sydney)
Linda Payi Ford Honorary Associate (Sydney)
Julia Miller Senior Data Manager (ANU)
Tina Gregor Data Manager (ANU)
Marco La Rosa Coder Extraordinaire (Melbourne)
Sam King Audio Preservation Officer (Melbourne)

For more about the team, visit the PARADISEC website.

CoEDL’s contribution

The contents of PARADISEC grew from 7 terabytes to over 175 terabytes while CoEDL was operating. The Centre generated much of this growth and contributed to the archive in multiple ways.

Primarily, CoEDL’s Archiving Thread ensured that the data Centre researchers produced was stored and curated appropriately to preserve this work and facilitate its future use and accessibility. The Archiving Thread was core to CoEDL’s structure and operations, and the Centre took this work very seriously.

All CoEDL researchers were trained and provided with guidelines for both creating records during their research and how to deposit those records with information that specifies how they can be used. This is essential for training the next generation of language scientists; for ensuring rights, privacy and access for the communities CoEDL collaborated with; and for maintaining academic rigour by making Centre outputs available for future research and scrutiny.   

CoEDL members and affiliates deposited 400 collections resulting from fieldwork with PARADISEC. The Centre also promoted the digitisation of collections of legacy records and recordings for which no other funding was available by lending capacity and equipment and by leveraging its world-class community of researchers to uncover vulnerable records at risk of deterioration.

Key projects that CoEDL facilitated for PARADISEC include:

  • The digitisation of many legacy collections from professional linguists, including, for example, over 300 tapes made in To’aba’ita (Solomon Islands) by Ian Frazer since the early 1970s, Edith Bavin’s 220 Warlpiri recordings, and Sally Akevai Nicholas’s 160 Raratongan recordings
  • Digitisation of 51 microfilms at the National Library of Australia containing the only extant versions of many early manuscript dictionaries and papers from missionaries and others [2]
  • The “True Echoes” project with The British Library repatriating digitised wax cylinder recordings to source communities in Melanesia and the Torres Strait islands
  • A corpus of 30 hours of spoken and transcribed Bislama for the Defence Science and Technology Group (Department of Defence)
The future of PARADISEC

PARADISEC will continue to focus on locating and digitising further recordings. The digitisation of analogue tape collections is particularly urgent, as advice from international agencies suggests tapes will become unplayable after 2025.

With CoEDL’s support of this work at a close, PARADISEC (also a registered charity) continues to apply for funding to assist this effort. The meticulous checking, curation and maintenance of data and records required to do such archival work requires dedicated staff and technical support; yet many of the current team work for PARADISEC only on a part-time basis. The organisation therefore aspires to ongoing funding and advocates for long-term national research infrastructure. This is critical for supporting the many research outputs produced by Australian researchers, of which PARADISEC’s collections represent only a fraction.

Similarly, PARADISEC hopes to continue the important work of supporting Pacific agencies to preserve their own recordings, both by working with them to digitise their holdings, and by assisting in the development of regional archives. Hundreds of tapes from the Vanuatu Cultural Centre and the Solomon Islands National Museum have been digitised in this way. Work with the University of French Polynesia has also resulted in a local repository that supports Polynesian language academies.

PARADISEC will continue these collaborations for many years to come.

Futher information

As a registered charity and deductable gift recipient, all donations to PARADISEC over $2 can be claimed as a tax deduction. More information about supporting PARADISEC is available on the organisation’s website.

During CoEDL’s lifetime, over 500 languages were added to the PARADISEC archive.



Hero image: Tapes at the Basel Museum in Switzerland, made in Madang Province, Papua New Guinea, which were digitised and archived with PARADISEC. Image: Nick Thieberger.

Image 1: Members of the PARADISEC community at the PARADISEC@100 Conference: (L – R front) Nick Thieberger, Myfany Turpin, Amanda Harris, Sally Treloyn, Allan Marett, Linda Barwick, Jodie Kell and Georgia Curran; (L – R behind) Emily Tyaemen Ford and Payi Linda Ford. Image: Liana Molina.

Image 2: Nick Evans conducts a workshop in Honiara, Solomon Islands in August 2019. Image: Nick Thieberger.

Image 3: Ambong Thompson (R, Audio Officer at the Vanuatu Cultural Centre) receiving tapes digitised by PARADISEC from Nick Thieberger (L). Image: Nick Thieberger.


[1] Bromham, Lindell, Russell Dinnage, Hedvig Skirgård, Andrew Ritchie, Marcel Cardillo, Felicity Meakins, Simon Greenhill, and Xia Hua. 2021. “Global Predictors of Language Endangerment and the Future of Linguistic Diversity.” Nature, Ecology & Evolution.

[2] See the NLA collection at https://catalog.paradisec.org.au/collections/NLA1