The Proto-Australian Aboriginal Language

Dr. Chris Illert

[Compiled by Michael Organ]


Dr. Chris Illert is an independent researcher and scholar who, since 1998, has published a number of papers on the Proto-Australian Aboriginal language, with specific reference to south-eastern Australia. These are of both a scientific and ethnohistoric nature, with the most significant appearing in the international, peer-reviewed Journal of Applied Statistics between 2003-2006. Dr. Illert’s researches during the late 1990s resulted in an unlocking of the code to the original Australian Aboriginal language as spoken at the time of the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney in January 1788. His discoveries in regards to the structure and development of Proto-Australian are, in the present writer's opinion, ground breaking and immensely significant to the cultural heritage of Australia and to international linguistic studies in general. They allow - for the first time - modern researchers, historians and Aboriginal people to read and understand many of the archival records of early Australian Aboriginal language from the time the first transcriptions were made by individuals such as Lt. Dawes.

Dr. Illert obtained his B.Sc. (Hons) in Applied Mathematics from Flinders University, South Australia, and in 2013 his PhD. from the University of Western Sydney. In 2004 he commenced his Ph.D. studies in linguistics at that university, attempting to reconstruct and salvage 'extinct' south-east-Australian Aboriginal languages. Dr. Illert's publications at the time were an element of that work, whilst also including strong links to local Aboriginal communities. From the 1980s Dr. Illert was active in those communities, serving for a time as Secretary of the Northern Illawarra Aboriginal Co-op and working with several Aboriginal corporations on Native Title claims in the Illawarra and Blue Mountains region. Dr. Illert has several published books and scholarly papers on the topic of the Australian Aboriginal language, including one produced in collaboration with Andrew Allison of the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Adelaide.

This web site exists to disseminate the linguistic findings of Dr. Illert. His publications specifically relating to Proto-Australian, or including elements of his research in this area within the body of the work, include:


Illert, Chris, Djilimban the echidna: Aboriginal language stories from south-eastern Australia, Chris Illert, Corrimal, 1996. [Booklet]


Illert, C.R., The Mayran Clan on Gungungara, Northern Illawarra Aboriginal Co-operative, 1998. [Booklet]


mununja the butterflyIllert, C.R., 'Maria's Lullaby', in K. Kituai (ed.), There is no mystery: an artistic response to Lake George, Ginninderra Press, Canberra, 1999, 47-48, 172. [Booklet]

Bell, Don and Illert, C.R., Mununja the Butterfly - the first storybook in tradtional Aboriginal language from south-eastern Australia, Nurgunwal A.C.T and District Aboriginal Council of Elders, 1999. [Booklet]


Illert, C.R., 'The Last Shoalhaven Lore Master?', Shoalhaven Chronograph, Shoalhaven Historical Society, 22(10), 2000, 1-5. [Journal article]


Illert, C.R., The Centenary of Mary Everitt’s Gundungurra Grammar, Journal & Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, 134(1/2), 2001, 19-44. [Journal article]

Illert, C.R., Lexigenesis in ancestral south-east-Australian Aboriginal language, Preprint Series, School of Languages and Linguistics, University of Western Sydney , 2001, 42p. [Booklet]


Illert, C.R., Lexigenesis in ancestral south-east-Australian Aboriginal language, Journal of Applied Statistics, 30(2), 2003, 113-143. [Refereed journal article]

Abstract: The 1/x frequency distribution is known to researchers ranging from economists and biologists to electronic engineers. It is known to linguists as Zipf's Law (Zipf, 1949) and has recently been shown not to be a consequence of the Central Limit Theorem (Troll & Graben, 1998), leaving an "unsolved problem' in information theory (Jones, 1999). This 1/x distribution, associated with scale-invariant physical systems (Machlup & Hoshiko, 1980), is a special case of the general power law xλ arising from the Lagrangian L(x, (x)) = x1-λ2 and, as λ need not be an integer, some related research understandably involves fractals (Allison et al., 2001). The present paper generalizes this Lagrangian to include a van der Waals effect. It is argued that ancestral Aboriginal language consisted of root-morphemes that were built up into, and often condensed within, subsequent words or lexemes. Using discrete-optimization techniques pioneered elsewhere (Illert, 1987; Reverberi, 1985), and the new morpho-statistics, this paper models lexeme-condensation in ancestral south-east Australian Aboriginal language.

Illert, C.R., Three Sisters Dreaming, or, did Katoomba get its legend from Kangaroo Valley, Shoalhaven Chronograph, 2003, (Special Supplement), 40p. [Booklet]

Illert, C.R., Early Ancestors of Illawarra’s Wadi-Wadi People, Illawarra Historical Society Bulletin, November 2003 (Special Supplement), 50p. [Part 1 - pdf] [Booklet]


Illert, C.R. and Allison, A., Phono-genesis and the Origin of Accusative Syntax in Proto-Australian Language, Journal of Applied Statistics, 31(1), 2004, 73–104. [Refereed journal article]

Abstract: It is claimed that a set of 62 known (Illert, 2003) ancient Aboriginal words constitute a representative sample of the original proto-Australian lexicon whose maximum likelihood (Fisher, 1912) 'power law signature' is determined and shown to precisely fit genetically related 'modern' lexicons from south-eastern-Australia. This measure of 'sameness' builds the confidence required to justify inter-lexicon diachronic word- frequency comparisons which provide a powerful new statistical tool capable of revealing important features of ancestral grammar. This paper supplies the first ever published modern translations of authentic traditional language documented in obscure literary and archival sources which have, until recently, been lost (Dawes, 1790b; Wood, 1924; Troy, 1992) or overlooked (Everitt et al., 1900; Illert, 2001) for centuries. These newly found examples of accusative syntax supported by word- frequency data may come as quite a surprise to some linguists (Dixon, 1980; Osmond, 1989; Troy, 1992; Nichols, 1993) who, in the absence of adequate evidence, seem to have long-imagined that language from this region—if not the entire continent— simply had to be inherently and at the core ergative. On the contrary we find that changing word-frequencies, from proto-Australian to modern times, supply overwhelming evidence of the emergence of ancient accusative prefixes which have even survived into recent centuries in the Sydney region. Additionally it is found that, over millennia, words die-off in a lexicon, replaced by others, according to the famous "mortality law' of Gompertz (1825) which also describes the likelihood of death of biological organisms within populations and is the basis for modern actuarial science (Bowers et al., 1997). Just as disease and epidemics can wipe out entire cohorts of creatures from a population, so too can syntactic change annihilate word-classes in an evolving lexicon.

* 8 March 2004 – The use of entropy-maximising power law signatures in studying Aboriginal language, research seminar, University of Adelaide, Special Joint Electrical & Electronic Engineering, Applied Mathematics & Linguitics seminar. [Presentation]

Abstract: A set of 62 newly discovered proto-Australian words obey a maximum-likelihood "power law" suggesting a "representative lexicon" from truly ancient ancestral language with a simpler sound-system.  The changing frequencies of word-initial consonants, from proto-Australian to modern times, enables entropy maximising signatures to be calculated from historic word-lists and census forms gathered in recent centuries over large geographical areas. In turn these signatures enable the poorly recorded boundaries of extinct traditional languages to be determined, to previously unimaginable degrees of geographical precision, throughout entire regions of the continent. Although this initial study is limited to south-eastern-Australia, its methodology provides the first real hope of obtaining a detailed understanding of language dispersal throughout the entire continent over the past 60,000 years. Signatures also provide a basis for constructing tree diagrams linking the different language superfamilies.

Illert, C.R. and Reverberi, D., Wundjigaribay and the White Waratah, Northern Illawarra Aboriginal Collective Incorporated, 2004, CD + CD-ROM. [Audio file]


Illert, C.R., Origins of linguistic zonation in the Australian Alps. Part 1 – Huygens' principle, Journal of Applied Statistics, 32(6), 2005, 625–659. [Refereed journal article]

Abstract: The hitherto poorly recorded boundaries of extinct traditional south-east-Australian Aboriginal languages can now be redetermined with greatly improved precision using an entropy-maximizing phonetic-signature calculated from existing data sources, including old word-lists and census forms, that have, until now, largely been considered informationally worthless. Having thus determined traditional Aboriginal language zones to a previously unimaginable degree of geographical precision, it is argued that these boundaries should not be viewed merely as a static 'snapshot' but, instead, as the end-product of a knowable dynamic process (Gillieron wave propagation) governed by well-known physical rules (such as Huygens' principle and Snell's Law) and operating over 'deep' time-scales more familiar to the archaeologist than the linguist. Although this initial study is limited to south-eastern Australia, the new methodology provides the first real hope of obtaining a detailed understanding of language dispersal throughout the entire continent over the past 60,000 years.

Illert, C.R., The Traditional Story of the Great Walk down George's River to La Perouse in about 1890, Northern Illawarra Aboriginal Collective Incorporated, 2005, 75p. [Booklet]


Illert, C.R., Origins of Linguistic Zonation in the Australian Alps. Part 2 – Snell's Law, Journal of Applied Statistics, 33(9), 2006, 989–1030. [Refereed journal article]

Abstract: In this second paper, analysing archival SE-Australian Aboriginal word/name lists, Snell's Law is used to deduce the likely minimal sound-systems of pre Ice-Age language superfamilies - some probably dating back beyond the first occupation of Australia by humans. The deduced 'Turuwal-like' ancestral sound-system is then used as a basis for reconstructing deictic forms apparently so ancient that they seem to even unify 'PamaNyungan' and 'non-PamaNyungan' language within a single system of formal logic which, having apparently provided the semantic basis for at least 60,000 years of speech throughout the entire Australian continent, deserves to be called proto-Australian regardless of whether or not it arose in SE-Asia tens of millennia before. Whatever the exact age of this reconstructed proto-Australian, presented here for the first time, it is an order of magnitude older than any known human language and, as such, a 'Rosetta Stone' for human languages worldwide. It also provides an unprecedented window into human consciousness and perception of the world up to 75,000 years ago, which is especially significant given that humans can only have engaged in finely controlled speech and fully modern language since chance mutation of our FOXP2 gene about 120,000 years ago. These truly ancient deictic forms dating halfway back to the beginning of modern human speech, retrieved only through modern statistical analysis, provide insight into our very origins and as such are perhaps amongst the most precious cultural treasures that humanity currently possesses. 

Illert, C.R., Emergency Listing of Westcliff Colliery Area 5, Longwall Blocks 31-33, under the EPBC Act, Northern Illawarra Aboriginal Collective Incorporated, Submission to the Department of Environment and Heritage, Canberra, 12 Janaury 2006. Includes copy of Great Walk 1890 (2005) as Appendix 1. [Report]

Illert, C.R. and Reverberi, D., Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in the Gundungara Aboriginal language of the NSW Southern Highlands, Northern Illawarra Aboriginal Collective Incorporated, 2006, CD + CD-ROM. [Audio file]


Illert, C.R. Report on Wongonbra Proposed 400 ha Subdivision Application, Aborignal Cultural Heritage Assessment, Northern Illawarra Aboriginal Collective Incorporated, January 2007, 13p. [Report]

Illert, C.R., Report to the Growth Centres Commission in relation to proposed urban development in the uppermost catchment of South Creek, Aborignal Cultural Heritage Assessment, Northern Illawarra Aboriginal Collective Incorporated, March 2007, 29p. [Report]

Illert, C.R., The Sydney Catchment Authority's Borehole Project in and about Kangaloon's EPBC Act listed Endangered Ecological Community Swamplands, Aborignal Cultural Heritage Assessment, Northern Illawarra Aboriginal Collective Incorporated, April 2007, 54p. Includes a discussion on the significance of the white waratah and other local plants. [Report]


Illert, C.R., On the threat to AHIMS-list midden and burial sites in the Bellambi sand dunes, posed by Wollongong City Council's (WCC) environmental mismanagement and compounded by the Illawarra District (Noxious) Weed Authority's (IDWA) Bitou Bush aerial spraying program, Report to DECC, IDWA and Wollongong City Council, 19 May 2008, 38p. Part 1; Part 2. [Report]


Illert, C.R., A mathematical approach to recovering the original Australian Aboriginal language, PhD., School of Languages and Linguistics, University of Western Sydney, 2013, 277p. [pdf] [Thesis]


Chris Illert and John Murphy, The Tharumba Language of Southern New South Wales: Who was right - P.G. King or C. Darwin?,  2018, 24p. [Booklet]

This page compiled by Michael Organ. Site last updated: 28 March 2018. Return to Michael Organ's Home Page. Any comments, corrections, or additions to this site are most welcome.