Top End Linguistic Circle An informal association, without dues, official membership, or elected officers, that has been meeting at least once or twice a year since 1979.
Having been involved with TELC for some years, I thought it interesting that such an informal organisation could survive so long, and it also seemed to me that the history of TELC would tend to reflect the history of linguistics in the Top End more generally. I have now placed what I’ve been able to find out about the history of TELC, including versions of all available records, on a website at
Beginnings Before 1968 there were no institutions in the NT that employed or funded linguistics. Linguists in the NT were either: visitors based in or funded by organisations elsewhere in Australia or elsewhere in the world, or missionary linguists resident in Indigenous communities.
In 1968 the Australian Aborigines Branch of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL-AAB) moved to Darwin. In 1973 the NT Department of Education began to implement bilingual education in some NT schools. In 1974 Darwin Community College was established and included a School of Australian Linguistics (SAL). (Also in 1974, Cyclone Tracy destroyed Darwin on Christmas Day.)
Apparently linguists from the three organisations began to hold occasional meetings, at which they presented papers, possibly as early as 1974.
By 1976 Barry Alpher of SAL was promoting the name ‘The Linguistic Circle of Rum Jungle’ for these meetings. (Rum Jungle is the name of a former uranium mine near Batchelor, where SAL had come to be located after Cyclone Tracy.)
He even designed a letterhead for the group, in Pintupi and English.
From 1979 the informal group was known as the Top End Linguistic Circle. (I have not learned who actually coined this name, although it may seem a fairly obvious one.)
1979 - 1988 Little seems to be recorded or remembered about TELC meetings held from 1979 to 1988, even though a number of us recall that meetings tended to be held a couple of times each year. So far we have been able to gather information on nine papers presented at eight meetings between 1979 and 1986.
During the 1980s there were cutbacks in both the School of Australian Linguistics (SAL) and the head office of the NT Department of Education bilingual program. Meanwhile: applied linguistics was growing within Education in Darwin Community College, which became the Darwin Institute of Technology (DIT) in 1985, and the University College of the NT (UCNT) started in 1987, with the linguist Patrick McConvell in the Department of Anthropology.
1989 1989 brought major changes, with: The Northern Territory University (NTU) being formed by merging: DIT, with its applied linguistic program in Education, and UCNT, with its linguistics in Anthropology. The School of Australian Linguistics was moved to Batchelor College, which thus came to have a linguistics program in what became the Centre for Australian Languages and Linguistics (CALL).
In 1989 an effort was also made to turn TELC into a more formal organisation: A two-day conference was held on 27-28 June on the Myilly Point campus of the new Northern Territory University. There were 11 papers and 3 discussions. A committee of six was formed to represent six organisations involved in TELC. Patrick McConvell was apparently chosen as the ‘convenor’ of TELC at this point. TELC started charging dues of $10 per year.
Most of this was reported in the first issue of TELC’s newsletter, TELC TALK. These newsletters were substantial — the first issue had 12 pages. The first two issues were put together by Patrick McConvell and myself.
1990 - 1991 Two more issues of TELC TALK appeared in 1990 and 1991, the last within a lengthy issue of the NT Bilingual Education Newsletter. From these we have details of two TELC meetings held in 1990, including their business meetings.
1991 - 1994 For 1991-1993 I’ve seen only rather vague references to TELC activities, thanks to emails David Nash received from Patrick McConvell. I was in Japan for the first two of these years. When I returned I heard nothing about dues or a TELC committee. For 1994 David Nash was able to give me programs of two meetings announced in emails from Patrick McConvell.
1995 - 2000 From July of 1995 through 2000 I maintained a CDU website that gave the programs of most meetings held during those years. This used the above logo, which was developed from the letterhead we had designed for TELC TALK.
Patrick McConvell remained the convenor of TELC until he left Northern Territory University at the end of 1997. While he was covenor TELC was especially active. On the order of two dozen papers were presented at TELC meetings each year for those years that records are most complete. A second two-day TELC conference was held, in Katherine on 4-5 July 1997.
In 1998 I took over as TELC convenor. I think I simply expressed willingness to do so, and no one else seemed interested. As convenor I see my job as just: maintaining a TELC email list and organising or helping other organise meeting whenever there seems to be a demand, often during visits by linguists from elsewhere.
Under my leadership the number of papers presented at TELC year has seldom been half those presented during the years Patrick McConvell was convenor.
Perhaps this may reflect: the loss of linguistics from Anthropology at NTU, discontinuation of support for bilingual education in the NT, and declining numbers in applied linguistics at NTU. At the same time, it is in spite of the temporary presence of additional linguists at SIL, due to the one-year SIL Asia linguistics course moving to Darwin from 1998-2002.
2001 - present After 2000 I could no longer maintain a website for TELC at NTU (which became CDU in 2003). As convenor, however, I retained records of most TELC meetings, which I advertised by email. I have no record of any meeting being held during 2003. I was again away in Japan at the time, but I believe someone had been identified to act as convenor if necessary.
During this time linguistic activity in the Top End continued to decrease: The local branch of SIL reduced its activities on Australian Indigenous languages, began work on languages in the Timor area, changed its name to the Australian Society for Indigenous Languages (AuSIL), and moved to smaller quarters in Palmerston. As enrolments continued to drop CDU discontinued its Graduate Diploma in Applied Linguistics before 2010 and its Master of Applied Linguistics soon after that.
TELC meetings continued to be held, mostly on the Casuarina campus of Charles Darwin University. The last meeting hosted by AuSIL, the former SIL- AAB, was in 2006. The last meeting else outside of Darwin was at BIITE in Batchelor, in 2009.
In 2012 one meeting was held at the Menzies School of Health Research in Winnellie. In 2013 and 2014 two meetings were held at the CDU/BIITE Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Education (ACIKE) on the Casuarina campus of CDU.
Only the Centre for Australian Languages and Linguistics (CALL) of BIITE/ACIKE now offers any significant program in linguistics in the Top End, namely its Bachelor of Indigenous Languages and Linguistics (BILL). Numbers of enrolments and staff seem to be small, even though classes in the program have been made available to CDU students.
The future of TELC I have started a web site for TELC in a location kindly provided by the Eastern Road Language Centre, at, as noted earlier. TELC should now: find a new convenor. I am retiring from CDU in March. While I plan to continue my involvement with TELC, I will no longer be well placed to organise meetings. find a more permanent web site. The current site may only be available for a few years.
The end (...of this paper, hopefully not of TELC...) My thanks for various assistance from Barry Alpher, Neil Chadwick, Karen Courtenay, Kevin Ford, Nick Reid, David Zorc, and especially David Nash. Any questions?