Service Australia Logo

DSS asked to translate information

In a series of letters, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs asked the Department of Social Security to publish information about government payments in language.

... we will be happy to co-operate in any way we can to ensure that the Aboriginal people know and understand their Social Security entitlements.

LJ Daniels, Department of Social Security, 1973, p 9
Attachment Size
translation-letters.pdf 1.67 MB
Attachment Size
translation-letters-plaintext.docx 53.6 KB
About the artefact

In 1973, the newly formed Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA) and the Department of Social Security (DSS) began discussing publishing information about government payments in Aboriginal languages. These excerpts are from correspondence about the idea.    

DAA officials asked DSS to publish pamphlets in Aboriginal languages to make the information more readily available to Aboriginal people. DAA offered to fund the printing and distribution of the pamphlets. They also let DSS know who they could contact to decide which languages to translate information into.  

DAA provided DSS with a list of the 13 most commonly spoken languages. They also included information about how many people spoke Wailbri / Warlpiri, Aranda / Arrernte and Tiwi.   

LJ Daniels, Director-General of Social Security, agreed to the proposal. He also suggested creating radio and tape recordings for people who couldn’t read and write. Barrie Dexter, Secretary of DAA, added that leaflets, film and other media could support as well.

Officials in these letters saw the need for government information to be translated and for interpreters to engaged. However, there was little work done to implement translations for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people following this agreement. In 1979, researcher Elspeth Young urged DSS to take more responsibility for communicating with Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.

It took a number of years for DSS to begin attempting translations in Aboriginal languages. An early example is information about payments in Walmajarri and Gupapuyŋu published in the 1980s. 

Source details

Correspondence with DAA was kept in a file by the Department of Social Security. The file was later transferred to the National Archives of Australia, which holds it as part of the national archival collection.

You can access the file through RecordSearch. Go to page 15 to see the first letter.


National Archives of Australia: Department of Social Services; A884, Correspondence, 1963–1974; A2861, Publicity – Press releases etc Aborigines, 1963–1974.