Dr Samantha Disbray

Lecturer in Endangered Languages

School of Languages and Cultures
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
+61 7 336 56896


My role in the School of Languages and Cultures is Lecturer in Endangered Languages.

My research focus is languages in education, in particular the role of policy, teaching and learning on Indigenous languages and cultural revival, revitalisation and maintenance. My approach to teaching and research is collaborative, community-guided and applied. This informed by my on-going self-reflexivity as a non-Indigenous woman and my experience living and working on unceded Kaurna, Arrernte, Warumungu, Warlpiri, Pintupi-Luritja and, since 2019, Jagera and Turrbal country.

After working as an adult educator, my research life began in 2004 with Warumungu linguist B Morrison Nakkamarra, investigating child language development in Tennant Creek, Central Australia, and the place of Warumungu and the contact language Wumpurrarni English in children’s language repertoires. I completed my PhD in 2009. As regional linguist with the Northern Territory Department of Education, 2008-2013, I collaborated closely with Indigenous educators on curriculum design, professional learning and resource development. Returning to research, I have published articles, book chapters and a co-edited volume on the Northern Territory Bilingual Education program, with Warlpiri collaborator Barbara Martin on Warlpiri Bilingual Education and widely on national languages curriculum and policy.

From 2015-2019 I worked once again with Warumungu linguists and families to return and repurpose a set of archived recordings for language and cultural revitalisation through arts-based practice. In a current project with the Papunya Bilingual Collection Steering Committee, lead by Luritja elder Charlotte Phillipus and with sociologist Vivien Johnson, I continue to work on the return, safe-keeping, access and use of archival language and education materials.

Research Interests

  • Languages education
  • Bilingual education
  • Indigenous languages reclamation, revitalisation and maintenance
  • Discourse studies

Research Impacts

My work has made diverse impacts, locally, nationally and internationally. In the field of languages in education, my publications have informed policy and implementation in the Northern Territory Department of Education. I have been contracted to design curriculum and deliver professional learning. I have consulted for the Warlpiri Education and Training Trust to guide program development and implementation (see links). A collaboration with the Indigenous peak body First Languages Australia to document successful elements of language programs prompted and informs the National Strategy for Languages currently in development (see links). Most recently, I was contracted to research good practice models for Indigenous languages education by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (forthcoming).

Combining language work and arts-based practice, I have worked innovatively to support community language and culture revitalisation and broader public education. The Ankkinyi Apparr, Ankkinyi Mangurr (Our language, our designs) exhibition, with Warumungu co-curators Rosemary Plummer Narrurlu, Sandra Morrison Nangala and Ronald Morrison Jungarrayi, grew from an archival repatriation project. The co-curators and I worked with visual artists and community members to develop a body of work, including video material (see links), which showed in the 2019 Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary Indigenous Arts in Adelaide to 16,000 visitors and at Nyinkka Nyunyu Culture Centre in Tennant Creek in 2020-2021.

Through my work with the Papunya Bilingual Steering Committee, remarkable and nationally significant historical materials created during the Northern Territory Bilingual Program have been digitised and made available through the National Library of Australia (see links). My collaborators and I are commissioned to collect oral histories for the National Oral History and Folklore Collection.


  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of Melbourne


View all Publications


  • Doctor Philosophy

View all Supervision



Book Chapter

  • Disbray, Samantha and Wigglesworth, Gillian (2018). Indigenous Children’s Language Practices in Australia. The Palgrave Handbook of Minority Languages and Communities. (pp. 357-381) London, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan. doi: 10.1057/978-1-137-54066-9_14

  • Devlin, Brian, Disbray, Samantha and Devlin, Nancy (2017). A Thematic History of Bilingual Education in the Northern Territory. History of Bilingual Education in the Northern Territory: People, Programs and Policies. (pp. 1-10) Singapore: Springer Singapore. doi: 10.1007/978-981-10-2078-0_1

  • Disbray, Samantha and Devlin, Brian (2017). Consolidation, Power Through Leadership and Pedagogy, and the Rise of Accountability, 1980–1998. History of Bilingual Education in the Northern Territory: People, Programs and Policies. (pp. 101-112) Singapore: Springer Singapore. doi: 10.1007/978-981-10-2078-0_9

  • Disbray, Samantha and Martin, Barbara (2017). Curriculum as Knowledge System: The Warlpiri Theme Cycle. Language Practices of Indigenous Children and Youth. (pp. 23-48) London, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan. doi: 10.1057/978-1-137-60120-9_2

  • Disbray, Samantha (2017). Policy and Practice Now. History of Bilingual Education in the Northern Territory: People, Programs and Policies. (pp. 237-246) Singapore: Springer Singapore. doi: 10.1007/978-981-10-2078-0_19

  • Guenther, John, Disbray, Samantha, Benveniste, Tessa and Osborne, Sam (2017). ‘Red Dirt’ Schools and Pathways into Higher Education. Indigenous Pathways, Transitions and Participation in Higher Education. (pp. 251-270) Singapore: Springer Singapore. doi: 10.1007/978-981-10-4062-7_15

  • Disbray, Samantha (2014). Evaluating the Bilingual Education Program in Warlpiri schools. Studies in Language Companion Series. (pp. 25-46) Amsterdam, Netherlands: John Benjamins Publishing Company. doi: 10.1075/slcs.147.03dis

Journal Article

PhD and MPhil Supervision

Current Supervision

  • Doctor Philosophy — Associate Advisor