Luise Hercus

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Luise Anna Hercus AM FAHA, née Schwarzschild, (16 January 1926 – 15 April 2018)[1][2][3] was a German-born linguist who lived in Australia from 1954. After significant early work on Middle Indo-Aryan dialects (Prakrits) she had specialised in Australian Aboriginal languages since 1963, when she took it up as a hobby. Works authored or co-authored by her are influential, and often among the primary resource materials on many languages of Australia. [4] ref: info from Luises sister Bettina prior to death, her mother Theodora who died Melbourne shortly before 99th birthday/oral history of family. Note: niece 4 in 1966.ref:Family tree which is not publicly available dates back to 1300s

Life and career[edit]

Hercus was born Luise Anna Schwarzschild on 16 January 1926 in Munich, Germany, to the artist Alfred and his wife Theodora Schwarzschild (née Luttner). Hercus' father was 27 years older than her mother.

Family and childhood[edit]

The family were wealthy at first; at one stage they had two maids in Munich. Luise's grandfather Moses Martin Schwarzschild was a broker & money lender; her grandmother was a Sabel. Luise's uncle was the German physicist Karl Schwarzschild. Luise's father was Jewish, but her mother was catholic so all three girls became catholic.

On the assumption of power by Hitler in Germany, their position as Jews rapidly deteriorated. Her mother's father was gassed (not shot) at Dachau for slating Hitler despite being catholic. Other family members remained Jewish. The extended family were intellectuals & not religious.

Her father had a portrait commission in London so they went on a sudden holiday there in 1938. Their father travelled separately and was interred. Her sister (a ballerina) remembered her mother just packing her ballet shoes & forgetting everything else. They were vouched by an uncle possibly a Sabel; and the family settled in East Finchley, in northern London where she attended Tollington Hill School. Luise's youngest sister went to school speaking German & came home speaking English. The middle sister only went to primary school & became a professional ballerina at 13. (Madame Ramberts ballet etc)

The family, during the air raids over London, moved to Hampstead Gardens. The children were evacuated to the country & Luise to a pig farm which she didn't like. Her mother slept in the underground when the bombs were dropping.

Academic career[edit]

Luise won a scholarship at 17 to St Anne's College, Oxford,[5] where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in Oriental Studies in 1946, followed by an M.A. [6]. She was the 1st woman to attain a double degree in old French and Sanskrit at Oxford University

In 1948 she was appointed tutor and lecturer at St. Anne's College, a position she held until 1954,[6] when she emigrated to Australia. She married the scientist Graham Robertson Hercus, on 23 February 1955 (deceased 1974). Together they had one child, Iain Robertson Hercus, who obtained a doctorate in astronomy.[7] According to her sister (deceased) her interest in aboriginal linguistics was sparked by her c 4-year-old niece playing with her best friend & her adopted? Aboriginal sister(from Fitzroy & her adopted brother (from Alice springs) up the street from her sisters house in Greensborough. Luise visited often from Mooroolbark with her family in their tiny car (Austin?) . Luise was quite excited to discover that the aboriginal girl spoke some of her tribal language.

From 1965 to 1969 she was a research fellow at the University of Adelaide, South Australia. It was at this time that she began to pursue private studies in Aboriginal languages, managing to pull some from the brink of oblivion, as for example with Wangganguru which she recorded with the assistance of her informant, Mick McLean Irinjili. [8] After 1969 she took up an appointment as senior lecturer and then reader in Sanskrit, in the Department of South Asian and Buddhist Studies at the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.[citation needed].

In the 1970s, Hercus, along with Peter K. Austin and David Trefry, did research on the Diyari language.[9]

Luise had been publishing significant articles on linguistic features of Middle Indo-Aryan dialects (Prakrits) since 1953 (using her maiden name) and a collected volume reprinting and indexing these was published by the ANU Faculty of Asian Studies in 1991 (her last article on this topic was in 1979).[10]

After 1991 she became a visiting fellow in the Department of Linguistics at ANU, writing up grammars, dictionaries and traditional texts, and continuing fieldwork mainly in the north of South Australia and adjacent areas of New South Wales and Queensland.[11]

A Festschrift was presented to Hercus on the occasion of her retirement in 1990.[12]

In January 2016, AIATSIS presented Hercus with digital copies of the foundational sound recordings, of which she had made over 1,000 hours ranging over 56 native languages and dialects,[13] as a token of gratitude in celebrating her 90th birthday. Among the material, are unique sounding recordings of Pantyikali, Nukunu, Woiwurrung, Dadi Dadi, Djadjala, Gunnai, Narungga, Wadi Wadi, Wergaia, Kurnu, and Nari Nari. In addition, a second Festschrift, the book, Language, land and song: Studies in honour of Luise Hercus, with contributions from over 30 scholars, was published online in 2017,[14] to honour her lifelong engagement with Aboriginal people and their languages. [15][3] Louise will be remembered by her family for her love of wombats and kangaroos which she rescued and kept as pets and also cockatoos. The cocky she rescued decades ago remains in the family. Farmers in NSW where she lived would poison cockatoos and she would Unpoison them as she had the antidote. Christmas dinners in Melbourne often included a few joeys in a pillowcase or a baby wombat in a box as did outings in Canberra. As far as I know she remained a British national. Her niece once overheard her call her brother in-law who was from Poland "a wog" which is a very vulgar term and unfair since he didn't even keep foreign animals ie dogs and cats as pets,only years later to discover over a discussion about tax that Luise wasn't even Australian. She had never taken out citizenship & was the only foreigner in the family

Indigenous languages[edit]

Hercus wrote on, among others, the following languages (and their dialects):

Besides Australian languages, Hercus also studied Romance and early Indian languages.[16]


Hercus was a prolific author, with 163 works to her credit at WorldCat Identities,[16] but perhaps best known for the following works:

  • (1965) The languages of Victoria: A late survey in two parts.
  • (1981) The Bagandji language. (Pacific Linguistics)
  • (1986) This is what happened: historical narratives by Aborigines.
  • (1991) Collected articles of LA Schwarzschild on Middle Indo-Aryan (1953–1979)
  • (1999) A Grammar Of The Wirangu Language From The West Coast Of South Australia
  • (2009) Aboriginal Placenames: Naming and renaming the Australian landscape.
  • (2009) Two Rainbow Serpents Travelling: Mura Track Narratives From the 'Corner Country'.
  • (2010) with G Miller. P. Monaghan et al., A Dictionary of the Wirangu Language of the Far West Coast of South Australia, Tjutjunaku Worka Tjuta and University of Adelaide, Adelaide.
  • (2012) Trees from the dreaming.

Of particular value to her Aboriginal informants is her

  • (2011) Paakantyi Dictionary (AIATSIS).[17]


On 12 June 1995, Luise Hercus became a Member of the Order of Australia, for her service to education and linguistics, particularly through the preservation of Aboriginal languages and culture.[18]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ Obituary, The Canberra Times, 21 April 2018.
  2. ^ Obituary, The Australian, 26 April 2018.
  3. ^ a b "Vale Dr Luise Hercus". AIATSIS. Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  4. ^ White 1990, p. i.
  5. ^ White 1990, p. ii.
  6. ^ a b Sleeman 2001, p. 243.
  7. ^ White 1990, p. ix.
  8. ^ Rothwell 2010, p. 52.
  9. ^ "Ngayana Diyari Yawarra Yathayilha: Supporting the Dieri language". Retrieved 20 May 2019.
  10. ^ Schwarzschild 1991.
  11. ^ Luise Hercus – ANU Press
  12. ^ White 1990.
  13. ^ Obituary, AIATSIS News and events, 27 April 2018.
  14. ^ Austin, Peter K.; Koch, Harold; Simpson, Jane, eds. (2017). Language, Land and Song: Studies in honour of Luise Hercus. ELPublishing. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  15. ^ AIATSIS 2016.
  16. ^ a b Hercus, L.A. (Luise Anna) 1926–
  17. ^ Hercus, Luise A. "Paakantyi Dictionary". AIATSIS. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  18. ^ "Queen's Birthday 1995 Honours" (PDF). Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved 28 May 2018.