SP18: Archival Returns: Central Australia and Beyond

ISBN: 978-0-9973295-7-5

Edited by Linda Barwick, Jennifer Green, and Petronella Vaarzon-Morel

Co-published with Sydney University Press

Individual Chapters

Editors’ preface – Linda Barwick, Jennifer Green, & Petronella Vaarzon-Morel

Conundrums and consequences: Doing digital archival returns in Australia – Linda Barwick, Jennifer Green, Petronella Vaarzon-Morel, & Katya Zissermann

The practices of archival return may provide some measure of social equity to Indigenous Australians. Yet priceless cultural collections, amassed over many decades, are in danger of languishing without ever finding reconnection to the individuals and communities of their origin. The extensive documentary heritage of Australian Indigenous peoples is dispersed, and in many cases participants in the creation of archival records, or their descendants, have little idea of where to find these records. These processes of casting memories of the past into the future bring various conundrums of a social, political, and technical nature. They raise questions about the nature and dynamics of ongoing cultural transmission, the role of institutional and community archives in both protecting records of languages, song and social history and disseminating them, and the responsibilities of researchers, organisations and end users in this complex intercultural space. These questions are perforce framed by ethical and legal questions about access, competing ideas of ownership, and shifting community protocols surrounding rights of access to and the dissemination of cultural information. This paper arises from a project designed to reintegrate such research collections of Central Australian cultural knowledge with the places and communities from which they originally emanated. While we show that the issues raised are seldom neutral and often complex, we also argue for the power that culturally appropriate mobilisation of archival materials has for those that inherit the knowledge they embody.

Deciphering Arrernte archives: The intermingling of textual and living knowledge – Jason Gibson, Shaun Angeles, & Joel Liddle

Arrernte people are arguably the most documented Aboriginal group in Australia. Their language was studiously documented by Lutheran scholars, their ceremonies were subject to some of the most intensive ethnographic documentation and many of their songs were meticulously recorded. In addition, genealogical and historical archives are full of Arrernte social histories, and museum stores contain thousands of Arrernte-made artefacts. This chapter contains a condensed and edited transcript of interviews with two Arrernte men, Shaun Angeles and Joel Liddle, who discuss their deep and varied interests in these records and the archives that contain them. Both Joel and Shaun are of a younger cohort of Arrernte men living in the Alice Springs region who are increasingly interested in utilising the potential of archival material as a means of assisting Arrernte language and cultural transmission. These interviews explore some of the issues Arrernte peoples confront as they work through archives. We discuss the challenges of variant orthographies in the 19th and 20th century records, the limitations of conventional cataloguing requirements and the importance of reading archival texts in a way that sees them emplaced and tested against the knowledge of elders. Archival records are explained as being necessarily embedded within Arrernte social memory and orality and framed by local socio-cultural practices. Reflecting upon their own experiences, Joel and Shaun are able to provide advice to future generations in their dealings with collecting institutions and make recommendations to current and future researchers (ethnographic and linguistic) who are documenting Arandic material. The chapter concludes with a discussion about the role of digital technologies in the future dissemination of cultural materials.

Reflections on the preparation and delivery of Carl Strehlow’s heritage dictionary (1909) to the Western Aranda people – Anna Kenny

This chapter reflects on the predicaments encountered while bringing ethnographic and linguistic archival materials, and in particular an Aranda, German, Loritja [Luritja], and Dieri dictionary manuscript compiled by Carl Strehlow and with more than 7,600 entries, into the public domain. This manuscript, as well as other unique documents held at the Strehlow Research Centre in Alice Springs and elsewhere in Australia, is surrounded by competing views about ownership and control. In this case study I discuss my research and work with Western Aranda people concerning the transcription and translation into English of the dictionary manuscript. I also discuss the immense difficulties I faced in seeing the dictionary through to final publication. I encountered vested interests in this ethno-linguistic treasure that I had not been aware of and ownership claims that I had not taken into account. They arose from diverse quarters – from academia, from individuals in the Lutheran church, from Indigenous organisations, and from the Northern Territory Government. One such intervention almost derailed the dictionary work by actions that forced the suspension of the project for over 12 months. In this chapter I track the complex history of this manuscript, canvas the views of various stakeholders, and detail interpretations and reactions of Aranda people to the issues involved.

Returning recordings of songs that persist: The Anmatyerr traditions of akiw and anmanty – Jason Gibson

Digitisation has made the return of recordings made by researchers in the past far more achievable than ever before. This technological advance, combined with the ethical and political imperative towards decolonising methodologies in Indigenous research, has resulted in considerable interest in ensuring that recordings of cultural value be returned to Indigenous communities. In this chapter, I reflect upon the fieldwork experience of returning archival song recordings concerning public aspects of male initiation ceremonies, known as akiw and anmanty, to Anmatyerr-speaking communities in the Northern Territory of Australia. Despite attenuation of song knowledge across the region, these songs continue to be sung at annual ritual events. Once these recordings were returned to these communities, Anmatyerr people quickly received them as important reiterations of their present-day socio-cultural expression. Evidently imbricated in a complex, ritually based form of complementary filiation and knowledge dissemination, these songs are shared and taught in a fragile and changing context of ceremonial practice. The account provided here offers insights into songs associated with arguably the most persistent and significant form of ceremonial practice in Central Australia, although sparsely documented in the Anmatyerr region. I also highlight the relational properties of song via their connections to place, Anengkerr ‘Dreaming’ and people and provide important insights into how these communities perceive the archiving and preservation of this material.

Incorporating archival cultural heritage materials into contemporary Warlpiri women’s yawulyu spaces – Georgia Curran

National archives house a rich legacy of materials that document many intangible aspects of Indigenous cultural heritage. It is the moral right of Indigenous people to have access to these materials, but their reintroduction back into present-day worlds is not without impact. Here, I analyse contemporary spaces in which Warlpiri women have engaged with archival cultural heritage materials and incorporated them into present-day contexts for the performance of yawulyu. These include the production of song books, dance camps at bush locations, and broader community arts performances. These cases illustrate that for proper engagement with these legacy materials knowledgeable Indigenous people must lead activities which are supported as part of the repatriation process.

Enlivening people and country: The Lander Warlpiri cultural mapping project – Petronella Vaarzon-Morel & Luke Kelly

This chapter discusses a cultural mapping project funded and directed by Lander Warlpiri Anmatyerr people in Central Australia with the collaboration of the authors and the support of the Central Land Council. The project arose from the concerns of elders over the changing lifeworld of Warlpiri people today and the reduced opportunities for younger people to acquire the embodied place-based knowledge and experiences regarded as foundational to local identity, social interrelationships, and cultural continuity. It aimed to revitalise cultural knowledge through engaging family groups in activities such as country visits and mapping, during which the teaching and recording of place names, Dreaming tracks, and countries occurred along with the performance of associated stories, song, and rituals. This process involved the sharing and negotiation of the knowledge of country elders hold, augmented by ethnographic information derived from archival and other sources; for example, land claim maps and digitised material, including photographs, audio and visual recordings of narratives, places, song, and geo-referenced data. Attending to the ways in which local Indigenous practices of representing and inscribing people’s relations with space and place may differ from and interlace with dominant western spatial regimes, cartographic practices, and technologies, we explore outcomes and issues that have arisen during the process of re-animation and evocation of place-based knowledge and memories.

(Re)turning research into pedagogical practice: A case study of translational language research in Warlpiri – Carmel O’Shannessy, Samantha Disbray, Barbara Martin, & Gretel Macdonald

Speech corpora created primarily for linguistic research are not often easily repurposed for practical use by the communities who participated in the research. This chapter describes a process where methods and materials collected for language documentation research have been returned to speakers in communities; this involves the implementation of professional development activities for Warlpiri educators in bilingual education programs. Documentation of children’s speech took place in four Warlpiri communities in 2010. To make the research results available to educators in Warlpiri communities in an easily accessible way, the researcher produced short videos showing analyses of the children’s speech. These online videos, along with audio recordings and written transcripts of the children’s speech, were utilised by a team of linguists and educators at professional development workshops in the Northern Territory Department of Education. Educators actively worked with the materials, discussed issues relating to children’s oral language development, and identified potential pedagogical practices. Through this process the materials were returned to the Warlpiri community and utilised in an active cycle of locally focused professional learning activities.

“The songline is alive in Mukurtu”: Return, reuse, and respect – Kimberly Christen

This chapter examines the return, reuse, and repositioning of archival materials within Indigenous communities and specifically within the Warumungu Aboriginal community in Central Australia. Over the last 20 years there has been an uptake in collecting institutions and scholars returning cultural, linguistic, and historical material to Indigenous communities in digital formats. These practices of digital return have been spurred by decolonisation and reconciliation movements globally, and at the same time catalysed by new technologies that allow for surrogates to be returned and concurrently reinvented, reused, and reimagined in community, kin-based, and place-based social and cultural networks. Examining the creation, use, and ongoing development of Mukurtu CMS, this article focuses on the implications for digital return as a type of repatriation that promotes decolonising strategies and reparative frameworks for engagement.

“For the children…”: Aboriginal Australia, cultural access, and archival obligation – Brenda L Croft, Sandy Toussaint, Felicity Meakins, & Patrick McConvell

For whom are archival documents created and conserved? Who is obliged to care for them and provide access to their content, and for how long? The state, libraries, museums and galleries, researchers, interlocutors, genealogists, family heritage organisations? Or does material collected long ago and then archived belong personally, socially, emotionally, culturally, and intellectually to the people from whom the original material was collected and, eventually, to their descendants? In a colonised nation, additional ethical and epistemological questions arise: Are archives protected and accessed for the colonised or the colonisers, or both? How are differences regarding archival creation, protection, and access distinguished, and in whose interest? Is it for future generations? What happens when archives are accessed and read by family members and/or researchers, and what happens when they are not? A focus on two interrelated stories – firstly an experiential account narrated by Brenda L Croft about constructive archival management and access, and secondly a contrasting example relating how the Berndt Field Note Archive continues to be restricted from entitled claimants – facilitates a return to three interrelated questions: for whom are archives created and conserved, who is obliged to care for, and authorise access to, them, and to whom do they belong?

Working at the interface: The Daly Languages Project – Rachel Nordlinger, Ian Green, & Peter Hurst

In this paper we present the Daly Languages Project (www.dalylanguages.org), funded by the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, and in collaboration with the Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures (PARADISEC), which has developed website landing pages for all of the languages of the Daly region of northern Australia. These landing pages provide a useful and usable interface by which a range of users can access primary recordings, fieldnotes, and other resources about the Daly languages; they are powered by a relational database which allows for easy updating, ensuring consistency across the website and allowing for an immediate response to community requests. Moreover, since the website is built with a commitment to open source, it is available for other researchers to adapt to their own projects and language groups. In this paper we discuss the goals and outcomes of the project, the design and functionality of the website landing pages, and advise readers on how they can access and adapt the open-source framework for their own purposes.

“We never had any photos of my family”: Archival return, film, and a personal history – Fred Myers & Lisa Stefanoff

The film Remembering Yayayi emerged from a project to return raw 16mm film footage shot in 1974 at the early Pintupi outstation of Yayayi, near Papunya, by filmmaker Ian Dunlop, with Fred Myers as translator and consultant. Two subsequent remote Pintupi communities, Kintore and Kiwirrkura, were involved in the footage’s return. The material had not been available for research (or other) purposes until 2005, when VHS copies were made from the workprint deposited in the National Archives of Australia. In 2006, Myers and Stefanoff took this rare historical visual material in Pintupi language to Kintore and Kiwirrkura, showing it to individuals and family groups and holding community screenings. Responses were overwhelmingly positive. The tapes quickly became regular entertainment for patients undergoing lengthy renal dialysis sessions and Myers received multiple requests for copies. Over several years, one of Myers’ long-term Pintupi friends, Marlene Spencer Nampitjinpa, came to provide a moving personal commentary on the footage, enabling a feature documentary to be produced from it. This chapter draws on a conversation with Stefanoff and Myers to reflect on how the repatriation project became a catalyst for memory and produced new Pintupi community historical knowledge, particularly about outstation life, early efforts at developing local forms of self-determination and the transformation of lives and wellbeing over a 40-year period.

Return of a travelling song: Wanji-wanji in the Pintupi region of Central Australia – Myfany Turpin

This chapter discusses responses to the return of legacy recordings of Pintupi singing made in 1976 and the collection of further metadata about the song Wanji-wanji featured on the recordings. Wanji-wanji was once a popular entertainment song that was performed across the western half of Australia, as can be seen by the many recordings of it held in archives. Custodianship of the song is unknown; the earliest reference to its performance dates back to the 1850s, where it is described as a ‘travelling dance’ (Bates 1913–1914) and so in terms of copyright its status may be comparable to ‘public domain’, i.e. outside of copyright. Responses to hearing the recording were emotional. Those who knew the song recalled the place and time in which they had heard it long ago. There was great interest in how widely it was known though little interest in the meanings of the lyrics. On the whole, responses to access and proposed uses of the recordings, as well as the future possible uses of the song, reflected its public domain status. Nevertheless, the confidence in people’s responses varied depending on whether the individual knew the song, had experience in using archival recordings, and whether they perceived community interest and support for classical Aboriginal singing practices.

Never giving up: Negotiating, culture-making, and the infinity of the archive – Sabra Thorner, Linda Rive, John Dallwitz, & Janet Inyika

Archival returns are a significant issue of concern for Indigenous peoples in many settler-colonial contexts. This chapter focuses on one example from Central Australia, Aṟa Irititja, to reflect on how an archive might simultaneously preserve ‘culture’ and also reflect, accommodate, and inspire cultural change. We feature the words of an Aṉangu ‘senior law woman’, Janet Inyika (affectionately known as Mrs Never-Give-Up), and our co-authorship is consistent with this community archive’s commitment to co-production, yet also extends Inyika’s social justice work into the future. Together, we argue that a collaborative, intercultural approach to archiving, in conjunction with the affordances of digital media, facilitate negotiations that are culturally appropriate, and not threatening. Aṟa Irititja is inspiring the production of a new genre of archival metadata: advance directives on what to do with representations of a person upon his/her death. These words are urging a shift in protocols for the correct treatment of photographs, asserting new domains of individual authority, and establishing the archive as the proper medium through which these should occur. The archive is also a site through which culture-making is never complete, always ongoing – indeed, infinite.

Nura’s vision: Nura’s voice – Suzanne Bryce, Julia Burke, & Linda Rive

For Nura Nungalka Ward (1942–2013) the art of teaching was a lifelong passion, culminating in Ninu grandmothers’ law, published by Magabala Books (2018). This autobiography is an extensive ethnography of daily life for Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara families still living on their traditional lands amid the profound changes brought by the arrival of white settlers, doggers, missionaries and atomic bomb tests. Nura’s achievement – compiling her life history illustrated with striking photographs into an English language autobiography – seems like a natural progression. Until you consider that Nura spoke and taught in Pitjantjatjara, her Aṉangu (Aboriginal) language from the remote northwest corner of South Australia, and the fact that she possessed no family photograph albums. How did she make that leap, way beyond her life experience in an oral storytelling tradition, to embrace the idea of a book? How did the return of archival records to Nura’s kin via a digital repository in the early 2000s help shape Nura’s memories?
This chapter details Nura’s process: her compelling drive to teach and her willingness to embrace new technologies, such as the digital archive Aṟa Irititja, which she first used to record her knowledge and then drew on to achieve her ambitions. We discuss the complexities that occur when accessing the digital content and Nura’s vigilance in ensuring that she broke no cultural rules in the process. We also share Nura’s decade-long journey as she collaborated with three non-Aboriginal friends to move her spoken word story through the digital archive and into the printed form, in what is the most significant publication to date to be sourced through the Aṟa Irititja Project.

i-Tjuma: The journey of a collection – from documentation to delivery – Elizabeth Marrkilyi Ellis, Jennifer Green, & Inge Kral

In 2018, a collection of some 60 edited and subtitled films, resulting from a documentation project (2012–2018) in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands on verbal arts of the Western Desert, was ready to be returned to the Ngaanyatjarra community. In this case study, we describe the journey of this return and the cultural, ethical, and technological issues that we negotiated in the process. From the archived collection lodged with PARADISEC (Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures), we developed a workflow that harvested selected media and their associated metadata and transferred them to LibraryBox, a portable digital file distribution tool designed to enable local delivery of media via the LibraryBox Wi-Fi hotspot. We detail here the return of the curated collection in a series of community film festivals in the Ngaanyatjarra communities and via the delivery of media from LibraryBox to individual mobile phones. We also discuss the return of a digital collection of historical photographs of Ngaanyatjarra people and strategies to re-inscribe such old records for new purposes. These endeavours are motivated by the imperative to ‘mobilise’ our collection of Western Desert Verbal Arts by making the recordings available to the Ngaanyatjarra community. We anticipate that the lessons we learnt in the process will contribute to better design for local solutions in the iterative cycle of documentation, archiving, and return.

Ever-widening circles: Consolidating and enhancing Wirlomin Noongar archival material in the community – Clint Bracknell & Kim Scott

Returning archival documentation of endangered Indigenous languages to their community of origin can provide empowering opportunities for Indigenous people to control, consolidate, enhance and share their cultural heritage with ever-widening, concentric circles of people, while also allowing time and space for communities to recover from disempowerment and dislocation. This process aligns with an affirming narrative of Indigenous persistence that, despite the context of colonial dispossession, can lead to a positive, self-determined future. In 2007, senior Noongar of the Wirlomin clan in the south coast region of Western Australia initiated Wirlomin Noongar Language and Stories Inc., an organisation set up to facilitate cultural and linguistic revitalisation by combining community-held knowledge with documentation and recordings repatriated from the archives. Fieldnotes created in 1931 from discussions with local Aboriginal people at Albany, Western Australia have inspired the collaborative production of six illustrated bilingual books. Working with archival research material has presented challenges due to issues of orthography and legibility in written records, the poor quality of audio recordings, and the incomplete documentation of elicitation sessions. As the archive is so fragmentary, community knowledge is vital in making sense of its contents.