Trust and Technology: Building an Archival System for Indigenous Oral Memory

The 'Trust and Technology: building an archival system for Indigenous oral memory' project (T&T Project) is an Australian Research Council Linkage project, with a partnership between Caulfield School of Information Technology, Monash University, Centre for Australian Indigenous Studies, Monash University, the Public Record Office of Victoria, the Koorie Heritage Trust Inc., the Victorian Koorie Records Taskforce, and the Australian Society of Archivists Indigenous Issues Special Interest Group.

The focus of the T&T project is on enabling Koorie communities to archive oral memory, and to engage with existing government and institutional archives on their terms. The T&T Project commenced in 2004.

The final report is now available.

About T&T

Project Aims

  • To explore the emphasis that Indigenous people place on oral memory, and what this implies for providing archival services to this group.
  • To examine how Indigenous people interpret trust in relation to key issues such as authenticity, intellectual property, and access.
  • To investigate the current service models of government and other archives, to see how well they currently meet the needs of Indigenous people for access to oral memory.
  • To model Indigenous community-oriented archival services.
  • To examine how archival techniques and information technology can be used to build archival systems that meet the needs of Indigenous people.
  • To build a prototype preservation and access system which will demonstrate how the needs of Indigenous communities might be met.


Setting the scene: orality, text and trust

Storytelling underpins Koorie communities. By storytelling we are emphasising the passing on of narrative histories. Storytelling is the art of portraying in words, images and sounds what has happened in real or super-real events. This project recognises that there exists a basic human communication that comes from a fundamental desire, or even need, to tell each other what happened (secular and religious, real and imaginary) through the most expressive and immediate means possible; in dramatic storytelling. Storytelling in our project is never juxtaposed against real history, rather it is accepted as a form of the latter.

Prior to colonisation Koorie cultures were predominantly oral. Stories, and the protocols, places, roles and rituals which supported their transmission, were the foundation for maintaining relationships, conveying communities’ laws and codes of behaviour, teaching children. It is generally recognised, and clearly evident in this study, that despite the impact of colonisation and of efforts to extinguish Indigenous culture Koorie people continue to express their knowledge and experiences orally to a significant extent.

Embedded as they are in a western knowledge framework, the organisations and professions with responsibility for managing the records of society generally reflect and enforce a privileging of the narratives contained in written records over those from other sources. Further, there exists a complex and multifaceted tension between these organisations and Koorie communities for whom written records have often been instruments of dispossession and surveillance and who after generations of distrust remain wary of government organisations.

Australian Indigenous narratives and archival discourse

The year 2007 represents a remarkable milestone in Indigenous Australian history; it is ten years since the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s Bringing Them Home Report, forty years since the “Vote Yes” referendum and fifty years since the National Aboriginal and Islander Day of Commemoration (NAIDOC). History and historical narratives, written and spoken, are of keen importance to Koorie people. The Australian community’s efforts to address issues such as Native title and the Stolen Generation illustrate how closely understandings of the past relate to effective action for Indigenous and national wellbeing in the future. In recent times we have seen significant government action around issues of social disadvantage, health and domestic violence, all of which have their origins in historic understandings of past actions and inactions.

In the decade since Bringing Them Home, recognition of the past and ongoing impact of the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families has motivated efforts at many levels of Australian life to create and support opportunities for reconciliation. The Bringing Them Home report devoted a chapter to the role records and recordkeeping institutions should play in supporting family and community reunions and the reclamation of personal and community identity. The report made several recommendations around preserving records and providing access to them. It also made recommendations (albeit in somewhat less detail) to enable Indigenous Australians to ‘manage their own historical documentation’. Over the last decade government archival institutions and some other records holders such as churches have responded with a range of initiatives to provide better access to records and better services to Indigenous people seeking information. These have included the establishment of name indexes, Memoranda of Understanding to ensure consultation with Indigenous communities, efforts to employ Indigenous people or appoint them to advisory or governing bodies, exhibitions, guides to relevant records and scholarships to train Indigenous recordkeepers.

Significant to this project, two of many imperatives highlighted by the report were:

  • The need for Indigenous Australians to reclaim identity by knowing their family background and reconnecting with the places and cultures of their people.
  • Telling the stories of post-colonisation experience, in particular of separation, within Indigenous communities and beyond to the wider Australian community as a means of honouring the experiences of these generations of Indigenous Australians and as a means of ensuring their place within Australia’s history and memory.

These findings resonated with the recommendations of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

As Indigenous and settler communities in various countries and regions have jointly reflected on their engagement with archives there has been a growing recognition that western archival paradigms and practices conventionally position Indigenous people as the subjects of records. Such paradigms do not support Indigenous people taking a greater role in decision making about records which provide sometimes extensive narratives about themselves. This has been a component of a broader professional discourse over recent decades which has began to recognise the nature of records as tools of institutional or national systems of remembering and forgetting or as the product, in some instances, of surveillance and control. Archival institutions are beginning to take on board the need to ensure that their frameworks and services do not continue to represent this system to Indigenous people.

Research Method

There are 3 components to the research approach:

Stage One: User Needs Analysis
(January 2004 to July 2005)

A user needs analysis, involving 72 interviews, collected Koorie views on storytelling and recording; trust and authenticity in oral and written records; and issues relating to control, ownership, custodianship, accessibility and privacy. The interviewees from throughout Victoria form a ‘purposive sample’, with the key characteristics represented being, gender, age, place of abode and community roles. From this analysis a set of ‘scenarios’ were developed to illustrate various user needs.

For more information on stage one see the following paper:

Johanson, Graeme, Don Schauder & Kirsty Williamson. (200-) Ross, Fiona, Sue McKemmish & Shannon Faulkhead. (2006).

Stage Two: Modelling Indigenous community-oriented archival services
(January to December 2006)

A case study using the scenarios from Stage One to explore the services currently provided by the Koorie Heritage Trust Inc. and the Public Record Office Victoria. It involved interviewing 22 Koorie clients of archival services, mediators and service providers, and the development of models of trust and distrust of archival systems and services.

Stage Three: Specifying a Koorie Annotation System
(2007 to 2008)

The original outcome of this project was to produce an archive for Koorie Oral Memory. In response to a key need identified in Stages One and Two, this outcome was modified into developing a framework and set of functional requirements for a trusted Koorie Annotation System that will allow Koorie communities to add their stories and perspectives, comment on or challenge the version of events in the archival records, and provide information about their context.

T&T Progress

Trust and Technology: Summary of Outcomes
(29 November 2007)

Koorie people involved in this research have told us that they want to:

  • preserve and use all forms of Koorie knowledge
  • challenge and limit the ongoing potency which archives carry in the lives of many Koorie people
  • recover from archives knowledge which is relevant to understanding their identities, cultures and experiences

Trust and Technology has identified 7 outcomes which support the above aspirations. Outcomes 1 and 2 are the foundational perspectives on which the other outcomes are based. Outcomes 3, 4 and 5 address three challenges which emerged from the research as key needs of Koorie communities. Outcomes 6 and 7 address the implications of this research for researchers and educators.

Outcome 1: Koorie knowledge
All sources of Koorie knowledge - stories shared within families, audio-recorded histories, government and other organisational records – are highly valued by Koorie people wanting to understand their identity and history. We need to take on board a conceptualisation of Koorie knowledge which:

  • overcomes the preferencing of Western expressions of memory and evidence over Koorie ones.
  • recognises and supports the interplay between difference sources of Koorie knowledge, in particular that knowledge can be recovered from archival sources and reincorporated into oral memory.

Outcome 2: Koorie rights
Various human rights statements support the assertion that Koorie people have the right to make decisions about the management of their knowledge in all its forms. However Koorie people are currently afforded few rights over that part of their knowledge which is in archival institutions. If we accept that archival records contain Koorie knowledge, we need to find ways to give effect to Koorie rights over this knowledge. In doing so we should recognise the particular claims of Koorie people which arise from the part archival records have played in the dispossession of Koorie people as well as in the recovery of identity.

Outcome 3: New approaches to rights and responsibilities in Koorie knowledge
The current Australian legal framework presents a number of obstacles to the realisation of Koorie rights in archival records, as proposed in outcome 2. We consider how the archives community could use a participant model to realign its principles and practices to give effect to Koorie rights in archival records. Alongside these policy initiatives there are also a number of legal strategies which could be pursued to give Koorie people greater rights over their knowledge.

Outcome 4: A holistic, community-based approach to Koorie archives
The holistic understanding of Koorie knowledge proposed by outcome 1 requires a holistic approach to the management of Koorie archives. Koorie knowledge cannot be made to adhere to the usual institutional/sectoral boundaries of archival programs. Holistic, community-based approaches to Koorie archives are needed to bring together, physically or virtually, all archives of a community regardless of their source or form.

Outcome 5: Setting the record straight
Koorie people express a strong desire to challenge the contents of ‘official’ records by recording their own narratives and perspectives alongside them – to set the record straight. International human rights principles and the experiences of other post-colonial, post-surveillance societies support this notion as an important means of acknowledging and limiting the ongoing potency of records which have been the tools and products of dispossession and control. We propose a Koorie Annotation System to enable Koorie people to challenge the errors or limitations of institutional records. Such a system will also contribute to the integration of Koorie knowledge.

Outcome 6. Researching together: rethinking the relationship between academia and Koorie communities
University-based researchers also need to overhaul research methods which position Indigenous (and other) communities as the subjects of research, and to pursue a participatory model of community-based research. This outcome presents lessons learned from this project about the colonisation of Koorie knowledge and the entanglement of knowledge systems. The principles of community-based participatory action research require promotion among consumers of research.

Outcome 7. Education and training for professional practice and scholarship
Recordkeeping educators, along with leading employers and professional associations, need to incorporate the new directions proposed in this report into foundational professional education and ongoing professional development.

T&T People

Chief Investigators - Monash University

  • Professor Lynette Russell
  • Emeritus Professor Sue McKemmish
  • Associate Professor Graeme Johanson (2005-)
  • Emeritus Professor Don Schauder
  • Dr Kirsty Williamson (2003-2004)

Partner Investigator - Public Record Office Victoria

  • Justine Heazlewood

Partner Organisations - External Websites

Partner Organisation Representatives

  • Jason Eades (KHT)
  • Simon Flagg (PROV, ASA IISIG & VKRT)


  • Diane Singh (CAIS, Monash)
  • Fiona Ross (COSI, Monash)
  • Andrew Waugh (PROV)

Research Student

  • Shannon Faulkhead

Past Team Members

  • Jen Sullivan - Monash (2003-2004)
  • Carol Jackway - Monash (2003-?)
  • Emma Toon - PROV (2003-2005)
  • Rachel U'Ren - Monash & PROV (2005)
  • Sharon Huebner - KHT & Monash (2005-2006)
  • Stefanie Kethers - Monash (2006)
  • Merryn Edwards - PROV (2006)

The Project Team - Past and Present

Jason Eades

Jason is the Chief Executive Officer of the Koorie Heritage Trust Inc.

Shannon Faulkhead

Shannon is a Koorie woman from Mildura, who is currently the postgraduate student attached to the Australian Research Council Linkage Project, 'Trust and Technology: Building an archival system for Indigenous oral memory' investigating Australian Indigenous oral testimonies and archives. Shannon's PhD research through Monash University is titled 'Narrative Creation and Koorie Victoria'. Prior to returning to study Shannon worked for nine years at the Koorie Heritage Trust Inc., an Aboriginal cultural centre in Victoria.

Simon Flagg

Simon is the Acting Manager of the Koorie Records Unit of the Public Record Office Victoria, the Executive Officer for the Koorie Records Taskforce, and the Victorian state representative of the Australian Society of Archivists, Indigenous Issues Special Interest Group (ASA IISIG).

Justine Heazlewood

Justine is the the Director and Keeper of the Public Records, Public Record Office Victoria and the Partner Investigator on the T&T project.

Sharon Huebner

Sharon is currently working for the Koorie Records Unit at the Public Records Office Victoria. Previously Sharon worked for the Koorie Heritage Trust Inc for over five years, as part of the Koorie Family History Service, a Stolen Generations service established in 2001 out of recommendations from the 1997 "Bringing Them Home Report", and as the cultural development coordinator of the Koorie Heritage Archive Project, a digital keeping place of Victorian Koorie cultural heritage materials. Both Projects aimed to: strengthen inpiduals and communities through knowledge and pride in who they are and where they come from; and to strengthen identity and culture by making available at a community level, family, cultural and historical materials relevant to Koorie people. In 2005 Sharon was part of the Trust and Technology Project as the Koorie Heritage Trust Inc. representative on the Project Team, and in 2006 the KHT allowed Sharon to come over to Monash to work on Stage Two of the T&T Project.

Carol Jackway

Carol was a Research Officer in, then Coordinator of, the Research Coordination Unit at the School of Information Management and Systems during the time of her involvement in the project. Carol assisted with the administrative side of the project, including assistance with submission of the original grant application, setup of the Advisory Committee, and provision of a secretariat service for all meetings associated with the project.

Associate Professor Graeme Johanson

Associate Professor Graeme Johanson is Director of the Centre for Community Networking Research (CCNR) and a Senior Research Fellow in Information and Telecommunications Needs Research (ITNR). Many different types of communities have co-operated with him to achieve shared research outcomes. All of these projects involved critical implementation of a range of information and communications technologies. His experience of the management of research projects of all sizes is extensive.

For further  information, please see the CCNR website.

Professor Sue McKemmish

Professor Sue McKemmish, is Chair of Archival Systems, Associate Dean Research, Faculty of Information Technology, and Director of the Centre for Organisational and Social Informatics (COSI) and the Records Continuum Research Group (RCRG). Her relevant archival research has focused on developing archival description and metadata standards for managing and accessing quality information and archival resources online. She has also made a major contribution to the development of records continuum theory which provides the conceptual frame of reference for Australian recordkeeping metadata and archival description and accessresearch.

For further information, please see the RCRG website.

Fiona Ross

Fiona Ross has worked in a range of recordkeeping and information management roles over the last fifteen years, including positions at the Public Record Office Victoria, Victoria Police, the University of Melbourne and Monash University. She was a Research Fellow on the Trust and Technology Project in 2004 and 2005, investigating the outcomes of the user needs study and their implications for archival systems and frameworks, and returned from 2007 to 2008 to write-up the final report for the T&T Project.

Professor Lynette Russell

Professor Lynette Russell Professor holds the Chair in Australian Indigenous Studies at Monash University and is Director of the Centre for Australian Indigenous Studies (CAIS) and Deputy Dean, Faculty of Arts. She has published widely in the areas of Aboriginal History, archaeological-theory, post-colonialism and representations of race.

Diane Singh

Diane Singh B.A., was born in the Murray River town of Echuca, Victoria, and is a member of the Yorta Yorta/ Wemba Wemba communities from Victoria and New South Wales, but has lived in Melbourne since the late 1950s. Diane is currently working as the Community Liaison Officer at the Centre for Australian Indigenous Studies, (CAIS), Clayton.


Faulkhead, Shannon, Joanne Evans & Helen Morgan. (2005)

'Is Technology Enough: Developing Archival Information Systems in Community Environments', ESARBICA Journal, 24, 88-113.

Originally  presented at the XVIII Bi-Annual ESARBICA General Conference on Archives and Records in The Information Society: The African Agenda, Botswana, Gaborone, 25-29 July 2005.

Full text available

Faulkhead, Shannon & Lynette Russell. (2006)

‘What is Australian Indigenous Oral History?', International Oral History Association Conference, held at the University of Technology, Sydney, on the 12-16 July 2006.

Full text available

Faulkhead, Shannon., Lynette Russell., & Sue McKemmish. (2006)

'Sources of Koorie Distrust of Recordkeeping', Community Informatics Research Network Conference, held at Moansh Prato, October 2006, presented by Sue McKemmish.

Full text not available

Faulkhead, Shannon, Lynette Russell, Diane Singh & Sue McKemmish. (2007)

'Is Community Research Possible Within the Academic Tradition?', In: Researching with Communities: Grounded perspectives on engaging communities in research, edited by Andy Williamson & Ruth DeSouza, Auckland: Muddy Creek Press, pp. 39-56.

Muddy Creek Press

Johanson, Graeme, Don Schauder & Kirsty Williamson. (2007)

'Recording Oral Memory: Views of Indigenous Victorians', In: Researching with Communities: Grounded perspectives on engaging communities in research, edited by Andy Williamson & Ruth DeSouza, Auckland: Muddy Creek Press, pp. 219-242.

Muddy Creek Press

Kethers, Stefanie, Sharon Huebner & Diane Singh. (2006)

'Trust and Technology project: building archival systems for Indigenous oral memory', Memories, Communities, Technology Conference, held at Monash Prato, October 2006, presented by Stefanie Kethers & Sharon Kethers.

Full text not available

Ross, Fiona, Sue McKemmish & Shannon Faulkhead. (2006)

'Indigenous Knowledge and the Archives: Designing Archival Systems and Services for Koorie Communities', Archives and Manuscripts, 34:2.

Pre-published version available

Based on a paper presented to the Joint ARANZ/ASA Conference, Archives and Communities, Wellington NZ, October 2005.

Russell, Lynette. (2006)

'Indigenous Records and Archives: mutual obligations and building trust', Archives and Manuscripts, 34:1Originally a presented as a paper at 'Indigenous Records and Archives: mutual obligations and building trust', Made Kept and Used: Celebrating 30 Years of the Australian Society of Archivists Seminar, held at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra, on the 5th April 2005

Full text available [PDF]

Published version:

Russell, Lynette. (2006)
'Indigenous Records and Archives: mutual obligations and building trust', Archives and Manuscripts, 34:1

Russell, Lynette. (2005)

Indigenous knowledge and archives: accessing hidden history and understandings, Australian Academic and Research Libraries, 36:2, 169-180.


‘Indigenous knowledge and archives: accessing hidden history and understandings’, In: Nakata, M. & Langton, M. (Eds.) Australian Indigenous knowledge and libraries. Canberra: Australian Academic and Research Libraries, p. 169-180.

Originally  a presented as a paper at 'Indigenous Knowledge and Archives: accessing hidden history and understandings', Colloquium 2004: Libraries and Indigenous Knowledge. State Library of New South Wales, 9-10 December 2004

Full text available [PDF]

Published version:

Russell, Lynette. (2005)
'Indigenous Knowledge and the Archives, Australian Indigenous Knowledge and Libraries', Australian Academic and Research Libraries, 36:2, 169-180.

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