- Policy and Service Delivery Hot Spots
a. Search Room Experiences
b. Attitudes towards Access and Privacy
Appendix 1a: Search Room Experiences
"Interviewer: Do you [feel at home at] the museum?
Yes I do, the Bunjilaka part of it. …because my culture, I guess, is there. I can see my culture and I can live it there. … It’s my place. I walk around like I own it. … But I just couldn’t concentrate on Aboriginal history. That’s why I had to go out of those boundaries and go to the newspapers, etcetera, too, to see the white fella’s words as well, and the parliament, the government archives, because that was a major part, was the policies the government wrote for Aboriginal people, that was a major part of this thesis." (Participant 79, Stage 2)
Research participants, particularly those involved in stage two, provided a rich picture of the experience of using the records and services of archival institutions, especially government archives. The frustrations associated with these experiences are on the whole not surprising - service providers are already aware of many of the challenges researchers face. However recordkeepers probably underestimate the importance of the information seeking process and, on occasion, the pivotal significance (for better or worse) of the search for and discovery of records in the lives of their clients.
A couple of (Koorie) interviewees who have made extensive use of government archives highlight their potential to contribute to a different picture of Indigenous experience and achievement than the picture we may expect to get from government records. Archives, these researchers say, are under-used, with the same small set of records relied on over and over again.
"There’s one thing I’ve noticed about archives, … and it’s the problem of us not using them. Did you know, in the 1800s, the top three - no two of the top 10 schools in this state were actually Aboriginal missions? … There are reports that say in two schools in particular, one in Gippsland and one at Coranderrk, that some of the top schoolchildren in the state were Aboriginal. And yet for years there’s been this myth that we are not good at education. We are not good at maths. We’re not good at history and geography. Yet these reports say the opposite and for some reason, we’re not using those reports that show that, to counter-balance what is mythology about us today. … That’s where I think archives could be good for us. It can help increase our pride and understanding of that we weren’t bad at some of these things, we were actually quite good at it. … Those are the things. Archives can help us tell the truth, actually allow us to explain some of our history and actually allow us to refute some of the myths." (Participant 90, Stage 2)
Participant 90, quoted above, goes on to say that records become an even more effective tool for correcting perceptions and fostering pride when balanced or supplemented by family stories. He also suggests that a lack of trust and confidence in archival institutions and services on the part of Koorie people has limited their use of archives.
As anticipated, many interviewees have uncovered information from government archives which is confronting or distressing:
"What I read about the daily activities as well, what the white fella would do, how they would control the Aboriginal people on the reserve, and then how they would separate the families and how they would say, ‘half-caste’ and ‘full-blood’. That’s very confronting to me. Very confronting, because that’s - I’m not a half-caste. I’m an Aboriginal person. And to think that the fellas from 35-age down, the ‘half-castes’, had to be taken off the reserve and absolutely had to do their own thing. They had no help. I hated that. So as I read, I had to read alone and I really, really cried a few times, because we’re talking about my family. This happened to my family, not that long ago, and to have it not even known among the communities in general, … black and white, was devastating to me." (Participant 79, stage 2)
There is some discussion about what can be done to support researchers in such a situation. A private space rather than an open search room would help:
"Yeah so the time when I went into the Public Records Office I had access to material and you couldn’t take it out of the reading room. I found that quite traumatic, sitting there reading the information and … I think in those instances, perhaps you should be in a cubicle or something like that.
Interviewer: … you feel quite vulnerable.
Yeah exposed generally. … Because not only did you have other people within that room, you had the people who are working in the Public Records Office looking back at you through a window and you’re on display, you know. That was a bit awkward." (Participant 78, Client, Stage 2)
Some researchers are familiar with the notion of warning researchers (for example by attaching a sheet to a file cover) that a record contains offensive or insensitive material. However they explain the difficulty of anticipating what will cause distress as this depends partly on what information an individual researcher already knows. More valuable than this, they suggest, would be a support network so that researchers are not making distressing discoveries in isolation. An opportunity to ‘debrief’ with another community member who can help contextualise the information in government records limits the records’ potency.
"You go and give [records] to them, and before that person opens up them records, you lay it out in the way that they’d understand what, you know, that there is going to be hardship, there’s going to be sorrow, there’s going to be lies in there. You can’t take it to heart. And you make sure that the Co-op has a counsellor ready for that individual..." (Participant 81, Stage 2)
Notwithstanding some profoundly upsetting discoveries, the Indigenous researchers interviewed in stage two convey an overall appreciation of the potential of archives to contribute to their understanding of their personal and community history, and of the willingness of archival services and staff to help them. The greatest frustration reported, however, is simply the difficulty of knowing where to look for relevant records. Experienced Koorie researchers are aware that there are ‘buried records’ - series of records the relevance of which is not revealed by the provenance-based records description used by Australian government institutions. Interviewees, particularly those involved in researching Koorie family histories, recount experiences of accidental discoveries which turn out to be very important. There is, not surprisingly, a unanimous call for more name-based indexing, although a realistic understanding that this would be a task without end. These attitudes are common to most family history researchers, not just Koorie people, and are very familiar to recordkeepers also. Perhaps the extent to which Koorie people have been documented in archives, along with the extent to which they have lost control over other means of transmitting their knowledge and experience, make their needs greater, although no easier to address.
One suggestion worth noting, made by an experienced Koorie researcher, is that institutions could enlarge the picture of the types of records that may be relevant to Koorie family researchers by facilitating a means for historians to pool their knowledge about particular sets of records.
There is a wide range of views expressed about the value of Indigenous staff in search rooms:
"Indigenous people feel better speaking to another Indigenous person. They'd feel more relaxed and the Indigenous person actually knows what they want. If they go and ask someone at the counter...they prefer to speak to another Indigenous person. The younger ones they're fine, it's more for the elderly, the elders in the community, it's easier for them to go to an Indigenous person. (Participant 55, Stage 1)
Interviewer: Would it help if there were Indigenous employees [at the archives]?
It may and it may not. There again I think you have confidentiality. Somebody knows somebody in the community where I think it would be better if they were non-Indigenous. That's my personal opinion." (Participant 27, Stage 1)
Appendix 1b: Attitudes towards Access and Privacy
"I kind of worry about the open-slather approach at the government archives that anyone can just come in and look at stuff, which sometimes I think that they are sensitive records and I’ve always kind of had a bit of a problem with that, about the fact that I’m reading this stuff and it’s like well anyone can come in and read this stuff!" (Participant 83, Client, Stage 2)
Koorie people want to have a significant degree of control over who has access to records in all forms relating to them or their forebears. Factors which they would apply to these decisions include:
- Features of the record itself: its age, whether it refers to a single person or many people, the subject matter of the record. These are components of access decision-making which recordkeepers are familiar with.
- The motives and purposes behind a particular request for access to a record; ‘what do they want it for’, ‘what are they going to do with it’. This was strongly expressed by participants in the first stage of the research - more so than rules based around family or community relationships or an automatic divide between Koorie and non-Koorie people. It suggests the need for transaction-based, case-by-case adjudication of access and related rights. Access models in archival institutions and more generally in public access regimes such as freedom of information do not usually take these relative factors into account.
- Many Koorie people do not accept the view (embodied in privacy and archives law and policy) that any sensitivities associated with a particular record cease to apply when the subject of that record dies. Koorie participants point to the impact which records - the events they relate to and the attitudes they reflect - can have many decades after the people directly documented in the records have died. Events documented are not completely in the past. Most of the clients interviewed in stage two recount stories of having accessed records in archival institutions about deceased people whose descendants were known to them, and feeling that they shouldn’t have been reading those records. (See Outcome 3 for further discussion of extending privacy rights to descendents of deceased people).
- Protocols governing storytelling roles and relationships - secret and sacred stories and demarcations based on gender, age or kinship - were not strongly expressed by research participants. However they are relevant to some Koorie people in relation to some knowledge. The point was made by several interviewees that it was highly unlikely that custodians of stories of a secret or sacred nature would choose to record them.
Layered across these factors are the complexities of family and community boundaries and relationships. A key issue which emerges is: ‘In making decisions about access to records, who represents whom and how do you find them’. Indigenous mediators, service providers and clients all highlighted the difficulty or determining who should be responsible for access and the potential for this to be contentious. A record may be significant to several members of one family and community with the individuals involved not recognising each other’s interests or wanting different approaches to access. This will be particularly problematic where a record is about a deceased family member. As emerged in stage one, there are a variety of approaches evident amongst stage two participants, from highly individualistic to approaches which reflect a sense of shared family or community responsibility (with ‘family’ and ‘community’ being variously bounded) with a degree of collective decision-making. The most common, but far from unanimous, approach attributes rights at the level of family rather than individual or community, with almost all participants agreeing that definitions, boundaries and the question of who represents the family are indeed dilemmas.
Some participants also highlight generational differences in approach to access. Older people sometimes feel a sense of guilt or shame about events described in archives, whereas for younger generations the same events foster a sense of pride and a determination that injustices of the past be exposed. There are tensions within Indigenous communities and families around these matters.
"I have looked at my files and to this very day, my mother, while she can’t read or write, thinks that those files say terrible things about her…They, the parent, still feels guilt, no matter how many times you say, “Don’t worry about it. It’s not a problem. It did not - I understand it didn’t happen this way”. But their feeling of guilt is such that the next generation inherits that and so the next oldest in the family says, “No, you cannot look at that. No, we cannot allow this to be said or seen”. And so therefore you’ve got this child, that’s now an adult, going, “Well wait on, I still want access”." (Participant 90, Client, Stage 2)
Koorie Heritage Trust staff involved in mediating requests for permission to use material held by the Trust observe that the rules about who should give permission for what are impossible to codify. Staff rely on their personal networks and knowledge of relationships within and between families, who the Elders in a particular area are and what specific role they play. Trust is at the heart of the process of mediating this decision-making. The extent to which communities/community members know and trust the Koorie Heritage Trust or individual staff determines the response to an access request.
"…you can’t really write policies and procedures about these things because they’re so, they’re based on so many variants and you can’t write a little script for how you go about doing these things because they are informal and you’re relying on people’s knowledge that isn’t documented … And even politics with your organisation’s relationship with different families is something you know working here that won’t be passed on, won’t be passed on through documentation and things." (Participant 77, Service Provider, Stage 2)
Mediating this process is very time/resource consuming, but in the view of Trust staff, essential. It would not be in the interests of individuals/communities to allow or require information seekers to approach communities directly to obtain access permission. As well as being next to impossible on a practical level (where would they start to figure out who to contact and how to find them?), the Trust accepts an obligation to ensure that the request for access is appropriate, not against the interests of the individual/family/community, and that the person giving permission understands what it is that they’re giving permission for. Mediation also probably overcomes the tendency for individuals to refuse access because of a lack of confidence in the information seeker and/or the process. Staff are able to help rights holders to think through a longer term approach to access which may mean that records don’t have to be closed indefinitely.
"… as the institution looking after this material, we do have an ethical obligation to make sure we’re not setting somebody up, with a community member, who is either wanting to use the material inappropriately, not deliberately but just because of out of ignorance they might be using it in an inappropriate way, or might be trying to take advantage of an artist by using their artwork in multiple ways. So we kind of have an obligation to educate, make sure the community member understands what it is that they’re handing over or giving them the right to use." (Participant 77, Stage 2)
On the other hand, a service manager expresses the view that the Koorie Heritage Trust is too often relied on to act as mediator between communities and cultural institutions. Many collecting institutions are trying to manage their Indigenous holdings better and see involving the Trust as a culturally sensitive approach. This is highly resource intensive for the Trust and it could be argued that these institutions should build the relationships and do the research necessary to involve communities directly.
Appendix 2: Bibliography
Indigenous knowledge systems and archives
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Library and Information Resource Network (ATSILIRN), ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocols for Libraries, Archives and Information Services’, 2005.
S. Anderson, ‘Australian Indigenous Oral History Today: What’s the story?’, Crossings 7,1, 2002.
J. Arnold & B. Attwood, ‘Power, Knowledge and Aborigines’, Journal of Australian Studies, (special edition) 35, 1992.
W. Atkinson, ‘Oral History and Cultural Heritage’, unpublished paper presented to the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Seminar, Aborigines Advancement League, 20 January 1984.
B. Attwood, ‘‘Learning About the Truth’: the stolen generations narrative’, in B. Attwood & F. Magowan (eds), Telling Stories: Indigenous history and memory in Australia and New Zealand (Crows Nest, Allen & Unwin, 2001).
B. Attwood, ‘A Life Together, a Life Apart: a History of Relations between Europeans and Aborigines’, (Carlton, Victoria, Melbourne University Press, 1994).
Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Film Victoria & Koorie Heritage Trust Inc., ‘Mission Voices’, 2004,
Australian Society of Archivists, ‘Policy Statement on Archival Services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’, 1996.
H. Fourmile, 'Who Owns the Past? Aborigines as Captives of the Archives', in Aboriginal History, 13,1, 1989, pp.1-8.
M. Grossman (ed.), Blacklines: Contemporary critical writing by Indigenous Australians, (Carlton, Victoria, Melbourne University Press, 1994).
S. Huebner & K. Cooper, ‘Koorie Culture and Technology: A digital archive project for Victorian Koorie communities’, in Archives and Manuscripts, 35, 1, 2007, pp.18-32.
R. Langford, ‘Our heritage - your playground’, in Australian Archaeology, 16, 1983, pp.1-6.
L. Marsh & S. Kinnane, ‘Ghost Files. The Missing Files of the Department of Indigenous Affairs Archives’, in C. Choo & S. Hollbach (eds) History and Native Title (University of Western Australia, Studies in Western Australian History 23, 2004), pp.111-27.
M. Nakata & M. Langton (eds), Australian Indigenous Knowledge and Libraries, (Kingston ACT, ALIA, 2005). (Also published as Australian Academic & Research Libraries, vol 36, no 2, June 2005).
National and State Libraries Australasia, ‘National Policy Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Library Services and Collections’, (NSLA, 2007).
M. Piggott and S. McKemmish, ‘Recordkeeping, Reconciliation and Political Reality’, in Past Caring: Proceedings of Australian Society of Archivists Conference, Sydney, August 2002. pp. 111-122.
R. Powell & B. Kennedy, Rene Baker #28 EDP, (Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2005).
Public Record Office Victoria, Finding Your Story: a resource manual to the records of the stolen generations in Victoria, (North Melbourne, PROV, 2005)
A. Schwirtlich, J. Stokes & P. Macpherson, ‘Bringing Them Home: Database Ethics, Culture and Information about Indigenous Australians’, in Comma, 2003,1, pp.141-146.
K. Thorpe, 'Indigenous Records: How Far Have We Come in Bringing the History Back Home?', in Archives and Manuscripts, 29, 2, 2001, pp.10-31.
J. Vickery, ‘Decolonising Oral History as Health Research’, Minor Thesis in Masters of Public Health, (Institute of Koori Education, Deakin University, 2004.)
J Vickery, S Faulkhead, K Adams & A. Clarke, ‘Indigenous Insights into Oral History, Social Determinants and Decolonisation’, in I. Anderson, F. Baum & M. Bentley(eds), Beyond Bandaids: Exploring the Underlying Social Determinants of Aboriginal Health. Papers from the Social Determinants of Aboriginal Health Workshop, Adelaide, July 2004, (Casuarina, NT, Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health, 2007), pp. 19-36.
Victorian Koorie Records Taskforce, wilam naling ,knowing who you are, Improving Access to Records of the Stolen Generations. A Report to the Victorian Government, (Melbourne, Department for Victorian Communities, 2006).
D. Wickman, ‘The Failure of Commonwealth Recordkeeping: the Stolen Generations in Corporate and Collective Memory’, in Comma, 2003,1, pp.117-128.
L. Williams, K. Thorpe & A. Wilson, ‘Identity and Access to Government Records: Empowering the Community’, in Archives and Manuscripts 34, 1, 2006, pp.8-31.
Refiguring the archive
J. Bastian, Owning Memory. How a Caribbean Community Lost its Archives and Found its History, (Westport Conn. and London, Libraries Unlimited, 2003).
B. Brothman, ‘The Past that Archives Keep: Memory, History and the Preservation of Archival Records’, in Archivaria, 51, 2002, pp.48-80.
T. Cook, ‘Beyond the Screen: The Records Continuum and Archival Cultural Heritage’, Keynote address at Australian Society of Archivists Conference Melbourne, 2000.
A. Gilliland, A. Lau, Y. Lu, S. McKemmish, S. Rele, K. White, ‘Pluralizing the Archival Paradigm through Education: Critical Discussions around the Pacific Rim’, in Archives and Manuscripts, 35, 2, 2007.
A. Gilliland-Swetland, ‘Securing Our Identities in the Age of Digital Recordkeeping: The Role of Reliable and Authentic Records in the Establishment and Preservation of Human Rights’, in Approaching a New Millennium: Lessons from the Past, Prospects for the Future. Proceedings of the International Society for the Study of European Ideas Seventh Annual Conference, Bergen, Norway, August 14-18, 2000 (Haifa, Israel, ISSEI, 2000).
C. Hamilton, V. Harris, J. Taylor, M. Pickover, G.Reid & R. Saleh (eds), Refiguring the Archive (Dordrecht, Kluwers, 2002).
P. Hamilton, ‘The Knife Edge: Debates about memory’ in K. Darian-Smith & P. Hamilton (eds) Memory and History in Twentieth Century Australia (Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 9-32.
V. Harris, ‘Law, Evidence and Electronic Records: A Strategic Perspective from the Global Periphery’, International Council on Archives Conference Proceedings, Seville, September 2000, [pdf].
V Harris, ‘The Archival Sliver: Power, memory and archives in South Africa’, in Archival Science, 2, 2002, pp.63-86.
M. Hedstrom, ‘Archives, Memory and Interfaces with the Past’, in Archival Science, 2, 2002, pp.21-43.
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Bringing Them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Children from their Families, (Sydney, HREOC, 1997).
C Hurley, ‘Parallel Provenance: (1) What, if Anything is Archival Description?’, in Archives and Manuscripts, 33, 1, 2005, pp.110-145.
S Katuu, ‘Engaging Orality within the Archival Discipline: its Contents and Discontents’, in Comma, 2003,1, pp. 83-102
E. Ketelaar, ‘Access: The Democratic Imperative’, in Archives and Manuscripts, 34, 2, 2006, pp.62-81.
E. Ketelaar, ‘Sharing: Collected Memories in Communities of Records’, in Archives and Manuscripts, 33, 1, 2005, pp.44-61.
S. McKemmish, ‘Evidence of Me…’, in Archives and Manuscripts, 24, 1, 1996, pp. 28-45.
S. McKemmish, M. Piggott, B. Reed & F. Upward (eds.), Archives: Recordkeeping in Society, (Wagga-Wagga, Centre for Information Studies, CSU, 2005).
M. Piggott, ‘Building Collective Memory Archives’ in Archives and Manuscripts, 33,1, 2005, pp. 62-83.
J. Schwartz and T. Cook, ’Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory’, in Archival Science, 2, 2002, pp.1-19.
A Stoler, ‘Colonial Archives and the Arts of Governance’, in Archival Science, 2, 2002, pp. 87-109.
E. Wareham, 'From Explorers to Evangelists: Archivists, Recordkeeping and Remembering in the Pacific Islands', in Archival Science, 2:1, 2002, pp. 187-207.
Legal frameworks for Indigenous knowledge
E. Adeney, Moral Rights of Authors and Performers: an international and comparative analysis, (Oxford University Press, 2006).
Australian Law Reform Commission, Overview of ALRC Issues Papers 31 & 32, Review of Privacy, Reviewing Australia's Privacy Laws, Is Privacy passé? ... have your say, 2006.
T. Cockburn, ‘Personal Liability of Government Officers in Tort and Equity’, in B. Horrigan (ed), Government Law and Policy, Commercial Aspects, (The Federation Press, Leichhardt, NSW, 1998) pp. 340-389.
B. Horrigan, ‘Contemporary Sources and Limits of Crown Immunity, Governmental Liability and Legislative Invalidity’, in B. Horrigan (ed) Government Law and Policy: Commercial Aspects, (The Federation Press, Leichhardt, NSW, 1998) pp. 276-339.
L. Iacovino, Recordkeeping, Ethics and Law: Regulatory Models, Participant Relationships and Rights and Responsibilities in the Online World, (Springer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, 2006).
L. Iacovino, ‘Community, identity and shared value systems from Aristotle to Singer: An ethical model of ownership of memory spaces in distributed networks.’ in L. Stillman and G. Johanson (eds), Constructing and Sharing Memory: Community Informatics, Identity and Empowerment. Selected Papers from the 3rd Prato International Community Informatics Conference, Community Informatics Research Network 9-11 October 2006.(Newcastle, UK, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007), pp. 80-90.
J. Miller, ‘Settling Accounts with a Secret Police: the German Law on the Stasi Records’, in Europe-Asia Studies, 50, 1998, pp.305-350.
T. Janke & Company, ‘Indigenous Communal Moral Rights Bill 2003’.
T. Janke, Our culture our future: report on Australian indigenous cultural and intellectual property rights; prepared for Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, (Michael Frankel & Company, Surry Hills, NSW, 1998).
Intellectual Property Research Institute of Australia, Cultural Institutions, Law and Indigenous Knowledge: A Legal Primer on the Management of Australian Indigenous Collections, (University of Melbourne, 2006).
K. Weatherall, ‘The Free Trade Agreement and Cultural Institutions’ (ppt), paper presented to Copyright, Digitisation and Cultural Institutions Conference, Intellectual Property Research Institute of Australia, The University of Melbourne, August 26, 2005.
A. Gilliland & S. McKemmish, ‘Building an Infrastructure for Archival Research’, in Archival Science, 4, 3-4, 2004, pp.149-97.
L. Iacovino, ‘Research Governance and Protocols: Towards a Participatory Community Research Agenda in Ethics, Ownership, Privacy and Access’, Proceedings of Memories, Communities, Technologies, an Arts/ICT Search Conference, 4-6 October 2006, Monash Centre, Prato (paper accepted for publication by Monash ePress).
I.J. McNiven & L. Russell, Appropriated pasts: Indigenous Peoples and the Colonial Culture of Archaeology, (Lanham MD, AltaMira, 2005).
K. Martin & B. Mirraboopa, 'Ways of Knowing, Being and Doing: a theoretical framework and methods for indigenous and indigenist re-search (Reconciling Knowledges)', in Journal of Australian Studies, Jan 2003, pp.203-15.
National Health and Medical Research Council, ‘Values and Ethics: Guidelines on Ethical Conduct in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research’ (Canberra, NHMRC, 2003).
National Health and Medical Research Council and Australian Research Council, ‘National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research’ (Canberra, NHMRC, 2007).
P. Read, ‘Clio or Janus? Historians and the Stolen Generations’ in K. Darian-Smith (ed.), Challenging Histories: Reflections on Australian history, Australian Historical Studies, 118, 2002, pp.54-60.
B. Schnarch, Ownership, Control, Access and Possession (OCAP) or Self-Determination Applied to Research: A Critical Analysis of Contemporary First Nations Research and Some Options for First Nations Communities (First Nations Centre, National Aboriginal Health Organisation (Canada), 2005), [pdf].
R. Stoecker, Research Methods for Community Change: A Project-Based Approach, (California, Sage, 2005).
K. Williamson (ed), Research Methods for Students and Professionals: Information Management and Systems, second edition (Wagga Wagga, Centre for Information Studies, 2002).
United Nations Human Rights Council, Updated set of principles for the protection and promotion of human rights through action to combat impunity (Joinet-Orentlicher Principles) 2005.
United Nations, Office of the United Nations Commissioner of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 16 December 1966.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, Our Culture Our Future: A Report on Australian Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights, 1999.
World Summit on the Information Society (Geneva 2003 - Tunis 2005) Tunis Commitment.