Research Outcomes Part 2: Building on the Foundations: Ways forward for Koorie Communities and Archives

The outcomes described in this section of the report explore the implications of these foundations for Koorie communities and the archives sector:

Outcome 3: New Approaches to Rights and Responsibilities in Koorie Knowledge proposes a new ‘participant model’ for determining rights and responsibilities in relation to Koorie knowledge.

Outcome 4: A Holistic, Community-Based Approach to Koorie Archives presents a model for community-based, community controlled archival systems and services for Koorie people.

Outcome 5: Setting the Record Straight explores the desire expressed by many Koorie people to be able to challenge ‘official’ records and proposes an annotation system to enable this to happen.

Outcome 3: New Approaches to Rights and Responsibilities in Koorie Knowledge


Participant 69, Stage 1

"A lot of Indigenous people are frightened of the Government getting hold of things. We’ve had things destroyed in the past, files and all this sort of thing and using it against us. That’s why we’re so very thing about keeping what we’ve got. We don’t want to share it because we’re frightened of it going somewhere else."

Participant 43, Stage 1

"Some of the mob from South Gippsland had come into the uni for a meeting. They were going into the library … and they had discovered some records that had their family names. Well they took off with the records and the records were about 1890. Security guards were called and there was abuse and this and that. … The members of the Aboriginal community who had nicked this very valuable material said, "Well, they're ours". But they left these uncompleted volumes. It's this situation: it's personal information. It's our family and we're going to have it. It wasn't perceived as theft. Completely different sense of ownership."

Outcome 1 of this report proposed a broad understanding of the scope of Koorie knowledge which includes knowledge contained in archival records. Outcome 2 argued that Koorie people have a right to control their knowledge - a principle recognised in various rights statements. Outcome 2 also asserted that archival professional frameworks and laws are out of step with these two propositions: they do not view archival records as containers of Koorie knowledge and consequently do not enable Koorie people to exercise their rights over their knowledge.

This section summarises elements of the current legal and policy context that hamper the realisation of Koorie rights in archives and proposes a new model for determining rights and responsibilities in relation to Koorie knowledge in archives. Most of what follows relates specifically to one source of Koorie knowledge - archival records. This is consistent with the focus of this research and of our conversations with Koorie people during the project. There are a number of other obstacles relevant to other forms of Koorie knowledge which are not addressed here, in particular the limitations of copyright law in relation to communal knowledge and knowledge that has no material form of expression.

The legal status of Koorie knowledge in archives

Participant 53, Stage 1

"There's possibly even photos of my mother when she was a small girl, and I've never seen a photo of her as a small girl. That worries me but more it makes me sad that maybe the wrong people.... a non-Indigenous organisation, that holds some information …. Not being angry toward the fact that they have it, it's more almost like when Aboriginal bones are found overseas, that they be returned to the tribes that own them. It's almost that same feeling."

Participant 51, Stage 1

"I don't think everyone would have given their oral testimony [in support of the Yorta Yorta Native Title claim] because they thought it was the best thing to do and I'd do the same thing, and I'd do it honestly. ... People put forward that information in the hope that it does build towards that positive determination of Native Title whereas that information in itself was the evidence for them to say "There are inconsistencies in such and such. Therefore we have to conclude that there is no ...""

Many factors affect the legal status of archival records. By archival records we are referring here to records which were either created or received by an organisation or individual and which are maintained in the custody of that organisation or an archival repository. Common examples relevant to Koorie people are:

  • Records of government agencies (i.e. public records) now held by government archives (for example, Aboriginal Protectorate records).
  • Records of government agencies still held by those agencies or their successors (for example, in Victoria, Department of Human Services records).
  • Records of private organisations or individuals which have been loaned or donated to an archival repository (for example, a public library or a private foundation).
  • Records of private organisations still held by those organisations or their successors (for example churches and welfare bodies). In some instances there may be an archive within such an organisation which manages the organisation’s records.

In all of these examples, most Koorie knowledge is likely to be contained in records authored by others - officers of governments or private organisations who collected information about Koorie people, reported to others, made notes about their interactions with Koorie people. Some records will have been authored directly by Koorie people, for example in instances where Koorie people wrote letters to these organisations. For the most part, however, this distinction does not affect the legal status of the records. By far the largest obstacle in the way of the realisation of Koorie rights in their knowledge in archives is that the legal framework does not recognise any ownership rights for people who are the subject of records. The general effect of the laws of personal and intellectual property is that the organisations which create or receive and maintain records exercise almost all control over them.

We should qualify this last statement by noting that, in relation to government records, privacy, freedom of information and public records laws do give records subjects some rights over the collection, use and disclosure of information about themselves. These rights apply only to individual records subjects: they cannot be exercised by individuals in relation to deceased family members, nor is there any provision for handling information which relates to a family or community rather than an individual. Although these statutory rights are limited, there are principles inherent in them which could be extended to better address Koorie knowledge in archives (see Strategies for Law Reform, below).

Records subjects generally have fewer statutory rights over records of private organisations than they do over government records. The Commonwealth Privacy Act (1988) gives records subjects some rights over use and disclosure of information about them, but records deposited in designated repositories are exempt from the legislation. Access to records which have been deposited in collecting archives are typically governed by arrangements made by the donor and the archival repository. In Victoria, the University of Melbourne Archives and the Australian Manuscripts Collection of the State Library of Victoria are well known repositories which make extensive use of donor agreements to manage access. There is no imperative for either donors or repositories to involve records subjects in determining these arrangements.

The above legal framework applies equally to anyone who is the subject of records in archives: Koorie people are legally in exactly the same situation as everyone else. The effect of this framework, however, is not the same for everyone. When we take into account the extent to which Koorie people are documented in archives, the circumstances under which many records were created and the part that these records have played in their dispossession as well as in the recovery of identity, there is a strong argument that Koorie people have special claims over their knowledge in archives.

Archival theory and 'records subjects'

Participant 70, Stage 1

"It's deeply personal information. And do you know why I say that is because I was really just shocked last year I went to [indistinct] and they had displays all around and they had a book... I suppose it was recorded by the House Mothers in their homes, and it had about one child ‘Mother prostituting herself at Chinese camp’. I thought “God, does that need to be open for everyone to see?” I really felt shame and horror and everything for the family of that child."

Participant 68, Stage 1

"I said to Mum: “Would you ever give our culture away?” She said: “No.” None of us would. It's used to learn and when you get older you pass it down. If you pass it the wrong way, say give it to Monash University, everyone is going to know everything about you. And that's not a history. Your history is getting exploited all over the place and then some of the words might get mixed up and people add to the story and it changes everything. You read a book and say “I've read this book before but it didn't go like this.”"

Consistent with this socio-legal context, archival science - the body of theory which archivists apply to the management of records - views the records subject as a completely passive player in the action of creating a record. In some cases he or she may have provided the data, or be the same person as the recipient. In many cases he or she is unaware of being the subject of the document. Over recent years, however, archival science has begun to understand the limitations of this view of records creation, in particular its disempowerment of records subjects. One framework for shifting the conventional archival view of records creation is a participant model. This model involves repositioning record subjects as records agents - participants in the act of records creation. In a fully implemented participant model, every contributor, including the person who is the subject of the document, has legal and moral rights and responsibilities in relation to ownership, access and privacy, which in turn are evidenced by records providing proof of the existence of the rights and/or obligations. The model provides a useful way of mapping existing rights and obligations and where they may need to be extended. The application of the participant model to Koorie communities would be a novel development, building on existing legally recognised relationships such as the citizen-state, parent-child and doctor-patient (Iacovino, 2006).

Clearly archival institutions could not fully implement a participant model with the current legal framework. The proposition that records subjects participate in the creation of records in a way that gives them ownership rights is simply contrary to law. Similarly the participant model requires a paradigm shift in archival understandings. There are, however, a number of strategies which the archival community could pursue in support of a participant model.

Strategies for Shifting Archival Theory and Practice

1. Re-assert archival professional responsibilities which include respecting the privacy of those who had no say in what happened to their personal information.

Had privacy laws existed at the time, the collection by governments and other organisations of information about Koorie people, as occurred extensively in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, would have required informed consent. Privacy law is not retrospective, however there is an obligation to respect the privacy of individuals who did not give permission for information about themselves to be recorded.

2. Establish a national archival policy modelled on the National Policy Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Library Services and Collections which has its basis in the legal requirement of national, state and territory libraries in Australia to collect the documentary heritage of the country.

National, state and territory libraries have recognised that as part of their legislated charter, their collections must address the ‘gaps left by the exclusion of Australia’s indigenous perspectives’. The National Archives of Australia has a legislated obligation to ensure that the archival resources of the nation are preserved, but this objective has been narrowly interpreted. A national archival approach based on a broad understanding of Koorie knowledge, of its contribution to the national collective memory as well as the obligations of archives to individual records subjects would more fully address NAA’s mandate.

3. Address through research and education the archival definition of provenance to recognise multiple record creators in ‘…the formation of records and the functions or processes in which they took part’ (Hurley, 2005, pp.110-145.)

Expanding the definition of record creators to include everyone who has contributed to a record’s creative process and has been affected by its action would support the enforcement of a broader spectrum of rights and obligations. This view is supported by:

  • Social networking models where there are multiple contributors to an information  resource all of whom have ownership rights, and no one individual can  assert personal ownership on his/her own over the creative expression. (Iacovino, 2007, pp.80-90.)
  • ‘Data  custodianship’ models in the health context which provide for shared  responsibility over data by all legitimate stakeholders. These emphasise  privacy and confidentiality rights as well as obligations over personal  data, shared with the intellectual rights of the major record creators. Of  particular significance is the record subject’s right not only to access  but also to add to, amend and delete aspects of his or her record,  effectively becoming an agent rather than a passive subject of the record.  (Iacovino, 2007, pp.80-90.)

Strategies for Law Reform

In addition to the realignments to archival theory and practice proposed above, there are a number of legal initiatives which would support the implementation of a participant model. The strategies below all, to various degrees, build on existing legal principles, seeking to extend them to give Koorie people greater rights over Koorie knowledge. There is a paradox in looking within Western law for solutions to problems which arise from the incommensurability of Western law and Koorie community frameworks. Nevertheless the following strategies are offered as avenues which Koorie communities may wish to investigate further.

1. Extend and/or amend Australian state and federal privacy legislation on the basis of the United Nations Joinet-Orentlicher principles to use annotations as a right of reply, extend this right to descendants and enable annotators to retain ownership of the annotation.

The annotation principle in Australian freedom of information and privacy laws exists to correct or amend any personal information on files held by a government agency that is inaccurate or incorrect. To use this provision an applicant needs evidence as to why the personal information is incorrect and why the correction should be added to the file. While this is not as extensive a notion as setting the record straight, it could nevertheless be used more extensively by Koorie people and could be amended to enable Koorie people to have ownership over the annotation.

The right of reply could be strengthened by incorporating principle 17 of the Joinet-Orentlicher principles into privacy legislation. It provides that ‘All persons shall be entitled […] by virtue of their right of access, to challenge the validity of the information (in archives) concerning them by exercising a right of reply’. This may require clarification as to whether a right of reply would apply to one’s deceased family members. (More information about the Joinet-Orentlicher Principles can be found under Outcome 5).

2. Legislate to give Koorie people similar rights to those afforded to records subjects in ex-surveillance states.

Some European post-surveillance states have passed special laws to provide access rights over records collected by previous regimes. (Ketelaar, 2006, pp. 62-81 & Miller, 1998, pp.305-350). It could be argued, on the basis of international human rights instruments to which Australia is a signatory, that Koorie communities should have similar special legal rights. (Horrigan, op.cit., p.319.)

3. Investigate the implications of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic).

Section 19 of this Act recognises the ‘distinct cultural rights’ of Aboriginal persons. There may be an argument that these rights cannot be exercised without greater control by Koorie communities over information about them owned by government and private organisations. Such an interpretation would have implications for current and future recordkeeping as well as records already in existence. All Victorian legislation must be compatible with this charter.

4. Investigate the implications of cultural property laws on movable property.
Legislation such as the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 (Vic) protects a range of cultural objects but has not been applied to records in archival institutions. Further investigation is needed to determine whether there are circumstances in which it could be used to give Koorie communities greater control over Koorie knowledge in archives.

5. Investigate whether the Archives Amendment Bill (Cth) 2006 s 43 would apply to Indigenous groups as well as individuals.

This amendment would empower the Director-General of the National Archives of Australia to ‘make arrangements with a person for records required to be transferred to the care of the Archives, or for material of the Archives, to be kept in the custody of the person’. Also for further investigation is whether a similar interpretation is possible under the Public Records Act (Vic), and in other states and territories.

6. Pursue a communal right in privacy law and inclusion of deceased persons.

United Nations Declarations of Human Rights define privacy as inclusive of family. For example, the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, to which Australia is a signatory, is based on the 1948 Directive of the United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 17(1) of the Covenant states that ‘No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation.’ This has been adopted and extended by the European Court of Human Rights and in Article 3 of Convention 108 of the Council of Europe: ‘any State may give notice: [...] that it will also apply this convention to information relating to groups of persons, associations, foundations, companies, corporations and any other bodies consisting directly or indirectly of individuals, whether or not such bodies possess legal personality.’ (Council of Europe, 1981.) The Australian Law Reform Commission is exploring the protection of the privacy of groups of people, for example Indigenous or other cultural groups, as well as the protection of personal information about deceased persons for some period after death. (Australian Law Reform Commission, 2006, p.5). The extension of the Privacy Act (Cth) to protect information about deceased persons would bring it more in line with Archives Act 1983 (Cth) which has exemptions from release of information relating to the personal affairs of any person including deceased persons. In order to apply to Victorian public records, a similar amendment is required to the Information Privacy Act (Vic) as section 3 makes it clear that privacy only applies to people who are alive.

7. An Indigenous Knowledge Act?

The above strategies seek to build on or better utilise existing legal provisions. However this research raises the question of whether there is a need for a new law which directly and comprehensively gives Koorie people rights over their knowledge in all its forms, bringing together many of the strands of law reform suggested above and addressing some of the other issues raised by this report. This would be best pursued nationally.

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Outcome 4: A Holistic, Community-Based Approach to Koorie Archives


Participant 5, Stage 1

"I can't wait to be able to walk into a one-stop shop and see what's there."

Participant 72, Stage 1

"See last time I went home it was for a funeral, all the men went out hunting. Down here I don't get that. It was kind of good because I could see that they still do it. I think most of the stories come from that kind of stuff. Even driving to it, Mum is saying little things along the way. "This happened here" or "That happened there.""

Murri academic Henrietta Fourmile makes a cogent argument for the return of records founded upon the cultural and individual consequences of the history documented in those records. The history is one of disinheritance, disempowerment and ultimately attempted destruction. True restitution and cultural and social reconstruction require the restitution of control over the historical documents. While that control should be shared with those who share the history (in this case with record agencies), Indigenous control must be real and not token. At present Indigenous peoples are almost entirely dependent on non-Indigenous institutions to interpret and disseminate their history. Indigenous peoples need resources and facilities and culturally appropriate avenues to disseminate their history, in particular to their own communities. Indigenous communities must have the information on which to base their retelling of their history. (Fourmile In: Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 1989, pp.1-8.)

This research reinforces the imperative expressed in this extract from the Bringing Them Home report: community-based, community controlled archival systems and services based on a holistic, integrated approach to Koorie archives will best meet the needs of Koorie communities.

  • Holistic archives systems would bring together, physically or virtually, all archives of a community regardless of their source (government, other institutions, Koorie organisations, communities, families) or their form (text-based, multimedia records, oral records).
  • A community-based approach would influence the design of systems and services by modelling community perspectives on records, memory and evidence. A community-based framework would also enable Koorie communities to take responsibility for their own archives.

The fragmented nature of the Koorie collective archive

Participant 22, Stage 1

"One thing I really believe in is keeping places…They had the ones at Healesville, Galeena Beek, like a showing place. It's just a shame how the funding always keeps mucking up."

Participant 31, Stage 1

"There is a great photo exhibition at Bunjilaka that does families from a particular region. It's fantastic. You can go there and say, "I know this one, I know this one." I was with Mum when we first saw it and she said "Oh I've got a story about this". Maybe that's another great way of recording."

Participant 10, Stage 1

"I think if we start seeing the Public Records Office and the Koorie Heritage Trust as being where the servers are and having a network of terminals across the State or maybe a National network down the track with terminals throughout communities rural and remote would be the way to go. … If that kind of idea of an electronic network was the one that eventuated I think there would need to be dedicated positions within Public Records Office or the Heritage Trust of experts who were more or less on the road throughout the State advising and supporting communities about accessing the material. There would need to be some kind of educational position established to deal with that stuff."

Participant 87, Stage 2

"Aboriginal people are huge on storytelling, singing, dancing, rock art. We’ve got a number of forms. But not a lot of communities ever think that Aboriginal records are a part of our history. Well these days they are. It’s one of the last ways we’ve got back for looking into the past, so if we don’t capture this, we’re going to lose how the culture is set up like and all these things."

Participants in stages one and two provide ample evidence of the strength of the impetus within Koorie communities to collect, document and research Koorie experience. Partly as a consequence of the numerous and diverse initiatives to record Koorie experiences over the last fifty years or so, along with the extent of documentation of Koorie lives in archival institutions, Koorie community archives are extremely fragmented. Knowledge of their past has been recorded by many different institutions and individuals, for many different purposes, in various formats. It is now dispersed widely, and the meta-knowledge - who has or knows what, about what or whom - is also fragmented or lost:

  • Institutional records are scattered between the State and Commonwealth government archives and other government agencies, churches and other institutional archives.
  • For much of the twentieth century Koorie communities have been creating written records themselves. Some of these may be in collecting institutions such as the State Library of Victoria, but more are likely to be in private hands in a variety of storage situations. By definition it is difficult to know the extent of this fragmentation. Archival service providers interviewed in stage two of this project provided significant anecdotal evidence of records of co-ops, community celebrations, and organisations such as the Aborigines’ Advancement League for which there are few or no options for management. They also reported that many of these groups are seeking storage options and/or expertise to preserve these records and make them accessible. There is an awareness that these records are vulnerable and a strong interest in preserving them, but few options for this.
  • Audio-recorded oral memory and multi-media records are also dispersed. Over the last fifty years there have been many endeavours to audio-record the stories of Koorie people and more recently there have been various web-based multi-media projects with a similar purpose. For example: Cyberdreaming’s ‘Digital Songlines Environment’ which incorporates internet technologies, computer visualisation and participatory GIS techniques in an interactive system for Indigenous storytelling, and ‘Mission Voices’ is a more conventional and very popular online resource. Some of these have been initiated by Koorie communities and others by a variety of non-Indigenous researchers. In some instances knowledge of these oral history/recording exercises - whether recordings still exist, where they now are and what knowledge they contain - is already lost to the communities or individuals involved. Adequate strategies for the long-term preservation of these resources are often not in place.

Many participants long for the means to bring together records (in all forms) of a Koorie person, family or community, and identify this as a major challenge for their communities and for archival service providers. For some this vision is primarily based on digitisation and interfaces, for others, regional keeping places are needed to enable scattered, poorly managed records to be physically brought together.

Koorie people are not alone in finding their knowledge so dispersed. Rarely in the past has any community been empowered to collect and control its own records. Australian archival endeavours have traditionally been institutionally and jurisdictionally based. Government archives programs operate on legislated mandates which limit their role and responsibilities to government-created records. Collecting programs, such as the manuscripts programs of various public libraries and institutions such as the University of Melbourne Archives, have sought to identify and preserve records of individuals and organisations often based around one or more collection themes or subjects. The Australian archives community is by and large yet to address the challenge of developing programs which recognise the interconnectedness of archives of various provenances. To compound this, other cultural collections such as libraries and museums often also operate on relatively specific jurisdictional, geographical or theme-based rationales. Although the experience of Koorie communities is just one manifestation of a wider problem, the complexities of the relationship between Koorie people and the Australian collective archive - the pervasiveness of recordkeeping in their lives, the resultant variety of records and the relevance of multiple records traditions - make the Australian model of archival services a particularly unhelpful one for Koorie communities.

Disconnected archives are a barrier to access

Participant 86, Stage 2

"just recently a guy came in and they know they’re Aboriginal, they know where they grew up, but they have difficulties with certain parts of the family, trying to unravel that, and they’ve had difficulties finding photographs and all that sort of stuff. And so I’m having to rattle off, “Well you need to go to this place, this place, this place, this place and this place” to even get a hint of where they might be able to find that information. I totally understood their frustration at having to go and do that, because they thought they could just come here and get it all. And for me, that’s what it should be."

The most immediate and pragmatic implication of this fragmentation is the obstacle it presents to access; to knowing what information there is, where it is, and to piecing it together. In relation to institutional records - those written about Indigenous people - the Bringing Them Home report identified the dispersal of records across many organisations and associated problems of red tape as a major barrier to members of the Stolen Generations seeking to find out about their past. The Victorian Koorie Records Taskforce’s wilam naling report, released in 2006, found that, ten years after Bringing Them Home, this is still a major barrier for people wanting to access institutional records about themselves or family members. In Victoria a number of services have been established to support family tracing. For people eligible to use them, these services go some way to providing a ‘one-stop shop’ for accessing key records relating to their family history. However the wilam naling report notes that these services are themselves hindered by the dispersal of records and by related problems of inadequate indexing and cross referencing, inconsistent access regimes and multiple layers of red tape involved in dealing with many institutions. Individuals who cannot, or choose not to, use these services obviously need to negotiate these complexities directly. (Victorian Koorie Records Taskforce, 2006, p.24) and following. wilam naling recommends the establishment of an Information and Referral Service, not to directly provide access to institutional records, but rather to provide a point of coordination between records-holding institutions. Key responsibilities of the Information and Referral Service would be to facilitate the introduction of common access guidelines and to develop memoranda of understanding between Indigenous family tracing service providers and records-holding organisations. (Victorian Koorie Records Taskforce, 2006, p. 37)

The Trust and Technology research supports wilam naling’s findings that the dispersal of records (and related problems of inconsistent access arrangements) is a major obstacle to access to institutional records by individuals seeking to trace their families. This finding could be extended to communities or individuals searching for community history or for evidence of relationship between government institutions and communities. This is not to ignore or diminish the value of the many archival initiatives over the last fifteen years which have aimed at making records more accessible to Indigenous people. However these improvements need to be viewed in the perspective of the ongoing challenge which Indigenous Australians face when they try to engage with the many institutions, policies and procedures positioned between them and their records.

Integrating Koorie knowledge

Participant 35, Stage 1

"The photos tell their own stories. I like looking at photos because it shows what's been there and it depicts what's done. A good example is some of the photos in at Bunjilaka. We've got some of our people in army uniform. If you go down to the War Museum in Canberra you cannot find record of them serving in the army because they weren't an Australian citizen. So the only knowledge you've got that your rellies were in the war or wore a uniform is a photo. So that's different to the written word. … To look at the photos of Lake Condah Mish, the eel traps then and now. Stuff like that. Photos are good memories and they don't alter the truth either where the written word can alter the truth. People can play with written words."

Participant 44, Stage 1

"Whenever we go out bush, Dad always makes a point of taking us past the part of the river where we're not allowed to swim. He tells us the story over and over again. We know it very well. And it's good because we know the place very well and our kids knowing it. … He actually stopped the car and turned the lights off so it was pitch black. Sometimes with young kids he pretends the car has broken down he tells us the story of the goon dog and where it was supposed to be. If we're down in Melbourne he won't tell us because the setting is not correct. It's great when you're there because you hear the story and you can visualise the setting."

When we adopt the broad understanding of the components and sources of Koorie knowledge as proposed in outcome 1 we find a more complex set of imperatives arising from the disconnected and dispersed nature of the Koorie archive. The fragmentation of Koorie knowledge risks (and has undoubtedly already resulted in) loss of knowledge of culture, identity and experience. The dispersal of a community’s archive in a sense mirrors the dispossession and dislocation which has marked the Koorie colonial experience. Bringing together disparate knowledge sources redresses the ongoing impact of the fragmentation of Koorie knowledge.

Further, as already noted, oral memory continues to powerfully convey an understanding of the past and its relevance to the present within Koorie communities. Although Koorie people might rely more on one or the other in specific instances, it is the interplay between recorded (that is, using Western technologies) and oral knowledge that emerges most strikingly from this research. Collectively and often individually, Koorie people engage with both ‘traditional’ and Western knowledge systems to build, maintain and convey narratives of their experience. By bringing together records in a variety of forms, from a range of provenances and from Indigenous and Western frameworks, holistic, community-based archives would give expression to the interconnectedness of knowledge traditions.

An integrated archival model would also provide a framework for many of the other findings of this research to be pursued:

  • for prevailing archival frameworks, rights protocols, systems and technologies to be assessed against the needs of Koorie communities and adopted, modified or abandoned,
  • for communities to take responsibility for their own records including responsibility for records being created now,
  • for communities to make connections between various components of the archive in a manner which expresses their perceptions about trustworthiness and reliability.

Finally, such a model enables knowledge to be linked to place or community. This research has raised a question about the relevance of the physical relationship between knowledge, the various documents or objects in which it is contained, and the place where it is kept. More research is needed to fully understand the extent to which virtual solutions - electronic interfaces which give the appearance of bringing together disparate records - can fully address this need. The issue of virtual ‘space’ is the subject of much contestation. (Johanson, et. all., 2002).

Features of a community-based Koorie archives model

Participant 69, Stage 1

"I don't have a problem with [the Koorie Heritage Trust housing recorded oral memory] but I also think that each community should have their own Keeping Place. I think that the Bringing Them Home support workers should be the ones that look after it … Then we could do joint projects with the KHT where if the local community are happy for a copy to be there, or it could be a project every couple of months or once a year or something like that and you have a day and they bring all their elders and community members there and they can have a day of watching all the information and history. That's a bit of an idea that's come out of my head now. I do think that each community should look after their own as a part of the protocol in their community."

Participant 77, Stage 2

"you can’t really write policies and procedures about these things [seeking permission to use a photo in a display] 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, like you’re asking people you work with who’s related to who and who should I get for Aunty Such-and-Such’s photo? And there’s no central written information on that and with politics in different communities and families, that’s not written down, that’s all … 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 21, Stage 1

"Interviewer: Can you say why you wouldn’t want the Co-op involved [in recording or housing stories]?

Because it’s personal, nothing to do with them."

Participant 94, Stage 2

"You don’t realise how [a community will have an archivist] for 12 months and the funding will go away for another five years and then it will come back in for another 12 months and they’ll just get it all going again and that position goes, because if they’re not ongoing positions, and considered to be ongoing and they have to be kept filled, you’re back to hitting your head up against a brick wall."

Participant 37, Stage 1

"And also so you keep the story as it was supposed to be originally as a story. Get rid of the stuff like "the memory could have been this and this and this". Forget that. Look beyond that at what is being told. This is the person's story, so stop judging them as being forgetful or things like that. Just look at the story. To them it's real."

Participant 90, Stage 2

"Yeah we have to try and lobby, or talk, to get a commitment from government - state and/or federal - for a continuation, because of all the times they’ll say, “Yeah we’ll give you the funding to establish,” but they won’t do the follow-up."

A preliminary list of requirements for holistic, community-based Koorie archives can be drawn from this research, although many aspects of this model need further investigation:

  • A socio-technical model is needed which enables relative, transaction-based application of rights and obligations relating to custody, control and access.
  • The model needs to include options for the storage and preservation of text-based records, photos and audio records created by individuals and organisations. There are currently few options for the preservation of these records, which are outside the jurisdiction of the major archival institutions.
  • There are a range of management and sustainability issues to be addressed including the need for suitably trained and experienced Indigenous staff, developing and sustaining the necessary technical infrastructure and policy environment, ensuring a community-based model is resourced for the long term and does not collapse once its initial funding is exhausted.
  • Further community consultation needs to focus on the contribution of ‘central’ Koorie organisations (for example the Koorie Heritage Trust) and local, community-specific bodies to community-based archives, along with the support which government and other institutions can offer. The issue of trust is again at the heart of these questions. Many participants in the research envisage an approach based on place and community, perhaps building on the heritage centres which already exist in some regions or using the major former missions as a structure for federated community-based archives. However concerns are also expressed about the resources, expertise, politics and family relationships within local structures. Participants also note that the extent of movement of families between missions would mean that families may identify with more than one region or mission.

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Outcome 5: Setting the Record Straight


Participant 32, Stage 1

"Set the record straight. I wouldn't feel too bad about that idea at all. That's one thing that needs to be bloody well done because these bastards have gone way over the fence. No, there needs to be an answer to them …

Interviewer: We're thinking about that sort of way…

To even up the injustices. Put the record straight."

Participant 81, Stage 2

"You can’t touch the records whatsoever. You can get copies… but you can’t rewrite the write."

This section proposes a system - a technology and surrounding policies and protocols - to enable individuals to record their own narratives and link them to records. We refer to this as a Koorie Annotation System. Broadly this proposal supports two major directions of this report:

  • It contributes to the integration of Koorie knowledge,
  • It addresses the strongly expressed desire of Koorie people to be able to challenge the errors or limitations of institutional records.

A Koorie Annotation System as a tool for integrating Koorie knowledge

Participant 57, Stage 1

"Look what I'd like to see when you do these stories and go around and speak to people, that they can actually expand further to it, add to it, what they've heard from me or whoever else. "Oh yes I remember that", and it sparks off their memory, and you can add to it. And so the story gets ongoing and ongoing, so you're just not the only one telling the story."

Central to the proposal for community-based, community managed Koorie archives in the previous section of this report is a recognition of the interrelationship between a variety of sources of Koorie knowledge. This research project began with the premise that Koorie knowledge systems are predominantly oral in nature and Western ones predominantly textual. As our research has progressed we have found this dichotomy inadequate. Orality and text (along with other Western forms) have aspects of each other embedded within them, and participants in this research have provided many examples of the interplay between the two in the building, maintaining and transmitting of Koorie narratives. A Koorie Annotation System gives expression to the interrelationship between all sources of Koorie knowledge. It will therefore enable a Koorie community to build an integrated archive in a way which reflects their own judgements about the relationships between and reliability of ‘official’ and ‘community’ knowledge.

A Koorie Annotation System as a tool for challenging the 'official' record

Participant 64, Stage 1

"That's right, just to put the record straight. “That wasn't the way it happened. This is the way it happened”. People want to pussyfoot around the truth. To know what effect it had on that person. To read something that is incorrect is pretty hard because you know that wasn't the way it happened. If you can have your chance to be heard, then definitely."

The ability to be able to address the errors or limitations of institutional records - to set the record straight – was one of the most loudly and consistently expressed desires of participants in this research. Many interviewees saw value in differing versions of events co-existing and informing each other. However, interviewees generally place greater trust in the oral versions of events told within their family and would like to be able to record these versions alongside the ‘official’ record. Storytelling is dynamic in nature; there are many versions of events, not simply just one ‘official’ version and one family or oral version. Enabling this layering and variety of perspectives to be captured would support the ambit and fluidity of Koorie storytelling.

A right to know, a right of reply

Participant 43, Stage 1

"I know a lot of Aboriginal people get very upset when they look at their files and they look at the words that were used by the social workers of the time, or why people were taken away. And it's just purely from the policies of that era and then if Aboriginal people had a chance to be able to say: ‘It wasn't like that at all. Yes, I was dirty and I didn't have food, but I was well loved and cherished’. So that you get that equal perspective."

Participant 32, Stage 1

"My sister went and got her file from Human Services and she was so upset. She was so upset about the things they said to her. One minute she was winning a prize for being top of her grade and then the next minute she's slow and dumb like the rest of us Aboriginal people. Shocking stuff you know. I said I wouldn't really take notice of it. It's all just tommyrot."

Participant 50, Stage 1

"I think that [facility of adding to records] should be at the forefront of everything. There is always two sides to the story. Unfortunately we live in a society where whoever tells their story first is believed, and the person telling it second is trying to cover up a lie."

The notion that individuals should be able to challenge and correct ‘official’ records about themselves is not new, nor limited to Indigenous Australians. Freedom of Information law embodies the principle that individuals have a right to request that incorrect or misleading information about them be amended or removed from records (although it does not recognise this right in relation to one’s deceased family members). The Bringing Them Home report also recognised the need for people affected by forcible removal to correct information on their file:

People may be entitled to write a statement correcting false information and have the statement put on their file. However no information, even false information, can or should be deleted. There is much value in retaining even false information, as well as derogatory and racist language, so that the true quality of administration can always be understood. (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 1997, Chapter 16.)

The desire to set the record straight is a feature of many post-colonial and/or post-surveillance societies whose citizens subsequently gain access to records about their lives. It is also a recognised component of a ‘right to know’ about past events in the aftermath of instances of human rights violations. The Joinet-Orentlicher principles (and the previous Joinet principles) were adopted in 1997 by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. They are applied in efforts to combat impunity in instances of violations of human rights and/or international humanitarian law. They codify the right to know (along with the right to justice and the right to reparation) and set out a number of principles to support this right. Several of these concern the preservation of, and access to, records. Principle 17 relates to ‘archives containing names’ and includes the following measure:

All persons shall be entitled to know whether their name appears in State archives and, if it does, by virtue of their right of access, to challenge the validity of the information concerning them by exercising a right of reply. The challenged document should include a cross-reference to the document challenging its validity and both must be made available together whenever the former is requested. (United Nations Human Rights Council, 1995 (Joinet-Orentlicher principles))

A system for exercising a 'right of reply'

Participant 9, Stage 1

"if you're viewing stuff right back in the mission days, it's pretty heart wrenching. I'm saying this because I watched a nineteen year old back in the eighties again with Freedom of Information that she obtained and it was just bloody terrible. … She actually got the information and was reading it and I was there. And, My God. … Comments, very judgemental. It wasn't about her, it was about her mother. … her mother had come to the orphanage to access her and it was denied, and she thought her mother didn't want anything to do with her. … When I read that information with the young girl of nineteen, the welfare officer at that time had made his own judgemental view and I would have loved to be able to add: ‘How could anybody say "It looks to me as if she has been with any Tom, Dick or Harry". Hello! How can you?’"

A Koorie Annotation System would enable Koorie people to comment upon the inaccuracies or limitations of institutional records, to contribute family narratives which expand upon or give context to institutional records and to present their version of events alongside the official one. We identify many benefits in such a facility:

  • It offers a powerful way for Koorie communities to limit the ongoing potency of records which have governed their lives. A well designed Koorie Annotation System would reflect the greater trust Koorie people have in non-institutional archives (including oral records) by treating annotative narratives as records in themselves rather than as appended commentaries.
  • It does this without disrupting the context of the original records.
  • It opens up new entry points and ways of engaging with archives.

It has the potential to address the fragmentation of Koorie archives by enabling disparate records to be linked by annotations. Along the way, it does in fact provide a means of archiving some oral memory.

Features of a Koorie Annotation System

Participant 35, Stage 1

"That's why if you put down in written words, it's choosing what's right. And that's why you are better off having videos of people telling the story. And telling it from their heart."

We envisage a web-based system which is separate but linked to other system(s) housing the records available to be annotated (these records will obviously need to be available online). The system would provide:

  • an interface with the records-holding system(s), enabling them to be searched and individual records to be viewed,
  • tools for creating annotations and linking them to specific records housed in the records holding system(s),
  • a means to control access to annotations, probably involving the ability to provide multiple views, or redactions, of an annotation for various individuals and groups,
  • integration into external systems which provide access to the records which have been annotated, so that, where desired, annotations and annotated records are displayed together.

Socio-technical and socio-legal issues

Participant 62, Stage 1

"it goes back to defining what you want to use it for would really determine who has right of access … those who contribute to it should ultimately have access to it. But in terms of broader access and who wants to be able to use it, those sorts of things need to be clearly defined up front. What does it mean when I depart this world. There could be sensitive information that could harm or upset people. So we must be really clear about what we're using it for, who gets access to it and who should have access to it, and what purpose they can use it for."

Participant 49, Stage 1

"Interviewer: Do you think there might be also community stories that might be restricted on the basis of gender or age?

I guess that might be possible, but I couldn't really see somebody committing a story [like that] to tape."

Participant 51, Stage 1

"Interviewer: Any other sorts of separations, maybe to do with gender, men's business and women's business or is that not so obvious?

No not in such an organised way. Not like initiations and that sort of thing. More of a social thing."

Participant 83, Stage 2

"I actually think you’re going to have a lot of problems with defining community and that thing about who belongs to which community, sometimes it’s about who’s actually got the power balance in communities and who’s excluded. And to me something like this should be for everyone, so I think it’s going to be really hard to work that out in an equitable way … the idea of it is actually really great, but the reality of it is it’s actually got a lot of issues which are really… I mean we haven’t solved them yet so, you know, how can you do that?"

Participant 37, Stage 1

"[When oral history is written down or audio-recorded] You lose the emotion because when you look at people you can feel how they feel. You can see how that affected them. When you write it down you can't see that. All you see is facts. So with Aboriginal history and culture you need to see their emotion and you need to see their reaction for you to feel it. So you do lose that part of it."

Participant 40, Stage 1

"I think the Koorie Heritage Trust would be good [for keeping recorded stories] because if you've got a big family, they'd start fighting over it and someone would move and they'd end up losing it. So at least it's there and then your family can have access."

Participant 10, Stage 1

"Well if it was in Victoria I'd expect an organisation like the Koorie Heritage Trust to come and do it and I don't think I'd be giving my information away to anybody else. If there was an approach made from Aboriginal Affairs Victoria, I think I'd say "See ya"."

Participant 36, Stage 1

"Now the story of Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson: the story that comes down through the Aboriginal line is that these people tried to go over the Blue Mountains at the same time every year, ceremony time, so they weren't allowed to go through. At the final attempt they went at a different time of the year, so the Aboriginals allowed them. So they ‘discovered’ the Blue Mountains. Of course they couldn't go through when it was ceremony. They went at a different time of the year, they were allowed to go through. Everything is about discovering. They didn't discover anything. Never did it on their own. They would never have survived on their own. Yes, it is very important to have it done [record other versions]. The real story."

Participant 44, Stage 1

"We often hear the same person's story over and over and there are hundreds of us out there with our own individual story."

There are several issues to be considered or researched further in the development of a Koorie Annotation System:

Ownership of intellectual property in the annotations. It will be essential to ensure that individuals or communities retain intellectual property rights in the annotations they contribute, particularly at the point that the annotations are integrated into external records holding systems. Under copyright law annotations are likely to be considered new material rather than a transforming of an original work, which opens the door for licensing and assignment of rights by annotators. Individual contributors of annotations could adopt open content licensing systems such as ‘creative commons’ designed for use by creators who wish to allow, or even promote, the distribution or transformation of their works as long as an acknowledgement is given to all authors in a community.

Management of complex rights for the creation of and access to annotations. See Appendix 1b Attitudes to Access and Privacy for more discussion of this.

The extent of moderation and quality control to be applied to the annotation system. Clearly no-one would want the system to be the locale for offensive annotations. Less clearly, the more the system seeks to give rights and responsibilities to annotators the greater the room for dispute about the appropriateness of annotations. Stage one interviewees were asked about what would happen if various members of their family recorded conflicting versions of a story (again in the general context of recording stories, not specifically in relation to an annotation system). The vast majority acknowledged that this could happen but saw no need to try to avoid it, believing that differing opinions and versions of events could be respected and held in tension. On the other hand, a few interviewees, notably some stage two participants with experience in mediating rights management issues within communities, were wary of these issues, with some expressing a concern that an annotation system could become the source or locus of family or community strife. It would be helpful to explore this issue further, perhaps using some fictitious scenarios, to ensure that both system designers and Koorie representatives have thought through the implications of allowing multiple voices to be recorded. The experiences of other online communities would also be relevant.

Sustainability and management of the system. Neither Koorie people nor archival service providers consider a government archival institution to be an appropriate host for such a system. For Koorie people this is linked to trust and arises from experiences such as the Yorta Yorta native title case (in which both government records and voluntarily-provided oral history were used against the Yorta Yorta community).

Key Public Record Office staff express an interest in incorporating relevant information from external sources into PROV’s archival control system, and recognise the potential for their system to include annotative records. However they identify technical, resource and policy objections to pursuing this to any significant extent.

There is a case to be made for community/location specific implementations of an annotation system so that in each instance the system can be managed and used in accordance with that community’s preferences and so that the annotation system becomes a site of community knowledge. As noted in the previous section of this report there is also a relationship between archive and place which needs to be explored further but which suggests a preference for community-based control. The challenge of this proposal is to make community-based annotation systems sustainable in the long term and there is a clear role for a ‘central’ Koorie organisation such as the Koorie Heritage Trust in matters such as ongoing system development, training users and sustaining relationships with records holding agencies.

Trust again emerges as the key to the level of acceptance of such a system. The individuals involved in introducing the system need to be known and trusted, and this takes time. Further, the policies and processes surrounding rights management need to be trusted: Who owns an annotation? What rights does the owner have in relation to access to and use of an annotation? How are these rights (technically, legally) guaranteed?

Many mediators and clients also highlight that in any instance when people engage with potentially distressing records, including the process of setting the record straight, they need to be supported by people they trust to help them understand and contextualise what they are reading and, if necessary to facilitate counselling. There must be human interaction, not just an individual using technology.

View the specification for a Koorie Annotation System (pdf, 419kb).