Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Koori Mail delivers for online research

Interesting timing that just when the digitisation program of AIATSIS (which is part of its legislated function of collecting, preserving and making accessible its collections) got defunded and the organisation had to go into the red with its budget to extend the program for another six months, this wonderful resource has become available. I'm talking about the Koori Mail, an icon of the news media for Indigenous Australians. Twenty years worth of the publication encompassing 35,000 pages have been digitised, thus enabling searching on personal names, subjects, clan names, etc. This is bound to be a great resource for Indigenous Australians and those doing research on Indigenous Australia. To start searching stories on your mob follow the link.
Koori Mail Collection Online

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

A disgrace and kick in the teeth for Indigenous Australian Studies

It is an absolute disgrace that the world’s leading research, collecting and publishing institution in the field of Australian Indigenous studies is forced to beg for philanthropic input to enable it to function after almost 10 years of NO increase in their budget appropriation from government. Just another kick in the teeth for Indigenous Australians: 
" Consolidating and elevating the profile, reputation and authority of AIATSIS through a strategic approach to its external communications and stakeholder relations activities. This planning  would include review of options for philanthropic support and for increasing opportunities to undertake consultancy activity." pg 90 AIATSIS Resources and planned performance

Short term reprieve for digitisation program AIATSIS

It's official!! Tonight's budget statement for AIATSIS confirms that AIATSIS will be allowed to carry a deficit over the 2011-2012 financial year to enable a six month extension to their digitisation program:

"Funding for the digitisation program terminates on 30 June 2011, and the Finance Minister has approved an operating loss for AIATSIS to continue digitisation in 2011-12. Digitisation has been occurring to preserve Commonwealth cultural heritage materials in the face of identified deadlines for the disintegration of analogue magnetic tape collections. The temperature and humidity controlled vaults housing the collections and rare  books can only slow the deterioration process, not reverse it. In addition the equipment to play certain formats of archival material  is  rapidly  becoming  unavailable. Given  the  current  rate  of  obsolescence  in analogue and other dated technologies, AIATSIS has a maximum period of 15 years to digitise this material. Further funding beyond 2011-12 would be needed to continue digitisation at current levels."Pg 88-89 AIATSIS Agency Resources & planned performance
Of course this isn't good enough. At a time when the Treasurer Wayne Swan is making jobs the centrepiece of the budget he and the government are being highly selective about how this is applied. If you are a public servant (no doubt who will be at the forefront of delivering services relating to the increased expenditure in mental health) or working in an Indigenous organisation or if you are an Indigenous Australian it doesn't bode well for you in terms of jobs. The short term reprieve to the 37 staff at AIATSIS who would be out of a job come 30 June 2011 will now occur at the end of December 2011. And hopefully the deterioration of frail audio and video material will be contained until AIATSIS can manage to secure further funds after December 2011. 

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Destruction and loss of Australia's Cultural Heritage


AIATSIS (the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies) has recently been advised that the archiving, preservation and access functions of their collections will not be funded out of this years budget. 
The AIATSIS Collections (Audiovisual Archive and Library) hold the world's most important collection of audiovisual ( moving image, recorded sound and photographic) and print (unpublished manuscripts, rare books, Indigenous Australian language items, community newsletters, etc) materials relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, cultures and histories dating back to the late 1800s.
In many cases these collections are the only place in the world where you will find a recording of a no longer spoken Australian language, film footage of ceremonies that are no longer practiced, an ancestor’s photograph, or stories of how life was before today that have been orally transmitted for as long as 60,000 years. A large proportion of these materials are unpublished, unique and irreplaceable. They are priceless to the Indigenous Australian communities which they describe and to all Australians and the world as a record of our long history and cultural heritage. Materials are digitised to ensure their safety and longevity and to migrate the information onto the latest technologies so that it remains accessible for future generations of Australians and the world human family.

  • Complete loss of unique Australian cultural heritage as significant parts of the collections will not be digitised in time and thus become permanently inaccessible.  Given the current rate of obsolescence in analogue and other dated technologies, AIATSIS has a maximum period of 15 years to digitise this material 
  • The loss of approximately 35 jobs, many of which are held by Indigenous Australians. AIATSIS is the second largest employer of Indigenous Australians in the Australian Public Service. These employees are already some of the lowest paid workers for their level in the Australian Public Service.
  • Loss of expertise within the organisation and in Australia in relation to best practice standards for the handling and preservation of Indigenous Australian materials. Many museums, libraries, cultural centres, Indigenous knowledge centres and Indigenous keeping places rely on this expertise for looking after their own collections.
  • Loss of dedicated staff who have been trained in the specialist techniques required for working in this area. Some have been employed on this program for the last 8 years. The effort that has been placed in training these staff will have been a waste for AIATSIS.
  • The demise of the ROMTIC (Return of Materials to Indigenous Communities) program. This program enables Indigenous Australians to request (at no cost) 20 items from the audiovisual collection that deals with their family, language or country.
  • Ongoing high stress levels for staff who now have to concentrate on trying to get a job as opposed to 'getting on with their jobs'. For those that remain it will mean increasingly doing more with less and at a point in time when they are already working beyond capacity.
  • It flies in the face of government aims espoused in relation to the 'Closing the Gap' strategy.
  • Ultimately, it is the clients of AIATSIS who will be impacted on the most, whether they be Indigenous Australians trying to find ways to connect with their family history, language and culture, whether its a film maker wishing to use archival material to tell a story about the First Australians, whether they be scholars researching an Indigenous Australian topic, Government policy makers seeking advice or the ordinary Australians who wish to know more about the long history of the country that they live in.
What can you do?
Email, write, fax or telephone your local Member of Parliament and tell them what a great loss to Australia and the world it would be to loose these important cultural materials. Ask them to reinstate the program and more importantly to fund it as as part of the core business of AIATSIS, which is in keeping with its legislative function. Click on the page link for a sample letter.

How do you find your electorate and local member?
Click on the link on the right hand side of this page.