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hold the world's most important collection of audiovisual ( moving image, recorded sound and photographic) and print (unpublished manuscripts, rare books, Indigenous Australian language items, community newsletters, etc) materials relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,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 A large proportion of these materials are unpublished, unique and irreplaceable.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.


  1. Can you provide any specific information on what has been said to AIATSIS, and by whom, in regards to these cuts? Is anything in writing?

  2. DIISR (Dept of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) who funds this program advised AIATSIS that this program would not be funded. AIATSIS has had to go to the extreme measures of having to put in a submission to the Dept of Finance to dip into reserves to keep the program going for a year, in which time they hope to be self funding.

  3. Check out the following link