I am a student of the Masters of Arts (MA) in Information and Knowledge Management at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). After Kirsten Thorpe, Manager Indigenous Services Branch, gave an inspiring talk to a class group in which I was participating, I contacted her to let her know that I was interested the Library's work with Aboriginal languages. Kirsten invited me to come to the Library to complete an internship with her team.
For my introduction to the work of the Indigenous Services Branch, I contributed to a project that was already underway by matching three different standards of language description to each other for almost 400 Australian language names. These standards will be used in a repository containing materials related to many different languages, and will help to establish and maintain relationships between different materials. This experience gave me a sense of the variety of Australian languages.
The greatest time during my internship was spent working with records of Aboriginal language place names made around 1899-1903 by representatives of the Royal Anthropological Society of Australasia. These records include information about Australian places known by Aboriginal names and about the meanings of those names. My role was to confirm the locations of the places and to create coordinates for them. In a collaboration between the Indigenous Services Branch and the Library’s DX Lab, these coordinates were subsequently used by Creative Technologist Chris McDowall to create a dynamic webpage where the places can be seen on a map.
The place names often suggest fascinating stories, and it was also interesting to discover some of the changes that have occurred through language and place during the course of recent history. Many of these records contain conflicted and even offensive perspectives, which it has been possible to update. By creating new ways to share the knowledge contained in the records, some place names might be properly restored to places, and in the process some intellectual and spiritual landscape property might also be restored to Aboriginal people. In time, additional perspectives might be added to enrich those provided by the records, both from alternative written records and also from community sources. While I worked to locate these places I became much more aware of the intricacies of the Australian landscape, in terms of its formations, but much more importantly of those people who have inhabited this Country, who have been dispossessed of their land.
During my time as an intern, I also helped to transfer materials to do with the Stolen Generations from a website to library hard drives so that they can be added to library collections. These materials are interviews given by people who were taken as children about the devastating effects of their experiences on their lives. Encountering these materials gave me a sense of the destructive intentions and outcomes of the policies of the separation of children from their families. I also read a government report that was recommended to me on the legal arrangements that were used to justify the removal of children from their families, called “Securing the Truth”. When these interviews are added to the collections at the State Library they will be preserved for future generations to encounter, and to discover the meaning of these events through the testimonies of people who endured them.
Finally, I had an opportunity to work with describing some original photographs taken by anthropologist Frederick G. Rose in a way that will make them more accessible for people in the future. The photographs were taken in 1962 of people who lived at Angas Downs near Alice Springs, and have been generously donated to the Library. My task was to find the names of the people who were in the photographs by their appearances in “Wind of Change”, a book written by Rose. During this process I received advice on descriptive fields from Ronald Briggs and feedback on photograph description from Melissa Jackson, who are both Librarians at the Indigenous Services Branch, and who helped me to gain understanding of the materials. As I worked with the photographs I developed a sense of connection with the people in them, as though they were speaking to me, and I felt a sense of wonder at the voices I heard. At the same time I learned to understand that I can never truly know those people through their photographs. I hope that in future others will have an opportunity to experience the senses of both discovery and respect that I felt while encountering the photographs.
Completing an internship with the Indigenous Services Branch of the State Library of New South Wales was an enlightening educational experience for me, which provided me with a new perspective on Australia. I also learned about the role of libraries not only in preserving the past but also in liberating valuable knowledge from limitations of the past and introducing it to the future. Spending time with the team at Indigenous Services has been a rewarding privilege and it has been possible for me to continue working with them as a volunteer. I’m looking forward to future learning experiences with them through assisting with their work.
Landing page image "Ballowrie" copyright by Marc Smith 2016, all rights reserved.
The image has been inspired by the Library's Indigenous language collection.
Original version includes design motifs that I intended to emphasise what I saw as being the most arresting colours and shapes of the plants, and painted digitally to suggest the digital movements in libraries now.
For more information on the work of the Indigenous Services team at the Library visit the Indigenous Services page.
Indigenous Services Branch State Library of NSW, DXLab State Library of NSW, & McDowall, C. (2016). Weemala. Sydney, NSW: State Library of NSW.
New South Wales Government. (1998). Securing the Truth. Sydney, NSW: Department of Aboriginal Affairs.
Retrieved from https://www.aboriginalaffairs.nsw.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/securing_the_truth.pdf
Rose, F. G. G. (1965). The Wind of Change in Central Australia. Berlin: Akad.-Verlag.
Survey forms and correspondence received by the Royal Anthropological Society of Australasia regarding Aboriginal place names, 1899-1903. Sydney, NSW: State Library of NSW. Retrieved from