In early August this year (2023)CNTA collaborated with the Anthropological Society of Western Australia (ASWA) to run a one day workshop at St Catherine’s College titled

Creating the Archive, Reading the Archive, Reproducing the Archive: A symposium on documents, their production and their use in Heritage, Native Title, and Community Development.

This was the first post-covid event and was well attended with 32 ASWA and non-ASWA people attending, plus presenters. Collaborations are key to us offering relevant and stimulating material for our members, enabling us to grow our memberships.

The attendance of two CNTA directors helped to give the event further gravitas, given we are all so far from the east coast with the rising costs of travel limiting our involvement in east coast events..

Themes discussed included:

  • Methodological issues in qualitative heritage surveys.
  • Cultural change and customary traditions in heritage assessments.
  • Use of documents in the context of orally inherited traditional knowledge.
  • Practitioners’ circumstances dealing with Indigenous politics among groups and individuals.
  • The need to deal with Archives, including the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Inquiry System as a socially produced artefact with similar strengths and weaknesses as other archives. The contents of the ACHIS needs to be critically assessed.

These themes allowed for thought provoking presentations and discussion around heritage, native title and broader research issues (including Aboriginal stolen wages). From ASWA’s perspective, those attending appeared to really enjoy the collegial and warm atmosphere. Since anthropologists often spend time on our own, it was great to see everyone share their experiences and work.

ASWA-CNTA Symposium:

Creating the Archive, Reading the Archive, Reproducing the Archive: A symposium on documents, their production and their use in Heritage, Native Title, and Community Development.

Documents have been part of the human story since the invention of writing and are ubiquitous in modern societies in hard copy and/or digital form often encompassing the minutiae of people’s lives and their encounters with social agencies. This is particularly true of indigenous peoples whose lives in the past have been tightly controlled. Official documents are regularly used in social research, though as Garfinkel (1965) and other researchers highlight, are not without inherent problems. Anthropologists, folklorists and others have historically documented oral traditions from societies without written records and currently engage with changes and adaptations in those societies that arise in part through engagement with archival resources. Ethnographers regularly produce fieldnotes and other “texts of the field”, which in turn are essential sources for other researchers, particularly in native title settings.

However, reading fieldnotes and other “texts of the field”, is problematic as they always have a liminal multi-vocal quality while at the same time, as ethnographers such as Sanjek (1990) point out, are always fragmentary, incomplete, inconsistent and contradictory. Indigenous peoples are increasingly turning to State, ethnographic and other archives which often are the source of both revelatory information and emotional distress. Archives can potentially facilitate connection with ancestral lives and create healing narratives to redress traumatic pasts. Archives may also be weaponised in intra- and inter-community conflict. There is now an ongoing process to repatriate archives to indigenous communities.

In this symposium we seek to critically evaluate the creation of archives and their use in heritage, native title and other social research, as well as their use by indigenous and other people in connecting with the past and creating narratives for the present.