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Tuesday 20 November 2012

Ways of seeing: collections, stories, language and place #ndf2012

Ways of seeing: collections, stories, language and place
Eleanor Whitworth, Arts Victoria
Culture Victoria has worked closely with indigenous communities to share indigenous cultural material and stories. The indigenous culture theme is one of the most visited sections on the Culture Victoria website. When we implemented the ‘browse our content by location’ search function, we thought carefully about the implications for representing indigenous content.
Language is not a sole determiner of personal heritage, but it is a significant one. Unlike New Zealand, where Māori is an official language, Australia currently has around 150 indigenous languages; none are official, and most are under threat. As Aboriginal communities identify connection to country and culture via language group, mapping our indigenous material to a single point that referenced a Western place name would have been grossly insufficient.
This presentation will cover our partnership with the Koorie Heritage Trust to map our content to the widely recognised 38 language regions in Victoria, including the decisions we made on representing borders and dealing with multiple spellings. The presentation will also provide examples of the power of cultural collections to foster connection and collaboration between museums and traditional owners; support intangible heritage; and link objects with stories and place.

Starts asking "Where are you from?" and plays clip YouTube clip Jimmy Little Yorta Yorta man

Eleanor would answer with a point; Jimmy with an area. She'd see the country as divided into large chunks and needs a point to give specificity; he'd see it as collection of language areas:

Culture Victoria has collections and stories. Group stories under broad themes; link stories; search stories by location.

Collaboration with Koorie Heritage Trust. Each artwork accompanied by story, noting storyteller and language group. Language groups are strong identifiers for place so logical to extend browse-by-location function to include language groups. Used Gazetteer of Australian Placenames to help mapping - pragmatic but not always optimal as pinpoints area by geographic centre. Language groups aren't point, they're areas.

Problem #1: borders. This project is a "Victoria" project but this isn't how indigenous people would see the area. Decided to include 38 groups that broadly overlap state of Victoria.

Problem #2: borders. How to determine areas of language groups? They change! Looked at three maps - interesting that over time they seem to become less detailed. Decided not to show visible borders - seemed best way to acknowledge fluidity. But still needed to determine for purposes of database/searching. Used maps, created polygons to overlay on map. Sometimes had to go by eye. Sent lat/long data to someone to create the polygon on the map. Some regions overlap a little, or a lot. Checked, refined.

Also had to consider spelling variants - phonetic interpretations. Some identify with one or another so system had to cope with all.

At the moment can only search by location but hope to add search by language group.

Did this exercise because had something to attach to the mapping: the stories.

Look at the stories on the website (eg the possum skin cloaks - which skins were from New Zealand as illegal to kill possums in Australia whereas encouraged here...)

Q: Can you tell us about the consultation you did?
A: Koorie Heritage Trust is made up largely of Aboriginal people - close relationship with communities. Lots of discussion about shapes as very sensitive, but mostly driven by community.

Q: Very Western structured presentation on website cf traditional storytelling cycle.
A: Some limits due to funding. But it's the content that's the cycle - the story circles around. This conference has raised questions of how you present data, present linking systems, in an interface that's fluid and flexible - emerging technologies. Definitely aim to increase interactivity.