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MAGNT & NFSA work with TO’s on digital access

Traditional Owner Allan Drover and Aboriginal Heritage Officer Winston Green at the Strehlow Research Centre. (Image: Chloe Erlich).

Rhiannon Clarke, Alice Springs welcomes new studio to preserve Central Australian ceremonial history, National Indigenous Times, 27 April 2023

Alice Springs has welcomed a new digital studio provided by The National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) in the light of the ‘Digitisation Project’.

The new studio will provide Traditional Owners of Central Australian Communities access to Indigenous stories, songs and ceremonies, whilst also creating a culturally safe space for traditional owners to access their material.

An appropriate location has been chosen for the studio to call home within The Strehlow Research Centre at the Museum of Central Australia.

Professor TGH Strehlow dedicated four decades of his life recording the ceremonial customs and traditions of Central Australian Aboriginal communities from 1932 through to the mid-1970s.

The unique Strehlow Research Centre has the most important collections relating to Indigenous ceremonial life in the world.

It contains an impressive collection of film, audio, maps, photographs, genealogies, diaries and sacred objects from Central Australian communities.

Included are more than 400 reels of 16mm film and over 1000 audio recordings representing more than 800 ceremonial acts and 150 hours of language, stories and songs.

However, in 1990 the films and audio recordings were stored in Canberra’s NFSA, kept in restricted, environmentally controlled vaults to limit deterioration.

In recent years a collaborative effort between Traditional owners, NFSA and Strehlow Research has now digitised and preserved all footage and recordings.

The films and audios contain revitalising, cultural practices and languages that can lead to intergenerational knowledge sharing and learning on country.

“Some of this knowledge hasn’t been passed down to young people, but now we have access to strengthen culture and keep it going,” Aboriginal heritage office, Strehlow Research Center and proud Arrernte Man Franky Gorey said.

While a significant part of the collection relates to ‘men’s-only’ sacred and secret ceremonies.

Senior men were brought in to ensure safety protocols were developed with the undertaking digitisation of the material at the NFSA facilities.

“The Strehlow Project is a demonstration of the unique intersection between First Nations knowledge and 21st-century technology,” said Patrick McIntyre, the NFSA’s CEO.

“Preservation and access are critical issues for Indigenous communities and archives all over the world.”

“We’re delighted to have worked with the Traditional Owners and the Strehlow Research Centre as part of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT).”

“To have established protocols and pathways that will protect this collection and facilitate on Country access to it for years to come.”

The NFSA will continue to provide ongoing support and training to the Aboriginal Heritage Officers from the Strehlow Research Centre.

Lessons will be provided in audiovisual conservation, preservation, digitisation, archiving and digital access, with a commitment to creating professional skills expansion and continued opportunities.

Chair of the Strehlow Research Board and proud Alyawerre man said Michael Liddle said technology has played a key role in the project.

“The use of technology is critical to preserve cultural practices from a variety of language groups in Central Australia, deepening our connection to Country,” he said.

“The Strehlow Research Centre is grateful for the invaluable support the NFSA has provided throughout this project.

“It is so exciting for all of the SRC Heritage team to reach this important milestone where senior men can access the material visually.

“And work with MAGNT’s Aboriginal Heritage team in the studio to archive these recordings for future generations to access.”