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Overview
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Overview

Beginnings

Over the last century, many visitors to the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara lands in Central Australia collected and permanently removed artefacts, photographs, film footage and sound recordings. While some of these materials were filed away in the archives of public institutions, others were ‘lost’ in family photo albums or packed away in old suitcases and boxes. Many of these materials are of great importance to Anangu (Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people).

Tracks

Ara Irititja (‘stories from a long time ago’) officially commenced in 1994 to repatriate ‘lost’ material for Anangu. By 2015, Ara Irititja has tracked down hundreds of thousands of historical and cultural items and makes them available to Anangu through the archive.

Building a Digital Archive

Harsh environmental conditions make it inappropriate for fragile materials to be physically returned to Anangu communities. Consequently, all items are digitally returned using a purpose-built knowledge management software - Ara Irititja KMS.

Cultural Issues

Anangu are passionate about protecting their archival past, accessing it today and securing it for future generations. Anangu have managed complex cultural information systems for thousands of years, restricting access to some knowledge on the basis of seniority and gender. Ara Irititja has integrated these cultural priorities into the design of its digital archive.

Remote and Rugged

Ara Irititja digital archives are in Anangu communities in South Australia, Northern Territory and Western Australia. Anangu navigate the digital archive, write in information, stories and reflections, and use passwords to restrict access to specific items.

Sharing information

In the past, Anangu were photographed and their knowledge recorded and published without any negotiation. Today, Anangu are careful to determine how their history and culture are presented to the world-wide audience. The multimedia interactive program created by Ara Irititja called Ara Winki: Life on the Pitjantjatjara Lands is an example of how Anangu prefer to share information.

Why is Ara Irititja important?

Today I am thinking about why Ara Irititja is important. It is important for all our people, throughout the west, east, north and south to see their own history — for children, teenagers, young and old people, men and women to see and hear about their past.

Missionaries, explorers and others recorded and photographed the lives of the people and took these records away. Ara Irititja makes it possible to bring the history back home where it belongs. To have Ara Irititja in our communities helps keep the past in the present and helps keep our culture strong. It is important to link future generations through Ara Irititja to generations past.

Today we live in the computer technology time. The computer has a huge brain and is very clever. It can hide things if necessary, and then bring them back later. The Ara Irititja computer is clever like a dingo.

Wilton Foster, OAM
Chairman, Pitjantjatjara Council
21 March 2005.

Wilton Foster at Government House, Adelaide, on the day he received his Medal of the Order of Australia. 10 June 1994. Maggie Kavanagh/Olivia Colin collection.