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).
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 now known as Keeping Culture KMS.
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 instructed that these cultural priorities be integrated into the design of the 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.
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 and Rightside Response called Ara Winki: Life on the Pitjantjatjara Lands is an example of how Anangu prefer to share information.