Registering Victorian Aboriginal Object Collections
Over three years, volunteers from Dunkeld Museum worked with local Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs) of the Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung traditional owners, Aboriginal Affairs Victoria (AAV) and the Goldfields Community Museum Program to register their Aboriginal object collection.
As well as ensuring that Dunkeld Museum met its legal obligations under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006, registering the collection improved interpretation and presentation of the collection, provided greater access to it and fostered a partnership between the museum and traditional owners.
This video and the Registering Aboriginal Artefacts with Aboriginal Affairs Victoria text, provide a case study and step-by-step guide on registering indigenous artefacts and precious objects with AAV.
NARRATOR: This video has been designed to give regional and community museums, their employees, volunteers, volunteer organizations, and the general public a simple step-by-step guide on how to careful and register Aboriginal objects and artifacts with Aboriginal Affairs Victoria, or AAV.
AAV maintains the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Register, which records information about aboriginal cultural heritage places and collections in Victoria. Many community museums are custodians of significant Victorian aboriginal objects and artifacts, and are staffed almost entirely by volunteers. It's therefore important to ensure these objects are cataloged and registered in a uniform way to give increased access to collections, both to Aboriginal people and to the broader community.
This will ensure that essential information is collected, and also allow for a greater understanding of the significance of these objects and the stories that surround them. It's also important to reestablish the connection between Aboriginal people and these collections.
-And if you were near another boundary, say the Gunditjmara and Djab wurrung boundary, the Djab wurrung would use this to let them know that, well, we're in the vicinity. And if they want to cross, they would have to have the message stick to go with it.
NARRATOR: It is required by law to have these aboriginal objects and artifacts registered with AAV under the Aboriginal Heritage Act of 2006, a law with straightforward objectives, to recognize, protect, and conserve Aboriginal cultural heritage objects in ways that are based on respect for Aboriginal knowledge and cultural practice, to recognize Aboriginal people as the primary knowledge holders of Aboriginal cultural heritage, and to give traditional owners appropriate status in protecting those heritage object.
To best achieve these goals in relation to collections of Aboriginal objects and artifacts, it's important to form new collaborations and partnerships to increase opportunities for learning and growth, to manage collections and access the results as and skills to insure collections are properly maintained, and to identify and present the important stories surrounding these significant objects and collections. It's important that aboriginal people are the ones to tell these stories.
-The partnership between the community museum and traditional owners is really important. Because we can't work in isolation. If we want to tell a story, then everyone's got to contribute to it. The traditional owners contribute to it. The museum can contribute to it by sharing that information, being open about what's being held in museum collections. We all bring other information. So it's just that we get a better story.
It's about the story and how can we make it a really good story. And it's about bringing in people who have connection to it, the artifacts. And it's traditional owner has a very important connection to it. I mean, these artifacts tell of our ancestors and what they were doing at that time, and how they were making things. And that's really important. It tells us about occupation. It tells us about connection.
A lot of these artifacts now are held in local museums. And it's about let's not keep them at the back of the museum. Let's put them at the front of the museum and tell this great, great story. I think for too long things have been locked away from us as Aboriginal people, as traditional owners. And it's not about us wanting to take it all back. It's about us just wanting to know where it is and what it is, and being part of that process about protecting and preserving them. And I don't have to own it to do that.
-Well, the Dunkeld Museum contacted us after they had actually already been in touch with Gunditjmara people for a bit of further advice about to go about cataloging and getting the collection they have here registered with us. And we also put them on to Tim Chatfield at Martang who's the Djab wurrung representative body because they also have an interest in this area.
And between us, we set up a program. We had staff coming down once a week. And it was a relatively lengthy process. We organized it so staff would come down once a week, identify the artifacts one by one, photograph them, catalog, document the characteristics, and so on.
And we had Gundijtmara and Martang people involved in some of that process as well, which, from my point of view, that's one of the most important aspects of this whole process, is to ensure that the traditional owners get engaged in the process, and in fact, probably drive it as far as possible. Our role at Aboriginal Affairs Victoria is more of an administrative one to keep a record of things, to uphold the legislation, and to sort of facilitate the traditional owners being involved in the whole thing.
-So first it would be to ring Aboriginal Affairs Victoria. From there, we could arrange someone from the region to possibly come in and visit the museum. From there, once we've established that it is an Aboriginal collection, we can pretty much start the cataloging and recording process of those items.
Once we've completed that process, we can pretty much fill out the forms for the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage register. And we can submit the forms with the catalog attached to that. And from there, that will be a recorded collection.
-It's not about taking the objects. It's not about taking control of the objects or the artifacts. It's about making sure that information is available to as many people as it should be. Their access to the information on Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Registry is restricted to certain categories of people. So for instance, registered Aboriginal parties who generally represent traditional owners can access that information about their country. The Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Counsel can access it.
State government employees in relation to land management can access that information, so for instance, Parks Victoria have a responsibility to manage a lot of Aboriginal cultural heritage places in their parks. They need to know that information. They need access to that database. But it is restricted to those particular categories of people.
-Our organization, the Gunditj Mirring Corporation, operates as a RAP in the far southwest of Victoria. We cover an area along the coast to Tyrendarra, up to Hamilton, and around the Victoria Valley, and then up to Edenhope. What a RAP is is a registered Aboriginal party that looks after the cultural heritage in a particular area.
The activities that we do as a RAP is to assist in the development of cultural heritage management plans. We send our community members out as site workers to inspect localities and places for cultural heritage objects, and also the cultural heritage theme of a place. So we do that kind of work. We with the heritage advisors who are appointed by land developers and government agencies, who want to do developments over a particular area. And what we do is assist that.
If you or your family have an Aboriginal heritage object in your possession, and you know, you might have had it for a long time, it's important to care for it, especially if it's wood or if it's fiber. Maybe it's a woven basket. It's important to care for it. And there's a variety of ways you can care for it or get the advice to care for it. You can contact you registered Aboriginal party in your area. You can contact your local museum. You can contact Museum Victoria, or another place, the Koorie Heritage Trust. They'll give you advice about how to care for wooden heritage objects, and also woven heritage objects.
People might be uneasy about letting other people know, or authorities know, about the heritage objects that you have. But you need to let people know. Because without it, we lose that heritage. And we lose that knowledge. So it's important to let people know what you do have and how to care for it, and that it's registered somewhere. And it's important that you legally have it. Because that way, you don't lose it.
In Victoria, we have very detailed legislation about the care and maintenance of Aboriginal heritage objects, and you know, the obligations that institutions, or individuals, or families have in caring for that. So you need to do your research. You need to get online. There's a vast amount of information online for you to investigate yourself about what you need, and also the contacts for the professionals that you need to talk to about caring for the Aboriginal heritage object that you have in your possession.
NARRATOR: The process of identification, labeling, recording, and cataloging of all Aboriginal objects to Victorian state government and national standards for Australian museums and galleries is critical for all Australians for the interpretation, access, and education of all communities, both now and for the future.
-I think the Dunkeld Museum are very happy with the outcome that we have achieved. The process isn't finished yet. And there isn't necessarily a final point. Because there will be continued interaction between the museum and Gunditjmara and Djab wurrung people. So in a sense, it's perhaps the beginning of another process as well. But generally I think no, the Dunkeld Museum is quite happy with the way things have worked out and with the registration process.