Creating digital keeping places with Ara Irititja

Creating digital keeping places
with Ara Irititja
John Geijsman, State Library of Western Australia
Storylines noun /staw-ree-lynes/
1: An online archive of Western Australian Aboriginal heritage material designed to
repatriate and reinterpret SLWA collections, particularly photographs.
2: A network of community-run digital keeping places for local heritage materials
including secret and sacred material.
“Work in partnership with
Aboriginal people to
collect and restore
community memory,
and create literacy and
learning opportunities.”
(Flash enabled devices and computers only)
SLWA Strategic Directions 2013-17
Why do we need Storylines?
Aboriginal access to heritage materials was previously restricted by physical
and cultural barriers.
Library collections contain inherited institutional and historical biases.
Thousands of photographs were taken of Aboriginal people but
very few were identified and even fewer have been returned to
living descendants and families.
Original catalogue description:
“Group of fourteen unidentified
men, women and one child.
Some holding spears and
woomera. Body markings and
BA888/8 State Library of Western Australia
Learning from the community
Storylines allows us to identify the location and date of many photographs, as
well as specific individuals and their stories.
Wajarri elders informed us of the identity of Nyoolurngoo in this image from
1890 as well as the correct location and language group.
We could then link to other sources such as the Daisy Bates article from 1909.
BA888/8 State Library of Western Australia
Community access and memory
Archive searchable by name, place or language.
Aboriginal knowledge including the names of places, plants and animals can
be recorded and shared, as well as being linked to photographs, books,
videos, oral histories and music.
Clients can easily add their own annotations (stories) to items in the
archive, including names, corrections and background information.
Photographs can be accessed and printed at no cost.
Mary, Yondi and Sherika looking at old photos in Mowanjum, 2014.
Ron Williams
One of the first photos added to the system and an easy favourite – it depicts Ron
Williams at Cundeelee with his accordion in 1954 (he’s also on our postcards).
“He had gained the reputation
as a custodian of Aboriginal
grassroots history.
BA1203/511 State Library
of Western Australia
Not an author of anthropological
treatises such as published by
universities, or of the political
diatribes printed in the
newspaper headlines, but a
keeper of stories from the heart,
treasures held secret within the
Aboriginal consciousness,
guarded carefully lest they fall
into hands of exploitation…”
Diana Williams (Ron’s wife)
Horizon is Where Heaven and Earth Meet (2001)
BA1203/725 State Library of Western Australia
So many stories…
In 18 months…
More than 50 previously unknown people unidentified
2100 photographs currently in the system
Hundreds of plants, animals and places tagged and profiled.
More than 60 hours of liaison and consultation work with local Aboriginal elders
and groups.
Geoffrey Dynevor was the first Aboriginal athlete
to win a Commonwealth Gold medal (BA1203/962)
Pearl Ashwin, nurse and winner of
the Daisy Bates award for civic
achievement (BA368/6/278)
Nora Shea – the first Aboriginal woman to enter
the Western Australian Public Service (BA1272/32)
Digital Keeping Places
To complement the central Storylines archive we are working with remote
communities to build locally owned and run instances of the Ara Irititja software.
The first of these was launched earlier this year
at Mowanjum Community in the Kimberley.
• Photos were repatriated from SLWA
collections to Mowanjum.
• Local collections of photographs, video
and sound files were added and tagged
by community members.
• Restrictions built into the system to
reflect cultural protocols of the local
Wunambal, Worrora and Ngarinyin
SLWA Staff at Mowanjum in April 2014
What’s next?
3 more remote community instances to be set up over the next 2 years,
starting with Yawuru (Broome) in late 2014.
Access and identification points within the State Library of Western Australia
Further training opportunities for State Library staff in cultural competency,
Aboriginal history and the Storylines system.
Development of education and training programs/resources using the
Storylines archive.
Partnerships with Aboriginal organisations to further promote the project
and engage Aboriginal knowledge holders.
Find out more at
or contact the project team:
[email protected] / (08) 9427 3237

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