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Intellectual Property and Agreements: A Conversation with Dr Diana James
[00:00:00] Diana James: I’m an anthropologist and I’m currently living on Bundjalung country in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, but most of my life and when I was 20, I worked in the Western Desert on the Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands at the, uh, northwest of South Australia.
[00:00:21] Maya Haviland: Diana James there, researcher and cultural anthropologist, who first went out to the Western Desert in 1975.
[00:00:29] Diana James: I went out there initially to be a community arts worker. Even though I’d studied anthropology, I had an undergraduate degree in that, I chose very deliberately to go out in the role of a learner. I decided that really that’s what I had to do was to learn from the people themselves and to learn their language.
So it’s pre-land rights and it’s the time when they were considering land trusts or what was the best governance situation for Aṉangu at that time in ’75, it was still very remote. There was very much a feeling of being on traditional lands observing that way of life.
[00:01:16] Maya Haviland: Hello, I’m Maya Haviland. Welcome to Collaboratory.
Today, I’m honored to bring you highlights from a very special and wide-ranging conversation with Diana James as part of our Collaboratory Conversation series, where we talk to co-creative practitioners about their learning journeys and histories and experiences of co-creativity in action.
Diana’s work exemplifies co-creativity. She willingly embraced being told to relinquish her white woman expertise and start with listening. And the work she went on to do over the past 40 years demonstrates again and again, how different skill sets can come together to make a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Most recently, this has been demonstrated in the widely acclaimed “Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters” exhibition, which drew on a large collaborative research project that Diana led and which has changed global understanding of Aboriginal songlines and the cultural practice and knowledge, which surround them.
In our conversation Diana shares some of her early experiences of learning to work collaboratively and responsively with First Nations communities and leaders, experiences that laid down important foundations that enabled a project of the scale of Songlines to take place.
She reflects on some of the backend processes and agreements that underpin the work that got presented in the exhibition and shares practical insights about tools and approaches to navigating value and agency across the cultural and institutional spaces of a project like Songlines.
Diana James is currently a research fellow at the Australian National University and also an honourary fellow at the Chasm Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Music at the University of South Australia. And we began by talking about the country Diana worked in and the different groups of people living there.
[00:03:07] Diana James: I was working on what are now called the APY lands, Anangu, Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara. And they are defined under the land rights that they got in 1981 as “the region of the northwest of South Australia”. So it ends at the Northern Territory and the Western Australian border.
The fact is traditionally those borders didn’t exist and those people freely traveled with ceremony and through relationships, and hunting and gathering. And for various other reasons traveled well into the Northern Territory, into, uh, definitely up around Yankunytjatjara country is they’re the traditional owners for Uluru, and then, uh, they were in the southern corner, the tri-state corner there of the Northern Territory around Docker River. And it’s where their country begins to overlap with the Luritja who are a bit further to the north, Areyonga and Papunya, the Pintupi who are more to the west of Papunya, but now living in Papunya. And those countries like the Pitjantjatjara in the corner of the tri-state border, near the top of South Australia, moves into Western Australia, into the Ngaanyatjarra people, and then goes right over to Roebourne in Western Australia.
This big area that’s been identified by anthropologists and linguists as the Western Desert Block. And linguists will say there’s one overarching language group there, the Wati language, or the Western Desert language and within that, there are many dialects.
[00:04:36] Maya Haviland: When Diana first went out into this country, she was working at Fregon a small out station arts center attached to the larger Ernabella Fregon Arts and Crafts.
These art centers were community owned enterprises funded by sales and supported by the Presbyterian mission funds.
[00:04:54] Diana James: It’s actually a really good introduction to being on country BOEMAR insisted that all new recruits go to a Pitjantjatjara language course run by field linguists and Aboriginal people, themselves. First language speakers who came down to teach us language and culture and how to behave when we went up there, that was at Adelaide University. And that course is still going.
Part of the message that I received very strongly then from Wolf Douglas, one of the field linguists, was not to go out thinking that I had great ideas and, you know, it was a great new broom that would sweep through and do all this amazing things for people out bush, but basically that I’d be useless for a couple of years until I learned the language and my role was to shut up and contribute what skills I had, you know, whatever they were that people needed. And in that role, it was management skills and financial management and working out markets and assisting people and developing whatever they wanted to do.
When I now look at it, it was a very good preparation for working collaboratively because I wasn’t coming in as the outside expert, I was coming in with certain set of skills that I could contribute to the mix, really. It was very clear to me that the women ran the art center. Iwana was the boss lady. She had the broom, and I didn’t, and I did what I was told and basically, uh, learn language, made mistakes and sort of got on with it.
[00:06:18] Maya Haviland: Once she learned Pitjantjatjara, Diana retrained as a bilingual teacher and returned to the APY lands to support bilingual education based on her language skills and growing understanding of the aspirations of Anangu women.
In 1980, she became the first women’s field officer for the tri-state Pitjantjatjara lands, working for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs or DAA. Through this role, she became strongly aligned with women’s wishes to be active participants in the growing regional Aboriginal land rights movement, which changed the course of her life. In 1980, Diana was visiting the community of Amata as part of her work with DAA, when she was stopped at a petrol pump by Nganinytja, one of the senior cultural women who summonsed her to attend a women’s meeting on land rights.
[00:07:05] Diana James: So, I was called into the bush and a group of senior women were gathered there and they instructed me in their relationship and ownership of land and how they had to be involved in the land rights march that was coming up in South Australia in, uh, March of that year.
The Pitjantjatjara council had just had a meeting but had ignored the women. So I had to go back with the message to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the newly formed Pitjantjatjara council, the men there, that the women were coming and that they needed a bus and, uh, the DAA had to release me to drive. I had fairly strong instructions.
I’m telling all this, because it really changed the course of where I was working and what I was doing. The women were very adamant and very clear about their roles, but my little reporters at Department of Aboriginal Affairs Officer, when I tabled it, shook that little institution and I was considered to be very radical, very feminist and upsetting, the boat, really upsetting the apple cart.
So, that direct message from the senior women and the fact that I brought it in and put it in an official report was actually very challenging for the male field officers. Some of them understood it or had been aware that there was there, but not that potently, because anthropologists had not really written up the strong role of women at that stage.
So, there was still a myth that it was a heavily male dominated society and women were very subservient. And that was influencing policy, it was influencing funding. It was quite devastating how that way of rendering, how anthropologists had traditionally rendered Aboriginal society really fitted in with allowing a western, male-dominated, patriarchal system to come over the top.
The women were telling me that this was not traditional, not their way and not the way they wanted to go ahead. Anyway, I applied for time off to drive the bus to take the women to the march. DAA refused on the usual governmental grounds that I hadn’t worked there long enough to have time off in lieu and so I promptly resigned.
[00:09:08] Maya Haviland: The women did get to the land rights march in Adelaide. Although Diana had to arrange someone else to drive the bus, but this marks a reorientation of her work. She became part of supporting the setup of the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council, or NPY Women’s Council, which was established in 1980.
Over the past 40 years, the NPY Women’s Council has grown to become one of the strongest advocates for Aboriginal women and their culture in Australia. In 1988, Diana started a new stage of her working life in the Western Desert collaboratively, setting up the first Aboriginal cultural tours that operated on the APY lands.
[00:09:47] Diana James: In 1988, the Angatjacommunity and Nganyinytja and Ilyatjari approached myself and my husband, Greg Snowden to see whether we were interested in taking tours with people out there. So the way we discussed it with them was a joint enterprise. They were keen at their homeland because there’d been one tour through with the ACF the previous year, and Nganyinytja and Ilyatjari both loved teaching people. And at Angatja they’d had a set up there for rehabilitating, petrol sniffers, where they had been teaching their own kids, traditional living on country.
And they were very keen to have people from outside, come and spend time with them, camp out there and do these tours where they would teach about country. And so, we established a joint enterprise where we provided the buses and the camping gear did all the advertising and the management, and they provided the story and the teaching and the place, sort of the content.
So, it was at that stage in my life, I was very certain that I wanted to be working with Anangu a way that was there, 50/50, you know, it’s very clear what kind of energies both of us could bring to a business like this. So, it was very exciting to start it off. People came out in those days, we were just camping in swags, and we had second-hand buses, things that luckily passed muster with the tourism people.
We were the first group to bring tours onto the APY lands. So, we were under heavy scrutiny by APY and by Anangu generally that tourism didn’t have a good history in that area at Ayers Rock, as it was then known. Uluru tourists could be quite intrusive and had been. So we had all sorts of controls that we established and under the permit system about what people couldn’t and couldn’t do, who came out and they came up for seven days with us, camped in the desert, learnt some Pitjantjatjara and Ngaanyatjarra, took them along the songline, told them about country, taught them some simple dance and song and took them out, hunting and gathering, and really changed their whole way of looking at country, of being in Australia. So, I was involved with that company for 12 years. Greg left it after a couple of years and we divorced, but I carried it on, and eventually in, uh, 1994-’95, Anangu actually wanted to buy it themselves, like to have it entirely as their company and to do that, we needed to apply it for Indigenous business funding. So went through a long process to get that, but they did qualify.
[00:12:10] Maya Haviland: Diana remained involved with desert tracks until the year 2000
Diana has been involved in some pretty big and significant cross-cultural projects over the years, the setup of the APY Women’s Council, the Desert Tracks business, and as we’ll talk about in a minute, the songlines project. I asked her why she has chosen to repeatedly work in these deeply co-creative ways.
[00:12:36] Diana James: It was a deliberate choice on my part having studied anthropology. At that stage, it felt to me that it was, and it had been used as an arm of imperialism to justify othering and making other people subject to the rule of the colonizers for their own good and for all kinds of other races that people trumped up.
But it had been very successfully used to other and disempower Indigenous people in their own lands and denigrate their knowledges and so I didn’t wanna be an anthropologist, I didn’t wanna be part of that system. The skills that I gained from anthropology in the end became requested of me by Anangu, by Indigenous people I was with, because those skills of recording, being curious about language, trying to understand connections between things, wanting to write things down, being a westerner, always carrying around my little notebook and writing things down, and be interested in activating.
So why do this work, is because it’s exciting, because it’s highly creative, because one, can’t just be an objective other. Truly you are a participant, but not just a participant-observer, you are an active participant. And I know that’s something that took me a while to recognize as being my position, because one as the intellectual training was to be the observer, just to observe, but luckily from my father being a physicist, he also taught me that nothing that is observed is not disturbed. So, the very fact of being in there, meaning that you are an active ingredient now in the new thing that is becoming just that your placement in there. So, to recognize your own role and what you’re doing is also very valuable because to be conscious of what you bring to something, one means you’re less likely to trespass or unconsciously destroy existing material or culture or ideas.
But also, you are an active participant in what is not an uncontaminated ground. I mean, where we are working all over Australia has colonial influence and traditional influence, and this is an actively developing space. The arts and cross-cultural research, I think has enormous potential for one, bringing up the voices of the dispossessed, the subaltern voices, the voices we don’t hear because it provides a really legitimate and legitimizing platform.
[00:15:05] Maya Haviland: So, let’s jump forward a decade or so to one such cross-cultural research project. What became known as “Songlines of the Western Desert: Alive in the Dreaming” and which in turn led to the “Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters” exhibition. That exhibition was first mounted at the National Museum of Australia and has had huge impact in Australia and now overseas. How did a project of this scale come about?
[00:15:30] Diana James: The Songlines project, Following the, the Seven Sisters came about because Anangu from the APY lands requested assistance with recording song and story and dance of two of the major dreaming lines that go through their country. There’s the Ngiṉṯaka, the Perentie lizard, and the Kungkarangkalpa, the Seven Sisters.
[00:15:52] Maya Haviland: If you want to know more about these dreaming lines and some of the places and stories connected with them, you can find links in the show notes to a range of media and information made by and with Anangu and others that opened these stories up to those of us who are unfamiliar with them.
[00:16:07] Diana James: But back when the idea for the songlines project began, there was very little to share these big stories to people outside of the country they arise from. The people who wanted to start this were members of Anangu Arts. So, they represented all the artists across the APY lands and right from the east, from artists in Indulkana are right across to Pipalyatjara in the west. At all those seven art centers, people painted parts of these stories or, or their land and their association with these, um, creation stories.
So, it was something that people were already painting and telling the story of. Both of these were already out in the public domain. They’re called different names in different country and the song and the story changes into the local dialect, but the story is basically the same.
Couple of younger women, arts workers at Kaltjiti knew of Nganyinytja over in the Mann Ranges and the 12 years of work I’d done with her previously on Desert Tracks, which was her community’s idea, her family’s idea to invite people in, tourists, to learn about the songlines and the two songlines they had taught were the Ngiṉṯaka and the Kungkarangkalpa.
So there’s a big history in these being decided regionally with consensus really over some time about what could be made public from these Jukurrpa stories, which are of course, are very important, and there are secret sacred elements to them, but they had been through a long process since 1988 when the tours started. Before that people had been painting and making carvings and selling them with parts of stories. So, people had been deciding about what was public or what was private. So, the Anangu Arts felt fairly confident, and their members wanted to augment the work that Naninja and her family had been doing on their homeland at Anangu, teaching people about that part of the songline, and they wanted to follow it right across the APY lands.
They wanted the opportunity to work with those artists from each community and the senior traditional owners who were asking to go back to their country, their associated sites with this songline, take their young people back, teach them the songs on the stories, which they said were being lost.
So, the request came through Anangu Arts and initially it was just to do the one songline. They went to the Australian Arts Council to look for funding for that and were not successful in that funding application. So, then they approached me because I was, by this stage, working at the ANU and was working on the Canning Stock Route.
They approached me and they said, have you got any other ideas about where we can get funding and what we might do? So, I looked at the model of the Canning Stock Route, which was a linkage project involving Indigenous and non-Indigenous partnership to bring about shared goals and also individual goals, like got the Martu people involved in the Canning Stock Route, and the people up that stock route had their own set of things they want to achieve, as did the archeologists and the researchers from ANU. So, I thought it was a good model and potentially a way that we could get the sort of funding that they were looking for.
[00:19:20] Maya Haviland: For those of you who don’t spend time on the inside of Australian universities, a linkage project is a grant from the Australian Research Council or ARC that supports universities to partner with non-academic organizations to do collaborative research project.
[00:19:36] Diana James: At that stage, I was in discussion with the National Museum of Australia, the Indigenous curator there, and they were very interested, but more interested in a well-known story like the Seven Sisters as being a bigger story. It fitted with the APY Women’s Council involvement across the three states and also with my knowledge of the Martu women and their knowledge of the story and recording of it. So it came about through many conversations at different locations. 2010 was the first time when Anangu Arts went across the APY lands seeking permission from the traditional owners to do the Ngiṉṯaka. There was an objection there from one traditional owner, requesting not to be included in the research. So that was agreed to, and APY executive were happy with that.
When the idea of incorporating the Kungkarangkalpa had been discussed again through Anangu Arts and having these different camps of discussion in Canberra and with the Martu and with the APY then, then that was taken to the NPY Women’s Council to see if they would like to become involved.
We were looking at this stage for other people to partner with Anangu Arts and ANU to develop it into a larger project.
[00:20:48] Maya Haviland: Putting this kind of project together is no simple. Relationships between individuals who know each other or have cultural connections like Diana and her Anangu collaborators or people in central Australia, and Martu people who share cultural connections to the Seven Sister story over in the west.
These person-to-person collaborations had to be formalized into partnership collaborations between organizations representing different parties to make the project actually happen. And these organizations work in different ways and are spread right across the country.
As we will hear, getting agreement from organizations spread across the country takes a lot of legwork and getting the right project design and governance structures takes even more time and effort.
[00:21:32] Diana James: I brought it up when I was over Canning Stock Route with the Martu and with Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa their cultural organization over there, whether they wanted to become involved. The NMA was very keen to become involved. So, at the end of 2010, we had a meeting of potential partners. I’d already put together a draft submission for the ARC, so that we had something concrete to discuss. And I’d draw together what everybody had been saying to me and suggested a governance system that would make the Indigenous partners as equally powerful as the large research institutions, which generally hold much more power in these situations.
So, we had three days a day and knew where we thrashed out a lot of this, talked about what the purposes were, what Anangu wanted out of it, what the researchers were looking for, how the cultural and intellectual property would be protected and what public outcomes there would be.
[00:22:27] Maya Haviland: The partners that came together in 2010 were successful in their application for funding and the ARC funded the project coordinated by the Australian National University for a four-year period, beginning in 2012, although the project ran longer than that in the end.
Once they found out the funding was successful a partner’s agreement had to be finalized between the diverse Aboriginal organizations representing the traditional owners of parts of the dreaming stories, and the National Museum of Australia known colloquially as the NMA.
[00:22:58] Diana James: We all had to agree to the intellectual property, which was the most difficult thing to nut out. Just because of the difference of the use that the institutions want to make of that intellectual property and what the Indigenous community might want to use it for or might wanna restrict it. So that took about eight months of fine tuning with the lawyers from all the institutions.
And it did require quite a different approach from the ANU and the NMA. They could no longer have complete control over the information that had been gathered, where system was set up, that we were tenants in common. So there had to be access for this material to be used by the researchers and in the exhibition, but there was a system of consent so that the Indigenous knowledge holders had to, at the point of collection of all material, consent to be filmed, recorded and, uh, have their material gathered by the researchers. That was called the stage one of consent and that was actually in the field. People were happy with that. We did have some people who didn’t wanna be on film, and that was all accommodated.
[00:24:05] Maya Haviland: At this stage of the project, the systems that got in place had to address the long-term future of the recordings and the knowledge that was part of the project, including where it might be archived and how it might be used into the future.
[00:24:18] Diana James: People could say at the point of recording, if they definitely had recorded this only for the Aṟa Irititja archive or their own Ngaanyatjarra archive or the KJ archive, and it was not to be even put forward for second consent for public use. They could say that. That happened in a couple of cases and that was fine because that was also part of the agreement that while the researchers were there with the recording equipment and all the other paraphernalia that, that could be made used or by the community for their own ends if they so chose. If it was to be used publicly by the researchers or particularly in the exhibitions, people were concerned about that.
The second consent was not just that the raw material could be used, but it had to be taken back to people in its final form. So, if there was a film to be used in, the exhibition had to be taken back in the edited form and all the subtitles checked and all the inclusions and in other words, what was the narrative that had been edited out of this raw material? What was going to be finally shown to people had to be approved. And in most of those cases, there were people from the Indigenous curatoriums that we set up, or the Indigenous Research Committee who were working alongside the researcher or the editor involved in creating these more collaborative products that were there deliberately to explain traditional knowledge or Jukullupa in an exhibition or in a research paper. So that level of second consents is where the Indigenous knoweldge holders really held their final consent about whether something went into the public arena or not and in which form it did. And of course, they then had the right to use all the material, including the rough material for any future edits or anything else they might want to do with it.
That took about eight months to get all the partners to agree to because the university researchers were used to having control of their research material or what they considered to be theirs and the NMA, as they said to us, usually we don’t deal with this kind of copyright issue. We usually own the material, or we license it, which is of course another way the project could’ve gone, but because they put a lot of money into the project, right from the word go, and some of their curators were also out in the field, part of the research we needed to make the conditions cover all the material.
[00:26:45] Maya Haviland: I asked Diana, if there were particular things that she wrote into the agreements and contracts that she would now apply in future projects or recommend to people as important to attend to when working across multiple potential future uses of material.
[00:26:59] Diana James: The process we went through was complicated and it’s also now complicated into the future in that if the material is to be reedited or used again, particularly in any public exhibition, it does require going back to the community. Some of the people who were involved in the original filming have already passed on, so their permission cannot be gained. Although most people did nominate their descendants as people who could give permission in future.
The preparation of stuff for exhibitions and particularly then when it goes into non-archiving institution, like the National Museum of Australia, it can be in theory, accessed at any time by any of their curators for talks or bits and pieces can be added into other exhibitions. So, the use of that material within the museum is complex and I’m absolutely sure they have the intent of re-consulting, but it is a complex one. It’s a very difficult issue for people because those who’ve been recorded, the elders will pass on, then what can be done with their material? What might young Anangu themselves want to do with it? Like what kinds of new technology or what might they want to incorporate? So, the permissions we’ve got there in the second consents are, are binding in perpetuity for new uses of the material in the public space. You must go back to the nominated Indigenous organization who really have members who are traditional owners for that material.
So, it’s not just the individual who might have been a senior person recording at the time because it’s a communally owned Jukurrpa or a community owned song or story. Then the best way that we could work out was to put that people had to go back to the NPY Women’s Council, or they had to go back to Anangu Arts, or they had to go back to APY, or Martu, and then allow that group on the ground, through their own permissions and agreements to work out whether this was a reasonable reuse of the material.
Future proofing is something we talked a lot about. We did set up a governance system for the whole project, the governance committee consisting of the council of elders, who then formed the Indigenous Curatorium that worked on the exhibition, but only those, you know, each group from their specific, uh, language area or, or place along the songline. And then the songlines, project management, which was the people from the non-Indigenous research-based organizations. Everybody was represented on that management committee. And then we had subgroups for each part of the project. So the Seven Sisters had a curatorium that was made up for the exhibition that had representatives from the three areas, the three main areas, the Martu, the Ngaanyatjarra,and the Pitjantjatjar Yankunytjatjara
so there were three main areas, three main collections of songlines and story and film and paintings on the curatorium for the exhibition. All three areas nominated people, men and women who were representatives of that and had been on the governance committees, right from the beginning on all the research project. So in 2012, when everybody had signed off on that, it started.
[00:30:18] Maya Haviland: The Songlines of the Western Desert Project had to build governance and intellectual property systems that integrated really different understandings and laws about how knowledge and the rights to its use are understood by the Aboriginal nations and by the western cultural institutions partnering in the project.
For those people who haven’t worked with Indigenous knowledges, I asked Diana to talk a little about how cultural authority and the use of knowledge is validated and authorized in different ways than it is in academic or western institutional context.
[00:30:49] Diana James: Yes, it is quite different from western systems of the rights to use knowledge. In terms of how I’ve had to deal with it in the position of being someone, um, managing a large project like this, it’s really to recognize how there is not a simple formula for it. For starters, there is not a pan-Australian Indigenous intellectual property system that you can write up and just go, yes, this fits this, and we, this works for everybody. That’s certainly not the case.
Across the Western Desert in different regions people have had to evolve on how they manage their intellectual property and their traditional knowledge depending in each region a lot on what has been the impact of western culture in their lands. The APY structure and the executive, whose course is a western institutional structure that’s been overlayed on traditional.
So you’ve got 3000 square kilometers and over 3000 people, and traditionally they would not have gathered in a small group of elected representatives to make these decisions. People had very strong control over in ceremony of who was this, they, everybody knew who the senior person was for that, and, and who had the rights. That did vary to some degrees to who was present at the ceremony and when it was performed and who was there. So, it would be the senior person there at the time. They would not sing or give details of other people’s country.
[00:32:26] Maya Haviland: There are lots of different stories related to the collaboration that wove the big public and cultural outcomes of the Songlines Project together. Diana’s role had to spend so many of these scales from closely attending to correct cultural protocol about who performed or spoke for specific parts of the story, to the legal negotiations between institutions about contracts and intellectual property. Holding all those different types and scales of work can inevitably come with some feelings of compromise.
[00:32:56] Diana James: My one sort of regret is that because of the complexity of the project, I really should not have been in the position of project management, as well as being the senior researcher on it. The simple management of the logistics of all the big trips to country, all the people we took out, all the vehicles, food payments, the works, the management, and the reporting that’s required by the ARC.
The amount of time that takes, did detract from the amount of time that I would normally have spent, and I used to always spend on my other projects that were not so heavily, externally funded and required so much management. I know that one of the ways that a lot of collaborative work is facilitated is by face to face being there on the ground, sitting and chatting with people in between the major meetings, in between the times when the big decision points have to be made, but because of the nature of this huge project and the amount of management that was required, just to make sure the funds kept flowing, you know, there was just so much work to do simply on that. I felt that the consultation side of simply sitting with people out bush and being there for all those lengthy conversations about making it really clear to people what was going on and what’s happening in between the big, exciting trips in between the big exhibitions and between the big meetings, that dropped.
That was one of the things that I didn’t have enough time to do in my opinion, but that would’ve required a manager sitting back in Canberra, who had, uh, an understanding experience of working cross-culturally and with the two systems and could have handled a lot of that other management here, but that just was one of those positions that was extremely hard to fill.
There were two aspects of it in retrospect, I would suggest are heavily emphasized and well paid. One would be the management, the manager, and the other would be the IT, the management of all the recorded material, the videos, and the creation of databases. That’s a big area. The archive there, it needs to start right from the beginning and the better it’s organized, the better, the transfer of all that material for people to be able to use.
[00:35:11] Maya Haviland: In a way you’re describing the dilemmas of doing research in a way that is also collaborative cultural action. When I’ve talked with people in community arts, people say this all the time, that 80% of the work is logistics really, and relational and keeping everybody, kind of moving. So there’s both the practical side of that and then the relational side, but then also with the IT and the, the technological management, because we are creating cultural artifacts that have value to different people in different ways.
So the long life and accessibility of them as recordings with all the decisions that are made around them needing to be attached to those artifacts, this to me is really one of the future challenges of the kind of research that is asked of us actually by Indigenous people, because people are very engaged with the question of research and knowledge for the future, but the forms that we work in then demand a different infrastructure really.
[00:36:19] Diana James: One of the wonderful things I’ve seen happen through this collaborative work together, the Women’s Council is a good example, is that assisting the women at that point where they needed a western woman who did know, who had worked with DAA, did know about the funding systems, did know about the government systems, was not just a missionary or the wife of somebody out in community, but was seen to be somebody who could assist them to know the structures of power and link into it. Being there at that point to offer those skills into the mix has enabled that to grow into an extremely powerful wide reaching, absolutely run by Aboriginal women. It’s a very powerful voice for Aboriginal women, and that was the kind of catalyst, the mix that needed to come in at that point to break the way they had been excluded from those systems of power and access to funding.
At the time you don’t know necessarily what the mix is going to bring about. You hope that you act sensitively and listen to people and contribute skills you have in a way that enhances in these situations. Particularly the Women’s Council was one, but, but the songlines is a move from that, it had the two aims. It had one for community and one for communicating about the traditional songlines and the sacredness of them to the external Australian population. You’re hoping that what you do is part of that new mix and then it grows, then it just goes out to the community, and it grows.
[00:37:51] Maya Haviland: The Songlines exhibition was shown in several parts of Australia and has now headed off overseas on an international tour. Its success has been in both a global, but also a very local way because it’s strengthened community bonds across generations through the storytelling and the honoring, given to ownership of those stories.
Part of the contract that Diana and the team had set in place with the songlines partners, including the National Museum of Australia that is touring the exhibition, is that they contracted to make sure that some traditional owners be flown over and given time to speak to the sacredness and special stories told in elements of the exhibition every time it was remounted.
[00:38:30] Diana James: That was one of the good, long-lasting outcomes of all the contracts that we did and all the negotiation that is done behind the scenes.
[00:38:38] Maya Haviland: Diana was in Perth, Western Australia when the exhibition was remounted for the first time.
[00:38:44] Diana James: In this case, because the elders, one has passed away, one is now too sick to travel, it meant that his niece and her sister could come. And for them, it was almost overwhelming. They’d never spoken in a public place about this story or this place. They were quite open about the fact they’d only been learning about it really fully and had, had their appreciation of it augmented by participation in the Songlines Project. So, they’re carrying the spirit of country to that place and speaking to it. Now, that’s one of the exciting things about this work.
[00:39:16] Maya Haviland: The lessons of the Songlines Project, about ways to recognize the lines of custodianship of knowledge, stories, and objects in the contractual relationships between groups and organizations could be applied elsewhere in other collaborations, such as that between visual artists and curators.
What is the responsibility of cultural custodianship? What happens if you buy this art object, which is also a manifestation of a living breathing Jukurrpa, to whom does it ultimately belong? It’s challenging to our institutions, which are founded on outright ownership and perhaps not set up to manage ongoing reciprocal relationships.
[00:39:54] Diana James: I think that that is something that I personally learned quite a lot from the Māori and their Te Papa Museum, that when they take objects to even a regional museum, it is accompanied with ceremony and with the right people. To be led even within their country, let alone, when it’s taken to another place, that’s something that our institutions need to think a lot about because there is obviously, or in my experience, there is funding for directors of museums to travel to these international exhibitions.
There is funding often for curators. So there needs to be funding for traditional owners or those of the lineage to go and speak to it. Because it is a living object and not just an object, this is a film and it’s a living sacred space that’s been created within that dome, and the only way to communicate that really is for those of that lineage to speak to it.
[00:40:45] Maya Haviland: Well, Diana, it’s really an honor to talk with you, I have to say. Coming into the university and trying to navigate some of the work that I’ve done, it’s been very, very comforting to both hear about your work, but to also know that there is this long effort to bring really collaborative cultural research to fruition through these institutions for better or for worse and it, you know, it helps me a lot to hear about your trajectory and your insights about it. It’s very useful. So, thank you for your generosity.
[00:41:18] Diana James: That’s okay. I think you’ll have more energy to, um, actualize it. You know, the next step is really making a bit of a dent, a difference in the actual institution.
[00:41:29] Maya Haviland: I’m not sure how much I will make that difference, but I can definitely word people up so that the people with influence can do it.
[00:41:37] Diana James: That’s right. That’s right. Exactly. Get to them.
[00:41:45] Maya Haviland: This episode of Collaboratory was written and edited by Maya Haviland and Nicole Deen. Series, producer Maya Haviland. Audio engineering by Nick McCorriston and music made, especially for us by Seprock. Additional research and production support by Nicole O’Dowd.
Collaboratory is produced on the lands of the Ngunnawal, Ngambri, and Ngunawal people. We pay our respects, an ongoing gratitude to the custodian’s past present and future of the lands on which we work and of the knowledges from which we learn.
Collaboratory is a production of the Scaffolding Cultural Co-creativity Project hosted by the Center for Heritage and Museum Studies in the College of Arts and Social Sciences at the Australian National University. Funding is generously provided by the Australian National University Translational Fellowship Scheme.