The Wurrpujunta Anyul Mappu digital archive is literally a case of ancient Aboriginal culture meets state of the art digital technology, the Dreaming meets ‘the cloud’.
The archive is an initiative of Julalikari Council Aboriginal Corporation at its impressive Nyinkka Nyunyu Art and Culture Centre in Tennant Creek, 500 kilometres north of Alice Springs. The archive electronically and physically stores cultural and historical material of the many Aboriginal language groups in the Northern Territory’s Barkly region, centred on Tennant Creek.
At peak performance, as a tool of a living, dynamic yet ancient Aboriginal culture at the hands of more local Aboriginal people employed on it, the archive will increase and preserve that material, help transfer the cultural knowledge in it to the groups’ young, and educate the wider public, provided suitable access protocols are in place.
The archive needs Aboriginals Benefit Account funding to reach that potential, largely to modernise its software to a so-called cloud-based platform, better arrange metadata and the electronic archival material itself on this platform, and strengthen archive security while generating more and varied content and wider use. Julalikari is applying to the ABA for the necessary funding with the help of the Central Land Council’s ABA applications support project.
Enterprise and employment, education and training, sport, health and safety, language and culture, land care and land management, building and other infrastructure, media, leadership and youth initiatives are all eligible for ABA funding.
An initiative planned at Arlparra, 250 kilometres northeast of Alice Springs in the Sandover/Utopia region, combines health and safety with sporting infrastructure works, for instance. A horse program at Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa), 85 kilometres southeast of Alice, offers pathways for school students into land and animal management. And the Aboriginal organisations behind these initiatives too have requested the CLC’s ABA applications support project help towards the strongest possible applications to the ABA.
Julalikari director and Nyinkka Nyunyu steering committee member Michael Jones Jampin said that before the digital archive traditional ceremony recordings and those of more public dances were stacked up there in cupboards and drawers. “It wasn’t good that way,” he said. “The archive is the way of keeping everything safe for our next generations.”
So what did Mr Jones (pictured right) think of the workshop project held with him and others on the steering committee to kick off its help with the archive upgrade application?
“It went good, very well. Helpful,” he said. “A lot of people were saying that was very good.”
The ABA receives from the Australian Government the equivalent amount paid to the government in royalties from mining on Aboriginal land in the NT, for the benefit of NT Aboriginal people. The ABA advisory committee, comprised of representatives of the NT’s four land councils, makes recommendations to the federal Minister for Indigenous Australians who ultimately decides on ABA grants.
The CLC’s ABA applications support project started because the ABA was receiving too many weak or incomplete applications that didn’t meet the minister’s approval, or didn’t even get that far. So, otherwise good Aboriginal initiatives didn’t get funded and the ABA hasn’t benefited as many Aboriginal people as it should have.
The project now gets more requests for assistance than it can handle thoroughly, requiring considerable expectation management with potential applicants and CLC staff alike. The project looks to help those who request it first in each of the CLC’s nine regions, towards a variety of initiatives that require the help and the funding most and that benefit the most people, in Aboriginal organisations who have the ability to manage the funding and make sure their initiative succeeds and lasts if funded. These are the main, but not the only, considerations brought to bear to decide which ABA applications to assist among the many seeking assistance.
Typically the project’s two personnel spend hours with the assisted ABA applicants, workshopping the application assessment criteria of need, benefit and capacity, each initiative’s risk management, the keys to making the initiative last and the documents required to support the application. Then they draft the applications and some supporting documents and stay in touch with the applicants until submission time. Though they give it their best, they don’t do all the work; and they provide no guarantee of funding.
Since starting in earnest in mid-2020 (after six months of COVID-19 restrictions), the project has helped 15 applicants with ABA applications, across eight of the nine CLC sub-regions. Some disengage entirely from the help for their own reasons or because, despite the help, the ABA application process remains a long and difficult one. That is in turn largely because the application guidelines are in dire need of revision.
As part of its ABA applications support project, the CLC has spent considerable time advising the National Indigenous Australians Agency on better guidelines; and in fact has effectively provided two re-drafts.
With clearer, more accessible application guidelines reflecting a more user-friendly and transparent ABA application process, the CLC’s application support may one day no longer be needed. Meanwhile, it is assisting as many applicants as it can towards more sustainable initiatives to benefit Central Australian Aboriginal people. Initiatives like Julalikari’s Wurrpujunta Anyul Mappu digital archive, using hi-tech in the service of ageless Aboriginal traditions.
Update, 18 November 2022
The CLC’s ABA Applications Support Project has received 81 requests for application support from its start in 2020 to November 2022. It has assisted 26 applications across almost all eligible activities and the CLC’s nine regions. Eighteen assisted applications have been submitted to the ABA, worth a total of $38.1 million. Of these, seven have been approved for funding for a total of $4.8 million, three were unsuccessful and eight are still being assessed. Project assistance to one further applicant resulted in funding through the CLC’s $36.7million ‘economic stimulus’ fund, a separate ABA-funded initiative (see https://www.clc.org.au/aba-economic-stimulus-package/).
The project has had to reject most requests for its support due to insufficient resources. Its part-time consultant project manager and single full-time project officer haven’t had time to give more applicants meaningful support. The project would have needed nearly three times the current personnel to fulfil all requests.
This is one lesson from the project. There are others.
Of the three supported unsuccessful applications, two in fact asked for and received minimal project support, suggesting support matters. The seven supported applications approved by the ABA to date received an average of $697,420 in funding each, nearly $100,000 each more than the total cost of the project. They represent a 70 per cent success rate for the project that, if maintained over the remaining eight applications for assessment, would bring an extra $23.3 million in total to the supported applicants combined.
In both current and projected calculations, the project represents very good value for money. It has proved a good investment.
Typically, the project’s support has been comprehensive and prolonged, constituting at least 50 per cent of the substantial work of each application, often more, over many months. It frequently starts with a long workshop with the applicant and builds some applicant capacity on the way towards funding. “We learnt very fast when drafting the application ideas,” a workshop participant surveyed for feedback said.
But the project never did all the work of applications, or else there was no such capacity building opportunity. Because of limited project resources, the capacity building was limited to that around the initiative proposed for funding, not the capacity of the applicant as a whole.
The project too often found this wider capacity patchy or stretched at best.
If eight of the 26 applicants assisted failed to ultimately submit their applications, this is a fair indication that nearly one-third of applicants’ capacity remains too weak to make the most of the project’s support to gain often much needed funds.
There are of course other dynamics at play here, some quite applicant-specific, and wider questions raised about organisational capacity to actually implement initiatives and acquit funding.
The ABA applications guidelines haven’t helped applicants to get funding in the first place.
Revised by the National Indigenous Australians Agency mid-way through the 2021-22 financial year, the guidelines emerged 39 pages long and a poor guide even to applicants with quite strong capacity and the project’s assistance. One said when surveyed: “Without you, I’m not sure we would have been able to get this across the line.” The guidelines may in fact have deterred some applicants entirely.
Hopefully, applicants are given much better guidance to apply to the Northern Territory Aboriginal Investment Corporation, the new body to take over ABA grant application, approval and payment processes.
It is likely some, perhaps many, applicants will still need assistance like that of the CLC’s ABA Applications Support Project. The project manager has suggested modifications to the project, including to help address the issue of some applicants’ incapacity to ultimately apply for funding despite project assistance.
This should further raise the already high value of this CLC project should it be continued, to bring yet more benefit to CLC constituents at comparatively low cost.