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 ABA for the necessary funding with the help of 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 CLC’s ABA applications support project help towards the strongest possible applications to 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.”

Michael Jones Jampin.

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 Aboriginals Benefit Account hasn’t benefited as many Aboriginal people as it should.

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 till 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.