Our Future's Past: Indigenous Archival Discovery as a Catalyst for New Recording Initiatives in Remote Northern Australia

  • Aaron Corn, The University of Sydney, Australia
  • Dr Joe Gumbula, The University of Sydney, Australia
  • There is an immense interest among Indigenous communities in remote Australia in discovering their recorded history. Within this decade, the introduction of new digital media to these isolated regions has enabled copies of rare records and materials held in cultural heritage collections worldwide to be returned home. Their rediscovery after many decades of radical social and economic change has stimulated a new awareness of history among Indigenous communities in Australia, and prompted many local elders to consider what kind of recorded legacy they themselves will leave for future generations.
    This paper will trace the endeavours of Yolngu elder and scholar, Joe Neparrnga Gumbula, in his attempts to locate the recorded legacy of his family and home communities in northeast Arnhem. These rare materials include sound, film and photographs of his parents and grandparents performing traditional ceremonies, and span the films of Cecil Holmes (1963, 1964), the sound recordings of Alice Moyle (196263), and photographs and artefacts held in the Donald Thomson Collection at Museum Victoria (193537). The earliest of these materials were collected by W Lloyd Warner and TT Webb in the late 1920s, and are now spread across multiple collections in Australia, Switzerland and the USA.
    The paper will also demonstrate how these investigations have been a catalyst for our concurrent efforts to comprehensively record, for the first time, those same hereditary performance traditions using new digital technologies in accord with the National Recording Project for Indigenous Performance in Australia.