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Strategic Priority 2



AIATSIS is uniquely positioned to transform the nation’s understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and culture, with the tremendous resource of its collection, its strong and growing relationships with Indigenous communities and other institutions, and the knowledge produced through its research leadership and activities. This rich source of stories, images, sounds and experiences can be shared with Indigenous peoples and communities to strengthen their identity and ownership of their history, and with the broader population and our institutions, to improve understanding and ensure Indigenous culture and heritage is appropriately recognised, respected, celebrated and valued.

KEY OUTCOMES 2018–2022

  • Positioning AIATSIS as the national forum for dialogue on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures
  • Delivering transformative experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, histories and heritage
  • Delivering high-quality exhibitions, products and publications

Key action: Maintain an innovative public program and services to strengthen community participation, and attract partners and sponsors

AIATSIS delivered a program of public events during the year that achieved high levels of participation and engagement.

Launch of AIATSIS Strategic Plan 2018–2023

AIATSIS unveiled its new Strategic Plan 2018–2023 at Parliament House on 18 October 2019. This was also the inaugural event for the new Parliamentary Friends of AIATSIS. The Strategic Plan is underpinned by a determination to help Australia forge a more inclusive national identity, and will guide AIATSIS’ direction over the next five years.

An image showing CEO Craig Ritchie, Cathy McGowan MP, Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion, and Trevor Evans MP at the AIATSIS Strategic Plan launch.
CEO Craig Ritchie, Cathy McGowan MP, Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion, and Trevor Evans MP at the AIATSIS Strategic Plan launch.

My Voice for My Country exhibition

AIATSIS collaborated with the Department of Parliamentary Services to transform the existing online exhibition My Voice for My Country into a physical exhibition at Australian Parliament House. Opening in National Reconciliation Week, the exhibition provided a unique insight into the history of electoral education programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voters.

From the exhibition’s launch on 21 May until 30 June, 75 299 people visited Australian Parliament House. There has also been a substantial increase in traffic for the online exhibition.

AIATSIS Art Market

The 2018 Art Market, held on 7–8 December, was the largest event to date, with six art centres and three local artists exhibiting. A record number of stalls sold artworks encompassing traditional and contemporary paintings, sculptures, pottery, jewellery, textiles and home décor. For the first time local artists were represented alongside those from remote Northern Territory and Western Australia. All proceeds from sales returned directly to the art centres, artists and their communities.

In another first, the markets included workshops, digeridoo performances, food and coffee, and a free bus service to and from the event.

People from art centres travelled over 20 000 km to attend. More than 3000 people visited the market over two days, encouraged by publicity including a social media campaign that reached 157 030 people, and media coverage including a front cover feature in the Canberra Weekly and a live media cross on 666 ABC Canberra radio.

After five years the AIATSIS Indigenous Art Market is now a popular annual event that allows the local Canberra community to celebrate the diverse stories and culture of Indigenous Australians. It is a wonderful way for AIATSIS to provide an opportunity for the local community to engage directly with Indigenous artists from all around the country, and is a practical way to support ethical sales of Indigenous art, for the benefit of the artists and consumers.

ABC journalist Dan Bourchier interviews Angela Karadada from Waringarri Aboriginal Arts.ABC journalist Dan Bourchier interviews Angela Karadada from Waringarri Aboriginal Arts.


Our Mob Served: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories of war and defending Australia, edited by Allison Cadzow and Mary Anne Jebb, was officially launched at the Australian War Memorial on Thursday 28 March 2019. The oral histories and treasured family photographs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women featured in this book create a vivid picture of Indigenous war service.

The difference identity makes was launched by Margo Neale, Senior Indigenous curator and principal adviser to the Director at the National Museum of Australia, at Harry Hartog bookshop at the Australian National University (ANU) on 22 May 2019. Speakers included Head of ANU School of History Professor Frank Bongiorno and editors Professor Tim Rowse and Dr Laurie Bamblett, Head of the Centre of Indigenous Knowledges.

The Sydney Language was launched in Sydney on 14 June.

Mary Anne Jebb, Sue Gordon AM, Des Mayo and Allison Cadzow at the launch of Our Mob Served.Mary Anne Jebb, Sue Gordon AM, Des Mayo and Allison Cadzow at the launch of Our Mob Served.
Jacinta Tobin, AIATSIS CEO Craig Ritchie and Professor Jakelin Troy, author of The Sydney Language.Jacinta Tobin, AIATSIS CEO Craig Ritchie and Professor Jakelin Troy, author of The Sydney Language.

Key action: Develop and deliver training materials and curriculum for ethical publishing

Following the successful webinar pilot to test a curriculum for ethical publishing in 2016–17, an online resource was developed to assist postgraduate students with reworking their thesis for book publication as the first product. ‘Reworking your thesis for publication’ draws on the principles of the Guidelines for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies and the Ethical Publishing Guidelines and includes instructional guidance and practical examples along with general information about the publishing process. This resource was published on the AIATSIS website in August 2018, supporting the publication of high-quality and ethically informed works by early career Indigenous researchers and those researching in Indigenous studies.

There were 850 page views and 183 downloads of ‘Reworking your thesis for publication’ between 1 July 2018 and 30 June 2019.

Key action: Produce relevant and engaging online content and collateral communication promoting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and heritage

International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL) has provided a strong focus for the development of content and collateral in 2018–19. By the end of the first half of 2019, the IYIL communications campaign was already tracking well ahead of the targets in its strategy for social media impressions, website visits and media engagement. AIATSIS’ ‘Indigenous Australian languages’ webpage was updated for the campaign, and made the top ten visited pages for the first time.

The IYIL19 theme was applied to communications and promotions collateral. AIATSIS’ annual United Nations International Women’s Day poster for 2019, titled ‘More powerful together’, features Laurie Baymarrwaŋa, the 2012 Senior Australian of the Year, who is recognised for her lifetime of leadership and work in language and culture preservation in the Crocodile Islands, NT (see page 44 for more detail). This campaign also included a webpage, a postcard and media outreach that generated significant coverage, raising awareness of Baymarrwaŋa’s legacy, the role of women in the preservation and transmission of language, and the importance of Australia’s Indigenous languages. More than 2000 posters were distributed across the country in response to 380 orders, and over 142 000 social media impressions were received. The impact of the International Women’s Day campaign resulted in the Yolŋu sign language project receiving a $20,000 donation from Emma Watkins (Yellow Wiggle) after reading about the project in a Sydney Morning Herald article facilitated by AIATSIS and featuring CEO Craig Ritchie.

An image showing the ​ 2019 International Womens Day poster featuring Laurie Baymarrwana ​
2019 International Womens Day poster featuring Laurie Baymarrwana

The AIATSIS newsletter reached a milestone with the distribution of Issue No. 50 in March 2019. Subscriptions continue to grow steadily, with more than 4500 now signed up to receive a monthly update on AIATSIS happenings. The newsletter is also regularly supplemented with focused electronic direct mail campaigns, which are achieving average open and click rates (31.21 per cent and 26.31 per cent respectively) well above government campaign averages (19.79 per cent and 3.04 per cent).

A major area of focus during 2018–19 was improving the efficiency and effectiveness of AIATSIS’ communication and promotion efforts. Actions taken to achieve this included:

  • Consolidation of AIATSIS’ social media presence into one official account per channel (from six Facebook and four Twitter accounts). While this resulted in a net loss of followers across channels, a more coordinated approach and unified AIATSIS voice is considered more valuable in the long run. A Spotify account was also added as part of IYIL activity (see page 43), with the potential to engage with a new audience.
  • Introduction of Monsido, a website content maintenance and quality assurance program, in April 2019. Monsido has made website quality control, including management of broken links, accessibility and search engine optimisation, much more streamlined, improving AIATSIS’ domain compliance.
  • Adoption of Meltwater for media and social media management and monitoring. Meltwater automates a number of processes for media monitoring, contacts management and targeted outreach.
  • Development of an AIATSIS promotional pack in early 2019 for use at conference stalls, public events, and visits and tours of AIATSIS. The pack, featuring Jimmy Pike artwork, contains refreshed information brochures and collateral, making preparation for events quicker and easier.

The Native Title Research Unit has focused on maximising the recognition of native title through improving information and coordination, actively engaging in law and policy reform and strengthening the voice of native title holders. Over two editions each year the Native Title Newsletter presents feature articles, community interviews, book reviews, research project reports, youth perspectives and various other articles.

Key action: Identify opportunities that draw on the collection to produce publications that strengthen and share knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories and cultures

In 2018–19 AIATSIS published material across a range of traditional and new media to share knowledge and understanding of Indigenous culture in both general and educational contexts.

Educational resources

In partnership with educational publisher Nelson Cengage, AIATSIS has produced an educational series for primary schools entitled ‘Our land our stories: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories and cultures’. The series aligns with the central cross- curriculum priority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories. The series comprises three books—one each for lower, middle and upper primary stages— with themed student cards, teacher resource books and an online gallery of AIATSIS collections material that ties in with the series content. The majority of the content has been written by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors and is supported with images from the AIATSIS collections. The broad aim of the series is to educate non- Indigenous students about Australia’s first peoples, cultures and heritage, and to provide an opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to see themselves in the curriculum. The series will be available in schools in August 2019.

 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories and cultures
Our land our stories: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories and cultures
Work also began on developing a series of free, online resources for secondary school teachers that draw on the content of The Little Red Yellow Black Book: an introduction to Indigenous Australia. The resource will assist secondary educators to implement and embed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cross-curriculum priority into their planning, teaching and assessment, and will include activities, worksheets and suggestions on assessment with step-by-step instructions on how to deliver the classroom lessons. The resources will be available on the AIATSIS website in late 2019.


AIATSIS’ publishing arm, Aboriginal Studies Press, produced two new books in 2018– 19, plus new editions of a classic resource

Aboriginal Studies Press publications in 2018–19

The Little Red Yellow Black Book: an introduction to Indigenous Australia (fourth edition) by Bruce Pascoe (September 2018)

Originally published in 1994, The Little Red Yellow Black Book has established itself as the perfect starting point for those who want to learn about the rich cultures and histories of Australia’s First Peoples. This update draws heavily on the AIATSIS photo and art collection, including the work of artist Jimmy Pike.

Our mob served: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories of war and defending Australia by Allison Cadzow and Dr Mary Anne Jebb (February 2019)

Our mob served presents a moving and little-known history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander wartime and defence service, told through the vivid oral histories and treasured family images of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The difference identity makes: Indigenous cultural capital in Australian cultural fields by Dr Lawrence Bamblett, Dr Fred Myers and Timothy Rowse (eds) (May 2019)

Fifteen Indigenous and non-Indigenous academics examine how identity structures the work of cultural production and how Indigenous producers and their works are recognised and valued. The editors introduce this innovative collection of essays with a path-finding argument that ‘Indigenous cultural capital’ now challenges all Australians to reposition themselves on a revised scale of values.

The Sydney Language by Dr Jakelin Troy (June 2019)

The AIATSIS Foundation raised funds with Australian band The Preatures to have this dictionary, originally published in 1994, redesigned and re-released. The Sydney Language was written to revive interest in the Aboriginal language of the Sydney district. It makes available the small amount of surviving information from historical records, and is called The Sydney Language because there was no name given for the language in these records until late in 19th century, when it was referred to as Dharug. The language is now called by its many clan names, including Gadigal in the Sydney city area and Dharug in Western Sydney.

Australian Aboriginal Studies journal

Two issues of Australian Aboriginal Studies were released, Issue 2 for 2018 and Issue 1 for 2019.

Video—Charles Perkins’ life and achievements

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet commissioned AIATSIS to develop a short video celebrating the life and achievements of Charles Perkins, to mark the occasion of the renaming of a building in his honour. The team provided the film producer Solid State with a content package of archival audiovisual and photographic materials from AIATSIS and other organisations. This video will greet visitors to Charles Perkins House, the home of the National Indigenous Australians Agency in Canberra.

Online exhibition—Artwork of Jimmy Pike

An online showcase was launched of AIATSIS’ extensive collection of drawings, prints and paintings by Walmajarri man Jimmy Pike (1940–2002), one of the most important artists to emerge in Australia in the late 20th century. Donated by Pat Lowe, the artist’s wife and long-time collaborator, the collection includes over 440 individual artworks, many adapted by Desert Designs in the 1980s and 1990s into internationally renowned fashion. The online presentation provides new points of access into this significant collection, with the aim to introduce local and international audiences to the work of Jimmy Pike.

AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia

A use and value study of the AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia was undertaken to identify how people use the map, why user groups value the map, and its role in the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia. The study included a quantitative and qualitative analysis of sales and licensing data over a five-year period, which revealed that user groups value the map for its visual representation of the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia. The recommendations of the study will be used to inform the development of a new AIATSIS map.