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Promote better understanding of Indigenous peoples' culture and heritage

Progress on ensuring we are the national forum for dialogue and we are delivering transformative experiences, and high-quality exhibitions, products and publications.

In 2020–21 AIATSIS contributed to public education about and understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with a particular intention to increase the value and esteem in which Indigenous cultures and knowledge are held by Australian society, in accordance with our vision.

We also addressed the Transformation Initiative outlined in the AIATSIS Council’s 2018–2023 Strategic Plan and the priorities for AIATSIS in the 2021–22 Corporate Plan by developing education, curriculum and teaching resources and support for teacher professional development. In 2020–21 AIATSIS delivered the following initiatives in line with our mission and functions. Our actions focused on reporting against our Corporate Plan.

  • Communications
  • Education and cultural learning
  • Public events
  • Publishing

Feature 4: Communications

Refer to TABLE 2: PROMOTE BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLE‘S CULTURES AND HERITAGE and Table 2a: Communications—number and quality for statistics on communications activities.

The Communications business unit continued to implement the AIATSIS communications strategy, aligning communication activities to achieve key elements of the AIATSIS Strategic Plan to:

  • position AIATSIS as a trusted modern forum for dialogue
  • enhance the public image and value of AIATSIS
  • extend the reach and impact of AIATSIS.

In the challenging circumstances created by COVID-19 we increased the use of social media and online communications in the 12-month reporting period, which saw our audience grow by 53.6 per cent from the previous year. Though our media activities eased somewhat, we continued to engage with media, signalling that AIATSIS is still open for business and is a key source of information and a leading voice in national discussions.

We remained user centred, clear and consistent in our communications to all our stakeholders. Notable achievements during this time included:

  • an AIATSIS brand refresh and refreshed website
  • an event for the naming of the AIATSIS Maraga building
  • a new AIATSIS online shop and record sales of Aboriginal Studies Press (ASP) products this financial year
  • eight titles published by ASP, the majority with Indigenous authorship
  • NAIDOC Week 2020 celebrations in November 2020, including the first online AIATSIS Indigenous Art Market and a projection show on the National Carillon in Canberra
  • our first live virtual event, a panel discussion with Professor Heidi Norman, Dr Lawrence Bamblett, Aunty Norma Ingram and author Dr Johanna Perheentupa launching the ASP publication Redfern: Aboriginal Activism in the 1970s. The event had global and national reach, attracting 88 viewers from six countries.

We published 24 news stories, including:

  • ‘Indigenous Research Exchange Grants announced’
  • ‘Dhurga language revival bolstered by new dictionary’
  • ‘AIATSIS and the Native Title Council sign Memorandum of Understanding’
  • ‘Code of Ethics released’
  • ‘Bardi Jawi celebrates return of cultural heritage material’
  • ‘14 new Indigenous-led research projects share $2.6 million in funding’
  • Yindjibarndi celebrate return of cultural heritage material
  • Celebration for the return of cultural heritage material from the Israel Museum, Jerusalem
  • ‘Lardil headdress nears journey’s end in return from United Kingdom to Wellesley Islands’
  • Arrernte ceremony in Alice Springs celebrates the return of sacred objects from overseas collections.

This annual report details the stories and successes of each of these topics.

Feature 5: Education and cultural learning

Refer to TABLE 2: PROMOTE BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLE‘S CULTURES AND HERITAGE and Table 2b: Engagement with education for statistics on education and cultural learning activities.

Notable achievements include:

  • Influencing what children learn at school with the launch of AIATSIS Education Strategy
  • improving the cultural competency of the Australian Workforce by expanding Core Cultural Learning. We highlight the University sector as an example.

Influencing what children learn at school: AIATSIS education strategy

CEO Craig Ritchie and Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Hon Ken Wyatt AM MP, launched the AIATSIS Education Strategy at the AIATSIS Summit, in Adelaide in May 2021.

The goals of the AIATSIS Education Strategy are to:

  • develop and implement a cutting edge schools program
  • generate world leading education resources aligned to the Australian Curriculum
  • develop and deliver culturally responsive professional learning for educators.

These activities will improve educational outcomes for Indigenous children, and more effectively share tens of thousands of years of our story with all Australian students. To do this AIATSIS will focus on developing teacher professional learning and creating authoritative curriculum resources that tell Australia’s story from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives, thus building teachers’ and students’ confidence to engage with and be transformed by our story.

Improving the cultural competency of the Australian workforce: Core Cultural Learning

Core Cultural Learning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia (Foundation Course) (Core) was first developed by AIATSIS for the Australian Public Service (APS) and is now available to the general public through the AIATSIS online learning environment Learning Ground.

Nine additional APS departments and agencies subscribed during the year. Outside of the Australian government, 24 new clients subscribed to Core under licence agreement. AIATSIS now has 36 fee-paying clients across the not-for-profit, education, government and corporate sectors. This is the last year Core will be available free of charge to the APS.

In May 2021 AIATSIS initiated an independent evaluation of Core, the results of which will be finalised in 2021–22 and will underpin a revision of the Core course content.

A notable case study of the increasing take up and influence of Core is the adoption by University of Queensland (UQ) in November 2020. UQ purchased licences to deliver Core to its 18,000+ academic and professional staff. The course is foundational to UQ’s cultural learning package of blended learning resources, incentives and network. The first two modules are mandatory training for staff and within the first eight months of the roll-out more than 5000 staff completed the first module, 4600 completed the first two modules and 450 completed the full program. The roll out is on track to meet the target of 85 per cent of staff to complete modules 1 and 2 by the end of 2022.

UQ selected Core as the most appropriate online option for its university-wide cultural learning package as Core provides a well-constructed national perspective on the many unique and diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The self-paced, reflective activities are a good fit for the strategic imperatives of UQ’s Reconciliation Action Plan. AIATSIS' collaboration with UQ has enabled multi-factorial authentication and automated data integration between IT systems ensuring monitoring and reporting is accurate.

Feedback about Core has been positive, with participants indicating that the content is engaging and informative and the reflection activities help them process and apply information. Since rolling out the Core foundational course modules, UQ has entered a collaboration with AIATSIS and the University of Sydney to develop an online course based on the Code of Ethics for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research (AIATSIS 2020).

Core educational and cultural learning by numbers

Core cultural learning Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia foundation course at mid-2021.

35+ non-Commonwealth government organisations

70+ organisations 2021–2022 target

170+ active trials

2 products in development – research ethics, teachers’ modules

users include:

10 -Queensland

City of Gold Coast

University of Queensland

Queensland Investment Corporation

Land Court of Queensland

Queensland Department of Environment and Science

Alexandra Hills State High School

The Spot Academy

Healthy Land & Water

Savannah Guides

Lives Lived Well

9 –New South Wales

Hunter New England Central Coast Primary Health Care Network

NSW Inspector of Custodial Services

Cat Protection Society of NSW

NSW North Coast Local Land Services

Faculty of Science UNSW

Behavioural Insights Team


Aurora Education Foundation


4 -Victoria



Victorian Ombudsman

Cool Australia

1 -South Australia

Legal Services Commission, South Australia

2 –Australian Capital Territory

The Australian National University

Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR)

1 -Tasmania

Centre for Marine Socioecology, University of Tasmania

1 –Western Australia

Pivot Support Services

2 –Northern Territory

Papulu Aparr-Kari Language Centre

Council for Aboriginal Alcohol Programs

5 -Australia general

Australian Museums and Galleries Association

Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care

National and State Libraries of Australia


Australian Volunteers Program

Feature 6: Forums for dialogue

Our goal under the strategic plan, to provide forums for dialogue, was made significantly more challenging in the context of COVID. The AIATSIS staff adapted to the new environment, holding in person, hybrid and all on-line forums workshops. The convening of a national conference in the AIATSIS Summit face to face in Adelaide was, in retrospect, an extraordinary achievement. Notable forums include:

  • AIATSIS Summit 30 May-4 June, combining two flagship AIATSIS conferences
  • annual Native Title Representative Bodies’ Legal Workshop
  • international collaborative Indigenous marine rights forum

The AIATSIS Summit

In 2021 the first AIATSIS Summit was successfully co-convened in Adelaide as a COVID-safe event with the Kaurna Yerta Aboriginal Corporation and South Australian Native Title Services. The Summit provided a unique forum for dialogue with representatives from the academic, research, native title, legal, community and public policy sectors. Delegates came together to discuss critical and emerging challenges as well as opportunities to support and strengthen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge and governance.

The AIATSIS Summit was a combined the biennial AIATSIS National Indigenous Research Conference (ANIRC) and the National Native Title Conference (NTC) across five days. The first two days, Monday and Tuesday, were dedicated to ANIRC, and Thursday and Friday were dedicated to the NTC. The Summit’s biggest day was Wednesday, when the ANIRC and NTC programs overlapped, opening with a traditional smoking ceremony on the banks of the Karrawirra Parri (River Torrens) and closing with the gala dinner.

The Summit coincided with Reconciliation Week (27 May – 3 June) and Mabo Day (3 June).

AIATSIS Summit by numbers

Delegates and speakers:

910 total delegates across 5 days

720 guests at the Gala Dinner

450 guests at the closing reception

226 presenters


32 total exhibitors in the trade hall

Social media and engagement:

102 total posts published

152,896 impressions

6,524 engagements

2,740 link clicks

323 new followers

@AIATSIS and #aiatsisSUMMIT mentions across the week:

307 mentions, average of 51.2 per day

1.1M impressions, average 175,044 per day

1,658 engagements, average 276 per day

86% positive sentiment

Website and Electronic Direct Mail:

25,776 Summit page views

18,656 Summit email views

23 Summit campaign EDMs distributed


$380,000 raised

76 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates sponsored

Workshops and symposia

The annual Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRB) Legal Workshop took place in Darwin over 16-18 February 2021 and featured both in person and virtual live participation. The workshop is a key professional development opportunity for native title legal practitioners to share and develop their knowledge of contemporary native title legal issues. The 2021 workshop included a focus on alternative settlements and compensation, legislative amendments, documenting and protecting native title, and updates on significant cases. Participants were invited to provide feedback on the topics of most importance and future topics as well as the management of dual mode of delivery of the workshop. Majority of feedback on all elements of the workshop was positive.

AIATSIS hosted an informal online community of practice on marine rights on 25 March 2021. The seminar brought together Indigenous saltwater communities from the South Coast of NSW, Chile and Panama. The purpose of the seminar was to develop a community of practice on marine rights and facilitate information-sharing regarding asserting decision-making authority over coastal areas, barriers and enablers in practising traditional cultural fishing, engaging with government and industry, developing research partnerships and different regulatory approaches. Despite different contexts, histories and legal frameworks, groups spoke of similar challenges, frustrations and aspirations.

Feature 7: Public events

Refer to TABLE 2: PROMOTE BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLE‘S CULTURES AND HERITAGE and Table 2c: Public events for statistics on public events.

Notable achievements include:

  • naming of the AIATSIS Building: ‘Maraga’, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the building's opening and its place on Ngunnawal country
  • exhibitions in the Maraga Building, such as the Country display; lending parts of the Collection to organisations such as the ACT Heritage Library, the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, the Western Australian Museum, and Australian Parliament House; and publicly discussing displays at the National Museum of Australia
  • an event marking the return of a collection of over 1,800 stone artefacts from The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Further detail is in Create a great place to work, Relationships.

Public events are integrated into much of our work. The Return of Cultural Heritage program, the development of First Nations Media Australia digitisation capability in Alice Springs, the Cultural Keepers Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, the National Gallery and Wesfarmers Indigenous Arts Leadership and Fellowship Arts Leadership Program, collaboration with the Museum of Australian Democracy and the Parliamentary Library all included events.

AIATSIS Building Naming: Maraga

When AIATSIS relocated to the Acton Peninsula 20 years ago, it marked the beginning of an exciting era for the institution. The official naming this year of the AIATSIS building Maraga, a Ngunnawal word for a strong and robust shield, is both significant and symbolic, recognising and acknowledging the Ngunnawal peoples and their land, which AIATSIS has called home for more than two decades.

Naming the building Maraga not only reaffirms and strengthens AIATSIS’ connection with the Ngunnawal people but also highlights the importance of language for First Australians.

Leading up to the naming event, AIATSIS consulted the United Ngunnawal Elders Council, other Ngunnawal family groups and the Winanggaay Ngunnawal Language Group, who provided the building’s name.

Winanggaay Ngunnawal Language Group Coordinator Caroline Hughes said that Ngunnawal has always been spoken here but that through policy and deliberate effort it diminished. Now, through hard work and the support of AIATSIS it is being restored, remembered and spoken'.

The achievement is twofold. Firstly, naming the building Maraga fulfils a commitment AIATSIS made in response to the UN 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages. Secondly, this simple act of naming the building Maraga contributes to Indigenous languages being more prominent and visible in everyday life.

Exhibitions and loans from the Collection housed in the Maraga Building

  • The Country display was installed in the Stanner Reading Room in March 2021. The display features material from the AIATSIS Collection that embodies and narrates the deep connections and reciprocal relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and their environments.
  • The William (Deucem) Smith Shearers’ Award (M00012) was loaned to the ACT Heritage Library for its The Art of the Story exhibition (26 February – 30 April 2021). The award is now situated alongside Roxanne Brown’s digital story paying tribute to William Smith, her grandfather, as part of the projects My Story, My Voice and Presenting Elders (Yarauna Centre, CIT).
  • The painting Notes to Basquiat: Subject Matters (ATS535) by Gordon Bennett was loaned and safely transported to the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) in October 2020 for their exhibition The Unfinished Business: The Art of Gordon Bennett (7 November 2020 – 21 March 2021). QAGOMA staff conveyed their appreciation for the loan and noted that the exhibition has received a very positive response from audiences.
  • A digital loan of Jimmy Pike’s marker drawings Jimmy (ATS1036_176) and Pat (ATS1036_175) was provided to the Western Australian Museum Boola Bardip for display in the Reflections Gallery.
  • A circular letter outlining the Board of One People of Australia League’s (OPAL) call for land rights (Rp BON) was loaned to Australian Parliament House for the exhibition AO: Australia’s First Indigenous Parliamentarian, which marks 50 years since Australia’s first Indigenous senator, Neville Bonner, entered federal parliament. The exhibition ran from 27 May to 11 July 2021.
  • The Collection Development team undertook background research on the Elcho Island Jacket (ATS604) created by Yolngu leader David Burrumarra MBE, in support of an NITV interview on Indigenous fashion with the CEO, Craig Ritchie.
  • The Curatorial team provided a number of tours of and presentations on the AIATSIS Collection to various groups, including community groups, sector colleagues and distinguished visitors.

Return of a collection from The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Further information about the return event is in Part 3 Focus on strengthening and enhancing our capability to achieve our mission. Speaking at the event were CEO, Craig Ritchie; the Hon Ken Wyatt AM MP, Minister for Indigenous Australians; and Mr Ron Gerstenfeld, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Israel, Canberra.

Feature 8: Publishing

Refer to TABLE 2: PROMOTE BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLE‘S CULTURES AND HERITAGE and Table 2d: Publication program for statistics on publishing.

AIATSIS’ publishing arm, Aboriginal Studies Press, experienced an overwhelmingly successful year for publications, engagement and sales. Overcoming the market challenges of COVID-19, ASP achieved record sales and engagement. Sales reached over $738,000, a 68 per cent increase on the previous year.

AIATSIS also publishes Newsletters and Community Reports to support our research activities and communicate the results of our research.

Book launches

On National Sorry Day, 26 May 2021, Aboriginal Studies Press launched Sorry and Beyond: Healing the Stolen Generations by Brian Butler and John Bond, at Glanville Hall, formerly St Francis House, in Adelaide.

Brian Butler of Arrernte and Luritja descent from central Australia requested that the launch of his book be held at St Francis House in Semaphore as he spent some time in the House accommodation whilst he attended school in Adelaide. Brian has fond memories of his short time in the House.

Speakers at the book launch included former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, SA Commissioner for Aboriginal Children & Young People April Lawrie, advocate David Rathman, and authors Brian Butler (in person) and John Bond (via video).

In 2020–21 ASP released eight publications (meeting its target for the year), which contributed to the record sales:

  • (July) A Dictionary of Umpithamu: With Notes on Middle Paman by Jean-Christophe Verstraete and language consultants Florrie Bassani and Joan Liddy
  • (September) Redfern: Aboriginal Activism in the 1970s by Dr Johanna Perheentupa
  • (November) Clever Man: The Life of Paddy Compass Namadbara as told by Big Bill Neidjie, Bluey Ilkgirr, Jacob Nayinggul, Jim Wauchope, Johnny Williams Snr, Ron Cooper and Thomson Yuludjiri, compiled by Ian White
  • (January) Black, White and Exempt: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lives under Exemption edited by Jennifer Jones and Lucinda Aberdeen
  • (March) Talking Strong: The National Aboriginal Education Committee and the development of Aboriginal education policy by Leanne Holt
  • (March) Australian Aboriginal Studies 2020/2 Special Edition ‘Brilliance’ with guest editor Craig Ritchie
  • (March) Diet and Dust in the Desert: An Aboriginal community, Maralinga Lands, South Australia (second edition) by Maggie Brady, Kingsley Palmer and the Maralinga Community (Research Publication)
  • (May) Sorry and Beyond: Healing the Stolen Generations by Brian Butler and John Bond.

Research Publications

Two editions of the Native Title Newsletter were released and contained up-to-date news, resources, articles and developments in Native Title. Featured articles included:

  • Under the sea: a traditional owner perspective on the Marine Estate Management, by Wally Stewart
  • Takeaways from the Native Legislation Amendment Act 2021 (Cth), by Michael O’Donnell and Mia Stone AIATSIS
  • Land claim and native title archives survey, by Christiane Keller AIATSIS
  • Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Registered Native Title Body Corporate – Native Title Youth Engagement, Indigenous Youth in Governance and Political Processes Project, by Peter Bligh, AIATSIS and Dr Valerie Cooms, Quandamooka

The Native Title Newsletter currently has 1,801 subscribers. In addition, the native title law alert has 2765 subscribers.

The inaugural edition of the Indigenous Research Exchange Newsletter was released in April 2021. This publication is released quarterly and highlights Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research, its impact and other relevant information. The first edition highlighted new research across the sector, introduced the Indigenous Research Exchange Advisory Board and Knowledge Exchange Platform, and featured profiles on two of the Indigenous Research Exchange grant projects:

  • Following the Trade Routes – Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre (KALACC)
  • Resurgence in Walbanga - Mogo Local Aboriginal Land Council

The Indigenous Research Exchange Newsletter reached 2,165 subscribers.

In addition, seven community reports and five research reports were published.