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Create a great place to work

Focus on strengthening and enhancing our capability to achieve our mission.

In 2020–21, AIATSIS delivered improved capabilities. Our actions focused on reporting against our Corporate Plan and on the priorities in the 2018–2023 Strategic Plan, which was reaffirmed by the AIATSIS Council. These priorities include strengthening our leadership cohort of Executive Level 2 staff.

  • Relationships
  • Governance
  • Infrastructure capability
  • Workforce capability
  • ICT capability
  • Cost-effective services to and for government

Details on our ongoing capability development are in Part 4, Organisation.

Notable achievements in relation to strengthening and enhancing our capability include:

  • refurbishment of and upgrades to the video and motion picture scanning suites
  • supporting remote working
  • our work with The Israel Museum, Jerusalem – an example of building relationships
  • AIATSIS staff receiving Public Service Medals – a reflection of our high-level capability and services to and for government.

Refurbishing and upgrading the video and motion picture scanning suites

This year saw the completion of refurbishment of and upgrades to the video and motion picture scanning suites with more space, new desks, a neutral colour environment and better lighting, together with improved analogue and digital infrastructure. In parallel, the installation of new photographic lighting in our photographic studio was completed, facilitating the photography of larger works and enabling significantly higher quality images to be captured. The resulting capability has elevated the photographic studio to be among the more technically capable facilities in the national cultural sector.

Supporting remote working

This year we provided additional ICT capability to support remote working for our staff, accelerated collection digitisation and completed numerous projects to enhance our presence and reach via online channels.

Leadership Capability

2020-21 saw a continuation of strengthening and building senior leadership capability. The senior leadership team spent much of the year learning together, and supporting one another in becoming a strong and collaborative leadership team. The senior leadership team attended a series of webinars with a focus on how the leadership team leads, encourages and supports colleagues through challenging situations, such as COVID-19.

Feature 17: Relationships

AIATSIS is committed to:

  • respectful engagement that continues to build our reputation and standing within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • working closely with the government of the day to support their aspirations in Indigenous affairs
  • continuing to partner with key organisations both domestically and internationally
  • engaging in collaboration and best practice in the Galleries Libraries Archives and Museums (GLAM) and research sectors
  • developing relationships with prospective philanthropic donors for activities such as the Songs of Australia Fund and the Dictionaries Fund
  • providing cost-effective services to, and for, government on behalf of all of our stakeholders
  • excelling as public servants.

These actions are embedded in reporting our performance against the five strategies. For the purpose of reporting under this heading we highlight our relationship with the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Building relationships: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

In December 2020, AIATSIS finalised the return of a collection of over 1,800 stone artefacts from The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. The collection was donated to the museum in the 1970s.

The collection arrived at AIATSIS in December 2020. A smoking ceremony was held that afternoon by Ngunnawal custodian Richie Allan.

On 23 February 2021 an event was held at AIATSIS to mark the return of the material from Israel. Speaking at the event were AIATSIS 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.

Speaking at the event, Craig Ritchie said:

This work is central to what we are about in AIATSIS – helping Indigenous people to facilitate cultural resurgence in their communities. It’s not just ceremonial items or spiritually-significant objects that matter. These are everyday items, used in everyday life that is the basis of culture.

The other important thing is that this program exerts an influence on the practices of those collecting institutions that engage on the process of return.

The Hon Ken Wyatt said work will continue to bring home other objects that still sit in overseas museums. ‘Every time we lose an Elder or a traditional owner we lose a walking encyclopaedia of knowledge that can never be replaced,’ he said. ‘When you look at those artefacts you think of the old hands that made those, that person making one spearhead, and then you think of its use. But you also see the engineering feat.’

The collection is being temporarily housed at AIATSIS while it is sorted into sub-collections and further research is undertaken. AIATSIS is working with a number of communities about how they wish to proceed with the return of their material to country.

Building relationships: fundraising for projects that support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities such as the AIATSIS dictionaries project

This is the first year of realising the AIATSIS Philanthropic Fundraising Strategy 2020-2025, managed by the AIATSIS Foundation Board. Heritage architectural firm, Lovell-Chen are an example of one of our donors. For the past two years, they have donated to the AIATSIS dictionaries project, aligning their values and brand to the AIATSIS vision.

Anne-Marie Treweeke, Director, Lovell-Chen said ‘Our philanthropy comes out of walking the talk and incorporating corporate social responsibility into our everyday work’ she said ‘The company through our annual giving program has always looked for ways to support our broad and diverse community with a focus on social, education and heritage. Who we support is in part informed by our employees'.

Anne-Marie said AIATSIS came to our attention through that process. ‘As architects and heritage consultants with a passionate interest in understanding the past so we can contribute meaningfully to the future of our built environment for everyone, the ability to support an organisation that is also working to sustain a rich and diverse heritage and keep language alive is compelling and so important for all of us. She added ‘Our staff benefit from engaging with Indigenous Australia by having everyday conversations that acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as part of the fabric of society. It makes us feel more Australian. We believe recognition and truth telling are long overdue'. A sentiment strongly supported by AIATSIS.

Public Service Medals for AIATSIS staff

Twice each year, as part of the Australian Honours, a small number of public servants are recognised for their outstanding achievements. This year two AIATSIS staff were recognised for their contribution. Dr Lisa Strelein was invested with the Public Service Medal (PSM), as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours, for services to native title, cultural competency and ethics, by the Governor-General, his Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Retd) in a ceremony at Government House on 16 September. Dr Doug Marmion was awarded the PSM in the Australia Day Awards in January 2021 for outstanding public service through the strengthening of Indigenous language infrastructure. Doug received his award from His Excellency the Governor-General in a ceremony held on 3 May 2021

Providing cost-effective services to, and for, government on behalf of all of our stakeholders

Revenue from government is approximately 19.4 million. Additionally AIATSIS generates almost 10 million from other sources. The diagram below shows the breakdown of our revenue sources in 2020–21.

Cost-effective services

This diagram illustrates the percentage breakdown of money coming into AIATSIS. It is a graph in a doughnut shape. 3% are from conferences, 12% from grants, 4% from sales of inventory and subscriptions, 5% from research services, 9% from cultural services and the largest category is 67% from government.

Case Study 2: Returning cultural heritage material to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Spotlight on Jason Lyons. Director - Return of Cultural Heritage Program

Supporting the return of cultural heritage material to traditional owners and custodians has been my proudest achievement.

I am passionate about the revitalisation and maintenance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, particularly language revival and maintenance, and the return of cultural heritage material to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

I am extremely honoured and fortunate to be able to work at an agency dedicated to this, and with a team of people who are as passionate as I am about working in genuine partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to return cultural heritage material to Australia.

My involvements in the handover of cultural heritage material to its traditional owners and custodians have been the proudest moments of my career. As a Wiradjuri man, I think the repatriation of material is significant. It is essential to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ wellbeing and cultural strength – it promotes truth telling, healing, reconciliation and the preservation of our enduring cultures.

Case Study 3: Supporting research to help Stolen Generations members find their family

Spotlight on Donna-Maree Towney, Acting Director, Collections Access and Support

Reconnecting Stolen Generations and their families to community and country is one of the most rewarding jobs I have ever had.

As a Gunditjmara woman it gives me great pride to work in the AIATSIS Family History team, a program that supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Stolen Generations members to reconnect with their family.

Uniting over 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people a year with their families is a way for all of us to connect all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to country.

I work with a dedicated team who devote their time and research skills to our clients over the phone and face to face to support them with their research journeys. This can be a challenge when sometimes all we have to go on is a photograph or a first name. With access to various databases and government and non-government records we often make the impossible a reality.

I am grateful to be working in a space where I can engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from communities all over Australia and be part of their research journeys.

Family History is a critical and valuable program delivered by AIATSIS that is available to all Stolen Generations members and their families.