by Martin Porr
For the last three years, a team from the Frobenius Institute in Germany and the University of Western Australia has been working on making ethnographic materials, that have been kept in Germany for more than 80 years, accessible to Wanjina Wunggurr Traditional Owners. This project is conducted in collaboration with the Dambimangari, Wilinggin and Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporations.
Between 12 - 19 July this year, and under the guidance of Rona Charles, John Rastus and Craig Rastus, researchers Richard Kuba, Christina Henneke, and Martin Porr visited several sites that were previously recorded by the German researchers in 1938. The team was accompanied by Wilinggin Aboriginal Corporation staff Mariangela Lanza and Luke Russ. Due to difficult road conditions and unseasonal rains, the sites were accessed by helicopter.
During the trip, John and Rona discussed content from the German archive and photos. Several Traditional Owners who were travelling with the German researchers more than 80 years ago, were identified in the imagery. The team also compared the records for several rock art places and stone arrangements that were documented by the Germans and provided advice and corrections. Thanks to their deep knowledge of the area, Rona and John were able to integrate the stories given to the German expedition for a rock art site into existing storylines:
"We thought we didn't know that story but now it makes sense", Rona said happily when she recognised the story from the German archive and was able to link it to the knowledge that had been passed down orally in her family for generations.
Guidance was also given on cultural protocols and how the archival materials should be interpreted. In many cases, Rona and John were able to explain the information included in the archive and provide clarifications about its content. This work is crucial for an understanding of how the German researchers interacted with Traditional Owners on Country in the 1930s and how and why they wrote down their records.
It was encouraging to see that the rock paintings photographed and described by the German researchers were largely unchanged and well preserved. Detailed comparisons will now be conducted to examine this aspect more closely.
images (taken by Martin Porr, Richard Kuba, Christina Henneke) reproduced with permission of Wilinggin Aboriginal Corporation.