The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Studies (AIATSIS) and the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Hon Ken Wyatt, recently announced the funding of 14 new Indigenous-led research projects. Amongst these projects is the Taragara Aboriginal Corporation’s research project – Mura Maarni.
For those who may not know, Taragara’s research is led by Dr Lorina Barker, Senior Lecturer at UNE, along with Dr Eliza Kent and Mr Michael Brogan. It was from Dr Barker’s work with Aboriginal communities that the Mura Maarni project was born.
Mura Maarni is an oral history and interdisciplinary multimedia research project whose name is the key to the project’s purpose. Mura Maarni focuses on the mura, or cultural knowledge and history, of the Corner Country, and reanimating cultural knowledge through unearthing oral history accounts from archives, galleries and museums. This will allow for the creation of maarni, new forms of ancient Aboriginal knowledge.
Dr Eliza Kent, one of the Taragara researchers who has been working on this incredibly beneficial project, discussed how one of the key obstacles faced by Aboriginal Communities was when trying to learn about Cultural Knowledge is the fact that large amounts of Aboriginal Cultural Knowledge still remains locked in archives, and is thus inaccessible to the people to whom that Cultural Knowledge belongs. Mura Maarni hopes to change this.
“Mura Maarni is a methodology that supports Aboriginal community engagement with cultural material locked in archives – mura.” said Dr Barker when discussing the research. “This project supports Aboriginal Communities to access mura, to reanimate this knowledge on Country, and to produce maarni. Mura Maarni methodology will engage with material objects, but also allows for engagement with mura that is locked in textual or manuscript sources.”
The key aim and priority of Mura Maarni will be to both repatriate Aboriginal Cultural Knowledge and to restore the mura on Country. This will be accomplished by Taragara researchers who will be guided by Cultural Knowledge Holders and Elders in their engagement with archives and repositories, ensuring that the knowledge that becomes accessible is culturally safe.
While Indigenous Oral History methodologies are at the centre of Mura Maarni, the project also uses multi-media techniques, particularly film, to capture Aboriginal Cultural Knowledge and produce maarni or new forms of that knowledge.
As such there is a film element to this project, which aims to capture Cultural Knowledge Holders and community engagement with mura so that this knowledge can be retained on Country. This knowledge will also allow for further creation and capturing of maarni – using digital and creative arts to produce new songs, dances, artworks and ceremony on Country.
The Mura Maarni project is still underway, however there have already been some key insights. Mr Brogan noted that Mura Maarni has shown that the Aboriginal Cultural Knowledge that was stolen from Country and locked in western institutions is not dead knowledge and can be recovered in a culturally appropriate way.
As Dr Barker says, “the Old People who were interviewed and whose knowledge was taken from Country by western historians, anthropologists and other collectors, knew what they were doing – they were preserving Cultural Knowledge in forms that were available to them, so their descendants would be able to recover it.”
With the recent AIATSIS funding being announced, Dr Kent discussed further what this means for Mura Maarni and the benefits it will provide the project going forward.
“There are three key benefits that arise from the funding. Firstly, Taragara Research will be able to take Cultural Knowledge Holders and Elders to visit archives and repositories to recover Cultural Knowledge that has been removed from Country. For Aboriginal communities in western NSW the cost of travelling to archives is prohibitive, so this project will facilitate that travel and access. Secondly, the funding will enable the Taragara Research team to work with communities to produce maarni on Country, with community involvement and in cultural safety. Lastly, the Mura Maarni methodology will be lodged with the AIATSIS Indigenous Research Exchange so that it becomes available to other Communities.”
Looking to the future and what comes next after Mura Maarni, Dr Kent discussed the iterative nature of Taragara Research methodologies. Mura Maarni arose out of Dr Lorina Barker’s highly successful Looking Through Windows project, which uses some of the same methodologies to work effective with Elders and Communities. On this topic the Taragara Researchers said “we look forward to what we will learn from Mura Maarni and to develop effective engagements with Aboriginal communities that prioritise Aboriginal cultural knowledge and perspectives more fully, and deliver outcomes against Aboriginal Community aspirations to take ancient Aboriginal knowledge into the future.”