Libraries play a critical role in storing the accurate socio-cultural, political, and economic history of different people around the world. In the past before the emergence of written records, many communities relied on oral literature, especially the use of folk tales, poems, songs, puns, proverbs, myths, and legends to pass cultural practices and information from one generation to another (Flood, 2019). The indigenous Australians often referred to as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people or simply as first Australians, used this approach to pass important cultural practices and beliefs from one generation to another before the arrival of white settlers (Langton et al., 2018). However, this approach was not effective inaccurate storage of information as it was subject to distortion in various ways. The information stored in this form would mutate over generations because of constant migration and interaction with other indigenous communities. When the British colonial power conquered the region, formal education was introduced, and for the first time, there was an effort to record history, cultural beliefs and practices, and many other factors about the aboriginals.
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The colonial power introduced formal education among the indigenous people and there was a deliberate attempt to change some of their practices that the white settles considered retrogressive. As Poirier (2017) observes, some of the earliest records of the history and culture of the indigenous people were recorded by white scholars who had prejudice towards some of the cultural practices of the locals. In an effort to justify the need for a change of culture, their historical records focused on explaining the negativities of the local’s tradition, painting a picture of primitive people who embraced a dangerous culture. In the process, the real history of the locals was lost and it became nearly impossible to understand why some practices were considered sacred and critical for the locals. In this paper, the focus is to analyze the timeline of literature and key events in the intersection of the two different systems (indigenous Australia and Australian libraries), the dilution of the history of the original Australians, and the efforts that have been made to indigenize Australian libraries.
Australian libraries have a wide collection of the records of the indigenous people in the country. However, some scholars have criticized most of these records for their misrepresentation of information about the indigenous people. To help in this investigation, the researcher relied on the following primary question:
- What efforts have been made to indigenize Australian libraries?
During the collection of data, it was necessary to investigate different socio-cultural differences between the two systems of information and knowledge management. It was necessary to investigate the nature of the Australian libraries, archives, and information services and their historical relationship with indigenous Australian communities. As such, the following additional questions helped in conducting further analysis in this paper:
- What are the different socio-cultural (and other) differences between the two systems of information and knowledge management (Indigenous and Western in Australia)?
- What is the nature of Australian Libraries and Archives and Information service’s historical relationship with Indigenous Australian communities?
- What has library services in Australia done to rectify past wrongs with Indigenous Australia?
- What are Indigenous priorities and are they actually addressed with current approaches to reconciliation?
The Australian libraries have a wide record of the history of the indigenous people in the country. According to Olsen and Russell (2019), there has been a deliberate attempt to have an accurate record of the aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander people. However, it is evident that some of these records have major weaknesses that many now believe compromise their accuracy. Western literature was recorded by foreigners who claim to have interviewed the locals and monitored their lifestyles. This approach of collecting information was not effective, especially at the time in which it was collected. First, there was strong suspicion between the locals and the white settlers. The colonial power used forced to ensure that they took control of the country. As such, there was no trust between the aboriginals and the settlers. Secondly, the settlers viewed aboriginals as inferior people with a retrogressive culture. The negative perception of these early historians had made it impossible for them to see anything positive about the locals. Lastly, white settlers were keen on promoting the belief that they were the superior race as a way of introducing a new culture in the new country and dominating the locals. When trying to promote formal education, they had to convince aboriginals that their tradition and culture were inferior to western civilization. The same was negative perception towards the locals defined a significant majority of western literature that dominates Australian libraries.
A significant number of the aboriginals have made an effort to rewrite their history, challenging some of the information available in western literature. Palmer (2018) argues that the British colonial power was able to assert its authority in Australia because of the superiority of its military. It is also true that they had an advanced civilization that enabled them to dominate the world. However, that does not mean the locals were extremely primitive and practiced a dangerous culture. The fact that they were able to treat themselves, lead a social life, overcome various socio-economic challenges, and even put a spirited fight against the colonial power meant that they had some form of civilization that is not properly captured in western literature. The need to have an alternative system that can help retell the story of the original Australian has never been greater than it is today. A section of the community feels that the true culture and history of the locals may be lost if nothing is done to address weaknesses in the current literature.
The Intersection of the Two Systems
It is essential to investigate the intersection of the Australian indigenous traditional knowledge and information systems, and the Western colonial context of Information systems that was introduced in Australia and is still dominant. As Mayor (2019) observes, before the arrival of the colonial power and western education, indigenous Australians had their unique form of passing knowledge about their culture, tradition, and values from parents or grandparents to children and grandchildren. The traditional knowledge and information system was based on oral narratives, including folktales, songs, poems, puns, and proverbs among others. The approach was very effective and knowledge was passed over time, making it possible for the next generation to understand the best approaches of tilling the land, how to hunt and remain safe, plants and animals to avoid because of their threat, and how to relate amongst themselves to promote peace and overall communal development. The culture and system of passing and storing information worked for the people even though they might not have been as effective as that used by the foreign settlers.
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The point of intersection of the two was when the foreign forces took control of the country and all the indigenous people came under the control of the royal power. The intersection was not positive given various factors that were at stake during that period. According to Macpherson (2019), it was not a situation where two equally superior cultures met in a way that demands respect from both sides. Instead, it was a case where the foreign culture and system of knowledge management was considered superior, and as such, had to absorb the local one which was viewed as inferior. The armed resistance of the locals against the invading forces created some form of animosity and mistrust between the two systems. It created an environment where the system imposed by the military power had to override the local one.
People were not given an opportunity to choose a culture and information management system they considered suitable. When the British forces took over, they forced the locals to embrace the western education system. An elaborate plot was hatched to redefine the approach of storing and sharing information. The use of oral forms of education became less popular as they were considered inferior. Instead, the locals had to embrace western education (Pawson et al., 2020). Another major step that the foreigners took was to misrepresent the indigenous cultural practices and ways of life in their literature. It was a way of assimilating the locals into their culture by making them hate the way of life that their ancestors led. They achieved significant success because, for years, many aboriginals have led a life where they fully embrace most of the practices and beliefs propagated by the foreign power. When the two systems intersected, the Australian indigenous knowledge and information system lost its ground and became less desirable.
The western colonial context of the information system has remained the primary way of storing and sharing knowledge among all Australians. Recently, a section of the aboriginals has questioned the western colonial context of the information system and its ability to accurately provide information about their past. They have realized that when the two systems intersected, their cultural beliefs and practices lost their value and were abolished. Their religion became undesirable as they were forced to embrace Christianity. Some of these aboriginals now want to redefine the knowledge management system because they no longer trust the Australian libraries. They feel it is necessary to reintroduce the Australian indigenous traditional knowledge and information system as the only way of protecting their heritage.
Indigenous knowledge is essential in the investigation of the true cultural practices of the aboriginals in Australia. According to Malcolm and Hall (2018), this form of knowledge focuses on subsistence such as the approach that the ancestors take to cultivate the land and hunt for wild animals. It also focuses on midwifery, ecological knowledge, craft skills, traditional medicine, ethnobotany, ethnoastronomy, and celestial navigation among others (Carson & Kerr, 2017). These are facts that are rarely found in western literature. Some indigenous communities had elaborate midwifery systems that helped in ensuring that mothers delivered their babies safely. Some of these traditional practices are still used by a section of the communities that find it difficult to trust western medicine. Some of the herbs that locals used to treat various ailments, including snakebites, are still considered effective, but it is impossible to find it recorded in any of the books commonly found in Australian libraries. Clark (2017) reports that before the inversion of the colonialists, the majority of the indigenous communities knew how to live in perfect harmony with the environment. They were able to feed themselves and meet all their basic needs without posing any threat to the environment. Some of them lived in these forests as hunters and gatherers and their activities created a perfect balance in the ecosystem. However, they were never given any credit for the role that they had played to protect the environment for centuries as they provided for themselves. Others who lived along the coastlines had elaborate sea navigation capabilities that enabled them to become efficient fishermen.
Oral tradition was and remains the only hope of understanding the truth about the past of these communities. Legends may help in understanding the role that specific heroes in these communities played. Some of these stories focus on true events that happened in the past and explain what the community cherished. A section of these heroic people played a major role in resisting the colonial rule and although they were subdued, their efforts helped their communities in various ways. Such stories were ignored when white settlers started writing books about the locals. Songs were also essential in passing critical information and cultural practices to the next generation. Tracing some of these traditional songs may help in understanding the truth about the aboriginals. Although the missionaries discouraged some of the songs because they were considered rebellious or promoting what the settlers considered retrogressive culture, some of them have remained popular. Listening to the lyrics of these songs may help in unearthing the truth about the first people who inhabited Australia before the arrival of the British forces. Laws and customs can also be used when a scholar is looking for an alternative to the western libraries in the country.
A significant population of indigenous Australians has maintained some of these customers despite having gone through formal education. These customs and traditions explain how children should relate with their parents when one is expected to marry, steps that have to be taken before marriage, and birth and death rituals. Such practices were not brought into the country by the missionaries (Reynolds, 2018). As such, they can provide crucial insight into the past to understand the level of civilization of the locals at the time when the foreign forces took control of the country. Indigenous knowledge can be expressed through other means of folklore and a scholar who is keen on understanding the truth can piece together bits of information presented by various sources, including those in books, to build up new knowledge.
Libraries Not Serving Indigenous Community Needs
The Australian libraries play a critical role in providing information that local communities need. Langton (2019) argues that literature in these libraries can only be of use when they have accurate information about specific issues. Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders have developed the desire to understand their history. Just like whites and other residents of the country, they find it essential to understand the role that they played in the socio-economic and political development of the country. However, it is a concern that these libraries are not serving the needs of the indigenous communities. The historical records in these libraries misrepresent the truth about the original Australians. There was a deliberate attempt by some of the earliest white scholars who introduced formal education in Australia to distort the truth about the locals in this country.
The early scholars were part of the colonial system keen on subduing the aboriginals, forcing them into slavery, and introducing a new culture perceived to be superior to any other that was in existence in the country at that time (Howard-Wagner et al., 2018). The problem at that time was that the locals were unable to address the distortion in the literature that focused on their history because they were illiterate. The white settlers introduced formal education through mission schools as one of the best ways of changing the cultural beliefs and practices of the Aboriginals. The biggest tragedy in the whole process was that these locals were taught to hate their culture from the earliest stage of their development. As soon as the little children joined the mission schools, they were constantly reminded of the evils and weaknesses of their culture and then reminded of the need to embrace the western culture.
Religion played a perfect role in the process of indoctrinating the locals to the new way of life. Before the inversion by the colonial power, original Australians had a religion and believed in their gods. Christianity was a perfect tool to replace these traditional beliefs of the people. The earliest aboriginal scholars who had the capacity to correct the mistakes made by white settlers in their literature failed to do so because they had been made to hate their own culture (Deivasigamani, 2018). They grew up knowing that most of their cultural practices were retrogressive and inferior to that of the white settlers.
Oral literature that had been used to pass knowledge from one generation to the next became less effective because the majority of the children were attending formal schools put up by the missionaries. As such, the older generation that had the truth about cultural practices and beliefs of the locals were unable to pass it to their children or grandchildren. They never realized the extent to which literature by white scholars had misrepresented their culture because they were illiterate. It means that they could not criticize the literature, which their children had started embracing as the true picture of the indigenous people. As more of the aboriginals became literate and some of them became scholars in various fields, little was done to address mistakes made by the white scholars who started distorting information about the original inhabitants of the country.
The same false narrative was repeated for several generations and many people started believing it as the truth. Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander people who are keen on unearthing the truth about their past find these libraries less capable of meeting their needs. Maddison (2019) explains that if these indigenous communities need to unearth the truth about their history, they may be forced to look beyond the western Australian libraries. They need sources of information that are not based on prejudice and the desire to suppress a given community or group of people. This weakness of the current Australian libraries has forced the local communities to focus on the little remaining oral literature and other forms that were used to store and share information before the arrival of the colonial forces.
A section of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people feel that the existing bodies of knowledge have failed to provide an accurate representation of their historical past, especially their cultural beliefs and practices, their level of civilization at the time when the colonial power invaded the subcontinent, and the role that they have since played in the country’s socio-economic development. The report is one of the attempts to investigate the intersection of indigenous Australia and Australian libraries to understand some of the omissions made by western literature. It was necessary to collect data from various sources to explain the issue under investigation. In this section, the focus is to discuss the approach used to collect and analyze data from various sources.
In this study, the researcher relied on two primary sources of data. The first source of data came from existing literature. Australian libraries have a wide range of books and journal articles that focus on indigenous Australians. Although they have been criticized for their bias against the locals, they provide important insight into the socio-political and economic practices of the original Australians before, during, and after colonization. Reviewing a wide range of literature helps to capture the possible biases, especially if they were written by different people at different times (Klugman et al., 2019). The second source of data in this study was a survey that was conducted on a small sample of respondents. Primary data was meant to help in identifying weaknesses of the secondary data and to provide further insight into the issue under investigation.
Understanding the culture of a people requires a deliberate approach to collecting data from the affected group. It may be possible that some critical historical facts might have been lost from one generation to another among the aboriginals (Howitt, 2019). However, some of the folktales, songs, poems, language, culture and other factors might have helped in storing important information that can help address some of the distortions that exist in western literature. As such, conducting a survey was considered essential in understanding the issue under investigation. It helped in bringing in the voice of the affected group (the locals) into the existing records about their history.
When conducting a study about a specific group, it is always essential to collect data from a section of the members of the community to understand their view over the issue. As Sirakaya-Turk et al. (2017) observe, the history and culture of the aboriginals can best be told by the locals other than foreign scholars may not have a proper understanding of the issue under investigation. It is estimated that the country has about 760,000 indigenous people living in different parts of Australia (Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos & Brooks, 2017). The researcher opted to sample a small number of them to understand their views about the issue and their priorities when recording their literature.
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The judgmental sampling method was considered appropriate in this study. This non-probability sampling strategy was considered appropriate because of the inclusion criteria that the respondents had to meet. All the participants had to be adult indigenous Australians who have some knowledge about their history and understand the existing western literature about their culture. The population of the aboriginals is about 3.3% of the country’s total population, and those who meet the inclusion criteria are even lesser. As such, it was necessary to use a method that would make it easy to identify specific individuals who could effectively respond to the research questions. Judgmental sampling meant that the researcher identified specific individuals, assessed them to determine if they were potential candidates for the study, and directly contacted them (Coe et al., 2017). A sample of 20 participants was used to help in conducting a detailed analysis of the issue under investigation. The sample size was relatively small but adequate in providing the needed information.
Data Collection Method
Once the participants were identified, the next step was to collect data from them. The first step was to contact them and explain to them the significance of the study and their role in it. The researcher used Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Twitter to communicate with the participants because of their popularity in the country. In some cases, direct phone calls were made to contact and maintain communication with some participants. A questionnaire, that had been developed prior to contacting respondents, was e-mailed to each of the participants. They were informed about it and requested to answer each of the questions. They were expected to submit their answered questionnaires through the same channel within one week of receiving the document. As Beins (2019) suggests, online surveys are often important when conducting a study within a limited time and it is relatively challenging to reach out to the targeted individuals physically. These constraints, coupled with the current problem of the COVID-19 pandemic, made it necessary to collect data through online surveys to observe physical distancing as health experts recommend.
Data Analysis Method
The information obtained from the respondents had to be analyzed to help answer research questions. Questions in chapter 1 show that it was necessary to provide a detailed explanation of various issues under investigation. As such, it was necessary to use qualitative methods of data analysis as Tan (2018) suggests. Respondents were expected to provide detailed explanations of each issue under investigation. They had to base their understanding on the knowledge gained from both formal and informal education systems in the country. Using the open-ended question, respondents were required to use their own words to provide a detailed explanation of the issue instead of providing yes or no answers. It was considered the best approach to gaining new knowledge over the issue.
Analysis of the Findings
The previous chapter explained that a simple survey was conducted to help answer the research questions set in chapter 1 of this paper. It was explained that a section of the indigenous Australians feel that the western Australian libraries have failed to meet their needs in terms of accurately reporting about their cultural beliefs and practices, their level of civilization just before the inversion by the white settlers, and the role that they have played ever since in promoting the socio-economic development in the country. As such, they feel that it is necessary to find alternative systems that can help trace these historical records and preserve them accurately for the benefit of the current and future generations. It is necessary to start by answering research questions set in the previous chapter:
What efforts have been made to indigenize Australian libraries?
The primary question in this study focused on determining whether efforts have been made to indigenize Australian libraries. The indigenization of these libraries is considered essential because it will create a trusted platform where the accurate history of the original Australian can be stored. It will also enhance trust as the affected group will feel that there is an effort to protect their roots and appreciate the role that they have played in the country’s socio-economic and political development. A section of scholars holds the view that there has been some form of incorporation of indigenous priorities through an increasing offering of special collections, spaces, and services, which includes indigenous collections and dedicated indigenous knowledge centers. It was necessary to get views of a section of those who are affected by the problem.
Respondent 7 said, “We find it difficult trusting efforts of the very people who misrepresented our cultural beliefs and practices. They do not understand and value some of our cultural practices. As such, they cannot effectively help in preserving something that they believe is repugnant.”
This view was shared by a number of other participants. They feel that Australian libraries had intentionally misrepresented their culture and made sure that it lost its meaning to generations that came soon after the country was under colonization. Since then, there has been a deliberate attempt to paint a picture of the indigenous Australians as people who were primitive and practiced dangerous cultures unacceptable and counterproductive to modern society. They failed to appreciate that culture evolves with time and the aboriginals also played a major role in enhancing the modernization and civilization of the society. On the other hand, these western libraries have continued to praise the role that they played in the agrarian and industrial revolution and how it defined modern civilization. These respondents feel that it is unfair that the history of the whites is well preserved, sometimes with some form of exaggeration, while that of the minorities is ignored.
Respondent 2 said, “Australian libraries are only responding after they have been criticized for misinforming the public and scholars about the true history of aboriginals. They knew that the information was inaccurate but did very little to address the concern until they were pressured to do so.”
The response further puts to doubt the idea that Australian libraries have indigenized their systems to address some of the fundamental concerns of the locals. The librarians and art collectors across the country knew that there was an injustice in terms of the representation of the aboriginals’ history. However, it took the effort of the aboriginals themselves to put sufficient pressure on the relevant authorities to make some form of effort to address the issue. Gilroy et al. (2019) note that currently, some scholars have come out to appreciate the fact that Australian libraries have not provided accurate information about the locals. It only reaffirms the feeling of the majority of the aboriginals that western libraries cannot be trusted to independently construct and store the accurate history of the locals.
Respondent 9 said, “I appreciate the effort that has been made by Australian libraries over the past decade to indigenize records about the aboriginals. It is a sign that stakeholders are committed to effecting changes that the locals need.”
The aboriginal scholars have been critical of the Australian libraries but they also admit that the current initiative that these institutions have made is a step towards the right direction. The respondent explained that while it is crucial for the aboriginals to find ways of preserving information about their history inaccurate forms and without distortions, it is essential to involve all the willing stakeholders in such endeavors. The fact that these institutions are making some effort to indigenize their system is an admission that the existing system had some weaknesses that had to be addressed. Even though some people may consider it necessary to have an indigenous knowledge management system running parallel to the Australian libraries, it is possible to have such a system within the current libraries. The aboriginals should be committed and be granted the opportunity to play leading roles in creating the knowledge base in an unbiased way.
The researcher also developed three additional questions besides the primary research question above to help in further investigation of the issue under investigation. It was necessary to understand various aspects of the differences that exist between the two systems and how respondents feel about the possible causes of the variations. Each of these questions was presented to the respondents who were requested to provide answers based on their personal knowledge and experience without any form of prejudice.
What are the different socio-cultural (and other) differences between the two systems of information and knowledge management (Indigenous and Western in Australia)?
The question focused on establishing different socio-cultural differences between the indigenous and western Australian systems of information and knowledge management. Participants provided various responses to the question as shown below:
Respondent 4 said, “In the western Australian system of information and knowledge management, there is deliberate vilification of the indigenous culture. The aboriginals are painted as primitive people who had to be rescued by the western culture. On the other hand, the indigenous system of information and knowledge management tries to explain and justify reasons why the indigenous people embraced certain practices that were attacked and destroyed by western culture.”
As the respondent explains, there seems to be a direct conflict in the two systems in terms of the representation of the culture of the original Australians prior to and in the early years of inversion. Most of the western literature gives an image of a repugnant local culture that not only posed a threat to the foreigners but also to the locals themselves. There is a deliberate justification as to why it was necessary for the white settlers, especially the missionaries, to introduce a new culture, largely based on Christianity, to promote civilization among the primitive local populace. The indigenous system of knowledge management on the other hand provides explanations about some of these practices that foreigners failed to understand. For instance, reverence and respect for the land were some of the most important traditions among the Aboriginals (Rudy, 2017). They viewed land as being sacred.
The white settlers did not understand the significance of this belief and classified it as one of the retrogressive practices of the locals. At that time, environmental conservation was a relatively strange concept among the western civilization as their focus was to expand their agricultural and industrial production, which led to massive environmental degradation. Currently, the global community is grappling with the problem of climate change and global warming, and one of the ways that have been proposed to solve the problem is the protection of land, as the aboriginals had been doing for centuries (Watson, 2018). As such, it is misleading to claim that original Australians played no major role in modern civilization at a time when the world is currently retracing environmentally friendly practices that were common in Australia long before the inversion by foreign powers.
Respondent 1 said, “One of the main differences in the social records in the two systems is the disagreement of the morality of the western and indigenous Australian culture. Australian libraries hold that the indigenous culture was retrogressive while indigenous sources hold that the western culture was immoral and corrupt.”
When white settlers came to Australia, they introduced capitalism as a way of life in the country. It was a relatively new concept to the locals who highly valued communism. The aboriginals believed embraced the concept of shared responsibilities and working as one unit in solving communal problems. They viewed the socio-economic system introduced by the settlers as foreign and corrupt. The two systems represent the level of mistrust that the two communities (indigenous Australians and white settlers) had towards each other.
What is the nature of Australian libraries and archives and information services’ historical relationship with indigenous Australian communities?
When one is seeking to investigate the indigenous Australian communities, the best place to start the research would be the Australian libraries. They are still the most solid and properly structured sources of information about the past of these indigenous communities. Understanding the nature of these libraries and archives and the information services they offer is essential in determining their capacity to provide an accurate presentation of the culture and history of the aboriginals.
Respondent 6 said, “Australian libraries and archives and information services they offer is critical in investigating culture and history of indigenous Australian communities. However, one should be keen to identify cases of prejudice because it helps to demonstrate the ignorance that some of these early scholars had towards the relevance of these cultural practices.
When defining the nature of the western libraries and archives in the country, most of the respondents felt that they were constructed to present a narrative that was negative towards native Australians. In the archives, there was a deliberate attempt to present the native culture as that which emphasized the need to solve conflicts using brute force instead of civilized engagements. However, a good number of traditional songs, proverbs, and tales of the indigenous people emphasized the need to resolve conflicts by engaging elders and in peaceful ways (Grellier & Goerke, 2018). It is apparent that there is a conflict between what is presented in these western libraries and information passed on through alternative sources. One can easily understand the reasons why locals find it difficult to trust information that is available in popular literature.
What has library services in Australia done to rectify past wrongs with Indigenous Australia?
It was necessary to allow the respondents to explain what they feel Australian library services have done to rectify past wrongs regarding the misrepresentation of the indigenous Australian culture. Some of the current literature observe that these institutions have made an effort to correct the mistakes committed by the early scholars by trying to trace the truth through recorded and unrecorded sources. However, justice can only be seen to have been served if the locals are convinced that western Australian libraries are making significant efforts to provide an accurate history of the aboriginals.
Respondent 2 said, “I believe there is a legitimate effort by some of the major libraries across the country to correct some of the wrongs done by early scholars when writing literature that currently dominates Australian libraries. However, such efforts would require heavy involvement of the indigenous Australians.”
The respondent felt that some of the libraries in the country are making an effort to redefine the history of the aboriginals beyond what the early scholars wrote. They have realized that it is necessary and fair to the original Australians to discuss the role that they played in defining modern civilization. Some of the archives currently provide detailed explanations of the artifacts in their collection that helps in explaining the socio-economic and political lives of the indigenous people. The respondent also noted that the management of these archives has offered the aboriginals the opportunity to tell their own story. It is the only way of eliminating any form of bias in these reports.
Respondent 4 explained, “The move to have voice and video records of some of the indigenous people’s history in their own language is a positive move by some of the local libraries.”
Some libraries have been developing parallel records about the indigenous people of Australia. According to Rees (2018), the emerging technologies in the fields of information and communication have made it possible to record oral materials. In the past, there was an effort to record these pieces of historical information in written format. The biggest challenge that was faced was the loss of meaning during the process of translation. Given the fact that most of them had to be written in English, it was common for some words or even concepts to be misinterpreted. However, it is now possible to have a voice record of the information in the original language. Using tape recorders, these libraries are developing a system where poems, songs, narratives, puns, and other similar literature can be stored in their original forms. It is estimated that there were over 250 aboriginal languages in Australia before the arrival of the foreign settlers. However, most of them are now endangered and only a few are actively in use. The move to record some of these historical facts in the aboriginal language will help in protecting some of these endangered languages.
What are Indigenous priorities and are they actually addressed with current approaches to reconciliation?
One of the fundamental goals of this study was to investigate the indigenous people’s priorities and determine if they are actually addressed with the current approaches to reconciliation. The researcher posed the question directly to the participants to determine their views over the issue.
Respondent 9 explained, “One of our priorities is to ensure that historical records about aboriginals are as accurate as possible, explaining the level of civilizations that we had just before the white settlers came to the country and the role that we played in shaping the modern Australian community.”
As noted in the above response, a significant number of the respondents feel that there is injustice in the existing historical records because of the misrepresentation and miscommunication of the culture of original Australians. The indigenous people are offended by the rhetoric that they were primitive people with a retrogressive culture that meant little to the modernization of Australia. They feel that the information in history books is significantly different from that in oral literature, which directly indicates prejudice among the majority of these early scholars. They want accurate information about the role that they played before, during, and after the colonization of the country. Just like white settlers are keen to tell their story about how they helped in transforming the country’s fortunes, aboriginals also want to be equally appreciated for their role in the growth and development of the nation.
Respondent 10 said, “We want to eliminate prejudice in western literature because it has facilitated a system that treats aboriginals as second-class citizens of the country. We have equal rights to opportunities that are presented to citizens, and the literature must demonstrate the same.”
The aboriginals in Australia have faced various forms of discrimination primarily because of their skin color. According to Brown et al. (2017), racism is a serious problem in the country. Police brutality and arbitrary arrests of the original Australians are a major concern in the country. Some of the affected people feel that the problem arises from the misrepresentation of their history. They feel that for a long time, western Australian libraries have portrayed them as less deserving people who cannot demand equal rights as the locals. The country seems to have two justice systems, one for the inferior aboriginals and another for the superior whites. The indigenous communities feel that the only way of liberating them from the yolk of post-colonial slavery and brutality is to start by rewriting their history.
It is possible that the new generation will have accurate information about the roles that they have played in the country’s socio-economic development and appreciate the need to ensure that they are respected. As Gapps (2018) observes, as long as Australian libraries continue to store distorted information about original Australians, the current police brutality among this group will continue. They will also continue facing prejudice in learning institutions, places of work, and many other socio-economic and political gatherings. The negative perception that the majority of the population has towards them will never change. The aboriginals feel that a time has come when they have to fight all forms of racism, and one of the best ways of doing so it to uproot it from its source. To eliminate it from a vast majority of books that have helped promote a belief that some members of the Australian community can commit a crime against another and get away with it because they feel superior.
Discussion of Results
In this section, the focus is to provide a detailed discussion of results obtained from primary sources and reconcile it with information obtained in the review of the literature.
Historical Analysis: Timeline of Relationship
It is important to have a historical analysis of the intersection of the two systems to understand when the western approach to knowledge management overtook that of indigenous Australians. Having a timeline of the relationship of the two cultures may also help in explaining why the white settlers considered it appropriate to hide some facts about civilizations of the indigenous communities and their role in the country’s development
- Prehistory indigenous Australians: although it has not been easy to accurately determine how long aboriginals had been living in Australia prior to the invasion by the white settlers, archeologists believed that they had been living in different parts of the country for over 30,000 years. Archeologists found some of the earliest remains at Lake Mungo (Flood, 2019).
- Entry of early explorers to the coastal parts of Australia: Willem Janszoom was one of the earliest European navigators to explore the coastal parts of Australia in 1606. Lieutenant James Cook visited the country in 1720 and made recommendations to the British government that the country should be colonized, and by 1790, the Royal forces had suppressed local resistance (Olsen & Russell, 2019).
- The colonization and intersection of the two systems of knowledge management: white settlers, especially from Great Britain started coming to Australia in 1795. They faced resistance from the locals, but their military superiority made it easy to force their settlement. It is estimated that by 1830, the armed conflict had claimed the lives of over 60% of the aboriginals. It was during this time that there was a deliberate misrepresentation of the history of the aboriginals (Carson & Kerr, 2017).
- Efforts to address the misconstrued facts: in the 21st century, efforts have been made to address the concerns of the aboriginals regarding the misrepresentation of their culture and history (Maddison, 2019). Indigenous systems of knowledge management have gained credence over western literature.
User Needs Analysis and Measuring Rectification
There is an emerging need by a large population of the aboriginals in Australia to have a library system that provides accurate information about their past. There is overwhelming evidence that early scholars working under the missionaries and colonial rulers misrepresented facts about the level of civilization of the original Australians. The current generation of Aboriginals finds it necessary to redefine the narrative about their past. They need to explain to this society that their destiny was destroyed when the colonial power invaded the country (Reynolds, 2018). The rectification of the message is believed to be capable of addressing the negative perception that a section of society has towards these people. The idea of viewing aboriginals as people who were so primitive that they had to be rescued through western civilization is wrong and needs to be addressed.
In the analysis of the primary data obtained from the respondents, the priorities of the indigenous Australians were made in very clear terms. One of the issues that came out clearly was that the aboriginals in this country are appalled by the continued discrimination that they are subjected to in this country. Racism is not as an emotive an issue in the country as it is in the United States, but that does not mean it does not exist. The original Australians have complained against police brutality, which is often directed against youths. A white youth is less likely to end up in handcuffs than an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth. Racism is also witnessed in learning institutions, places of work, and other socio-economic and political gatherings (Grellier & Goerke, 2018). It is more challenging for the aboriginals to achieve economic or political success than it is for a white. The majority of these people feel that they have been historically mistreated in their own country. They argue that it is not possible to change the trend if the narratives about their past culture remain unchanged in popular literature. The constant misrepresentation of their way of life before, during, and after colonization has made them be viewed as primitive individuals who cannot have equal rights to that of whites. Changing the narrative by tracing accurate records about their past is one of their priorities.
The indigenous Australians feel that they have played a major role in the socio-economic development of the country but they have never been given credit for it. Some of their practices were ignored by the white settlers, arguing that they were too primitive to make any significant contributions to modern civilization. However, science has proven that they were right and those who believed they were more civilized and scientifically advanced were wrong. A case in point is environmental conservation that aboriginals considered a sacred task (Levy et al., 2017). In their culture, they believed that they get a lot from the environment and the soil, and as such, it was their divine responsibility to protect the environment. However, the industrial revolution that led to massive pollution has led to climate change and global warming. It is now clear that the global community must understand that environmental conservation is their primary responsibility. It is unfortunate that when introducing this culture about environmental conservation, credit is often given to the scientists. Rarely do the popular literature point out the fact that the original Australians had embraced that culture as a way of life long before modern science made these discoveries. The affected group feels that they should be given credit when and where it is due in this society.
Objectives as Outcomes
The primary objective of indigenous Australians is to redefine their history, which they believe has been misrepresented in popular literature. As such, they have been making a deliberate attempt to introduce a parallel indigenous system of knowledge management that would help in addressing some of the omissions and misinformation that has been witnessed in the current literature (Mayor, 2019). The fact that the information presented in the traditional forms such as the oral literature confirms that early scholars failed to appreciate contributions that indigenous people had made in the Australian society. Achieving the objectives of redefining the narrative in the country would help the community to earn its rightful place in the country.
Taking the right steps to address what aboriginals consider a deliberate effort to undervalue the effort that they made in defining the socio-economic and political progress of the country needs to be addressed. Some libraries have already taken some measures to address the problem. The archives are also redefining their artifacts to help present accurate information about the level of civilization of the original Australians by the time the country was invaded by white settlers. As Palmer (2018) observes, appreciating the fact that there was an oversight that needs to be addressed is essential in meeting the needs of the aboriginals. The Australian libraries can only correct the wrong that was made by the early scholars by appreciating that indeed some facts were ignored or underrepresented because of various factors.
The analysis of primary data and the review of the literature clearly show that there is a need to reconcile research. It is necessary to address major weaknesses of literature found in Australian libraries about indigenous Australians. Information in Australian libraries has misrepresented facts about the way of life of the aboriginals. At that time, Reynolds (2018) states that the missionaries and white settlers did that to suppress the locals, convince them not to fight the colonial power, and agree to be subject to British rule. The misrepresentation was meant to convince the oppressed that it was okay to lead a life of a servant as long as they abandoned what the settlers defined as primitive culture. Several generations have come and gone, and the same narratives have been maintained as a way of dominating the aboriginals. It has become evident that information contained in the oral literature, which was not influenced by the missionaries and white scholars through the formal education system, paints a significantly different picture from what is told in the books. The indigenous knowledge management system demonstrates that these people were civilized. They highly valued morals that modern society considers critical in fostering unity and prosperity. A communal approach to tackling common problems was highly embraced, but the same was not reflected in the literature.
Sophisticated traditional methods of medication were prevalent in this community. These original inhabitants knew how to treat snakebites and many other diseases using herbal medicine. When the settlers came, they were told that their approach to managing diseases was ineffective and sometimes counterproductive. Currently, some of the leading medical researchers believe that herbal medicine may be more effective in managing some health problems than conventional medicine (Carson & Kerr, 2017). The use of herbal medicine is now common in different parts of the world. However, the Western Australian libraries have deliberately hidden the information that aboriginals had been using the same approach of treatments several centuries ago before the country was subjected to colonization. There is a need to reconcile the conflict in knowledge. Scholars must focus on giving the aboriginals their true status in society, as a people who have played a major role in the modern civilization of Australia.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The Australian indigenous traditional knowledge and information systems and the Western colonial context of Information systems provide two different approaches to understanding the history and cultural practices of Australian aboriginals. It is clear that the indigenous system focuses on providing accurate information about the historical records of the aboriginals. They are passed from one generation to another through oral literature such as myths, legends, songs, poems, and proverbs among others. This traditional form of communication was not significantly influenced by western education because it was mainly used in informal settings. On the other hand, Australian libraries have literature published by various scholars over the years.
The study shows that there has been a deliberate attempt to misrepresent the socio-cultural and political events of the aboriginals prior and during colonization. They have deliberately created the impression that the indigenous communities are primitive people who did not play any role in the country’s development. It justifies the perception that the aboriginals are second-class citizens who should not demand equal treatment as the rest of the population. Such misrepresentations of the culture and role that the original Australians have played in the country have been blamed for the rampant cases of racism, especially in the form of police brutality. It is unfair to have two different systems of justice in the country based on race. The researcher made the following recommendations to help address specific issues identified in the study:
- Information that has always been stored in indigenous systems should be collected, verified, and stored in an electronic system for effective storage. Oral narratives may not be the best way to store such facts. When they are effectively recorded, they can be stored in their original format for centuries.
- Information obtained from the indigenous sources should be used to help redefine the current literature available in Australian libraries. Having a parallel system of storing information about the aboriginals is not enough. Using the same to redefine the knowledge stored in popular literature may help redefine the perception that society has towards aboriginals.
- The primary goal of introducing the new system is to provide accurate information about the role that indigenous Australians have played in the country’s development. As such, the new knowledge should be based on facts instead of mere sympathies.
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