by Prof. N. M. Nakata, Jumbunna IHL, University of Technology Sydney
The late Dr Ben Haneman, a remarkable volunteer and friend of the NSW State Library, made a major contribution to the Indigenous archive by indexing the Koori Mail, a national newspaper produced by Indigenous people for Indigenous people. An important record of the perspective and commentary of Indigenous Australians on unfolding national history now stands preserved thanks to his dedication and interest. So too the ten years of his dedicated work to index the early missionary records to enable Indigenous Australians seeking information on their families As we honour his contribution and seek to build on his legacy, it seems fitting to address some of the key contemporary issues that face Indigenous people and their relationship to the ongoing processes of knowledge production, storage, circulation, and dissemination. The intersections between different peoples, different knowledge systems, and changing systems of information management produce some interesting challenges for the future, both for Indigenous people and for those interested in making a space for us in the public archives.
It is a privilege to speak this evening in honour of a man I never met. I feel more than a little humbled to speak in his memory before members of his family, colleagues and friends and other guests.
Before beginning, and as is customary across Australia, it is important to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land; and pay our respects to the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and their ancestors whose land we stand upon today.
When I was initially approached to give this lecture, I felt a little uncertain about being the inaugural speaker when I had never known Dr Ben Haneman. So I spoke to a number of people here at the State Library of New South Wales and the Mitchell Library and was immediately struck by the way he was not only uniformly revered, but loved, and that he was obviously still being grieved for and missed by the people here who knew him. It turned out that my father-in-law, a retired pathologist from Queensland, now in his eighties, knew Ben from the History of Medicine Conferences. Indeed, he had met Ben at a function in this very library, so it was nice to hear of him through this connection. By the time I had read through the papers supplied to me by Rosemary, I have to say I was even more daunted at the prospect of speaking tonight.
Dr Haneman was, by all accounts, a wise, charming, dedicated, interested and interesting man who used his considerable passion, knowledge, interests and skills for good and useful purposes. I know that he did many things but tonight I speak to his activities here in relation to Indigenous records.
That Dr Haneman chose to do something useful and of value to the Indigenous community, in what was a full and busy life, says a lot to me about what sort of man he was. It is remarkable that a man whose own life circumstances could not be more distant from Indigenous life circumstances should, towards the end of his life, learn database skills and spend ten years entering data for early missionary documents and Indigenous publications in his spare time.
And I think it says something about his legacy that the people he worked with here have invited an Indigenous Australian to speak at his inaugural memorial lecture. These annual lectures, not only memorialise Dr Haneman, they also help us to remember what he did, including his community service and the relationships he forged with so many people.
The importance of the archives for Indigenous Australians for personal reconciliation
One of the things that Dr Haneman did here was data entry of Our Aim, a publication of the Aboriginal Inland Missions and the Australian Evangel, a publication of the United Aboriginal Mission. He worked closely with an Indigenous Australian, Ronald Briggs, and others who did the indexing and oversaw the project. There is valuable information in these documents that helps Indigenous people understand what happened to their families and communities.
Indigenous people have a lot to come to terms with in relation to the historical archive. There is much that is offensive and confronting but I personally gained much from it. The most productive journey of my life was reading through the early Torres Strait literature. I was able to stand outside and look at the people who had been looking at us. And rather than feel angry about the early writings, I felt affirmation of our intelligence and resilience as people who came under extraordinary pressure between the 1860’s and 1970’s and who were humiliated and diminished so much in the process.
When I read descriptions of us as ‘cheeky little native upstarts’, I would do a thumbs up for my people. But perhaps my favourite was the question a Lifuan Islander asked in the 1800’s about missionary activities in the Pacific:
We can understand you captains, you come and trade with us, and then return to your own country to sell what you get: but who are these missionaries? Have they done something in their country that they dare not return? (A Lifuan of the Loyalty Islands cited in McFarlane, 1888, p. 41)
But knowing how politics, commerce and the social come together today, I could see how complex the web of government legislation, missionary practice and various commercial interests that enmeshed us was. So I was able to see the actions of those ‘evil white men’, as we liked to think of them, in terms of them being agents for something much broader, much more complex than anything even they could probably understand, in much the same way that we ourselves are now the agents of contemporary social institutions and their practices; even though we know the injustices and limits of our institutional practices.
In coming to this understanding I could then focus my energy away from people and individuals and look more objectively at knowledge construction, policy and practice and so on—not to exonerate past practice by any means but to motivate myself to take up a more productive approach to life, to work and yes, to other Australians.
So I do find it a contradiction that engaging with the content of the Torres Strait archive marked a personal breakthrough for me in terms of my internal anger and mental distress. That this should move me from being an angry young man in some danger of self-destruction or extreme radicalism to a position where I could reflect, use my intellect more productively and find a better sense of personal adequacy and security when I interacted with other Australians, is a constant surprise to me. This to me is the great value of not just education and knowledge but of understanding what has brought people to their present position.
The purpose of telling you this is not to draw attention to myself, but to highlight that the importance of Indigenous people having access to the historical archive cannot be underestimated, however confronting it may be. I can never forget how the healing process for my cousin’s wife, who had been removed from her mother at the age of two, only began after her mother’s death when she found in the South Australian archives, the evidence of her mother’s persistent attempts to get her back (Mills, 2001). And I think that this is a common story.
The historical archive plays an important part in our own internal processes of reconciling the past and the present and in many cases this internal reconciliation has to precede, or at least parallel any reconciliation with others. I sometimes wonder if ordinary Australians fully appreciate how the past carries through to the present in all Indigenous lives; not just the dysfunctional but in the lives of more successful Indigenous Australians.
The archive helps us on an intellectual level, as well, to make more productive meaning and analysis of that experience and where it sits in the broader historical context of shared human history.
The importance of preserving contemporary Indigenous perspectives for the future
Dr Haneman also assisted Ronald Briggs and others with data entry of the Koori Mail (May 1991 onwards) as well as the earlier Indigenous publications: Our Aim (1907-1961), Dawn (1952-1969), New Dawn (1970-1975) and Identity (1971-1982).
I am not familiar with the earlier publications but for those of you who may not know, the Koori Mail is an Aboriginal-owned and produced fortnightly newspaper. It reports the current Indigenous news but what it really portrays is something that most of Australia rarely catches a glimpse of viz., an active and busy Indigenous community: Indigenous people of all ages and at all levels of life who are working on problems and difficult issues, who are busy reconstructing their lives and their communities, people doing big and small things, serious and fun things, in urban, regional and remote parts of this country.
One of the things that has struck me over the years about this newspaper is the different view of Indigenous youth that is given representation: healthy young people, involved in sports, the arts and other activities, achieving in a range of different domains, making the most of their opportunities—young Indigenous people being nurtured and supported by their families and community organisations.
We know that this is not true for all Indigenous Australians. But we often forget about those ordinary Indigenous Australians of all generations who are working hard, who are functioning and moving toward their goals all around the nation. Such images of busy healthy engaged young people keep many of us feeling positive in the face of much that is far from positive.
The Koori Mail then is an important record that stands testament to productive Indigenous effort. To have it indexed is a really useful and valuable thing. According to Ronald, Infokoori is now one of the most well-used information source in the country by Indigenous people.
But to me, the real significance of providing broad access to the contents of this paper is that it is an important part of the future untold history of Indigenous Australia—an Indigenous perspective of our unfolding lives in the present period—as represented through the editions of the Koori Mail. This may be a very small part of the Indigenous perspective, for there is more than one Indigenous newspaper and more than the print media of course, but it is an important one.
Imagine for a moment if the only newspaper sources for future generations of researchers was The Australian or other metropolitan and regional dailies. I have it on hearsay that Indigenous news does not sell mainstream newspapers and perhaps that is why it is confined to the outraged, the allegedly corrupt, the sensational, the pitiful and the controversial and even then, often reported partially in that press. But, I didn’t come here to bag the press, only to draw attention to the Koori Mail and Infokoori and the work that Dr Haneman did to help index it.
I thank and salute Dr Haneman for volunteering his time to assist Ronald and the others in the library who have worked on these projects. I gather indexing is a rather tedious task; data entry certainly is, especially for a brilliant mind, which makes his work more worthy of our thanks and appreciation. I encourage all to visit the Infokoori web page and see firsthand the fruits of the project he was part of (see http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/infokoori/about.cfm). It is an excellent database and can be searched on a broad range of terms.
Contemporary Indigenous issues in libraries
Historically, it could be said that Indigenous people were rather irrelevant to libraries, and libraries rather irrelevant to Indigenous people. Libraries and the electronic context of information documentation and access are now very relevant to Indigenous people, and Indigenous people and their input are just as relevant to libraries, as my comments on Dr Haneman’s contribution have in part described.
Briefly speaking, in admitting Indigenous people into libraries, consideration of our needs has had to extend:
• to Indigenous discomfort in what is essentially an alien institution,
• to cultural and historical differences in approaches to seeking information, circulating and disseminating information,
• to levels of literacy and familiarity with different types of sources,
• to the issues surrounding library norms and protocols such as quiet and individual approaches to tasks,
• to relationships with library workers (Dodson, 1993; Byrne et al, 1995).
In considering Indigenous information and knowledge, libraries have had to or are having to reflect:
• on the differences between knowledge for Indigenous people, about Indigenous people, and by Indigenous people and the content of information;
• about the placement of and access to sensitive information, secret, restricted and sacred knowledge, that is contained in some of the archives or in various reports etc;
• about the offensive, racist and derogatory information in the historical (and contemporary) archives;
• about the Subject Headings through which Indigenous information is categorized and accessed—still requiring an overhaul (Dodson, 1993; Moorcroft, 1992; Byrne et al, 1995);
• about the emerging trend to document and database Indigenous Knowledge which belongs to a complex oral tradition (Nakata, 2002);
• about the intellectual property issues that arise when dealing with a different system of knowledge production and concepts of ownership (Janke, 1998; Moorcroft & Byrne, 1996); and,
• about access for isolated, remote and rural or disadvantaged Indigenous people.
These are all complex issues for under-funded libraries to resolve, and especially hard to resolve when so few Indigenous people have expertise in the field.
It is good to report that Australians have been progressive in this field even though the issues constitute a tiny part of an overworked profession.
1. We see the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) has statements of commitment to these issues as do many individual libraries;
2. We have had the development of protocols authored in collaboration with others (Byrne et al, 1995) by the present University of Technology Sydney (UTS) librarian, Dr Alex Byrne, who by the way is also the President Elect of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA). Happily, the development of these protocols was the result of consultation with Indigenous people, and they reference the writing of Indigenous academics and information workers, people like Michael Dodson, Marcia Langton, Henrietta Fourmile, Galarrwuy Yunupingu and Maisie Wilson.
3. We have the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Library & Information Resource Network, a support and information network for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people working in libraries, which also extends its activities to people and organisations servicing the information needs of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people (see for example http://home.vicnet.net.au/~atsilirn/).
4. IFLA, the international body, is also moving towards better statements of commitment to the global Indigenous issues. In fact they are rallying in Geneva, as we speak, to gain global attention for the preservation, maintenance and protection of Indigenous Knowledge at the UN Preparatory Conferences. These Prep. Comms. are part of a UN process that allows for member states to negotiate and draft texts for adoption in December 2003 at the UN World Summit on the Information Society (see http://www.itu.int/wsis/basic/about.html).
Contemporary issues in the documentation and production of Indigenous Knowledge
The great difference between the historical archive and the contemporary one is the activity and voice of Indigenous people representing themselves and their position. Although still very small, increasingly we see the production of texts authored by Indigenous people. If surveyed, these would largely be in the realm of the biographical, of stories that explain the Aboriginal world-view, creative works, some academic texts and reports and so on. Indigenous voice, thinking and analysis are also more visible in media such as film, documentary, radio, the performing arts, and more recently, the Internet. It is important that these enter the archives, and that present and future generations can have access to them.
When Indigenous people ourselves produce knowledge and information we insert into the corpus about us, our own perspectives, our own standpoint, and our own analyses. These were largely absent in the past and have left huge gaps in the historical record. Not only is the gap in the historical record but, as I have spoken of it tonight, it is within our own self-understanding. This gap disrupts to some extent our continuity with our former selves.
But even more important, the inclusion of Indigenous production of knowledge and information signals the regeneration of Indigenous analysis, reflection and intellectual control over the issues of concern to us in daily life. It signals a re-emergence in the public domain of our own view of our history that was so brutally suspended during early colonising processes, a period when we dared not speak and represent ourselves.
For example, in the Torres Strait there is a history of Islander agency in colonial times, of Islanders actively involved in a process of transforming themselves and their cultural traditions and meanings. This is a history that sits alongside the colonial history which is also a history of oppression, loss of freedom and terrible humiliation, patronization and diminishment. This experience of cultural transformation is our history, not just the colonists’ history. It is about what we did, our activity, our responses, our agency. It has been told in part by others because none of us have had the skills to do it but it has been told only with the assistance of Islanders.
Bringing this aspect of history to light helps to counter the primary and singular narrative of powerlessness and cultural destruction, and reinstates us as people who were actively engaged with negotiating and coming to terms with the changed circumstances in which we found ourselves, people who have maintained continuity of identity and tradition despite the transformations of both. That is, people who were not just from a past age, as the thinking and the practice of the time would have us all believe, but people who were adjusting to change and domesticating elements that could enhance our traditions. This is an important part of our history for us.
Given the current shifts in thinking about Indigenous affairs, the reform period from the late sixties to the present, is emerging as a critical period of interest for the current and future generations to reflect on, and Indigenous people ourselves need to be thinking about the collection and storing and provision of access to the Indigenous community’s perspective of this period.
It is in these tasks that collaboration is a useful and important activity. But such activity requires new resources as well as a broad range of expertise.
Some emerging issues in relation to Indigenous Knowledge documentation and the intersection of this knowledge with the Western system of knowledge
Indigenous Knowledge is a recent concept and a bit of a buzz word around the globe. It is different things in different places but generally it is understood as local or traditional knowledge that Indigenous people have brought down with them from earlier times via the oral tradition. Until recently it has been of little interest to anyone beyond anthropologists who have recorded it to some degree within their descriptions of Indigenous societies and cultures.
If we look back historically to the academic documentation of knowledge of Indigenous peoples we see that until the 1980’s what we now refer to as Indigenous knowledge surfaced in very few academic disciplines, for example, “anthropology, development sociology and geography” (Warren, von Liebenstien & Slikkerveer, 1993, p1).
Indigenous Knowledge was not thought of in any comparable way to other systems of knowledge. It was relegated to the realm of culture and was deemed to be primitive and ‘in the past’. Now Indigenous Knowledge is being examined and reclaimed on a global scale and surfaces:
…in the fields of ecology, soil science, veterinary medicine, forestry, human health, aquatic resource management, botany, zoology, agronomy, agricultural economics, rural sociology, mathematics, management science, agricultural education and extension, fisheries, range management, information science, wildlife management, and water resource management. (Warren, von Liebenstein & Slikkerveer, 1993, p. 1)
This interest is overwhelmingly driven by research into sustainable development practices in developing countries and the scientific community’s concern about loss of bio-diversity of species and ecosystems, and the future implications of that for the whole planet (see for example http://www.nuffic.nl/ik-pages/addresses.html). The convergence of humanitarian and scientific interests is leading to a scramble to document this knowledge in electronic databases so it can be firstly preserved and secondly, shared and utilised.
This increase in global interest in Indigenous Knowledge is interesting.
In one sense there is recognition of the value of Indigenous people’s knowledge, particularly their understanding of the natural environment; on the other this makes it a commodity to be mined and refined in the way our land and resources have been.
You can understand how cynical or ambivalent Indigenous people are all around the globe
• when their knowledge is all that they have left to them,
• when billions of dollars are being made by pharmaceutical companies on the back of Indigenous Knowledge and resources without acknowledgement or compensation,
• when Western concepts of intellectual property are inadequate for responding to notions of collective ownership of ideas and knowledge and so on,
• when many Indigenous people are still discriminated against, have few rights or little protection.
In this sense, knowledge is our last resource, and it is no wonder it arouses some passion.
There is a lot of thinking that needs to be done.
Many of us may be happy to be freed from being anthropological subjects only but the dispersal of our knowledge across the disciplines signals to some extent further and perhaps faster disintegration of our knowledge systems. Some questions that need asking are:
• What does it mean for instance to take knowledge that is culturally and contextually embedded for particular ways of understanding and managing one’s relationship to land and environment and one’s social organisation, and carve it up so it is not understood in its totality?
• What does it mean to take knowledge developed in a complex oral tradition where it was evolving in a dynamic process and freeze it in a database, outside of the community from which it derived its meaning?
• What does it mean to carve it up and farm it out to the Western disciplines as a way of understanding it and using it?
• Will the potential value of this knowledge be lost and will it fail in developmental contexts in the same way Western scientific practice has because it fails to consider that the efficacy of Indigenous knowledge lies in the way it is embedded in local environments and systems of meaning?
• What does it mean when we document part of it but not all of it, when some is privileged and some discarded?
• What does it mean if Western scientists and information professionals are the ones privileging and discarding?
• Does it matter that such documentation affects the integrity of the knowledge system when that knowledge system has been disintegrating for some time and is in danger of disappearing further.
• Does it matter when the influx of other knowledge and practice has caused so much breakdown of social organization in Indigenous communities already?
• What do we really understand about the epistemology of Indigenous knowledge systems that could contribute to a better way of integrating it with other systems?
• Are we to accept that the only valuable Indigenous Knowledge is that which Western science can validate? Will we end up with ‘junk Indigenous knowledge’ like we have ‘junk DNA’ and then realise the importance of it to codification of meaning after we have discarded it or lost it?
• How can we monitor how Western science validates some knowledge and not others? What interests drive this validation? Capitalist interests? Genome patenting interests?
• How do we organise documentation in Australia when knowledge belongs to hundreds of specific groups.
• What assumptions based on self-interest or ignorance do we all bring to consideration of the issues?
The area is much unexplored and yet there is quite a global rush on to document some parts of Indigenous Knowledge and not others. For Indigenous people there is a great desire to preserve Indigenous Knowledge because so much of it has been lost due to the pressures of colonisation and modernity.
Indigenous people ourselves need to think the issues through and it is unfortunate that the politics of sustainability, conservation and large corporations are the main drivers of this interest, for these are very specialised interests with their own agendas. And yet when Indigenous Australians attend the UN to discuss these issues, the press decries the waste of public money.
As Indigenous Australians we cannot begrudge the hurried documentation of traditional knowledge in developing countries such as Africa, or the role of NGO’s and the UN in that process. People who are regularly subjected to famine are precariously situated and do not have the luxury of thinking about anything except the pressing. And some good practice in database and network development is emerging in these contexts that is flowing on to improve and extend overall information management and networking issues, especially in Africa.
Whatever happens, like the disciplines of Western knowledge, documented Indigenous Knowledge will become a partial subset of what was once known, a selective and privileged and ultimately distorted body of knowledge. But I would argue that we have to begin to think the issues through in their fundamental and also in practical terms because the alternative is much more of this knowledge will be lost, or that the usefulness of much of this knowledge will be less accessible for our own interests in the future.
But why I really would like to see a more cognizant attitude develop in the Indigenous community is that our knowledge has real potential in developing new knowledge. It can be, should be, and is being put to use, to form the basis of newer knowledge that comes out of that older tradition.
I think that is an exciting prospect. As Islanders say you plus the new onto the old and you get something that takes you forward. Older knowledge or ways of thinking are not lost; they are transformed to mean something in the present and in that is our continuity with the past, our continued role in producing relevant and meaningful knowledge for the contexts we live in.
This involves loss and risk but it produces regeneration. It is most exciting and productive. All cultures borrow and appropriate from others, and have done so for eons. At this particular historical moment it seems we have an opportunity to think about both the integrity of the Indigenous knowledge system and the value of building on it and borrowing from other traditions, to solve problems in ways that suit the particularities of variable Indigenous contexts and ways of thinking and responding to the world.
We need ongoing critical reflection and analysis as we track what is done, the arguments, the dilemmas, the gains and losses, what we learn from the mistakes. More ideas, more difference of opinions, more creativity is what is needed. And a more organised long-term approach to dealing with them. This of course takes money, and time, and expertise, and complex collaboration.
To date, new knowledge generated through attempts at problem-solving in the course of improving policy and practice in Indigenous communities is an ad hoc business, rarely evaluated or scrutinised. This lack of a planned approach is in part a side effect of funding regimes which are short term and competitive, about short-term crisis management rather than well thought through long-term agendas.
Indigenous people and the networked, electronic environment.
Digitisation and electronic access to Indigenous publications, productions, indeed to all knowledge and information is the most exciting development. Its strength to me is how it overcomes distance and how it facilitates access.
If you have ever lived in a remote community you will understand how quickly the outside world disappears from view, how quickly you grow uninterested in world news, in national issues. But this outside world circumscribes all the changing pressures in Indigenous communities. It needs to be understood and engaged with if choices and decision-making are to be more effective. The potential of the electronic world for remote and rural Indigenous people to reach out and connect to knowledge, information, the archives, education, services such as health, etc is unlimited.
However, it has as much risk of duplicating colonial relations as it does in disrupting them (McConaghy, 2000) and a lot of thought needs to go into how it is managed. By that I mean there is enormous potential for unmediated information delivered by electronic technologies, to be toxic to Indigenous communities by further undermining cultural meanings, if what filters through is the sludge at the bottom of the tank or if we only access it for recreation and entertainment. (Think for one moment about internet gambling and misinformation). On the other hand, the potential for engaging with the world outside of communities in positive and productive ways is also limitless if we can find the political will and financial means to devise and implement good practices.
Discussion about the production of Indigenous knowledge, the storing of it, the provision of access to it, is a concern of the information profession. But the broader Indigenous community, not just the specialist Indigenous information community, has to engage with these issues as well. An ongoing dialogue with people who understand the field of information will be necessary in the future.
What emerges should reflect the priorities of the Indigenous community. The role and purpose of education is critical if we are to come to terms with our intersections with Western knowledge systems, which is what must happen if we are to determine our priorities ourselves. Too much information and complexity can be overwhelming but too little is underwhelming and impoverishes our skill base, our learning and ultimately impoverishes new Indigenous thinking and knowledge. I think this is an area, in which libraries, educators and Indigenous people need to keep working together.
Solutions to Indigenous problems will emerge in our engagement with the new and we must engage at all levels, including a deeper intellectual level. The engagement must become more rigorous as we reconsider the great value of ‘plussing’ Indigenous knowledge with Western Knowledge.
And now for some concluding remarks
We stand tonight in an institution that as a storehouse of Western knowledge and history has stood at the heart of the colonial enterprise, a place I find myself surprised to be in quite frankly.
I hope that I have conveyed the relevancy of what happens in libraries and information to Indigenous futures.
Dr Ben Haneman gave his time and skills to do a very practical task that has benefits for generations to come. This is his legacy and I hope that this memorial lecture helps his legacy to continue.
His work reminds us that community is people working together, helping each other out, getting things done that otherwise would not be done. What he did here helped to weave the fabric that will hopefully lead to a more reconciled community.
The concept of Reconciliation is overworked rhetoric to some of us. But in its essence it is about changing the relationship between Indigenous and other Australians. In so many places, the beginning point of Reconciliation is the formation of relationships that have never previously existed—people coming together and getting to know and understand each other. I feel that Dr Haneman would approve of me also acknowledging, in closing, his Indigenous colleague and friend here, Ronald Briggs, whose presence and work in this library should be celebrated.
I hope that one of the legacies of Dr Haneman will be the continued coming together of Indigenous and other Australians in this library, not just as users of the libraries but as friends of the Library and as contributors to a shared dialogue and discussion about the library and information issues relevant to Indigenous people.
To the family of Dr Ben Haneman I would like to say this. When I am tired and feeling defeated, I always dream of the day I can go home to my Islands and go fishing. Although his example will stand to remind me that there is always something to do that otherwise would not get done, he has given me a good idea. Perhaps I will sit under a satellite dish on a remote island and happily digitize the back copies of the Torres News. It is only since looking at his work that I have thought that this is something which somebody should do one day.
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Professor Martin Nakata is a Torres Strait Islander. He grew up and was schooled on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait and is a descendant of the Kulkailaig of Naghir Island in the central Torres Strait.
Martin did not complete secondary school and worked for fifteen years before commencing a degree in Education at James Cook University of North Queensland in 1988. He gained a first class Honours and went on to his Doctorate which he completed in 1997. He was the first Torres Strait Islander to gain a doctorate.
He is the former Director of the Aboriginal Research Institute at University of South Australia and current Director of Indigenous Academic Programs at Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, University of Technology Sydney.
His primary academic interest is Indigenous education. This interest began twenty-three years ago through community involvement in the Torres Strait and through his job as an Education officer for DEETYA, now DEST. He has been a strong advocate for prioritising the teaching of English literacies for Torres Strait Islanders and other remote Indigenous Australians.
He has researched, written on, and promoted discussion about the complexities of what he terms the cultural interface between Indigenous people and other Australians.
He has more recently become interested in emerging discussions around Indigenous Knowledge, around the pedagogical implications of information technologies in the education of Indigenous Australians and Indigenous higher education issues generally.
Martin has been a Council member of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra since 1996. He also served a term on the Council of the Australian National Maritime Museum on Darling Harbour.
At an international level, he has provided research and technical support to ATSIC delegations in the UN preparatory sessions and the World Conference on Racism in Geneva and Durban in 2001 as well as the inaugural session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous issues in New York in 2002.
He was a plenary speaker at the 68th Conference of the International Federation of Library Association (IFLA) in Glasgow last year, which brought him to the attention of people here at the State Library; and he has recently contributed to IFLA’s policy statement on Indigenous Knowledge.
He has served on various national committees and panels over the years and like other Indigenous Australians considers community service an important obligation.