Monday, April 16, 2007

Public Inquiries, helping visitors.

It's a difficult position working in a museum as a white Australian talking to visitors about Australian Aboriginal culture. There are so many opportunities for miscommunication, misunderstanding and outright bigotry that it can be a real minefield to walk into. I've come out of Uni with an anthropology degree, but I do not profess in any way to be an expert on Australian Aboriginal culture; however, I know a little and can often point people in the right direction more than provide them with expertise I don't have.

This afternoon I had a basic query here from someone at the front counter in the Inquiry Centre. To begin with, he was asking about websites that gave general information about Aboriginal history; this then led to him wanting somewhere he could look at old photos or snapshots of art. I suggested checking out State Library or State Art Gallery websites in Australia, and asked a little further about what he was looking for. It turned out he had some photos of rock art. So I then confirmed a state library or art gallery would be a good way to go - perhaps even if he wanted general identification one of the curators here could look at it. Was he just after an identification, I asked, or general information on rock art?

Eventually he said that he'd gotten some photos of rock art from a NSW site. I then directed him toward the Australian Museum - more relevant, with a large(ish) Anthropology department. Further prodding gave up the information that the site was on his brother's property. Bingo. He wanted information and (of course) he 'respected their culture' but they were all afraid their property would be taken away from them. I assured him that native title was an incredibly misunderstood issue in this country, and it was his duty to (or at least his brother's duty to) report a finding of an Aboriginal heritage place/artefact as it's covered in legislation (National Parks and Wildlife act down there I believe, and the QM Act up here); reporting it did certainly not mean their property would be whisked away. He got very very cagey about all of it after that and ended up thanking me and leaving.

In this circumstance, there are a lot of things I feel in the wake of an inquiry like this. I feel like it definitely is my responsibility to make white Australian visitors aware of the law regarding Australian Aboriginal culture in Australia and their responsibilities in relation to that. I feel like I might have pushed a little hard. I feel frustrated the guy wasn't up front about what he was really trying to find out. I am sad that a lot of his attitude was "i'm not racist, but..." - simply because of the history of this country and its current politics. I hope something positive comes out of the exchange, at any rate..

The entomologists have it way easier, you know.