‘For the Children …’ Aboriginal Australia, Cultural Access, and Archival Obligation

Monday, 1 July 2019
Brenda L Croft
Felicity Meakins

For whom are archival documents created and conserved? Who is obliged to care for them, provide access to their content, and for how long? The state, libraries, museums and galleries, researchers, interlocutors, genealogists, family heritage organizations? Or does material collected long ago and then archived belong personally, socially, emotionally, culturally and intellectually to the people from whom the original material was collected and, eventually, to their descendants? In a colonized nation, additional ethical and epistemological questions arise: Are archives protected and accessed for the colonized or the colonizers, or both? How are differences regarding archival creation, protection and access distinguished, and in whose interest? Is it for future generations? What happens when archives are accessed and read by family members and/or researchers, and what happens when they are not? A focus on two interrelated stories – firstly, an experiential account narrated by Brenda L Croft about constructive archival management and access and, secondly, a contrasting example relating how the Berndt Field Note Archive continues to be restricted from entitled claimants – facilitates return to three interrelated questions: for whom are archives created and conserved, who is obliged to care for, and authorize access to, them, and to whom do they belong?