Thursday, October 01, 2009

Australian Indigenous Languages Database

AUSTLANG The Australian Indigenous Languages Database was launched at the National Indigenous Studies Conference today. One of my former students at ANU worked on this
The AUSTLANG system assembles information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages from various sources. The core of AUSTLANG is the AUSTLANG database (online Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages database) which is linked to Google Maps. The system also facilitates access to other databases, PDF files and links to websites, which all provides information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. AUSTLANG enables users to search for a language by a language name or a place name, or by navigating Google Maps, and to view a variety of information on the language. AUSTLANG users can also launch a catalogue search of the AIATSIS collection catalogue, MURA.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Tag Cloud for the Apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples by the Australian Parliament

The motion by Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister, in the Parliament at 9.00 am, Wednesday, 13 February 2008 contained the word "Sorry" three times. It contains 344 words, with 173 different words. Here is a concordance index of the words in the speech (on the web, such an index is commonly referred to as a tag cloud). This is an alphabetical list of the number of times each word occurs in the text:

173 types (different words, minus some stop words):


This links to the words in context. The concordance was created using the User Text Concordance, by Tom Cobb, Universite du Quebec a Montreal (UQAM).

Sorting these words in descending order of accordance and then taking the first alphabetically for each occurrence, the statement can be reduced to: "We for their history Australians all sorry apologise aboriginal."

The text is from the House of Representatives Hansard:

Apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples by the Australian Parliament

That today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.
We reflect on their past mistreatment.
We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations—this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.
The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.
We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.
We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.
For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.
To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.
And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.
We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.
For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.
We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.
A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.
A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.
A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.
A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.
A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

From: Apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples,

Motion by Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister, House of Representatives Hansard, 13 February 2008
It might be interesting to compare this with the Apology to the Aboriginal People by John Howard, to see how similar they are:
"Good evening. My name is John Howard and I'm speaking to you from Sydney, Australia, host city of the year 2000 Olympic Games. ...

At this important time, and in an atmosphere of international goodwill and national pride, we here in Australia - all of us - would like to make a statement before all nations. Australia, like many countries in the new world, is intensely proud of what it has achieved in the past 200 years. ...

However, these achievements have come at great cost. We have been here for 200 years but before that, there was a people living here. For 40,000 years they lived in a perfect balance with the land. ...

I speak for all Australians in expressing a profound sorrow to the Aboriginal people. I am sorry. We are sorry. Let the world know and understand, that it is with this sorrow, that we as a nation will grow and seek a better, a fairer and a wiser future. Thank you."

John Howard, (the Actor), in the ABC TV comedy "The Games" <> July 3, 2000, quoted at <> and video.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Putting the Australian Government Online for Remote Indigenous Communities

The 4th Annual Web Content Management for Government Conference, is 17-18 September 2007 in Canberra. The theme of the conference is "Harnessing the power of new technologies to build citizen-centric websites and encourage online activities" and I will be speaking on the first morning on how to do this for remote aboriginal communities:

Making websites accessible and functional for a diverse community:
  • Communicating and engaging diverse cultural audiences in Australia and worldwide
  • Providing sufficient and accurate information for people who with limited English
  • Using the information and digital technologies to support users with special requirements
  • Integrating web content to wireless and mobile devices
  • Testing the accessibility of websites to different citizen segments
When I was approached to speak at the conference, the suggested outline I was provided with included "aboriginal audiences". I changed this to "diverse cultural audiences", as I thought explicitly mentioning indigenous issues would be too controversial for government staff. However, the recent declaration of an emergency by the Prime Minister in response to a report on Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse will require responses from many government agencies.

Governments can provide access to information and services via the Internet in an accessible format to help address the needs of remote indigenous communities. This could allow the communities to govern themselves, with central oversight. Mutual obligation arrangements could be implemented in a more efficient and less intrusive way than by having temporary outside government staff rotated through the community.

New remote housing could have reliable digital communications built in. New schools could have computers and telecommunications built in for flexible learning, using the same techniques which MIT developed for teaching university physics, combined with the technologies in the Indian Simputer for use in villages and the $100 laptop for education of children in the third world.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Modules for Indigenous Housing

PREFAB HOUSE by Andrew Maynard being constructedThis week the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, announced $48 million to fund welfare reform trials in Cape York. One area identified for support was improved housing. However, this will stretch the available pool of trained tradespeople willing to carry out such work in remote areas. One way around the problem would be to provide pre-built modules.

Prefabricated modules could be mass produced for upgrading the services in remote indigenous housing. The modules could be built in regional centres using local labor and then transported to the communities and used to upgrade existing houses or be built into new houses.

One of the problems to be addressed by the Australian Government's emergency response to the Protection of Aboriginal Children Report is housing. Even if sufficient funding was available to provide housing for remote indigenous communities, qualified trades persons would not be available to build and fit out the houses.

There have been many previous proposals for mass produced factory modular and prefabricated housing. Most of these projects have not been successful due to the stigma surrounding factory housing. In addition the prefabrication does not make major savings as scarce and expensive skilled trades are still needed on site to install water, power and telecommunications facilities in the houses. It is therefore proposed to manufacture a module which provides water, power and telecommunications services for a home. The module can then be transported to a site and installed in a new home, or retrofitted to an old one.

TempoHousing two bedroom two container home

The technical services for a home would take about 9 cubic metres, or about one third of a standard 20 foot ISO shipping container. Rather than build the components into the smallest possible space, where they would need to then be connected to the home by qualified trades people, it is proposed to install them in a building module, providing the rooms where the services are delivered (kitchen and bathroom). In this way the services can be pre-connected to the delivery point. The empty space in the module would be used to transport components which need to be installed outside the building, such as
solar panels or wind generators.

The module could use one of the many available modular building technologies to construct a unit the size of a standard ISO container for ease of transport. The module would be fitted out with a bathroom and kitchen, with fixtures and fittings included. The fit-out would be customized for different regions. Where reliable reticulated water and power are available, the building would equipped for connection.

For remote areas, solar and/or wind power generation and battery storage would be installed. Water would be provided by in-built pumps and a modular water tank transported in the module. At toilet would be installed for sewage/septic, or in dry areas a waterless composting toilet would be used.

Simputer Indian PDAXO-1,$100 Laptop, OLPC or Children's MachineA wireless terrestrial (WiMax/3G) or satellite would be fitted. A web terminal with a rugged dust proof and reinforced screen would be built into the wall of kitchen area, along with a telephone. The computer screen could also be used for TV and monitoring the house systems. The computer systems would use an icon and voice based interface similar to the Simputer, which was designed for Indian villages and the
zoom” interface of the OLPC $100 Children's Machine for education in developing nations.

The module would be sealed against the elements (and rated for use in cyclone areas) and so habitable as a single person standalone building, for temporary accommodation. However, normally it would be built on to an existing home or into a new dwelling. Conventional building techniques or various modular and prefabricated panels could be used for the rest of the building. Because all technical services would be pre-built in the delivered module, local materials, natural timber, rammed earth, adobe and similar materials could be used for the rest of the house by semi-skilled local labor.

Specialized modules could also be produced for community facilities, such as schools, community centers and offices. These would provide more water, power and telecommunications facilities. The module walls could have integral security screens included to both provide protection for the windows during transit, as well as after installation.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Internet to Empower Indigenous Communities

Painting: Little Children are Sacred by Heather LaughtonA report on Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse was released by the Northern Territory Government 15 June 2007. The Australian Government has responded by proposing to take control of Aboriginal communities in the NT, restricting welfare payments and brining in outside police and welfare workers. This runs counter to the reports recommendations. Perhaps the Internet and the web can be used to empower the local communities and address some of the issues.

The report found that sexual abuse of Aboriginal children is happening largely because of the breakdown of Aboriginal culture and society and made 97 recommendations to address this.

The report recommended improvements in the Aboriginal education systems, including local language development, to make education more effective for Aboriginal children, education campaigns on child sexual abuse, urgent action to reduce alcohol consumption, an Advice Hotline, improved family support services, introduction of community justice groups and a Commissioner for Children and Young People.

A summary of the report is available online and the full report as one PDF document (6.4 mb). Each section of the report is also available individually:

The Australian Government has responded to the report by stating that the situation is akin to a national emergency and proposing to:

"... introduce widespread alcohol restrictions on Northern Territory Aboriginal land for six months ... ban the sale, the possession, the transportation, the consumption and (introduce the) broader monitoring of take away sales across the Northern Territory...

... medical examinations of all indigenous children in the Northern Territory under the age of 16 ...

... 50 per cent of welfare payments to parents of children in the affected areas and the obligation in relation to that will follow the parent wherever that parent may go ... effectively the arrangements will be that that 50 per cent can only be used for the purchase of food and other essentials ...

... enforce school attendance by linking income support and family assistance payments to school attendance for all people living on Aboriginal land ...

The Commonwealth Government will take control of townships through five year leases ...

There will be an immediate increase in policing levels... We'll be asking each state police service to provide up to 10 officers who'll be sworn as police in the Northern Territory ..."

From:"Joint Press Conference with the Hon Mal Brough,Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Canberra", Interview Transcript, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 22 June 2007
The Australian Government proposals would appear a high cost, high risk, short term strategy. By taking control away from the local community, this appears to be the opposite to what was recommended in the report and may make the situation worse, rather than better (as well as contrary to Australian law on discrimination).

Perhaps the Internet and the web can be used to address some of the issues, by empowering the local communities. In the joint press conference announcing the Commonwealth's plans, the Prime Minister drew a parallel with the Canberra suburb of Dickson, arguing that if child abuse had occurred there, immediate action would have resulted:
"... if this set of circumstances had been disclosed as taking place in the suburb of Dickson, can you imagine what the local response from police, from medical authorities and from the state government would have been? It would have been horror and immediate action and a demand by the community that something be done. That has not happened in relation to the Northern Territory and we therefore believe that the action I'm about to outline is totally justified and warranted given our overarching responsibilities for the welfare of children throughout Australia. ..."

From:"Joint Press Conference with the Hon Mal Brough,Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Canberra", Interview Transcript, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 22 June 2007
Drunkenness and violence can occur in any community. As a former resident of Dickson I have seen violent drunken family brawls in the street, requiring police intervention. The PM's suggestion that this only happens in remote aboriginal communities is false. However, the PM has made a valid point: people in a Canberra suburb can be heard much more easily by government, than a geographically remote community. Taking the PM's lead, perhaps the answer is, therefore to give these remote communities a louder voice in government and to the result of the Australian community. The Internet and the Web can provide a way to overcome distance and allow that voice to be heard.

The suburb of Dickson does not rely exclusively on person-to-person communication to get its message across to Government. In November 1996 The Dickson Precinct Community Group was formed as a community consultative group to provide advice to the ACT Government on upgrading facilities in Dickson. As a member, and later chair of the group, I converted the groups newsletters and the master plan prepared for the suburb into a web format. This provided a much higher visibility for the community.

Projects such as the ANU's Bidwern have looked at how social and environmental scientists could work with Indigenous communities to use digital systems for cultural and environmental data. These same technologies could be applied to community planning, addressing social issues and to assisting remotely located government officials and politicians to an understanding of the issues.

dEadly mOb LogoThe Federal Government's Department of Communications, Technology and the Arts (DCITA) e-strategy guide features the Deadly Mob at the Gap Youth Centre in Alice Springs, as an example of creating an online community for young Indigenous people. DCITA also list online collaboration systems such as phbBB,, AMP, and CivicSpace.

The internet and the web can be used directly locally for coordinating the provision of services. This can lower the administrative cost of providing such services while also empowering the community. Remote state and federal governments can meet their obligations to ensure appropriate administration by joining with the local community online. Where the remote government fails to listen to the local community, that community can take their concerns to the Australian community directly via the Internet and via the media.

In finding new ways to come together to make local decisions, indigenous communities can teach the broader Australian community better ways to government themselves.

Online systems could be used by the local communities to consult and make decisions. At a meeting of the Canberra Chapter of the Australia India Business Council on Friday, Richard Andrews talked about his report "India's services sector: unlocking opportunity". One comment he made was that online systems made some types of corruption more difficult, by imposing an independent system in the transaction. He was referring to bribery in India, but this technique might be applied in Australia.

If communities use an online system to administer local government, that system can be used to check that the approved procedures are being followed. This might be a way to keep government officials and politicians happy, without having the expense and cultural problems of imposing outside administrators on the local community. This would not be discrimination, as the rules imposed by the system would be the same which apply to local governments across Australia.

The same system could be used to manage upwards: to keep a check on corruption by the central administration and politicians. If each local community can easily compare notes on what the government is up to and report abuses, it will make manipulation of the political system by state and federal governments much more difficult. Promises made by state and federal politicians for resources for local communities could then easily be compared with what those communities actually got. Any discrepancy could then easily be brought to the attention of the broader Australian community.

NOTE: The NT report is entitled "Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle" ("Little Children are Sacred"). The cover design for the report is by Heather Laughton, of Eastern Arrente (Central Australia):
"The design represents the coming together of different people to help tackle the problem of child sexual abuse: mothers, children, grandmothers at a safe place, fathers and grandfathers at a safe place, and in the middle a resource centre with a mentor/counsellor/educator and family members and other support people. The resource centre represents a place where people can come together to work out their problems as a family or as a community, and also to learn how the mainstream law system and Aboriginal law are both strong ways of protecting children."

From: Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse "Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle" ("Little Children are Sacred"), Northern Territory Government, 15 June 2007.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Capturing expert knowledge in Arnhem Land

Photo of  Western Arnhem Land from Bidwern ProjectRecommended free talk at National Library of Australia, in Canberra, 15 June 2007:

Please join us for the next in our Digital Culture series of talks:

Bidwern: capturing expert knowledge

Most scientific research is based on examining objects from a specific perspective. The danger in this approach is that some information, which might be considered non-relevant to the specific discipline, can be omitted. Researchers are good at capturing data and metadata in their field, but they might unwittingly neglect other usable data.

Bidwern is a tool that discovers and captures knowledge by using experts'
field knowledge. It provides a way of bringing together research data from various sources and integrating them under one discovery system via implicit or explicit relationships.

Users can tag objects with appropriate metadata, for example Indigenous knowledge (ecoterms), language, mythology or geographic location, to trace and discover relationships. Bidwern uses standard metadata capture and access tools that make archiving the information easy.

Time: 12.30 to 13.30
Date: Friday, 15 June 2007
Venue: Library Theatre
Entry: Free
Speakers: Kim Mackenzie and Leo Monus
Introduced by Colin Webb, Director Web Archiving & Digital Preservation Branch,
National Library of Australia

This talk is open to the public.

Bidwern is an ARC eResearch Project for digital tools to document projects in Northern Australia:
A pilot project will use a selection of visual and audio data created by social and environmental scientists working with Indigenous communities on a major land management project across the western Arnhem Land Plateau.

The key innovations of the research will be to develop new methods for cataloging and preparing digital data for uploading to the DSpace digital repository at the Australian National University. Once in the repository, the data will be preserved for long term access by researchers and Indigenous communities in the western Arnhem Land Plateau.

From: Bidwern Project, ANU, 2006

See also my "Ten Canoes: From Samoa to Arafura Swamp".

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