A new studio built by the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA), located at the Strehlow Research Centre within the Museum of Central Australia in Alice Springs will open today to provide Traditional Owners of Central Australian Communities with digital access to the film and audio recordings contained in the unique Strehlow Collection.

The Strehlow Collection of film, audio, maps, photographs, genealogies, diaries and sacred objects, is one of the most important collections relating to Indigenous ceremonial life in the world. It contains more than 400 reels of 16mm film and over 1000 audio recordings representing more than 800 ceremonial acts and 150 hours of language, stories and songs. The collection was amassed by Professor TGH Strehlow, who spent more than four decades recording the ceremonial customs and traditions of Central Australian Aboriginal communities from 1932 through to the mid-1970s.

Film and audio recordings were deposited with the NFSA in 1990 for safe keeping and are kept in restricted environmentally controlled vaults in Canberra, to limit deterioration. The NFSA’s digitisation of these audio-visual recordings, and its subsequent building of the studio in Alice Springs, are the results of a Traditional Owner-led co-designed partnership with the NFSA and The Strehlow Research Centre to facilitate unprecedented on-Country access to the collection for Central Australian Aboriginal Communities.

As a significant part of the collection relates to ‘Men’s-Only’ sacred and secret ceremonies. The NFSA worked closely with Senior Men to develop a set of protocols to ensure the cultural safety of the material while it was being transported, preserved and digitised at the NFSA.

The NFSA also provided training to Aboriginal Heritage Officers from the Strehlow Research Centre in audiovisual conservation, preservation, digitisation, archiving and digital access, with a commitment to creating professional skills expansion and continued opportunities.

“The Strehlow project is a demonstration of the unique intersection between First Nations knowledge and 21st century technology,” said Patrick McIntyre, the NFSA’s CEO. “Preservation and access are critical issues for Indigenous communities and archives all over the world. We’re delighted to have worked with the Traditional Owners and the Strehlow Research Centre as part of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT), to have established protocols and pathways that will protect this collection and facilitate on Country access to it for years to come.”

“The use of technology is critical to preserve cultural practices from a variety of language groups in Central Australia, deepening our connection to Country. The Strehlow Research Centre is grateful for the invaluable support the NFSA has provided throughout this project. It is so exciting for all of the SRC Heritage team to reach this important milestone where senior men can access the material visually and work with MAGNT’s Aboriginal Heritage team in the studio to archive these recordings for future generations to access,” said Michael Liddle, Alyawerre man and Chair of the Strehlow Research Board.

ABOUT THE NATIONAL FILM AND SOUND ARCHIVE OF AUSTRALIA

The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia is the national audiovisual cultural institution. From the earliest recordings of the 1890s to the latest games and immersive digital productions, the collection comprises more than 4 million items, including video and audio recordings, and contextual materials such as costumes, scripts, props, photographs and promotional materials. It ranges from items inducted into the UNESCO Memory of the World register to sporting matches, game shows and advertising jingles. Originally known as the National Historical Film and Speaking Record Library and operating under the auspices of the Commonwealth National Library, the collection dates back to 1935, making it one of the first audiovisual archives in the world. The NFSA became an independent cultural organisation in 1984. As well as preserving these items for future generations, NFSA curators continue to add to the collection, ensuring it provides an unbroken record of life in Australia, and of Australian creativity.

ABOUT MUSEUM & ART GALLERY OF THE NORTHERN TERRITORY

The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) is the Northern Territory’s premier cultural and scientific institution. It offers a dynamic and diverse arts, science and cultural program to more than 300,000 visitors each year. MAGNT operates seven venues on Larrakia Country (Darwin) and Arrernte Country (Alice Springs), and is set to open its eighth venue, the Northern Territory Art Gallery, in Darwin’s CBD in 2025.
MAGNT is known for its collections and expertise in Aboriginal cultures, natural sciences, histories and arts across northern and central Australia and our neighbours to the north. It is also the home of the annual Telstra NATSIAA – the most significant Indigenous and richest art award of its kind in Australia.

ABOUT THE STREHLOW RESEARCH CENTRE

The Strehlow Collection held at MAGNT’s Museum of Central Australia in Alice Springs manages one of the most important ethnographic collections of film, sound, archival records and objects relating to Indigenous ceremonial life found anywhere in the world. MAGNT works with Traditional Owners to record traditional language, facilitate field work and provide community access to MAGNT’s collections. Culturally appropriate consultation and collection management methods are implemented by MAGNT. These Traditional Owner-led processes are considered a successful model both locally and nationally for their positive outcomes in meaningful relationships that have reconnected material to custodians.

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