I would like to share a little of my recent trip to Hobart and the annual Australian Society of Archivists’ Conference. Firstly, Hobart was not cold at all! Well, maybe that was compared to Ballarat. But the surprise fine sunny Hobart weather was an added bonus to the conference.
The theme of the conference, ‘Archives on the Edge’, referred to the geographical location of the conference, of course, but also to the idea that archives are at the precipice of the Information Revolution. There were interesting discussions, initiated by Keynote Speaker Geoffrey Yeo, as to the professional role of the archivist in our information age and how we could continue to be a vital part of the hub around which greater and greater amounts of information dizzily circles ourselves as individuals and our organisations. Information, which comes our way as disorganised white noise, must be tamed to be a useful resource by the active process of record keeping and records management and the consequent keeping of archives. Archives are then available, with human intervention and interpretation, as a source of knowledge and thence art, philosophy, science; the fundamentals of culture.
There were practical examples of how archives are being used to secure and revitalise cultural identity. Fascinating work is being done on Tasmania’s convict records by Hamish Maxwell-Stewart of the University of Tasmania. Tasmania was a prison without walls as the walls were on paper. Only a small percentage of Tasmanian convicts were ever incarcerated in physical prisons, the others being assigned to work for private individuals or government projects. Consequently their lives were controlled by the administration and hence they became the most documented people in the British Empire; we have records of their physical descriptions and photos, down to scars and tattoos, family background, bank accounts, medical records, run-ins with the law, of course, and locations and movements.
Work is also being done in Tasmania on records of the Tasmanian aborigines. Julie Gough, artist and curator, whose matriarchal Aboriginal family line traditionally comes from Tebrikunna in far north eastern Tasmania, is piecing together aboriginal identities and culture through the records and artworks of colonists’ direct contact with aboriginal people, making genealogical connections and mapping locations and relationships. She then uses this knowledge to develop interpretative art works.
Who can visit Hobart these days without taking the ferry to MONA (Museum of Old and New Art)? Here I spent a day being delighted by intensity of architecture and ideas. My favourite piece was ‘Artifact’ by Gregory Barsamian, which was a giant head filled with bizarre animated images.
The artist says that, ”We get twenty million bits of information impinging on our senses every second, yet our conscious mind only interprets fifteen to twenty bits per second.” This seemed to support the message of the conference and the issues of the Information Age and, of course, archives’ place in it. It is the role of archives to help make sense of this information overload.
Myself, Jane Mayo Carolan, Steve Stefanopoulos.
Jane and Steve were presented with the ASA Mander Jones Award for a publication making best use of Archives. The publication was ‘A Row of Goodly Pearls, One Hundred and Twenty-Five Years of Loreto in Melbourne’. (I’m not sure why I am holding the certificate!)
Robin Scott Province Archivist, Loreto Australia and South-East Asia