Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Data Archive

ATSIDA works on first Torres Strait Islander dataset with anthropologist Dr Jeremy Beckett

In 2015, ATSIDA digitised the early research field notes (circa 1959) of anthropologist Dr Jeremy Beckett. The field notes contain handwritten short stories and songs from the Torres Strait Islands recorded in Kala Lagaw Ya and Meriam Mir, the languages of the western and eastern Torres Strait Islands, collected by Dr Beckett during his fieldwork in the Torres Strait Islands in 1958-1959. The UTS Library Access Services Department undertook the digitisation onsite at the UTS Library, and ATSIDA retains preservation quality master files of the collection. 

The dataset represents the first collection of cultural heritage materials relating to the Torres Strait Islands ATSIDA has acquired that is of significant cultural value to the Torres Strait Island community and wider public. 

ATSIDA then facilitated consultation between Dr Beckett and community representatives from the Torres Strait to digitally repatriate a selection of the short stories recorded in Kala Lagaw Ya on Badu Island to cultural custodians from Mabuiag Island in the western Torres Strait Islands. 

Beckett has had a long association with the Torres Strait Islander community both in the Torres Strait and on mainland Australia following his arrival in Australia in the mid-1950’s where he spent a number of years working as an anthropologist with the Barkindji and Malyangaba language groups in NSW before travelling to the Torres Strait in 1958.

Beckett’s pioneering work over the past 40+ years has contributed widely to the understanding of Indigenous Australians.  His field research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people focused on ethnomusicology, native title recognition and autonomy in the Torres Strait.

ATSIDA is currently working on an oral history collection of audio recordings of interviews by Dr Beckett with respected Torres Strait Islander Elder Statesman, the late George Mye MBE OAM from the island of Erub (known as Darnley Island) in the eastern Torres Strait Islands.  The project gives recognition to the leadership and contribution of the late Mr Mye to the Torres Strait Islander community, and Beckett’s longstanding research.  Charlotte Moar, the Coordinator of ATSIDA, who was born and raised in the Torres Strait and is working on the collection with James Cook University (JCU) academic Dr Vinnitta Mosby, said it is important these collections are preserved for future generations, and for communities to understand and reconnect with their past and the unique history of the Torres Strait Islands, and events that shaped the lives of Islanders post the arrival of Europeans, and the aspirations of the Torres Strait Islander people for social, political and economic equality. It also ensures archives are building diverse collections and preserving representations of Indigenous cultural heritage and perspectives where Indigenous perspectives and voices are often absent or fragmented.

Working with Dr Beckett has assisted in forging new opportunities for ATSIDA to engage with communities in the Torres Strait Islands and promote the activities, profile and geographical reach of ATSIDA, and the potential for new and related datasets of significance to be added to its existing collections.

Beckett said he would like his collections to be accessible to the Torres Strait Island community so they can benefit from important historical information, and continue to preserve their songs, stories and traditions.  He also hopes that his collections will contribute to the wider community’s understanding of Australia’s history and Indigenous peoples.  Much of Beckett’s extensive research collection has been deposited at the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) in Canberra. The collections comprise of audio recordings, photographs and manuscripts.  A catalogue of Beckett’s collections can be found on the AIATSIS website. 

Caption: L-R  ATSIDA Coordinator, Charlotte Moar, Dr Vinnitta Mosby, Dr Jeremy Beckett