The research being done in this field is valuable in giving insights into the history and culture of Australia’s first peoples, their current conditions and future opportunities. It is also intellectually stimulating in its engagement with very different ontologies and epistemologies that can challenge research preconceptions.
There is a great deal of research data in many forms from early field notes and other records to large digital datasets. Formats include images, video and audio as well as text and qualitative and quantitative data. Many research resources are held in physical formats in archives, libraries and museums and by the researchers who compiled them. Preeminent among the institutions that hold Australian Indigenous research materials is the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). Its collections are the largest resource in this field in the world and are managed in accordance with appropriate research and cultural protocols. In addition, AIATSIS has created many important guides and tools which are indispensable to researchers and to other collecting institutions.
However, as in other fields, Indigenous research materials are increasingly ‘born digital’: they consist of datasets created with digital tools including scanners, cameras, spreadsheets, databases and so on. Relevant data are often included in large datasets including those compiled in the census or to track social issues such as health and employment. All of the datasets are vulnerable to format obsolescence as software and hardware are replaced by more recent versions and few are adequately described from either a content or management perspective. Many are held by researchers who do not have the capacity to ensure their longevity and continuing useability.
To address this gap, UTS was invited to establish a national trusted repository for Indigenous Australian data in 2008. This thematic archive of the Australian Data Archive (ADA) is being developed to ensure the collection and storage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research data in digital formats. Thus, the creation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Data Archive (ATSIDA) addresses the need to manage research data in this priority area by collecting often dispersed data and managing it in accordance with appropriate protocols, drawing on the expertise jointly developed by Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning and the UTS Library.