Australian Collections Online. But how?


There has much discussion about sensitive objects in Australian collections recently and there is an awareness of the problems involved in digitizing and putting these objects online. This is because various objects and object types are subject to restrictive handling requirements that need to be taken into account despite all the demands for transparency that are made for collection items from colonial contexts and their provenance research. In a first step, the workshop used specific collection holdings and object examples to compile which sensitive objects are present in the collections and how the collection managers and curators deal with the problem. In a second step, we wanted to approach a recommendation for the digitization of Australian collections.

Addressees, curators, collection managers or people in comparable positions who deal with collections coming from Australia and/or their display in databases
Input from Birgit Scheps-Bretschneider (GRASSI Museum Leipzig) and Olaf Geerken (PAESE joint project)
Date: Wednesday, November 10, 2021, 1 p.m.-4 p.m.

Information about the procedure
We asked to bring an overview of the collections you are dealing with and a sample set of metadata from the database used in your institution.
We understood this workshop as work in a protected environment. For the purpose of joint work, it was necessary to show images of sensitive and access-regulated objects. We therefore assumed that the information circulated in the workshop was treated confidentially by all participants.
Everybody was welcome to bring materials about objects.

Key questions to structure the discussion

Are there objects in the collection designated as tjurunga, talkara, tjungajunga, Schuringa, or similar, or where these attributions are suspected? If so, what is already known about their provenance? Which collectors or dealers are known?
Are there any objects that are sensitive due to the following attributes and should be treated restrictively if necessary?
- made out off human materials, e.g. human hair (e.g. hair cords, woningas/thread crosses)
- Shields or boomerangs painted with ochre colors or decorated with complex engravings (e.g. circles, parallel lines)?
- Burial stakes, specifically assigned to women
- Ceremonial poles from women's ceremonies
- Circumcision knives
- Creeping shoes/ feather shoes
- Objects with emu feathers
- Pointed pieces of bone
- Braided or twisted hair rings, possibly with engraved mother-of-pearl disk

Database/object information
- Are the objects listed in a public database (or should they be in the future)?
- Which data fields are displayed?
- Who has access to internal databases or data fields? What information is handled restrictively?
- Are there processes for deciding on the release of restrictive and sensitive information?
- For which objects or object groups do these processes apply?
- Are photos and descriptions of objects (analog or digital) protected?

Outlook analog: Collection/exhibition
- How are objects stored, are there arrangements to restrict access to sensitive objects in the depot?
- Who has access to objects in the depot, are people with access made aware of the problems?