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School of Indigenous Studies UWA

Approach & Methodology

Approach ans Methodology

Existing research indicates that attitudes within the broader Australian public are positive towards Indigenous reconciliation (Sweeney et al., 1996; Gomersall et al., 2000). Such reconciliation is not simply a process where past hurts and injustices are recognised for improved understanding of contemporary Aboriginal Australians and shared recognition of and respect for all Australians (Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, 1993).

Reconciliation also requires proper understanding of the Aboriginal cultural heritage including, among others, the meaning and interpretation of geographical placenames.

The main task for this project was to develop an Aboriginal place history and cultural mapping of the South-West of Western Australia.

The approach was based on an understanding that people learned about place, history and identity through a combination of sources, such as written publications, web-based information and visual media (e.g. Ginsberg, 1994). Therefore the project methodology was built around a unique combination of scholarly approaches that assembled information, presented perspectives and created meaning and interpretation within a wide range of formats. With stakeholder involvement throughout the process, our methodology was comprised of the following stages.

1. Desktop Study 

A desktop study was carried out to:

a) identify additional sources of information and data on Nyungar placenames and meanings specifically targeted at the South-West, especially historical material on old maps and surveyors’ journals;

b) identify and collect online material and other available project-related information from sources such as local libraries, museums and publications;

c) establish contact details and other relevant information of all Nyungar placename expertise, including telephone contacts of all Nyungar sources.

2. Key Agency Contact

Key agencies that included the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council, Department of Indigenous Affairs, State Library of Western Australia, JS Battye Library, State Records Office, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), WA Local Government Association (WALGA), University of Western Australia, Western Australian Museum, Landgate, Parson Brinckerhoff (PB), Curtin University, Edith Cowan University, the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council and Syrinx Environmental PL were contacted to: a) identify materials and other relevant resources; b) capture relevant data information; c) identify sources of location, specific initiatives and contact.

3. Advisory Committee

The project team worked in association with a specially formulated Advisory Committee that consisted of Dr Sue Graham-Taylor, Chair (Western Australian Museum), Professor Jill Milroy and Emeritus Professor Reg Appleyard (University of Western Australia), Brian Goodchild (Landgate), Dr Edward Oldmeadow (Parson Brinckerhoff), Professors Dora Marinova and Peter Newman (Curtin University), Professor Colleen Hayward (Edith Cowan University), Mr Glen Kelly (CEO, South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council) and Dr Kathy Meney (Director, Syrinx Environmental PL). Unfortunately Associate Professor Rosemary van den Berg wasn't able to take up a role due to health issues. The Advisory Committee met to discuss key aims and help refine aspects of the methodology for the project.

4. Data Exploration and Database Development

The project explored and analysed all available information and data held by government and non-government agencies and other organisations. The data was:

a) summarised and entered into Excel spreadsheets;

b) sorted and categorised for the final database. This stage involved intensive travel and meetings throughout the South-West. Photographic images (still and video) and cultural interpretations of the meaning of Nyungar placenames were collected and all available Nyungar placenames were listed. The project pursued the places that had received greater treatment in the development of their history and meaning and that had quality supporting material, while ensuring it acheived a good spread across the region and city. Further to research within Western Australia, trips to AIATSIS and the National Museum of Australia in Canberra were made in order to research archives and other documents that referred to the Nyungar population.

5. Data Review

The data was reviewed to: a) identify gaps in existing literature around Nyungar placename meanings by geographical location and determine areas that required translation; b) take appropriate steps in gathering localised data.

6. Database Construction

Once the type of database best used for the project was identified, information from Excel spreadsheets was exported into the database. Initial website was constructed and hosted by the CUSP Institute.

7. Crosschecking Process

The crosschecking stage had two components:

a) Professor Collard, as the ARF-I (an expert in Nyungar language and culture), analysed the names and meanings developed in the earlier stages of the project;

b) the names and their interpretations were further developed on the basis of consultation with experienced Indigenous Nyungar language representatives. The purpose of the crosschecking activity was to validate findings, which were based on existing literature. On completion of the crosschecking, the CUSP Institute produced the draft Indigenous Names of the South-West of Western Australia documentation that covered the place nomenclature, definitions, meanings and interpretation according to Tindale’s (1974) framework.

8. Draft Documentation to the Advisory Committee

The draft Indigenous Nyungar names documentation, which included the complete source of names and their various interpretations, was presented to the Advisory Committee. The project team and the Advisory Committee identified and addressed issues arising from the research.

9. Final Indigenous Names of the South-West Publication

Incorporating the feedback from the Advisory Committee, the team produced the final documentation from the project. The possibility of a published book, in addition to the website, has been considered and further advice will be sought from the Advisory Committee regarding this. The proposed publication would contain expert Nyungar analysis of names, meanings and possible interpretation and would include historical details about the use and origin of the Indigenous names used in the South-West of Western Australia. A table summarising the various interpretations of placenames and their regions and the provision of relevant historical data would be included in the publication.

10. Communication Materials

Communication materials and resources were developed for academic, government and community use. Indigenous Names of the South-West focussed on strengthening the understanding of “country” within the context of Indigenous culture, language and intangible values. A video production team was contracted to produce a video that would provide insight into the places of particular interest as identified in the final publication.

11. Written Guidelines

A booklet outlining the use of Nyungar names and including specific guidelines was produced. The user-friendly guide features 140 Indigenous placenames and their various interpretations along with images.

12. Set of Maps

The project provided Landgate, the academic and wider community with a collection of 14 separate maps, each showing the location of towns, suburbs and important landscape features identified by Indigenous names in the South-West. Each map covers in detail one Aboriginal region within the South-West according to Tindale’s (1974) language categories. In addition, one larger map covers the entire South-West region.