The Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Site Management System is a management tool developed to support the Cultural Heritage Program at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and World Heritage Area. The system has been developed by Anangu (local Aboriginal people), Parks Australia and the project partners.
Managed by Anangu Park staff, the system records information about places of cultural heritage significance in the park, as well as providing an active management tool for the monitoring and maintenance of sites.
Partners in the development of the Cultural Site Management System
The concept for the system was conceived by Anangu Park staff who during a training program with the Australian Heritage Commission in June 1999, sat outside and drew the requirements for the system in the sand. In developing the system, Anangu staff at Uluru provided cultural and technical expertise at the park level. Other project partners, the Department of Geomatics at Melbourne University and Environmental Systems Solutions Pty. Ltd. have provided the technical knowledge to put the system together, and a cultural heritage conservation specialist from the Department of Environment and Water Resources provided advice on how the system meets the needs for a technically sound site conservation program.
Developing this system was an example of joint management in practice. It recognises the primacy of ongoing Anangu management of cultural heritage according to tradition. At the same time it recognises the contribution that Piranpa (non-aboriginal) knowledge and technology can make to assist in looking after the cultural heritage of the park. This system is a tangible expression of working together with the shared responsibility to look after this Park for future generations.
Challenges that led to the development of the Cultural Site Management System
Over the years, many reports had been written and recommendations made on what should be done to protect cultural heritage sites in the park. However prior to 2000, there was no systematic way to document and monitor sites. At this time, the major challenges were:
- finding old records, photos and other information held about cultural heritage places in the park
- lack of a high quality baseline record of rock art (and other) sites suitable for monitoring changes over time
- the need for a clearer program of activity for monitoring and protecting sites in a way that could be easily planned and incorporated into budgets and works programs
- the park needed a way to plan, monitor and report on activity related to managing the cultural heritage values of the park, and for which the park is recognised as a protected area and World Heritage listed cultural landscape
A new approach - tools for Cultural Heritage Management
It was time for Anangu to play a stronger role and guide the development of a new system and approach. In September 2000, a major cultural heritage workshop was held in the park, attended by a large group of traditional owners and Anangu from surrounding communities. This resulted in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Cultural Heritage Action Plan. The Action Plan sets out the work of the Cultural Heritage Program.
The Action Plan outlines two practical tools that needed to be developed to support the work of the Cultural Heritage Program. The first was to ensure that cultural heritage records associated with 'people's history' (such as oral history, photographs and documents) could be stored and made accessible to Anangu. The other practical tool focused on 'place history'.
For 'people's history' the decision was made to link Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park into the Ara Irititja System. This is an innovative, state-of-the-art multi-media database and associated project which locates, copies and electronically records Pitjantjatjara history and culture, collecting together photographs, film, artifacts, artworks and text from private and institutional sources across Australia. The project is an initiative of the Pitjantjatjara Council, with the South Australian Museum as a supporting partner (see irititja.com). A network of communities throughout the region was involved in the Ara Irititja network, and it made sense for Uluru to link to this network as well.
For 'place history', work was commenced on the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Cultural Site Management System.
Developing the Cultural Site Management System
The first discussions for the system started with basic principles that have since guided the system's development:
- that Anangu would be owners and managers of the system that involved looking after cultural heritage places in the park
- the system was to be principally used by Anangu Park staff, and as such was to be highly visual, easy to navigate and 'friendly' to people who may not prefer to use written or spoken English
- that there needed to be a high level of security for culturally-sensitive material, respect for separate information which could only be accessed by wati (men) or minyma (women) and the ability to restrict access to images or recordings of deceased people
It was determined that the system was to include:
- new high quality site records
- storage of old records about sites (such as old photographs and documents)
- a tool to help plan and record site cultural heritage patrol activity in the park
- a record of regular inspections and conservation assessments of sites
- a means to establish a monitoring system for sites
- a means to record works undertaken at sites
- a means to record moveable objects located in the park or which had previously been removed from the park
The system had to translate, in a clear simple way, the work that Anangu staff and trainees did in the park into a system to keep records over time. As Anangu staff and trainees were taking to the technology quickly and easily, a decision was made early on to base much of the new approach on using both still and video digital camera technology.
As the concepts for the system progressed, consideration was given to whether there were other systems that we could use or whether we had to develop our own. With advisors to the Cultural Heritage Program, other systems used around Australia and overseas were considered, but none suited the park or Anangu requirements. A further decision was made to aim for world's best practice for a practical tool to assist managing and monitoring sites in a cultural landscape. We wanted to show others throughout the world how, through joint management, we can develop an approach and practical tool that was excellent for the park and possibly a model for others.
The job given the highest priority was to get a comprehensive set of high-quality records of the rock art sites around the base of Uluru. These sites are the ones that are subject to the highest pressure from visitors and natural deterioration, and senior Anangu were urging Park staff to make sure these places were being looked after. To assist, the Department of Geomatics at Melbourne University were called in as they were capable of using the best technology for recording sites in the field while also working on planning our new Cultural Site Management System.
We started recording sites in the field and developing our first version of the system. At the same time we were also developing a new approach to the field work associated with the Cultural Heritage Program. This included two training programs in Cultural Site Management and two courses in Cultural Site Monitoring and Maintenance. During and after these courses, Anangu and the trainers worked together on developing the system of documenting sites in the field, inspecting their condition, monitoring sites and undertaking site works.
All this work came together in a series of trial versions of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Site Management System developed by Environmental Systems Solutions Pty. Ltd. and tested as work progressed from 2001 - 2004. Now the system is in full operation on a daily basis helping to fulfil the obligations we have to look after the cultural heritage of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park for future generations.
- Mick Starkey, Troy Mallie and Anangu Rangers - Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
- Cliff Ogelby, Department of Geomatics, Melbourne University
- Glen MacLaren, Environmental Systems Solutions Pty. Ltd.
- Nicholas Hall, Australian Government Department of Environment and Water Resources