Yanti Ropeyarn, from the Library's Newspapers and Family History area, shares a digitisation project close to her heart. ‘Back to School at Bamaga High’ saw 22 issues of Karbai magazine—from Yanti's high school, Bamaga State High School—digitised and made available online via Trove.
*Speakers: Rebecca Bateman (R), Yanti Ropeyarn (Y)
*Location: National Library of Australia
*Date: Friday 13 July 2018
R: Hi everyone, good afternoon all and welcome to the National Library of Australia. I’m Rebecca Bateman, I’m the Indigenous Curator here at the National Library of Australia. Before we begin I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land that we’re so privileged to be on today and in my case every day of my life, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people and to acknowledge their elders past, present and emerging and to thank them for caring for this beautiful land that we’re privileged to call home.
As you know this week is NAIDOC Week and it’s time to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Library plays an active and honoured role in preserving the history, culture and achievements of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and in making those available online for all Australians.
Our digital classroom has a number of online resources for teachers which align indigenous items in the Library’s collection to the national curriculum from Years 3 to 10. These resources bring the NLA collection to the classrooms across the country and illuminate the indigenous collection items for Australian students to engage with in an age-appropriate way. Other indigenous content online includes a series of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collection conversations which cover topics from researching indigenous family histories in Trove to an analysis of the 1967 referendum, and video readings of the children’s book, I Got This Hat in Warumungu, Torres Strait Creole, [Wagylu] 1:43 Wiradjeri, just three of the approximately 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, many of which are documented here in the Library.
The 2018 NAIDOC Week theme, Because Of Her, We Can!, celebrates the essential role that women have played and continue to play as active and significant role models at the community local, at the state and national levels. This theme makes it both appropriate and pleasing for me to introduce you to one of our wonderful and much loved female indigenous staff members here at the Library. As a relatively new staff member here at the Library one of the great pleasures for me and one of the drawing cards in fact to come to work here was the amazing cohort of indigenous staff here, many of whom are deadly young and not so young women so I would love to introduce Yanti Ropeyarn. Yanti – and I hope you forgive me if I do horrible things to the pronunciations – is an [Unkamati, Yagikana and Wopabaro] 2:54 woman and a Library assistant in the Newspaper and Family History section at the Library. Yanti joined the Library as part of our graduate program in 2016 and since then she’s been working towards making Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collections more accessible for communities in Far North Cape York.
Today she’s going to talk about an amazing project, a joint project between the National Library of Australia and the Northern Peninsula Area State College in Far North Cape York to digitise 22 issues of the [Carbi] 3:24 Bamaga State High School magazines which you can see here, and the impact of having these magazines available for all Australians to enjoy via Trove. I’ve been privileged enough to hear this talk before and I know how fascinating it is and we’re super-lucky that Yanti is willing to speak to us today. She’s fresh back from the National Women’s NAIDOC Conference where she gave a very similar talk during the week so welcome, Yanti.
Y: And here we are back again. I remember two years ago I was giving the graduate talk here so this is exciting. Thank you, Rebecca, for that wonderful welcome. Everyone, thank you so much for being here today and for those who are tuning in on Facebook live, welcome.
So I just want to make note that for any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders here and watching online that this presentation may include names and images of deceased persons. So before I begin I want to acknowledge the Ngunnawal and the Nianbury peoples, the traditional custodians of the Canberra region. I pay my respects to all ancestors and elders past and present and extend that acknowledgement to my fellow first nations’ brothers and sisters here with me today and watching online.
My name is Yanti Ropeyarn and I work here at the National Library in cold country Canberra. So many of you know me but I just want to share a little bit about my role. I am the Trove Project Indigenous Officer and I work with a small, pretty awesome team, Trove Outreach. Before my current role I was in the Newspaper and Family History team and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I came to the National Library in 2016 as an indigenous graduate and completed the program in 2016 in the same year. And I had a ball. I don’t have a background in library studies, I did in fact graduate with a Bachelor of Commerce but that doesn’t say the Library needs business-minded people.
So just a little bit about who I am and where I'm from. I was born in a little country town, Mt Isa, but I grew up in a small Aboriginal community called Injinoo which is a very small, remote community 40km from the tip of Australia so you can see right at the top, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. I am [Ungamuti and Yarakana] 6:30 on my father’s side and I’m Woppaburra on my mother’s side. I have blood ties to the Butchulla people of Gurri or Fraser Island on my mother’s side and blood ties to Badu and Moa Islands in the Torres Strait on my father’s side. I’m also part German and Danish so you can say I’m a box of Cadbury Delights, I have a little bit of everything. I identify as both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander as I’ve had both influences in my life growing up.
So growing up in Injinoo I was fortunate to be surrounded by family strong in culture, particularly the women and since this year’s NAIDOC theme is about celebrating the achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women I want to dedicate this talk to all the strong women in my life both past and present who have played an instrumental role in raising me, teaching me, leading me and shaping me to be the person that I am today. It is because of them I can, it is because of them I am.
And so back to Bamaga High is a project that I started nearly a year ago after discovering that the National Library had collected eight issues of the [Carbi] Bamaga State High School magazines. The early issues include editions from 1973, the first edition, and subsequent issues from 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 2015 and one student produced <inaudible> 8:10 north of the [Jardine] 8:13. So this guide was actually compiled by the Year 9 Study of Society students and so today’s talk is about the school magazines and the journey from discovering them to having them digitised. So I’ll also share a little bit about the history of the school and I’ll be showing some images, discovering the magazines and how I actually came to find them, why I chose to digitise them and what has been the outcome of this project.
So Bamaga State High School opened in 1973 with Years 8, 9 and 10. Years 11 and 12 were introduced at a later date with the first lot of Year 12s graduating in 1976. The school was dubbed ‘Australia’s northernmost mainland high school’ so if you are speaking in literal terms it is 32km south of the tip of Cape York itself. And you can see the little green image, the map of Cape York. It’s pretty impressive.
So the school served the communities of the NPA, the Northern Peninsula Area and the Torres Strait Islands. Now the second image on the right courtesy of the John Oxley Library, and you can find this on Trove, is the image of the school when it actually first opened. That was just the one building. And so you had the admin just near the stairs and the classrooms just along the corridor. The original building to this day is still there, it actually hasn’t been torn down which is a good thing. It just has added enhancements such as a stairway at this area and the undercovered area has been turned into classrooms. So I was pretty stoked when I actually found this on Trove.
So another feature of the school is the emblem badge which was designed by Year 10 student, Jimmy Wee, in 1973. The emblem features two culturally significant elements, the [carbi] or white crane and a map of the tip of Cape York Peninsula. Coming together in friendship, celebrations of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and the geographic location of Bamaga are all encapsulated in the final image of the [carbi] flying over the tip. Each edition of the magazine from 1973 to 1991 includes the emblem and the inscription. And you can find this on page 2. From my earliest memory of visiting the high school as a young one I can remember the students wearing the school uniform which I believe was baby blue and the emblem was featured just on the left side.
And so now I just want to show you some images of the school, the building from 1974 to ’76. As you can see in ’75 they added new buildings. I believe that’s when funding came through for them and the population started growing. That tree in the middle is actually still there to this day. And it has a reputation for having the known <inaudible> 12:09 student fights that happen under the tree. So much of the original building and the classrooms are still there today and so it’s grown over the years. And so just the little insert, you can see the emblem and the crane, the [carbi]. And the little image just on the back, the little white building, that was the college and so any students who would be travelling from south or from the islands would actually board at the college and then attend the school. And so I believe now the college has been turned into a TAFE building.
So in addition to the school opening up in 1973 the school’s first ever magazine was published as well. Early contributors included the students themselves, the staff and the P and C Association along with community members. And so here I just want to share a few examples of what you can actually find in the first edition. So the top image Principal Young is paying tribute to the early education pioneers in the Northern Peninsula Area, Mr <inaudible> 13:47 and Mr <inaudible>. The bottom image, whilst I was perusing through a second time and actually taking my time to have a look I came across two of [Ujuru’s] 14:02 poems and they are featured on page 10. And I believe that Principal Young was trying to encourage some of the students to take up poetry so why not engage a leading indigenous poet to do that? And I think that was pretty special to have that published in the – in a school magazine.
So here’s where it all began. The image you see on the screen is the aerial photo of the five communities of the Northern Peninsula Area which was taken in 1969. I have never actually come across this image before until I actually discovered that and I found that while I was working in the Maps Branch. And so what I did was take a Google snapshot of 2017 with the communities that are highlighted and you can kind of see in the 1969 image that they’re all there. And the only reason I knew that the ’69 image was the five communities is as a child when I’d go hunting and fishing with my dad I would trace the landmarks as we were going out on the boat and I knew Injinoo pretty well so when I saw the landmarks on this image I thought that was a spectacular find and then it was just a moment of just tracing back the communities and the other landmarks that I actually knew really well. And so when I shared this on my Facebook feed it took off like crazy.
And so why did I choose to digitise? Well it’s not every day you find a high school photo of your father in the school magazine hidden in the National Library’s collection especially where you <inaudible> 16:24. But yes, I actually came across these images and for me I have a personal connection to these magazines. In 2003 I was the school captain and so 30 years before that my dad was attending the school so he was a student. And it so happens that my mum was a student studying through the Remote Area Teachers’ Education Program (RATAP) and so she was a student and then soon as she graduated she went on to become a teacher and she’s been teaching at Bamaga since. And so I actually have a really strong personal connection to these magazines. But it’s also that family and friends back home, my cousins, my relatives, they all have personal connection to these magazines as well and so this is one of the reasons why I actually chose to have them digitised so that friends and family can connect wherever they are around Australia.
And so could anyone guess which one is my father? So you see the big Afro scruffy so the bottom image on the left, that’s my dad, George. He’s the third one just on the front row to the right and that’s him in Year 8. And that’s – he’s always featured with his two best friends, they’re just everywhere together. And the amazing thing is I’ve actually never seen a photo of my father from school and so this is the first one that I’ve actually seen so it is kind of very special.
And so some of the stories that are captured in the early editions are rich in cultural and historical knowledge. Most of the stories you find in the magazines have been told by the students and the elders from the communities so the students would go out and interview the elders at the time and capture those stories and they would come back and put that into the magazine to share with everyone. And so it’s because of their work that I actually can share this today and share this with everyone.
So these are the four examples of the many examples you can actually find. And so the first one is Oral History from Injinoo. This story tells how Injinoo actually came to be before the missionaries came ashore and so this story was told by a late elder <inaudible> 19:08 Gordon Pablo. He was that elder who would visit us every Friday for our cultural class where he would teach us song, dance and language. And it so happens that one of the stories that he did tell me growing up was The Native Companion and the Emu. And so in the years that he shared this in that class I actually didn’t know it was about deceit and trickery. The story’s actually about two sisters who fight but ultimately how they came to be – how the emu actually never learned to fly and how the brolga did learn to fly and so that’s The Native Companion and the Emu. And the other two amazing stories are The History of Bamaga which goes into great detail and The Coming of the Light.
I think one thing that also stands out in these magazines is the art themselves. And each art and each page in the magazines are created by the students themselves so it is pretty spectacular. So the first image is the cover design finalist for the 1992 cover issue and I believe that year it was Year 9 student, Elton Louie, that won the competition so every year the students would submit their designs and just before the magazine was published the winning student or the winning design was chosen and then that would be presented to the school. And it is a very beautiful design. And these are just some of the other art that you’ll find featured in the magazines as well.
So the image on the left was done by Wally Wire and it’s just the drawings of Saibai Island and it actually has in the magazine - he did publish a story with it and it is an amazing story to read as well. And the image on the right is the [Mirrium] 21:28 or the Dhari and this is the traditional headdress that is worn in dancing across many of the Torres Strait Island groups. It’s a very beautiful illustration.
And so there are many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups that make up the student population of Bamaga High and they come from everywhere including the five communities on the mainland. Some of the Torres Strait Island family groups that are represented come from Dauan, Mabuiag, [Dunlay] 22:13, Murray and Saibai. And so with the two images I’ve chosen there, the one down on the bottom to the right, if you see the little fellow with the feather, that’s my baby brother. And this was captured on our 19 – so 1992 NAIDOC Week celebration at the school. And so that’s the first little image I’ve actually seen of him. I thought that was pretty spectacular ‘cause he told me he never danced and so this is proof.
And so like with any other school books class photos and group photos are illustrated throughout the magazines and they are very popular. When I’m sharing these magazines on my Facebook feed with friends and family I actually use a lot of the class photos because it resonates something special, a memory. I know sometimes we all have cringeworthy movements when we look back at our old school photos and there have been comments on that but the general lay is that they’re still there, they resonate something really special.
And so just only for today’s talk I decided to choose the Year 6 and 7 classroom. I’m just wondering if you can find a familiar face. A familiar face anywhere? No? That’s just me there, second row sitting next to the teacher. And this is the only time I’ll include a class photo of me. If you find any just let me know where they are.
And so when I’ve been sharing these images on my Facebook page I’ve just had a lot of positive feedback from friends and family back home who really enjoy and reflect on the time that they’ve had at school and so I love using these images. So the sporting houses of [Bidum] 24:55, Bowie and Gelum [24:58]. And so these are the three houses, sporting houses at Bamaga. You have [Bidum] which is represented as the shark, you have Bowie which is represented as a sea turtle and you have [Gelum] which is the dugong. And every year during sporting carnivals they do get very, very competitive. And I remember every year in primary school we were always beaten by [Gelum] and I was in [Bowie].
And so these images I actually want to share here are taken from the north of the [Jardine] student handbook. So these are the Year 9 Study of Society students with the support of the teacher, took time out to go into the community, collect information, speak to the elders and at the end of it they compiled an information guide for tourists and these are some of the images and the stories that they’ve captured.
So the first image on the left is the remains of the pier or the jetty which was built during world war 2. And this was home to the American and Australian military base so not a lot of people know that there was a military base up in the Cape. And so the image on the right, the DC3 wreck site. This aircraft was actually en route to New Guinea when it had crashed in the early hours of the morning. In recent years it’s actually been cleared so that any tourists who are travelling through, they can actually stop by and have a look at the site. And it ’s still there to this day.
And since Christianity was introduced in the Torres Strait by the London Missionary Society in the early 1900s each of the community and the NPA have a church and so these are some of the early images of the churches in the communities. So you have [Cal] 27:22 Creek which is where I'm from, St Michael’s and All Angels. It’s still there, it’s still in its original form. You have the church Aloysius and Francis of Assisi, the St George Church of England, you have the Uniting Church of [Newmarcoon] 27:48 and the St James Church of England in [Newmajico] 27:50. The amazing thing is this is the only image left, the church was actually burnt down.
And so I could spend all day telling you about the wonderful things that you could actually find in these magazines but then I’d be robbing you joy of discovering some of the amazing stories all for yourself so I will end this here. There have been 23 issues that have been digitised on Trove so plenty to explore, discover including any photos of me as a child. But I will mention one thing, Bamaga State High School magazine made history by becoming the first school magazines to be featured on Trove and so this was probably one of the most amazing accomplishments so far so – and they’re all there for everyone to access and read and have a look at. Thank you.
Y: So I’ve actually got physical copies of the magazines just up here if anyone wants to come and have a read. So thank you, everyone.
R: Thank you, Yanti, I always feel so inspired when I hear about the Bamaga High School magazines. It’s not only you know a reminder of what amazing treasures we have in our collections. It might just seem like a high school magazine to the rest of us but it is actually an incredible documentation of the history and culture and language of community and of a region and of a people and a whole bunch of families. I’m also always struck by what an amazing benchmark this has set and what is possible when institutions like ours partner with and work collaboratively with first nations communities and it’s really quite inspiring.
On that note we have time for a few questions so if there are any questions please feel free to raise your hand and ask away.
A: Thanks, Yanti, that was terrific. You talked about how you’ve been <inaudible> 30:44 yourself and you’ve been sharing them on your own Facebook page with people from the community. Is there any particular item that’s really gone off and is the one that sticks in your mind that most people connected to?
Y: As far as the images, yeah, I think it’s been the class photos and the sporting photos. I think it’s the images that capture the most sort of likes and tags and shares so I think one poster had about 30 likes and it had about over 50 tags and shares so I think that’s pretty phenomenal. And that’s the great thing about social media, is you have that platform to share this with. But also like to mention that Trove makes that possible as well so without Trove I wouldn’t be able to actually share this with anyone else or with everyone so yeah.
A: I don’t want everyone to groan when I ask this question but when you talk and you say Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders what’s the difference between them? They’re not sort of one little group or they’re from different places or what?
Y: No, it’s a good question. They are very different groups. I am fortunate to be blessed with both so I have Aboriginal on my mother’s side and Torres Strait on my father’s. Torres Strait Islanders are indigenous but their main association is with the islands and so Aboriginal people are more so to the mainland but they’re two very different groups.
A: <inaudible> 32:48?
Y: Good question, I’m still waiting to discover that as well.
A: <inaudible> 32:55?
A: I read there was a link between Aborigines and Indians.
Y: The first that I heard of. I’d like to read more about that too.
A: Thank you, thanks for your presentation. I just wondered if you could say a little more about the process of digitisation and perhaps you know of where there might be a next step in this – continuing that project in looking at the content itself?
Y: Yeah. The process of digitisation itself, in the beginning you have the resource. What I did was then liaise with the school to get permission from them to actually have it digitised so without permission from the school I wouldn’t have been able to have this digitised and put out in the public domain, yeah. And so it was important to have them on board but also the community so I consulted the community thorough my Facebook page, through friends and family and I did that beforehand, before anything else happened as far as digitising the magazines. Did that answer your question?
A: Yes, that’s probably <inaudible> 34:25. What about perhaps with the teaching staff? Was these any connection –
Y: Yes, I – my mum’s a teacher so I was able to contact her and it was through her contact I was then able to get in touch with the principal to then kind of share this project with them as far as what I actually wanted to do and what would be involved and so yeah, there were some teachers involved in that as well, yeah. And I think with all the early magazines you have nonindigenous students and teachers there as well and so this is a connection for them as well as far as moving away from Bamaga and you know having something to look at, something really proud to say that yeah, I’ve actually – I’ve taught at the school and I know the people from up there.
A: <inaudible> 35:28?
Y: Ongoing? Yes, we are – I’ve actually found some editions in the State Library of Queensland so there is editions that are going to be added into this collection and as far as the new editions I’m not too sure what’s going to happen after that, I think I’ll probably just do a follow-up kind of presentation to have all of it there ‘cause I do want to have a complete kind of collection or near complete collection to share with everyone, yeah. And so then this will actually be shared with the school once they come back from holidays and I’m hoping that they will actually be proud of that as well. ‘Cause it is for the Library but it’s also for the community, it’s also to connect the Library and the communities up north.
A: Yanti, you're a long way from your home community, I think just a little over 4,000km, Canberra. Have you got any sense of where some of the other people who were associated with that school are now living?
Y: Yeah, actually at the conference I met with an auntie who came into the workshop and she – a week before she was actually talking to Jimmy Wee and he’s actually still living I believe up north and sharing with me as far as the project and so she’s actually going to go back and talk to all the families up there about this project as well. So there’s been amazing connections coming up and people have either sent me a message on Facebook you know connecting with someone but I’m hoping that more will come of it.
A: This is just <inaudible> 37:36 I understand that if you wanted your school magazines digitised you could get a group together to pay to have that done? So did you have a grant or –
Y: Yeah, no, actually <inaudible> 37:54 come up and have a chat?
All: I am Allison Dellit and I’m in charge of the digitisation program at the National Library. This project, and we have a small [screen] 38:11 for similar projects, is actually carried out under National Library funding. We don’t do very much internal digitisation anymore but we have made a decision that these projects which are quite strongly transformational and can be managed within appropriation is what we’ve been using them for so this project has. And I guess I will finish off with a question for Yanti which is a slight Dorothy Dixer, though, it’s true is do you think there are other schools and projects out there which would benefit from this approach?
Y: I believe, yeah. As far as the magazines from various areas, whichever school, they capture a lot of amazing – like they have a lot of rich content and I think that either school, if they’re continuing to publish and have this or have their magazines digitised then they’ll be able to share that with their community, their schools and share that with surrounding communities as well. So I’m hoping from this it will sort of create some more opportunities for other schools to consider doing the same if they want to digitise their collection.
All: Thank you.
Y: No more questions? Thank you, everyone.
R: Well thank you, everyone, for coming this afternoon, we really do hope that you’ve enjoyed yourself and enjoyed the talk here this afternoon. I encourage you all to visit the Library’s exhibitions, explore the collections and discover your own stories here and do pop on to Trove and have a look at the magazines and come up the front and have a look at the physical items, themselves as well. Once again thank you for coming here today and hope that we see you all again soon some time.
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