The preservation of cultural knowledge is the key to maintaining a rich Martu cultural identity and connection to country. The Culture Program has responded to Martu aspirations and priorities to help in this work. The work of this program is diverse: organising return to country trips and camps, collating genealogical information, mapping Martu country, recording oral histories from both Martu and people who have worked with them, researching and collecting historical material, collecting a vast digital archive of photos, recordings and films and working with Martu to preserve the rich language of the elders. Young Martu want knowledge about their country, their grandparents’ lives and their history. The program provides access to this collected traditional knowledge by harnessing modern technology in new ways.
Recording traditional knowledge and stories
Martu have a rich oral culture. KJ helps to record and preserve old people’s stories of desert life, country, families and first contact with whitefellas. These stories are complemented with non-Martu stories about post-contact Martu history.
KJ’s collection now holds over several hundred digital recordings and transcripts of oral histories and talks, dating from the 1950s to the present day.
Knowledge of family connections, tracing back to pujiman (desert) times, is fundamental to Martu identity and to understanding their connection to specific areas of country. KJ has combined and refined genealogical information collected by various researchers from the 1950s until today, creating one of the most comprehensive genealogical records of any Aboriginal group in Australia. Tthis record maps most families from pre-contact times to the present day.
Inter-generational knowledge transfer
Return to country (Kalyuku ninti) trips and camps are regularly identified by Martu as the most significant activity undertaken by KJ. The trips take families back to their traditional country, with young people often seeing their country for the first time and learning about it country from their elders. The camps focus on a specific aspect of traditional knowledge, with elders teaching young people.
Kalyuku ninti trips, which have the character of family pilgrimages to sacred sites and culturally significant places, also provide a platform on which much subsequent environmental engagement is built. Kalyuku Ninti means “knowledge of waterholes”, reflecting at both literal and metaphorical levels the core knowledge that elders have decided must be passed on to younger Martu, to ensure cultural continuity.
KJ’s cultural archive contains tens of thousands of photos, hundreds of hours of voice recordings and hundreds of hours of film. Together, these provide a rich record of Martu and their lives from the 1930s to today. Martu can access this valuable social and historical material through a dedicated digital platform in each community and in many locations through the Pilbara.
Helicopter mapping program
Country is fundamental to Martu identity. Mapping the Martu knowledge of country is critical to preserving the Martu perspective on their vast lands. Waterholes, topographical features, cultural sites, historical events, family connections and language boundaries – the locations of all of these are important to the maintenance of strong cultural knowledge.
KJ has a varied language program, which includes the preservation of recordings of traditional language speakers, and language materials and the transcription and translation of traditional speakers’ stories.