Figure 1: Limited search over AustLII's links
In its key issues paper 'Sharing History', The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation gives emphasis to the importance of understanding the history of indigenous and non-indigenous people in Australia, of understanding the many ways in which indigenous people have been either excluded from non-indigenous society by the law or had their rights and freedoms substantially restricted by non-indigenous law[ 27].
Part of 'sharing history' with Aboriginal people is recognising the effect which non-indigenous law has had upon Aboriginal lives and freedoms throughout the history of non-indigenous people in Australia. To this extent, the provision of a resource which documents these developments in an accessible electronic and searchable format is an important part of the process of understanding and sharing history and thus a useful contribution to the reconciliation process. It is also an important way of making some legal information which is already on AustLII or elsewhere on the Internet more accessible by providing what is in effect, an interface which organises the information within clearly identified parameters.
This document will be an annotated searchable chronology of important legal developments affecting indigenous people since around the time of federation. As such it will operate as an interface to primary material and to secondary explanatory material. It will be an important Internet 'gateway' to indigenous information both on AustLII and elsewhere on the Internet.
As far as AustLII is aware there is currently no collection of documents on-line or elsewhere which chronicles the major historical events effecting indigenous people since around the time of federation. There are, of course, many detailed scholarly histories of black-white relations in Australia. John McCorquodale's Aborigines and the Law: A Digest provides a very thorough compilation of case law, legislation and a bibliography of material relating to indigenous people and the law from the time of settlement until the mid-1980s[ 28]. There are also time-lines which provide general outlines of major events which have affected indigenous people for the past two centuries[ 29]. AustLII is seeking to draw upon the work made available in these works to provide an on-line searchable chronology of the significant historical events since federation until the present time.
There are other indigenous time-lines already on the Internet, many of them very graphic intensive and content limited and without any particular legal focus[ 30]. The time-line being developed at AustLII will attempt to be a detailed and searchable chronology which is accessible to all users. The time-line will be viewable as a comprehensive year by year set of entries or in a more selective way, by searching for events or documents or by viewing the time-line by jurisdiction, or by type of document. There will be links not only to the relevant documents where they are available, but also to secondary materials and commentaries on the documents. Much of the later materials, particularly legislation and case law is available either on AustLII or on other Internet sites. It is anticipated that key documents which are not currently available electronically will eventually be scanned and added to the time-line.
These various additions to the Reconciliation and Social Justice library collection and developments in approach to accessibility all contribute to the delivery of the first three project goals, which leaves the fourth to consider, the pilot project of Internet connection in remote indigenous communities. This is the part of the project which has required far more involvement at the community end of AustLII usage in order to make our resources available to a particular audience with quite a specific range of needs.
AustLII's remote communities project has provided a different kind of challenge in delivering an accessible legal resource to a particular audience with its own specific needs. In an obvious sense, the mere connection of remote communities to the Internet increases accessibility. Without accompanying instruction and ongoing support, however, the existence of a physical connection is of limited value. During the period of the remote communities project, AustLII has endeavoured to provide both connections, as well as instruction and support.
AustLII first became involved in providing access to the Internet in remote areas in 1997. The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation was concerned that an Internet resource being built to further the reconciliation via the Internet should be made available to as many indigenous people as possible and were particularly concerned that remote communities have the opportunity to access the material. A number of remote communities were contacted and responses were received from five in the Northern Territory. Some investigations were made into potential ISPs in the area and Big Pond was settled upon as the most universally accessible ISP with the greatest number of dial-in points.
In mid 1997 five communities were connected to Big Pond in the following locations:
The Ramingining Homeland resource center in Arnhem Land;
The Wardaman Aboriginal Corporation in Katherine;
The Munupi Arts and Craft Center, on Melville Island;
The Mabunji Aboriginal Corporation, in Boroloola and
The Ngali wurru wuli Association at Timber Creek[ 31].
These communities were connected to Big Pond, given an email account, a list of Internet book-marks of sites of interest were provided and the communities were signed on to a discussion group dealing with issues relating to reconciliation[ 32] and also to a news clippings list providing a daily round up of news of specific relevance to indigenous affairs[ 33]. Instruction was given as to how to access and browse the Internet and email and how to access AustLII's Reconciliation and Social Justice Library. In August 1998, a further connection was set up at the Mutawintji Aboriginal Land Council in Wilcannia, New South Wales. The connection was used during the Council's negotiations with the New South Wales government for a lease back arrangement of the Mutawinji national park. Negotiations over the specifics of the lease were, in part conducted by email. The Land was handed back to the traditional owners on 5 September 1998. The lease was made available via the AustLII site[ 34]. In January 1999 a further connection was made in Kununurra for the Mirriuwung and Gajerrong Families Land and Heritage Council. The Mirriuwung Gajerrong Council became the largest successful mainland Native Title claimants in November 1998, when the Federal Court decided in their favour in Ben Ward & Ors v State of Western Australia & Ors  FCA 1478. The Mirriuwung and Gajerrong Families continue to live according to traditional Aboriginal law and custom and extensive consultation with the members of the families was necessary before the case went to court. This necessitated multiple trips to Kununurra by solicitors from the Aboriginal Legal Service in Perth. As the case has subsequently been appealed to the High Court, it is hoped that more of the correspondence and consultation can be done via email now that the council has an email connection.
One of the things which became clear from the first round of connections was the importance of having sufficient time in each community to give adequate training to the members of the community. In 1998 when follow up phone interviews with each of the communities were conducted, it became clear that in most cases, community members were less than confident about using the connection to its full potential. Follow up phone support has been given and in September 1998, training was done in the Wardaman community in Katherine and the community was left with a basic manual in the use of Internet and email and they were also given guidance in how to find legislative and case law materials on AustLII.
When the new connection was provided to the Mirriuwung and Gajerrong Council in Kununurra, 4 days of training were provided and a basic Internet and email manual was left with the community.
A training priority in all communities was building the awareness within the communities of the kinds of resources available generally on the Internet as well as the specific resources on AustLII. It became evident that unless topics which were directly relevant to community members were identified, interest waned and it became more difficult to teach Internet skills and navigation. This applied also to the resources on AustLII, unless materials which were actually and immediately required could be identified, community members would remain unconvinced about the usefulness of the resource or its relevance to them and were reluctant to participate in training. Opening up the resources on the Internet and AustLII therefore required a reasonable level of knowledge about the community and the various activities of its members and some consideration of the various sites which might be of interest and the kinds of cases, legislation or secondary materials to which they might want access. The Mirriuwung and Gajerrong Council's interest was in some respects very clear since it had just won a significant native title claim and was facing a High Court challenge to that decision. The federal court decision was available for them to view via AustLII[ 35] as was a related Canadian case, Delgamuukw v. British Columbia[ 36] via AustLII's world links. There were also a number of agreement acts in Western Australia and the Northern Territory containing negotiated access to mining and pastoral leases which were also of interest to some members of the Council. What was not clear until training began, however was that a number of the younger women who participated in training had a keen interest in university course information from universities in Western Australia. It became clear that the more information that could be discovered about the community and its members before training began the more relevant the training could be made to the specific needs of the community.
The difficulties encountered during the remote communities project have related both to the remote location of the communities and to a variety of cross cultural issues. In the majority of cases training was provided to people indigenous and non-indigenous, who had very little experience using a computer and no experience using the Internet. The amount of information imparted in a few days was, therefore quite considerable and not all of it was retained. Basic guides to Internet and email were used in the follow up training undertaken in Katherine and during the training done in Kununurra in the hope that these guides could be used as memory aids once training was finished.
Ongoing support has been provided via phone and email, but this has not always been satisfactory and there have been problems which phone consultations have been unable to remedy. An example of this kind of problem was experienced on Melville Island by the Munupi Arts and Crafts Centre. The Centre's modem was destroyed on a number of occasions by lightening storms during the wet season. Their attempts to reconnect have been frustrated by problems with the phone connections between the island and the mainland and also, inevitably by the difficulties of fixing this kind of problem by phone. Even in the absence of particular technical problems, often it has been apparent that regular personal contact and face to face support would be the most desirable way of ensuring that the connections were used to their full advantage by the communities.
In several cases, staff turnover in community centres has resulted in Internet expertise being lost if that knowledge is not passed on. In the absence of a trained person to guide users through using the Internet, the facility is unlikely to be used. This has been the experience of the Mabunji community in Boroloola and, to some degree in the Ngaliwulu wuli community in Timber Creek where, although phone support has been provided, the connection has remained largely unused.
Language and literacy has been an impediment for some indigenous users. During training in Kununurra, a translator was required from time to time and English literacy levels impeded some users' capacity to explore the Internet. In these cases graphic intensive sites did not seem to be the answer, in fact it appeared that users were often completely thrown by graphics, particularly animated graphics, which often left them completely disoriented and unsure about how to navigate the site[ 37].
All training done by AustLII so far in the remote communities project has been carried out by non-indigenous females. In some situations this appears to have been somewhat of an impediment. For example, in Kununurra the men in the community were reluctant to participate in training. This was, reportedly due to particular feeling that computers were more the domain of women than of men. The view of the council's secretary was that this may have been different if the trainer had been male. There were also cultural sensitivities to observe such as who was and was not permitted to sit in the same room as one another, brothers and sisters of certain ages, for example are not permitted to sit together nor are mothers-in-law with their sons-in-law. In the absence of a detailed knowledge about Aboriginal law and custom it was crucial that the arrangement of sessions, what was covered and who attended was left in the hands of the community to decide. AustLII is currently looking for resources to employ an indigenous staff member to assist with the research and training in the project.
We are currently in conversation with communities in Port Stewart and Normanton in North Queensland about possible connections and training. We are also investigating the possibility of providing connections in South or Central Australia later this year to complement the existing connections and to achieve a spread of communities to compare approaches and results. We are also intending to set up an email list of all the communities currently involved to facilitate communication between the communities as well as with AustLII to share comments, discoveries and problems.
Since AustLII began its attempt to increase remote access to legal information other similar projects have emerged. There have been growing efforts to remedy the lack of indigenous training in the use of the Internet as well as the relative lack of Indigenous presence on the Internet[ 38]. The emergence of other projects in regional areas to provide training and ongoing support has raised the question of whether AustLII's resources are better utilised co-ordinating or integrating its efforts with these projects.
In January 1999 AustLII was approached by the Australian Libraries Information Service (ALIA) who undertook a similar project in 1998, connecting and training five remote indigenous communities in South Australia and the Northern Territory. Each community was also given the opportunity to and guidance in developing their own web site[ 39]. ALIA's funding had run out and they approached AustLII to investigate the possibility of AustLII continuing technical and financial support for the communities.
ALIA was given some assistance in their project by the library services in both Queensland and Northern Territory and suggested to AustLII that it might be useful to collaborate with these services in the ongoing support of the communities they had trained. Both services have been contacted with very encouraging results. The State library of Queensland has an Indigenous Libraries Unit in Cairns with two indigenous trainers who are involved in a project to provide public libraries in remote areas of Queensland as well as training in Internet access. AustLII is arranging to carry out training in Cairns with these trainers and other librarians from regional areas in the use of AustLII's materials. Discussions about the possibility of carrying out similar training are underway with the Northern Territory Library Services.
At the beginning of the project it was anticipated that the bulk of the cost of delivering this kind of facility to remote communities would be hardware and equipment costs and that training costs would be comparatively inexpensive. In reality, the reverse has been true, most of the communities had computers already and the more expensive component of the project has actually been providing face-to-face support and training to the communities. Indeed one of the clear outcomes of the remote communities project is the importance of providing support to the communities at the time of connection and periodically thereafter. A collaborative effort with regional projects to provide Internet access and training could, therefore be a more effective way of achieving this project goal.
The Council will reach the end of its term at the end of 2000. By that time it is anticipated that AustLII will have made significant improvements in the accessibility of its on-line indigenous resources. Nevertheless ongoing funding would allow the project to develop in a number of important areas. The further consideration and construction of specific user interfaces is one area in which the project could continue to contribute, not only as it applies to getting the user from the front page to the material they seek, but also in the context of using various resources such as the World Law Index and the time-line. In the context of the remote communities project, ongoing funding would allow us to explore other options for providing Internet resources and training to remote areas, and to pursue in more detail the 'train the trainer' model as a more resource efficient way of making indigenous and non-indigenous people aware of the indigenous materials available on the AustLII site.
1. AustLII acknowledges the financial assistance of the Australian Research Council Collaborative Grants Scheme.
2. See Kirsty Magarey and Tim Moore, 'Indigenous Peoples' Legal issues via Internet' in 'The AustLII Papers: New Directions in Law via the Internet' Journal of Information Law and Technology 1997 (2) < http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1997_2/greenleaf/austlii6/>(as at 13 July 1999).
3. < http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/car/docrec/draft/> (as at 17 July 1999).
4. In The Australian, 12 July 1999 Pat Dodson is quoted as saying that 'there has not been any real hand of friendship coming from the Government'. David Nason and Penelope Green 'Apology? Don't hold your breath'
5. < http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/special/rsjproject/rsjlibrary/rciadic/index.html> (as at 15 July 1999).
6. < http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/special/rsjproject/rsjlibrary/>(as at 13 July 1999).
7. Kirsty Magarey and Tim Moore, 'Indigenous Peoples' legal issues via Internet'.
8. The Council had discovered that the reports were out of print and that the master disk copies had been lost and arranged for all 97 volumes of the report to be made electronically available using optical character recognition and scanning technology. The report was then published on CD-ROM and on the AustLII site.
9. For more information about the early development of the project see Kirsty Magarey and Tim Moore 'Indigenous People's issues via Internet'.
10. < http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/special/rsjproject/rsjlibrary/>(as at July 13 1999).
11. Including inter alia, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC); The Australian Law. Reform Commission (ALRC); the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC); The National Indigenous Working Group (NIWG);National Native Title Tribunal (NNTT).
12. The Wik Peoples v The State of Queensland & Ors (1996) 141 ALR 129;< http://www.austlii.edu.au/do/disp.pl/au/cases/cth/high_ct/unrep299.html> (as at 1 July 1999).
13. See also the paper to be presented by Philip Chung at Law via the Internet '99; 'In defence of plain HTML for law: AustLII's approach to standards' for a more detailed discussion of definitions and guidelines for accessibility; see also <http://www.w3.org/TR/WAI-WEBCONTENT/>(as at 10 July 1999).
14. See Madeleine Davis's paper 'AustLII's role in community legal information: an indexer's perspective'.
15. Mabo and Others V. Queensland (No. 2) (1992) 175 CLR < http://www.austlii.edu.au/do/disp.pl/au/cases/cth/high_ct/175clr1.html> (as at 17 July 1999).
16. Native Title Act (1993) < http://www.austlii.edu.au/do/disp.pl/au/legis/cth/consol_act/nta1993147/longtitle.h tml> (as at 17 July 1999).
17. Among these are the Legal Information Access Centre (LIAC <http://www.slnsw.gov.au/liac/>)at the State Library of New South Wales as well as Law for You, <http://www.law4u.com.au/>(as at 12 July 1999).
19. Where appropriate, the index structure will also alert the user to resources on AustLII's databases under the various subject headings.
20.< http://www.austlii.edu.au/links/Australia/Subject_Index/Aboriginals_and_Torres_Stra it_Islanders/>(as at 13 July 1999).
21.< http://www.austlii.edu.au/links/World/Subject_Index/Indigenous_Peoples/>(as at 13 July 1999).
23.< http://www.ntu.edu.au/faculties/law/martin/indig.htm>(as at13 July 1999). Martin Flynn was a lecturer in law at the Northern Territory University when he compiled this index.
26. See Graham Greenleaf's paper ' Solving the problems of finding law on the web: World Law and DIAL'.
27. 'Sharing History' - Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation publication.< http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/special/rsjproject/rsjlibrary/car/kip4/> (as at 13 July 1999).
28. John McCorquodale, Aborigines and the Law: a Digest Aboriginal Studies Press, 1987.
29. See for example, the Time line provided by Mick Dodson in his fifth report as Social Justice Commissioner, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner - Fifth Report, 1997, also the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation 'Timeline of Little and Not so Little Known Facts'
< http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/special/rsjproject/rsjlibrary/car/Timeline.html>(as at 15 July 1999).
30. See for example the time-line of the N'isga nation, in British Colombia, Canada at<http://www.ntc.bc.ca/timeline/time.index.html>, and the Tanui Corporation at <http://www.tainui-corp.co.nz/history/timeline.html> (as at 15 July 1999).
31. More information about these communities is available at< http://austlii.edu.au/au/special/rsjproject/remote/>(as at 13 July 1999).
34.< http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/special/rsjproject/remote/mutawintji/lease.html>(as at 15 July 1999).
35. Ben Ward & Ors v State of Western Australia & Ors  FCA 1478< http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/federal_ct/1998/1478.html>(as at 14 July 1999).
36.< http://www.droit.umontreal.ca/doc/csc-scc/en/pub/1997/vol3/html/1997scr3_1010. html>(as at 14 July 1999).
37. A general aversion to the excessive use of graphics on Internet sites has been documented by K Brown and C Degenhart, 'Web Graphic Design: It's Not What You Think', Web Review, 1998, < http://webreview.com/wr/pub/web98east/24/spooltut.html> (as at 14 July 1999).Brown and Degenhart site studies which show that 'some graphics can directly annoy users' and that 'they often cover animations with their hands to better see the text they seek.' The experience in remote communities was that users were more often 'paralysed', waiting for the graphic to disappear or asking for instructions for how to remove it. On this problem see also Jacob Nielsen's Top Ten Mistakes in Web design < http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9605.html> (as at 15 July 1999).
38. For discussion of this see John Hobson 'Strategies for Building an Indigenous Australian Cybercommunity: the KooriNet Project' presented at the 1997 Fulbright Symposium: Indigenous Cultures in an Interconnected World, July 24-27, Darwin. <http://mail.koori.usyd.edu.au/fulbright.html/> (as at 12 July 1999); for an analysis of the issues in indigenous presence on the Internet and in particular an analysis of the distinction between site produced by indigenous people and sites about indigenous people see 'Where are all the Aboriginal Home Pages? The current Australian Indigenous presence on the WWW' Paper presented at the Fifth International Literacy and Education Research Network Conference, 14 October1997, Alice Springs. <http://mail.koori.usyd.edu.au/lern/default.html> (as at 14 July 1999).
39. The communities and their web addresses (as at 15 July 1999) are:
The Apurte community in Santa Teresa, Alice Springs <http://www1.taunet.net.au/apurte/>
Koonibba community on the Eyre Pennisula, South Australia <http://indiginet.com.au/koonibba/>
Umoona community, North west of Coober Pedy, South Australia <http://indiginet.com.au/umoona/>
The Wadeye community in the north west of the Northern Territory <http://indiginet.com.au/wadeye/>
The Yarrabah community, south of Cairms, Queensland <http://www.indiginet.com.au/yarrabah/>