Last week at the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV), a special morning tea was held to celebrate the contributions of Koorie elder Jim Berg to the Public Records Advisory Committee (PRAC). Jim also launched a series of important Koorie records which will hang in the Victorian Archives Centre Conference Room/Gurrowa. PRAC advises the Minister on matters associated with The Public Records Act 1973 and provides a reference group of stakeholders for PROV. During my own time on the Council, Jim was a great source of wisdom, counsel and perspective.
At the morning tea, we heard from Keeper of Records Justine Heazlewood and current PRAC Chair Judy Maddigan about Jim’s key roles in a number of initiatives including the Victorian Koorie Records Taskforce, and a range of guides and publications including Finding Your Story: A resource Manual to the Records of the Stolen Generations in Victoria (2005); wilam naling … knowing who you are … Improving Access to Records of the Stolen Generations (2006); walata tyamateetj: A guide to government records about Aboriginal people in Victoria (2014). PROV’s Koorie Records Unit promotes awareness about Aboriginal records created by governments in Victoria.
On one side of the room where the morning tea was held hung a reproduction of the 1862 Lands Act Map. In 2007, a CHU project led by Dr Cate O’Neill at the University of Melbourne, in partnership with Public Record Office Victoria, digitised this 4.5 x 6 metre map of Victoria, created by the Parliament of Victoria in 1862. Digitisation of the map (VPRS 7664/P3 Unregistered maps and plans, Unit 1) made this resource readily accessible to the public for the first time. Cate reflected on the digitisation process as well as the project enables new representations and understandings of land settlement in Victoria in ‘Putting Colonial Victoria on the Map: The 1862 Land Act and its “big map”’, Provenance: The Journal of Public Record Office Victoria, issue no. 6, 2007. The map delineates the parcels of land made available for selection, thousands of acres of new farming land which would make land acquisition process more democratic.
But the map was also an act of colonisation:
The activities of the earliest colonial map-makers in Victoria, such as Major Thomas Mitchell, explorer and Surveyor-General, were not representing ’empty’ space, but overlaying their own understanding on an existing landscape which had been constructed over thousands of years by the Kulin nations. Indeed, Mitchell’s travels into Victoria in 1836, and his map-making and naming activities, were a crucial element of the colonisation and settlement of Victoria. The big map at PROV can be seen as the administrators’ representation of the success of the colonising project in Victoria and the imposition of order, civilisation and progress onto what was seen as empty wilderness.
Jim’s ambivalence about the map on the wall was therefore palpable; while it was of major archival value, it also represented to us all ‘the story of the land being taken away from Koori people’. But on the other side of the room were newly hung some other records from the archive; Jim, a Gunditjmara man, gathered us around a colour plan of the Framlingham Aboriginal Settlement on the Hopkins River in western Victoria, reminiscing about history and family. Archives of colonisation are troubled places, but PROV, he told us, represented ‘reconciliation at its best…a place that should be cherished by everybody’.