Author Archives: aprilkirstywebb

Finishing up my directed study

By April Webb

It’s the end of semester and my directed study is done, hooray! (Not that I mean to imply that it wasn’t fun… of course.) It was a lot of work (50% research, 25% writing, 25% deleting the gibberish that my cats inserted while I wasn’t looking), but now I can say with confidence that I have a basic understanding of Indigenous heritage management in Australia. And now I can do more than nod politely and give a blank stare when people talk about legislation and government bodies that I previously knew nothing about. I’m sure that’s a good thing. In my previous blog posts I discussed the basic advantages of a regional governance system, and talked a little about the Ngarrindjeri and Torres Strait Regional Authorities. Here’s a summary of my final report.

This segment of Horton's map of Aboriginal Australia shows the locations of the four ARA Test Sites.

This segment of Horton’s map of Aboriginal Australia shows the locations of the four ARA Test Sites.

In July 2013 the Department of the Premier and Cabinet of the South Australian Government announced plans for implementing a system of Aboriginal Regional Authorities across the state. These Authorities would be responsible for a range of functions which would differ according to the needs and capabilities of each region, and would base their operations to an extent on the successful example of the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority. Submissions were received from a variety of interested parties, and in December 2013 test sites were chosen. They are:

• Narungga (Yorke Peninsula) – Narungga Aboriginal Corporation Regional Authority;
• Ngarrindjeri (Lower River Murray) – Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority;
• Port Augusta – Port Augusta Aboriginal Community Engagement Group; and
• Kaurna (Adelaide Plains) – Kaurna Nation Cultural Heritage Association.

My Directed Study project involved a study of existing ARAs and similar structures in order to determine how such bodies might function, and what their pros and cons might be.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, regionalism was generally seen as a desirable model for Indigenous governance, as evidenced in the academic literature on the subject and in submissions made to the South Australian Government on the topic by interested parties. A caveat was that regions should be decided by Indigenous people themselves and not be the product of ‘top-down’ approaches, such as that derived through census data. It was also noted that Regional Authorities would most likely need to have statutory authority  or some sort of legislative recognition in order to achieve effective governance, although there are some examples of bodies who are able to govern effectively without this, such as the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority. Funding was another major concern. It is likely that Regional bodies will require more intensive funding from the government in their early stages, and that this will enable them to become more self-sufficient as time goes on. The funding arrangements of existing bodies such as the NRA and Gumala Aboriginal Corporation provided insight into possible schemes for self-funding. Lastly, Aboriginal Regional Authorities might provide clarification in South Australia on whom to approach for heritage matters, and exactly how much authority Indigenous groups have in these instances.

So, I am happy to say that my report is finished and submitted! Now it’s the holidays, time for me to concentrate on other things, like watching TV and continuing with my botched attempts to learn to play the flute (sorry, neighbours). Oh, and continuing to work on this report. My industry partner has mentioned that we might be able to turn the report into a joint publication eventually, which is very exciting. So, still a lot of work to do!

Stay at home archaeologist. Also, the Torres Strait Regional Authority.

By April Webb.

When I mention to people that I’m studying archaeology, I get the standard question: “Oh, so you’re like Indiana Jo-”


Honestly, I’ve never even seen it. But, I can understand why people would make the comparison. (Well, probably. Like I said, I’ve never seen it.) Scrolling through the posts tagged “Directed study,” it seems like the adventuring starts while you’re still at uni – everyone’s out and about talking to people, recording sites, hey, probably even using a trowel. Not me though. It’s been a while since I left the house.


My colleagues don’t talk much

Welcome to the exciting world of a distance student doing a desktop-based directed study.

Most people, I assume, at least go into an office to do their desk work. But the fact is, this directed study has taught me something significant: I like desktop work. Which is good to know, because, assuming I am lucky enough to be an employed person one day, there will be a lot of this. Desktop studies are a fairly integral part of the early stages of most archaeological projects. Two of my other classes this semester, on Heritage Management Planning and Research Grants, have reinforced the message. Archaeology isn’t just romance. It isn’t even just trashiness like you see on those garbage treasure hunter shows. It’s also a lot of sitting in front of a computer, conducting background research. Writing grant proposals and management plans. Learning the ins and outs of legislation. Developing back problems from your terrible sitting posture.

But, no one came here to hear about my sedentary lifestyle. (Or, maybe you did, in which case you should probably reassess your whole value system.) So here are some things I know now that I didn’t know before that relate to my Directed Study on Aboriginal Regional Authorities in South Australia.

The Torres Strait Regional Authority.

As I’ve mentioned before, my Directed Study project centres on the establishment of Aboriginal Regional Authorities in South Australia. While regional governance is quite widely accepted as a suitable model for Aboriginal communities (Sullivan 2010), historically there have been historically few regional bodies with legislative authority. One of these has been the Torres Strait Regional Authority. Under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), a system of Regional Councils existed across Australia, one of which was the Torres Shire Regional Council. The TSRC was established under a separate section of the ATSIC Act (1989), and was the only one to be retained (it was transformed into the TSRA in 1994 in an amendment to the ATSIC Act) after the abolition of ATSIC in 2004. The government’s stated reason for retaining it under the new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) Act (2004) was that, unlike ATSIC, the TSRA was functioning well (MacDonald 2007:49).

Indeed, the TSRA has been cited as a possible model for other regionally-based bodies (Muurdi Paaki Regional Council 2004). With that in mind, there are aspects of the TSRA model that should be considered when thinking about the implementation of Regional Authorities in South Australia. Firstly, the TSRA functioned well, according to Mr Ron Day, member of the TSRA board, because the Torres Strait is a small island group where everybody is more related, and everybody understands where the others are going (MacDonald 2007:50). The plan so far for Regional Authorities in SA is that they will establish their own boundaries and membership. In light of the Torres Strait experience, this certainly seems like the best idea. But one distinctive feature of the Torres Strait is its (relative) homogeneity. Torres Strait Islanders make up the majority of the population. Their exact system may not work as well in other regions. Certainly, the Ngarrindjeri are a good case study for effective regional governance in South Australia. Maybe I’ll write about them next time. Right now, I have to stand up before my coccyx disintegrates underneath me.


MacDonald, E. 2007 The Torres Strait Regional Authority: Is it the answer to regional governance for Indigenous Peoples? Australian Indigenous Law Review 11(3):43-54.

Muurdi Paaki Regional Council 2004 Submission to the Select Committee on the Administration of Indigenous Affairs. Retrieved 10May 2014 from

Sullivan, P. 2010 Government processes and the effective delivery of services: The Ngaanyatjarra Council and its Regional Partnership Agreement. Desert Knowledge CRC Working Paper 71. DKCRC, Alice Springs.

Aboriginal Regional Authorities

By April Webb

My directed study focuses on the establishment of Aboriginal Regional Authorities in South Australia, a system that aims to restore effective regional governance tailored to Aboriginal people. With the implications such a system could have for cultural heritage management, it is of course important for any hopeful archaeologist to get an idea of how it might work.

Unfortunately, this hopeful archaeologist did her BA at the University of Sydney and majored in Classical Archaeology. Specifics about Greek housing 700-400BP? You got it. Latin inscriptions? Sure. Australian heritage legislation…

….. what?

I had a lot of work to do.

Luckily, my research so far on Regional Authorities has proven as fascinating and informative as Allen and Greenough’s Latin Grammar (which is to say—very). The establishment of adequate systems for Aboriginal government, from what I have read, seems to rely on two things: self-determination and a regional approach.

Such a system has already been attempted with The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), which was established in 1990, and provided for the establishment of regional councils. Unfortunately, for a range of reasons (many of which had to do with Howard’s policy of ‘mainstreaming’ and scandals involving the ATSIC’s leadership, rather than the system itself) it was abolished in 2004.

More relevant to the current proposed system is perhaps the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority. Established in 2007 by the Ngarrindjeri Nation, this Regional Authority could be considered an exemplar for regional Aboriginal governance. One important point made by the Ngarrindjeri Authority in their submission to the South Australian Government on the topic of Regional Authorities could have important implications for heritage management—they wish for South Australian and Commonwealth agencies to transform the existing management regimes in the region towards recognition and support for healthy Ngarrindjeri Ruwe/Ruwar (country). Recognition that Indigenous people have their own views on what constitutes their own heritage is nothing new. But, with a regional system of governance, Indigenous heritage management could become much more nuanced.

This is my understanding, anyway. It’s a lot of information to digest, especially for someone who at the beginning of the semester had to google ‘What is an Act’ (sort of joking). Next blog?, I hope to have a much more in-depth idea of what these Regional Authorities will mean for cultural heritage management.