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Harvesting Traditional Knowledge: A national two way learning and industry development initiative

Photo of bark preparation

Traditional Owner and Chair of ANKAAA, Djambawa Marawili, showing NAILSMA staff member how to cut bark that has just been harvested from a stringybark tree (Eucalyptus tetrodonta).

  • Author:  NAILSMA
  • The Association of Northern, Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists Aboriginal Corporation (ANKAAA) and NAILSMA are collaborating on a series of projects that will further some of the similarities in our organisations' visions and goals.

    NAILSMA staff attended an ANKAAA workshop held at Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre, Yirrkala in May 2013. The workshop, Harvesting Traditional Knowledge, brought together Indigenous artists from across northern Arnhem Land, Tiwi Islands and the Kimberley and conservators from national and state museum and art galleries across Australia.

    The workshop provided a unique platform for Indigenous traditional knowledge experts, including artists, land and sea managers to come together with art industry experts, including western scientists, from across Australia to focus on the conservation and production techniques of art works made with traditional bush materials.

    The workshop was lead by Traditional Owners from North East Arnhem Land, ANKAAA and project partners Buku Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre, and Melbourne University, Centre for Material Cultural Conservation. The workshop involved a day out exploring beautiful bushland where senior artists from Buku Larrnggay Mulka, including Djambawa Marawili and Yinimala Gumana, showed workshop participants how to bark is cut, stripped, burnt and prepared for painting. Although modern tools, such as axes, were used to cut into the bark, traditional knowledge held by senior artists ensures that the bark is cut in the right way, at the right time and therefore remains in one piece.

    Senior women weavers from across northern Arnhem Land took participants through the process of harvesting, preparing and dyeing pandanus for weaving. The women also made bush damper for all to enjoy!

    NAILSMA’s I-Tracker officer, Erica McCreedy, participated in discussions with workshop participants that specifically looked at recording information about the resources that are being harvested and used by Indigenous artists and where these resources are obtained from. 

    NAILSMA is currently working with the Yirralka Miyalk (women) Rangers to develop and trial an I-Tracker Bush Harvest Application used to record information about the materials harvested for the purpose of producing native bush skin care products, including traditional knowledge, Yolngu seasonal calendar, plant identifications, distribution and harvesting locations. Many of the plants harvested by the miyalk are used for bush products, medicinal properties and as art materials. The current application could easily be modified to include specific information about the resources that are harvested and used by the Indigenous artists.

    Discussions will continue between NAILSMA and ANKAAA as we explore parallels between the type of information useful to both Indigenous artists and land and sea managers. As with all I-Tracker applications, the development of this application will be dependent on collaborating with artists and community art centres to ensure the application meets their requirements.

    This historical event is the first national gathering of experts in bark painting care and production and a fantastic experience for everyone who was involved.

    Radio National were present at the workshop and have broadcast a story about the workshop called ‘Written on Bark’. Link to the feature article here.

    For more information on the workshop please visit to the ANKAAA website


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