Aborginal Heritage Office – Week 9 in History Beyond the Classoom

This week, David Watts joined us again from the Aboriginal Heritage Office, a unique joint initiative by a group of councils across northern Sydney, including North Sydney, Manly, Warringah, Ku-ring-gai, and Pittwater to protect Aboriginal Heritage in these areas (http://www.aboriginalheritage.org/).
David, one of the students’ favourite speakers from last year’s class, is the Aboriginal Heritage Manager, and really developed, planned, and founded the Office back in 2000. He continues to play a key role in the preservation of Aboriginal heritage sites, education, and a prize-winning volunteer site monitoring program that empowers community members to take responsibility for our shared heritage and past.
David talked to students about his role in the organisation, the many challenges they faced and continue to face, and his extensive experience in Aboriginal heritage management. He has worked on site surveys and archaeological excavations, conservation management plans and protection works. He has given talks all over the world about Aboriginal site care and managements, as well as cultural tourism advice, and he has developed several Aboriginal Heritage Walks within the northern Sydney region (including some of the walks and resources you can find here: http://www.aboriginalheritage.org/downloads1/).
Like last year, David engaged us all with his honest and realistic approach to public history, and also talked about his own past and the way that shaped his approach to the present, and his responses to continued racism as well. He also shared with us a new publication the AHO has released called “Filling the Void: A History of the Word ‘Guringai’.” http://www.aboriginalheritage.org/history/filling-a-void-history-of-word-guringai/
David’s talk helped set the tone for an ensuing discussion on “Decolonizing Methodologies” and especially the struggle over “research” in indigenous communities where there has been a long history of imperial and post-colonial intrusion by researchers. David’s talk, and the readings, helped draw attention to the sensitivities involved in indigenous history and the need to think carefully about our intentions and purposes in doing it (something we need to be mindful with any project, it seems).
But David’s efforts in getting the AHO up and running and maintaining and sustaining it for over sixteen years now, along with his dedicated team of colleagues (who put on almost 200 schools events a year and who monitor thousands of aboriginal heritage sites across northern Sydney), reminded the class that it is not enough to sit around and wait for the “right” thing to happen in heritage management. David, along with other speakers like Judith Dunn, are teaching us the importance of stepping up to make something happen. It is not always easy, but it won’t get done otherwise.