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Submitted in May 2005 to Arts Nexus (magazine),
“Cultural Videoconferencing in the Cairns
by Eric Miller
In the years and generations to come, places in Australia
Aboriginal languages are no longer known will be seen by some as
impoverished, with less to offer to visiting scholars, people in the
and tourists. It would be to the long-term benefit of the Cairns
area community as a whole for development of local languages and oral
arts to be a focus of Aboriginal cultural, as well as of rainforest,
Plans are underway to enable people around the world to
engage in educational
and storytelling videoconferences with Australian Aboriginal peoples,
the Cairns area should be involved. Among the conceived distant
in such events are schoolchildren; people in universities, museums, and
libraries; and potential tourists.
The Tanami Network, founded in 1992 in the Alice Springs
it seems, the world’s first tribal-people-related videoconference
The Tanami Network as originally constituted is presently inactive, but
the Outback Digital Network grew out of it, and one section of the ODN,
the Cape York Digital Network, is continuing the work, with
facilities in fourteen Aboriginal communities north of Cairns.
What might occur in educational or tourist videoconferences
peoples of the Cairns area?
The story of a place could be told, and paintings of the
story and place
could be shown, followed by discussion.
We are approaching the point at which people will be able to
from outdoor locations via mobile telephones. Until that ability
is attained, people can videoconference from community videoconference
facilities. Visits to nearby landmarks could be videotaped, and
recordings could be shown in the course of a videoconference.
possibility is that a videoconference camera on the roof of a
facility could be pointed in the direction of the landmark being
(this was done in a number of Tanami Network videoconferences).
An oral language lesson could be given, which could include
onscreen text, typed in various languages. This would be in the
of how Tjapukai, the award-winning Cairns area Aboriginal cultural
makes the audio recording of a theatrical presentation available in
languages simultaneously (visitors choose which language they hear by
a knob on a small audio receiver).
Other videoconference activities could include the
and teaching of local traditional crafts and skills. One such
is hand-talk (a form of sign language), which is practiced especially
certain elderly Aboriginal women.
Another such skill is medicinal uses of plants, which also
be known especially by elderly women, as they are often the ones who
nurse the young and the old of a community. Such elderly women,
may speak pidgin English and thus may retain elements of old languages
in their speech, have in the past often not been in the position to
interact with people outside the community. We, the people of the
world, must seek to enable these very important tradition-bearers to
and share in public spheres.
The Cairns area features a rare co-existence of tropical
and developed civilisation. World-class transportation,
and telecommunicational infrastructures are in place, and yet a healthy
amount of rainforest still exists, seemingly in a protected and
manner. Sensational work -- including the Skyrail, and numerous
and wooden trails -- has been done which enables people to see and
the rainforest without getting their feet and hands dirty.
and cultural videoconferencing will serve a similar function.
The benefits of biological diversity have now been clearly
There are similar benefits to cultural diversity. For example,
as there is ecological tourism and education, there is also cultural
language) tourism and education. Each of the world’s languages is
an irreplaceable cultural treasure, and much of a culture disappears
when its language is lost. On the other hand, exposure to a
local language can give fascinating depth to the tourist and
Two uses of documenting and developing local culture are: 1)
for the community itself, especially its young people and future
and 2) doing so for visitors. What is presented to these two
would certainly be different.
Don and Judy Freeman of Tjapukai (www.tjapukai.com.au)
are experts in international cultural tourism. They have recently
worked on a project regarding Buddhism in Hong Kong, and before their
in Australia, they participated in community theatre projects in
India, and elsewhere. They are a tremendous resource for the
businesses, and people of the Cairns area. Tjapukai has been an
beginning in terms of cultural tourism and education. It would be
wonderful if Don and Judy Freeman might increasingly share their
and expertise of production and marketing with others in the
Today, numerous additional educational and tourism projects
the Malanda Falls Visitor Centre (http://users.qldnet.com.au/~malandafalls),
and Kuranda’s new Djabugay Country Tours -- are going into greater
and detail about the local aboriginal cultures. Balkanu (the Cape
York Development Corporation) is developing a fine Traditional
The Yarrabah Primary School is doing wonderful work with its
Trails project (www.gordonvale.org.au/yarrabah),
which involves collecting stories from elders about local landmarks and
taking children to these places, where storytelling sessions about the
places are held and videotaped. Project leaders are beginning to
place aspects of these recordings on the project website, and to make
of the stories, in conjunction with English literacy training.
The School of Australian Aboriginal Studies, and the Native
Centre, of James Cook University are well-positioned to help develop
of above-described types of work. Perhaps one day, these or other
university entities might have a presence in downtown Cairns.
would be a great boost for the city. There is no substitute for
intellectual and creative ferment that university life provides.
Such a university presence could surely promote the local development
Universities around the world are developing a new
generation of the
Internet, known in some locations as Internet 2 (www.internet2.edu).
Internet2 enables high quality videoconferencing between multiple
Cairns would do well to seek to be a part of this loop -- through which
it could share the cultural and natural riches that abound here.
Eric Miller, a Ph.D. candidate in Folklore at the U. of
(Philadelphia, USA), is presently visiting the Cairns area. A
New Yorker, he is enroute from NYC to his new home in Chennai, Tamil
south India. <firstname.lastname@example.org>, www.storytellingandvideoconferencing.com