In 2009 the Australian National University, Museum Victoria and the South Australian Museum were successful in obtaining Australian Research Council funds to undertake research into the Spencer-Gillen collection. One of the critical aims of the project is to digitise the entire Spencer-Gillen collection, including objects, photographs, manuscripts, diaries, correspondence and other material. Once the digitisation process has been completed, an online database will be created for the use of researchers, Aboriginal people and the wider public. Throughout the duration of the project - as the material is identified and catalogued – a variety of research projects will be conducted. This will include, but is not restricted to:
- How the collection was formed in relation to the type of research questions that Spencer and Gillen were attempting to answer. In conducting this analysis, the actual dates and places where Spencer and Gillen collected their material will be identified and carefully mapped out so that their collecting activities can be correlated with their research findings.
- Investigate and document the significance of the collection to the Central Australian Aboriginal groups through a series collaborative research projects. This would involve working in close association with relevant Aboriginal men and woman in Central Australia and appropriate Aboriginal organisations and councils in the region. This could entail, for example, a re-examination of the Warumungu mortuary rituals that Spencer and Gillen recorded during their 1901-02 expedition to Tennant Creek.
Aboriginal Community Participation
The descendants of the Aboriginal people with whom Spencer and Gillen worked still have a strong presence in Central Australia. The indigenous population in the region currently constitute approximately 38% of all inhabitants; this represents one of the highest regional concentrations of Aboriginal people in Australia. In many respects, the material collected by Spencer and Gillen constitutes the most important cultural archive available to these peoples. It is therefore important that this research project be undertaken in close association with the Aboriginal people of Central Australia.
It is crucial to the success of this project that all indigenous material be handled with respect and care and consultations will be conducted with senior Aboriginal men with a connection to this material to determine any conditions of access that may need to be applied. The database will therefore be designed in such a way that it will restrict public access to any ceremonial or sensitive material.