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Koori-owned heritage firm puts Aboriginal heritage in Aboriginal hands

Darby Ingram -

Aboriginal-owned consulting firm Murrumbidgee Archaeology and Heritage sees Aboriginal heritage placed in Aboriginal hands.

Proud Walgalu, Ngunnawal and Wiradjuri man Robert Williams is an archaeologist and the founder of Murrumbidgee Archaeology and Heritage (MAH).

The newly established Aboriginal owned consulting firm is based in the ACT and the Riverina region of New South Wales.

"Our heritage holds value for not only Indigenous Australians but for all Australians as a cornerstone of our national identity," said Williams

"There is a conspicuous lack of First Nations archaeologists and even less that work in the industry.

"Because of this underrepresentation, I saw a great opportunity to create an entirely owned and operated Aboriginal business to fill the gap."

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MAH hosts a team that hold decades of experience in archaeology and cultural heritage management, completing several projects across Australia and overseas.

The firm does everything from site monitoring and artefact analyses to 3D modelling and printing of culturally significant objects.

MAH is committed to the involvement and autonomy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities within the heritage sector.

"Being Aboriginal archaeologists makes MAH unique, we represent our respective Aboriginal Nations, communities and cultural heritage first," Williams said.

"We have the lived experience as Aboriginal and Torres Strait people, we understand the sensitivities and cultural obligations that are required when working with Indigenous people, in communities and with cultural heritage."

Alongside their heritage work, MAH also does community workshops, tailored to the cultural and geographical needs of the community.

"We are committed to reinvesting in Indigenous communities, through our work, we aim to provide Indigenous peoples with the opportunity to engage meaningfully with their culture and heritage, this is caring for country," he said

The workshops are an introduction to cultural heritage management and archaeological methods for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives addressing foundation topics such as legislative frameworks and site recording protocols.

"Our long-term goal is to develop opportunities through archaeology or caring for Country that can engage, employ and empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people," Williams said.

"We have the opportunity to revitalise Indigenous responsibilities for culture and heritage and at the same time provide tangible outcomes that contribute to reducing the health, well-being and employment disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia."

Currently completing a PhD thesis, Williams got his first taste of archaeology and heritage through his family.

"I have been lucky to have been raised in a family with strong links to country and culture," he said

"My dad, Arnold Williams, has worked tirelessly for our people and has always been a passionate advocate for mob in the heritage field, with his brothers and sisters he established the Ngambri Local Aboriginal Land Council in Queanbeyan.

"It's this kind of exposure and experience that I want to provide for black kids in other communities, so they realise that they can pursue a career in cultural heritage and a degree in archaeology."

Williams said that First Nations communities have the opportunities to get involved in the heritage field.

"Start with your Elders, they provide the guidance you need to follow correct cultural protocols on Country," he said.

"Other avenues could include becoming a member of local organisations like Local Aboriginal Lands Councils, Aboriginal corporations or community-driven organisations or voicing your opinion in local and state governance surrounding heritage.

"But most importantly we need to get out on Country and start reconnecting it's the simplest way to get involved."

Williams said MAH's unique industry approach has important social outcomes and is a valuable aspect of their work.

"We are in a position that is not generally afforded to First Nation custodians. It means we are at the forefront of decision making over cultural heritage management and protection, which comes with great responsibilities," he said

"It's through this kind of work that we hope we can inspire the next generation of Indigenous archaeologists so that they can one day pursue the same course.

"I believe it won't be until we have enough Indigenous archaeologists working in the field that we will truly see systemic change around legislative structures and ethical guidelines."

With strong principles and strong passion, MAH is dedicated to actioning self-determination and challenging the mainstream.

"I hope that mainstream Australia realises the cultural wealth this Country has, our heritage is a non-renewable asset that once disturbed or destroyed cannot be replaced," Williams said.

By Darby Ingram

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