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AIATSIS expansion sees priceless collection of Indigenous artefacts on display in Mparntwe for the first time

Dechlan Brennan -

Indigenous locals in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) will have access to linguistic and cultural knowledge on Country without having to fly to Canberra for the first time following the announcement of a new facility opened by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).

Run in collaboration with the NT government, the facility will for the first time extend the reach of AIATSIS outside of the nation's capital, working closely with local communities in both the preservation and exhibition of cultural heritage, including training in archiving skills for local staff.

The new AIATSIS facility in Mparntwe (Image: AIATSIS)

It will allow First Nations communities in Central Australia better access to more than a million cultural items, including 42,000 hours of audio, more than 700,000 photographs and 6 million feet of film.

Jennifer Nixon, an Alyawarre, Anmatjere, and Kaytetye woman and director of the Central Australia site, said the facility was of cultural significance, and would give the community "access to research, digitisation, preservation, family history, and exhibitions displayed in a world class space".

"We have the opportunity to focus on our school-aged children and youth because all the resources are here in Central Australia in the AIATSIS Facility," she said.

AIATSIS is the only institute in Australia focussed solely on the preservation, promotion and collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge, culture and languages and the opening coincides with their 60-year anniversary.

Locals will be able to look up and research their family history at the facility, potentially seeing photos of loved ones they have never viewed before.

AIATSIS interim chief executive and Ngemba man, Leonard Hill, said the opening of the Central Australia site - which will provide state-of-the-art facilities for preservation work, culturally appropriate digitisation and storage capacity - was a significant event, showcasing AIATSIS commitment to preserving Indigenous culture.

"This facility is a symbol of our dedication to safeguarding the knowledge and traditions of Indigenous communities," he said.

"We want to ensure future generations can connect with their cultural heritage."

He told the ABC the symbolism of the location in Mparntwe was important to him.

"Geographically it's almost the centre of Australia, and when we think about our First Nations culture and our people and their history it's central to Australia as a nation," he said.

Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, said the new facility represented the next stage for AIATSIS in its role "in telling our national story".

"I commend AIATSIS, the Northern Territory Government, First Nations Media, and the Mparntwe community for their dedication and determination to pursue this opportunity for Central Australia," she said.

NT Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Chansey Paech said: "This facility will be a welcome addition to the thriving Mparntwe CBD and will provide an interactive, engaging space for cultural knowledge that will build on other cultural experiences in the town."

The facility has a dedicated engagement and exhibition space and the inaugural exhibition - To Know, To Respect, To Care - is running until June 14.

The AIATSIS Mparntwe Central Australia Facility Opening Community Celebration is being held on Friday from 4-7 PM.

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