About the Project

This website was produced between 2017-2020 and contains transcriptions of original notes and papers of Gippsland magistrate A. W. Howitt and Methodist missionary Lorimer Fison. The project was funded by the Australian Research Council (LP160100192) and was managed by Deakin University. The investigators and key local experts and linguists include Russell Mullett, Cheryl Drayton, Sandy Mullett, Harley Dunolly-Lee, Corey Theatre, Helen Gardner, Stephen Morey, Rachel Hendry, Jason Gibson, Patrick McConvell, Philip Batty and Mary Morris. Amanda Lourie was the project officer. Simon Sherrin (Museums Victoria) provided technological leadership. This website has been developed as a collaboration between Deakin University, Museums Victoria, the State Library of Victoria and Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages.

Howitt and Fison carried out some of the earliest anthropological research in Australia and left extensive archival materials on language, kinship, and social organisation. Whilst Howitt and Fison’s work was shaped by their professional roles and ideas such as social evolutionary theory, the papers contain cultural expertise shared by Aboriginal informants. We have treated this material as an artefact of deep and prolonged colonial encounter.

The descendants of the Aboriginal people with whom Howitt and Fison worked are key stakeholders in this collection. The material collected by Howitt and Fison constitutes one of the most important historical and cultural archives available to the Aboriginal people of south-eastern Australia, so it is crucial that the material on this website be handled with respect and care.

Through the course of the project the documents have been enriched with further information on Aboriginal and settler contributors and enhanced with linguistic, botanical and anthropological insights from contemporary scholars and Aboriginal descendants. This website features only a small portion of the materials held in the archives. Many more documents have been transcribed but are not publically available and there are materials that have not been included. Please contact the relevant holding institution for more information. Further Howitt and Fison objects and correspondence can also be accessed via the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.

Community Consultation

Over a three-year period, the Howitt and Fison Archives Project team consulted with many individuals and communities; both men and women, young and old, from a number of the cultural groups with connections to this vast collection. As these papers contained a great deal of information about the Gunaikurnai people, the project team made multiple presentations to committee and community members of the Gippsland Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLAWAC) in Bairnsdale and Sale. We have had meetings and discussions with representatives from the Dieri Aboriginal Corporation (South Australia) and the Wurundjeri Woi wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation (Victoria). We have worked alongside the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages (VACL). Meetings were held with male members of the Yuin community at Bega and Wallaga Lake (New South Wales) and with members of the Wotjoballuk community (Horsham). ‘Collections Tours’ of Museums Victoria and the State Library of Victoria were carried out with members of GLAWAC and the Wurundjeri Council. There has also been contact with other descendants of Aboriginal informants mentioned within the archives.

A workshop was hosted by the project in November 2019. Representatives from these groups and elsewhere came together to discuss the collection and the development of this website. We thank all the individuals, communities and institutions that have assisted us in carrying out these consultations.

Alfred Willian Howitt (Museum Victoria, XP 19404).
Participants at Howitt and Fison Project workshop, November 2019.

The descendants of the Aboriginal people with whom Howitt and Fison worked are key stakeholders in these collections. The material collected by Howitt and Fison constitutes one of the most important historical and cultural archives available to the Aboriginal peoples of south-eastern Australia. It is therefore crucial that all this material be handled with respect and care and consultations be conducted with senior Aboriginal people where possible.

Digitisation and Transcription

One of the critical aims of the project was to work with communities and volunteers to transcribe and digitise all of the papers in the Howitt Fison archives that pertain to Australian Aboriginal people. We did so in the interests of preservation and also in order to enable better access and closer analysis of the materials. Digitisation and photography of the Howitt papers at the State Library of Victoria commenced in 2017. In 2018, the St. Marks National Memorial Library of Canberra’s collection of Lorimer Fison papers (included in the Tippett Collection) were professionally photographed. Much of the Museums Victoria collection had already been digitised and some photographing of their collection continued through the project. The project used the crowdsourcing transcription website, From The Page, to upload the documents. Numerous volunteers, community and project members began the difficult work of transcribing these mostly handwritten notes, letters and drafts. The Victorian Corporation for Aboriginal Languages and Native Title Services Victoria (now First Nations Legal and Research Services) were key partners in this process, as were GLAWAC, the Wurundjeri Council and the Dieri Aboriginal Corporation, whose members joined in on the transcription process.

Transcribing these documents has enabled easier access to the linguistic, ethnographic, cultural and historical information contained in the archive. This in turn has resulted in Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people being able to assess the information collected by Howitt and Fison and to share their own interpretations, knowledge and context.

Usage and Reproduction

Copyright in the website resides with the Howitt and Fison Archives Project team and Museums Victoria, although all images are used with permission from the relevant collecting institutions and Aboriginal communities. The website may be accessed and materials downloaded solely for the purposes of personal study. No other reproduction of the website or source materials is authorised without the prior written permission of each relevant collecting institution and prior written permission of the relevant Aboriginal group/s.

Users of this website are advised that this site assembles documents from the State Library of Victoria, Museums Victoria and St Marks National Memorial Library in Canberra. Museums Victoria makes no representations, warranties or assurances (either expressed or implied) as to the accuracy, currency or completeness of the information presented. As the website displays information created by institutions outside of Museums Victoria, enquiries regarding this information should be directed to the relevant institution.

Cultural Rights

Users of this website are advised that the information offers various representations of Aboriginal culture and history, but these are not authoritative nor definitive. Howitt and Fison collected some information which is traditionally only accessible to senior people. Through research and community consultations (see above) the project team have done our best to ensure that this information is not accessible on this site, unless permissions have been given. If you have any concerns contact us at [email protected].