Sharing World War One Histories

Between 2014 and 2018 Australia is commemorating the Anzac Centenary, marking 100 years since our nation’s involvement in the First World War. This period of commemoration is a time to recognise service by Australian service men and women in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.

In Victoria, many cultural institutions are undertaking special projects to commemorate this anniversary. In honour of the service and sacrifice of those involved in the war, we have a number of new stories highlighting issues of personal and national significance.

Ballarat Underground

Officers School, Ballarat, c1890 - 1920. Collection: State Library of Victoria

Officers School, Ballarat, c1890 - 1920. Collection: State Library of Victoria.

Ballarat Underground explores the history of Ballarat servicemen, how their mining skills were recognised, and tunnelling companies created to utilise them in strategic and secretive ways. It also tells the story of how the Mining Mud and Medals project is working with families and the community to uncover the connection between the city’s School of Mines and men who served.

> View Ballarat Underground online

In the Face of Uncertainty

Daryl Lindsay in his studio at Sidcup

Daryl Lindsay in his studio at Sidcup. Sidcup Collection, Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

In the Face of Uncertainty looks at the pioneering facial reconstructive surgery techniques that arose out of the First World War, and how this led to modern plastic surgery breakthroughs. The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Sidcup Collection provides a window into how medical science and innovation responded to war, the involvement of war artists in the process, and gives insights into both the surgeons and patients that make up this extraordinary story.

PLEASE NOTE: The film contains themes and graphic imagery that may disturb or offend some viewers.

> View In the Face of Uncertainty online

Chinese Anzacs

Benjamin Moy Ling's enlistment portrait, 1917. From the private collection of Christopher Shai-Hee and Serena Cheung.

Benjamin Moy Ling's enlistment portrait, 1917. Private collection: Christopher Shai-Hee & Serena Cheung.

This story explores the history of the Chinese Anzacs, often overlooked in the greater narratives of the First World War. Over two hundred Australians of Chinese descent enlisted. Their experiences during and post war is the subject of this story and the Chinese ANZACs exhibition at the Chinese Museum, which opened on 14 July 2014. Also highlighted are the personal stories of many individuals from the Australian Chinese community who attempted to enlist early in the War, but were rejected for being “not substantially of European origin”. Many later successfully enlisted, once restrictions were eased.

> View Chinese Anzacs online

Coming Home

Bundoora Repatriation Hospital

Bundoora Homestead, operating as Bundoora Repatriation Hospital. Collection: Australian War Memorial.

This story is about Bundoora Homestead and the servicemen who lived at the homestead for over seventy years after returning from war. From 1920 until 1993, Bundoora Homestead Art Centre operated first as Bundoora Convalescence Farm and then as Bundoora Repatriation Hospital. For some men, Bundoora was a respite, a break from a world that didn’t understand the horrors of war they had experienced. The story also explores the memories of the families of some long term residents of the hospital.

> View Coming Home online

ANZAC Centenary Resources and Grants

There are a number of resources and grants currently available that are dedicated to preserving military history. See below for a few programs that might be relevant to your museum or collection.

Preserving and Sharing Our Significant Military Memorabilia

In 2014, the Victorian Collections project is focusing on assisting collections comprising of war memorabilia and military history.
> Find out more information at Museums Australia (Victoria)

Victorian ANZAC Centenary Grants

The Victorian Government is committed to working with and supporting local communities to commemorate the centenary of the First World War, and to create a lasting legacy for future generations. There are a range of Victorian Government grants available.
> See the Victorian Anzac Centenary website for details

ANZAC Centenary Arts and Culture Fund

Applications are now open for the Australian Government’s $2 million Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund Public Grants Program. Individuals, organisations and groups, including cultural institutions, arts organisations and artists are invited to apply for funding through the Arts and Culture Fund Public Grants Program for collaborative, commemorative arts and culture projects that engage local communities and produce high quality artistic outputs.
> Visit the Anzac Centenary Arts & Culture Fund for details

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New stories highlight Aboriginal perspectives

After being a bit quiet on the blog over the past few months, we are back blogging and have a plan to continue to contribute regular posts for the foreseeable future. We are excited about a number of new commissioned stories that are currently being finalised on Culture Victoria, and we look forward to sharing these with you via the blog and social media.

Today we are featuring two new Aboriginal stories that have come online in the last week, Black Post White and Koorie Art and Artefacts.

Black Post White

Photograph of Elaine Terrick

Photograph of Elaine Terrick for Black Post White. Vincent Lamberti, 2013

Black Post White tells the stories of Elders of the East Gippsland region, Gunai/Kurnai country. In a series of powerful films, the Elders share their first hand experiences of post white settlement, alongside other individuals from the East Gippsland community, resulting in some remarkable stories of sharing and reconciliation.

The story was developed by Lennie Hayes, Catherine Larkins, Frances Harrison, Elaine Terrick, Vincent Lamberti and community members with assistance from the Krowathunkooloong Keeping Place and support from the Lakes Entrance Aboriginal Health Association and NITV. The story contains six filmed interviews alongside photographs and biographies of the twelve people involved.

> View Black Post White online

Koorie Art and Artefacts

Healing Walk Eel Trap, Sandra Aitken

Healing Walk Eel Trap, Sandra Aitken, Gunditjmara, 2013. Collection: Koorie Heritage Trust

We are also pleased to announce the redevelopment of the Art and Artefacts story by the Koorie Heritage Trust. The story has been updated to include a larger collection of Koorie artworks and objects, broadening the representation of Koorie artists, families and language groups on Culture Victoria.

Over 30 items are now featured online alongside 10 films. The artworks and objects represent items made across the range of pre-contact, mission era and contemporary times and reflect the richness and diverse voices of Koorie Communities.

> View Koorie Art and Artefacts online

Registering Aboriginal Artefacts

Message Stick, Dunkeld & District Historical Museum

Message Stick. Collection: Dunkeld & District Historical Museum

And while we’re talking about Aboriginal history, we would like to remind you about a great story from the Dunkeld Museum about registering Aboriginal artefacts. The story is a great resource for regional and community museums and the general public. It provides a simple step-by-step guide on how to register Aboriginal artefacts and precious objects with Aboriginal Affairs Victoria.

> View Registering Aboriginal Artefacts online

> Browse more stories on Aboriginal Culture at Culture Victoria

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Who was Madame Errazuriz?


Madame Errazuriz by Sir William Orpen, 1915. Collection: Mildura Art Centre

Our story on The Elliot Collection by the Mildura Arts Centre has recently gained some international attention, with the identity of the subject in the painting Madame Errazuriz being thrown into question.

We received feedback from a Chilean art collector and relative of Madame Errazuriz who said that the lady in the painting was in fact Maria Edwards and not Eugenia Huici, though both women were known as Madame Errazuriz. We passed the feedback onto the Mildura Arts Centre, and the collector has since provided evidence to the gallery to back up his claim.

As the painting is a significant artwork in the Mildura Arts Centre permanent collection, they are now looking to formally adopt the amendment to its records regarding the identity of the woman in the portrait. Madame Errazuriz 1915, by Sir William Orpen is on display at Mildura Arts Centre until 10 August 2014 as part of The Case for Modern Painting exhibition.

> See the Arts Victoria News page for their coverage of the story

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

History In Place information sessions

Screening of 'Maniero' a film by year 5 & 6 students Tommaso, Charlie, Robbie, Vincent and Dominic from North Melbourne Primary School during the Launch of History In Place at Federation Square. Photo: Dimity Mapstone.

History In Place is a free online toolkit to assist museums, galleries and heritage properties to connect with local schools and work with teachers & students to create short films featuring collections.

We’re running free information sessions for museums and schools interested in running the program in 2014:

Session 1 – Sovereign Hill, Bradshaw Street, BALLARAT

Tuesday 3rd December, 11.00am - 4.00pm

Session 2 – Chinese Museum, 22 Cohen Place, MELBOURNE

Monday 9th December, 10.00am-3.00pm

Both sessions are free but you must register by contacting:

Jim Norris, Deputy Chair of Heritage Council, and students from North Melbourne Primary School at the launch of History In Place, Federation Square. Photo: Eleanor Whitworth

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Linking History, an exercise in linked open data

The Linking History site has been created for use as a research tool by people wanting to upload material to the Portrait of a Nation website. It was also used by students at Mount Evelyn Primary School and Mildura Primary School to do research for the films they created about Nellie Melba and the Chaffey brothers during the History In Place project.

Whilst the interface doesn’t look all that unusual, it’s an experimental pilot in the practical application of linked open data. It aimed to aggregate collection items relating to a selected group of people commemorated through Canberra place names, and expose the results both through a web application and as Linked Data.

The pilot also aimed to increase community engagement with Australia’s history – particularly as it relates to our national capital – and increase access to archival material via Linked Data. The project was funded by the Centenary of Canberra.

The site was built by Tim Sherratt, and the following section of this blog (written by Tim) describes his process in detail…

Design considerations
There were three elements to be considered in the design of the application: the mechanism for storing and publishing the RDF data, the code to query and retrieve details from the RDF storage, and the way in which these details were presented to users. In addition, for this to be an example of Linked Data publishing, the RDF had to be discoverable according to one of the standard LOD publishing patterns.

I considered creating a standalone triple store for use with this project, but as I wanted to avoid any software dependencies on the server side, I decided to simply store and deliver static RDF/XML files, and display the details using javascript and html. This had the advantage of making the whole project portable – it could be published on any web server (although the server root values in the RDF would need to be adjusted).

Another advantage of this approach is that it provides an example of how collections, exposed as Linked Open Data, might be integrated into new forms of online publication that are not dependent on particular platforms.

Using this approach, the RDF data is exposed according to the Linked Open Data ‘autodiscovery’ pattern, using ‘link’ tags to point to the structured data underlying the web interface.

Data structure

As the project was aggregating records from a number of cultural institutions I looked towards Europeana for guidance on how I could best express information about the resources and their relationships as Linked Data. At the centre of the Europeana Data Model (EDM) is the idea of an ‘aggregation’ which brings the cultural heritage object together with any digital representations of that object. This same model is used by the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA).

I followed the same approach. Each object is represented by an aggregation that bundles together links to the object itself, to a web page that provides information about that object, and, if available, to an image of the object. So a typical object is represented as four interlinked entities: aggregation, object, web page and image. The aggregation is also linked to details of the institution providing the data.

Most of the familiar descriptive metadata – such as title, description and date – are attached to the object itself. So are relationships between the object and people or places. To keep things manageable I used a very limited set of relationships in object descriptions: subject, creator, and has met (an EDM property indicating a connection between a person and a thing).

People and places are described as entities in their own right, with their own properties and relationships. People are related to places through birth or death events, and via the ‘named for’ property that indicates when a place was named after a particular person.

More detail on the data model I used is provided below.

Data processing
The structure and format of the collection data provided varied considerably. I used Open Refine (formerly Google Refine) to clean and normalise the data, and to generate the RDF for use in the interface. It’s a very powerful tool and saved a lot of manual handling.

Open Refine’s clustering and batch editing tools make it easy to group items. For example, I needed to reduce the wide variety of formats described within the different collections to a small subset for use within the interface. Similarly, the clustering and filtering features were useful in assigning relationships between objects and people.

In some cases I wanted to modify punctuation, or combine separate fields into a single value. Open Refine’s own programming language, GREL, makes these sorts of transformations pretty easy.

There are also some more advanced features that allow you to retrieve and process related data. For example, some records didn’t include direct urls for images. If I couldn’t predict these from the web interface, I used Open Refine to retrieve and save the html of the web page for each item. I then used GREL to find the image links and save them to a new field – a simple form of screen scraping.

Open Refine’s reconciliation services allow you to find links with other data sets. I experimented with these using the National Gallery of Victoria data. First I copied and normalised the artist field, then I sent these values off for reconciliation against DBPedia. A number of useful matches were found and I added these additional people to the data set. They could then be related as creators to the original items.

You can also send values off to any number of third party APIs for further processing. I attempted some named entity recognition by feeding titles from the National Gallery records to the Alchemy API. I then extracted details of any place names mentioned and used DBPedia and GeoNames to harvest useful metadata, such as coordinates. These places could then be related as subjects to the original items. I’ve since discovered that the named entity extraction extension created by Free Your Metadata for Open Refine simplifies much of this.

My reconciliation and named entity recognition attempts showed some promising results, though there was considerable inconsistency, and a fair bit of manual intervention was still required. As such, results were only deployed for the National Gallery of Victoria. The value, of course, lies in the way such techniques can create connections to widely-used datasets such as Wikipedia/DBPedia – this is what really puts the ‘Linked’ into Linked Open Data and opens up new opportunities for discovery.

Data about the people and places identified through these semi-automated techniques was stored in Open Refine alongside the collection items from which they were extracted. The five main subjects of the project, and the Canberra places that are named after them, were stored and managed separately. In these cases I undertook a considerable amount of manual enrichment. Birth and death details were added, as was information about associated places. Links were created to DBPedia and a range of other biographical sources. In the case of the Canberra places, links were added to the Portrait of a Nation site and to the ACT Government’s place name database.

RDF Generation
The RDF extension for Open Refine makes it easy (and fun!) to design, manage and export Linked Data for consumption by other applications.

For each data set I defined an RDF skeleton that set out the basic entities – aggregation, object, web page and image – and mapped values from the data to properties attached to each of the entities. The properties are listed below.

As part of the mapping, values can be transformed on the fly using GREL expressions. For example, identifiers for the aggregations and the cultural heritage objects were created by combining the project’s namespace, the contributing institution’s name and a unique system id.

Once the skeleton was defined, the data could be exported in RDF/XML format and added to the interface.

Interface construction
As mentioned the web application was constructed using javascript and html only. Twitter Bootstrap was used to provide an adaptive framework, standard widgets and the basic look and feel of the site. JQuery and a number of specialised javascript libraries were used to provide the functionality.

A series of simple browse lists and an interactive map were created to provide users with the ability to explore the collections, people and places.

The RDF data is accessed using the RDFQuery javascript library. When the site loads, the RDF data files identified through the link tags are fed to RDFQuery, which adds the contents to an in-memory triple store. Each time a new page is accessed, this triple store is queried and the results are displayed.

The Address javascript library is used to manage in-site navigation, enable use of the back button, and provide bookmarkable links.

Thumbnail images are used wherever possible to enhance the browse lists. However, all the images on the site are loaded directly from the providing institutions. No images are stored on the site. This means that the images need to be resized on the fly. The NailThumb javascript library is being used to give more control over the resizing and improve the look of the thumbnails.

The map is created using the popular Leaflet javascript library.

While RDFQuery generally worked well, performance suffered once there were a few hundred items in the triple store. This was particularly evident on browsers with slower javascript engines and on mobile devices. After much experimentation and gnashing of teeth, I realised that the real performance hits came when a page looped through a list of items and queried the triple store for additional metadata.

In order to try and improve performance I simplified some of the browse lists to reduce the number of calls to the triple store. I also introduced a simple form of caching and added pagination to long lists. Page loads did get faster, but the experience on mobile devices remains poor. While I still believe that the creation of platform-independent applications that consume and display Linked Data is important, more experimentation is need to understand the performance limits.

Possibilities and problems
In general, once I had a clear model and a good understanding of the data, the processes of normalisation, mapping and RDF generation were pretty straightforward. Open Refine made the job quite enjoyable.

Where there were difficulties they mostly related to the unavailability of data, such as direct image urls. Some web interfaces embedded images within frames or javascript widgets that made it difficult for me to dig them out automatically.

While we’re all familiar with the arguments for publishing our web resources using persistent urls, this project made me realise that it is equally important to manage the urls of assets, such as images, that make up our resources. Given an item identifier, it should be possible to retrieve an image of it in a variety of sizes.

As described above, my experiments with named entity extraction were encouraging. Another useful feature of Open Refine is that a series of processing steps can be saved and imported into another project. This means that it might be possible to build and share a series of formulas that could be used for enrichment across data sets such as these.

This aim of this project was to aggregate and link resources to promote discovery. But aggregation of resources generally comes at the cost of a simplified data model – the richness of individual descriptive models can be lost. The purposes of aggregation, its costs and its benefits, need to be considered.

Key data considerations for cultural institutions
• You need to have ways of getting your data out of whatever system you use to manage it. This seems obvious, but some of the contributors to this project had difficulty exporting to simple formats for data exchange.
• Tools like Open Refine facilitate data cleanup and normalisation, so concerns about data quality or differing vocabularies shouldn’t inhibit sharing in projects such as this.
• Good examples of Linked Data based models for resource aggregation already exist in Europeana and the DPLA. It’s worth thinking about how your data might map to such structures.
• The importance of unique identifiers and persistent URLs can’t be stressed enough. Some contributors had trouble supplying these because of limitations in their software. Linked Data needs reliable links to individual resources.

Data model
Prefix Namespace

Field Property Value
Identifier eg:
Type ore:Aggregation
Object edm:aggregatedCHO edm:ProvidedCHO
Web page edm:isShownAt edm:WebResource
Image edm:isShownBy edm:WebResource
Institution edm:dataProvider foaf:Organization

Field Property Value
Identifer eg:
Type edm:ProvidedCHO
Title dc:title string
Label rdfs:label string
Description dc:description string
Format dc:format Controlled list
Provenance dct:provenance string
Date created dc:created string
Subject dc:subject foaf:Person, schema:Place
Creator dc:creator foaf:Person, string
Association edm:hasMet foaf:Person

Web page
Field Property Value
Identifier url
Type edm:WebResource, schema:ItemPage
Format dc:format schema:ItemPage

Field Property Value
Identifier url
Type edm:WebResource, schema:ImageObject
Format dc:format schema:ImageObject
Depicts foaf:depicts foaf:Person

Field Property Value
Identifier DBPedia uri or
Type foaf:Person
Label rdfs:label string
Name foaf:name string
Same as owl:sameAs uri
Web page about foaf:isPrimaryTopicOf schema:ItemPage
Birth bio:birth bio:Birth
Death bio:death bio:Death

Birth event
Field Property Value
Identifier eg:
Type bio:Birth
Date bio:date string
Place bio:place schema:Place

Death event
Field Property Value
Identifier eg:
Type bio:Death
Date bio:date string
Place bio:place schema:Place

Field Property Value
Identifier DBPedia uri or[label]

Type schema:Place, dbpont:PopulatedPlace, dbpont:Road
Label rdfs:label string
Latitude geo:lat float
Longitude geo:long float
Same as owl:sameAs uri
Web page about foaf:isPrimaryTopicOf schema:ItemPage
Named in honour of dbpprop:namedFor foaf:Person


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Ash Wednesday 30 – Commemorative Story Collection

Thirty years on from the Ash Wednesday bushfires, the Victorian government is inviting people to share their memories and stories of recovery.  The stories will feature in CV’s  Land and Ecology collection, in recognition of this important part of Victoria’s history.

Over the next twelve months selected stories and short films will be published on the Ash Wednesday 30 – Commemorative Story Collection pages.

We are asking for stories grouped around a number of different themes:

Stories about individuals, families, communities and organisations:

  • How have  individuals, families, communities and organisations recovered in the 30 years since the fires?
  • What challenges to recovery have you faced and how have you worked to overcome them?

Stories about the landscape:

  • Tell us about the  regeneration of the landscape, buildings and places in the 30 years since the fires?
  • How have landscapes , buildings or places been significant to your survival and recovery since the Ash Wednesday bushfires?

For more information about how to share your story visit CV’s Ash Wednesday 30 – Commemorative Story Collection pages.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ways of Seeing: collections, stories, language and place

The Indigenous Culture theme is one of the most visited sections of Culture Victoria. So,  when we designed the browse content by location function, we thought carefully about the relationship our audience has with the content, and how we could appreciate this through the ways we represented place.

This post, based on a talk I gave at the 2012 National Digital Forum, reflects on ideas of place, and outlines our partnership with the Koorie Heritage Trust to map the stories in Culture Victoria to 38 Indigenous language regions in Victoria.

Our relationship to place is intensly personal and complex. For example…

How do you answer: Your Parents? The city where you were born? A cultural affiliation? The planet you inhabit? The answer probably changes along with the context of how it is asked, and who asks it.

The title of this post, Ways of Seeing is a nod to John Berger’s television series about questioning habits and convention in order to discover something about ourselves. Here is Jimmy Little introducing his song Yorta Yorta man…

Jimmy and I have something in common: our mother’s are from the same region. But when asked, I say my mum is from Deniliquin. I refer to the single point of the town (marked with a red pin on the map), even though she grew up on a farm 20km outside town, whereas Jimmy refers to an area that is: “West of Albury, a little south of Echuca.” (circled on the map).

Oxford English Dictionary definition of place:

Noun. A particular position, point, or area in space; a location.

Why do we respond differently? Why do I choose the first section of the definition “a particular point” whereas Jimmy chose “an area in space”?

I can’t say for sure, but I think it has something to do with the fact that we have very different histories. I see Australia in large chunks, the East Coast for instance, and referring to a single point within a large chunk provides specificity.

This is in contrast to Jimmy, who saw the country as a series of small regions defined by language and culture. At the moment, around 150 Indigenous language groups remain out of 350 to 750 languages and dialects pre 1770.

It’s interesting that Jimmy, after referring to his parent’s country, then pulls his focus out, saying, “But my home and my stage is Australia, which is your home, and that’s where I’ll always be.” A consummate performer, Jimmy finds communion with the audience through place, and he can achieve this easily because:

The purpose of Culture Victoria is to increase access to Victoria’s cultural collections; it shares beautiful and fascinating material. When we did the last refresh of the interface, we tried to encourage browsing and discoverability.

We also thought about how to provide different avenues into the content, different ways to understand it. One way is by grouping the stories under 7 themes, another is by mapping it to the Framework of Historical Themes, another is by linking related stories. Another, the focus of this post, is to search story content by location, to discover it through place.

At the time of the rebuild, we were working with the Koori Heritage Trust on Meerreeng-an Here is My Country. Meerreeng-an tells the story of Aboriginal people of Victoria through their artworks and their voices, following a circular story cycle.

Each artwork is accompanied by a story, noting the storyteller and their language group, eg. How the Murray River was Made, told by Irene Thomas from the Bangerang language group and featuring artwork by Ralph Nicholls:

painting of snake moving through terrain

Snake and Water-lilies 1990s, by Ralph Nicholls Yorta Yorta. 1952-1996. Paint, ochre, sand, canvas. Koorie Heritage Trust

Because Indigenous language groups are such strong identifiers for place, and because the Meerreeng-an project included a wide range of language groups, it seemed not only logical, but necessary, to map the content to Victorian place names and Indigenous language groups.

We used the Gazetteer of Australian Place Names to map the Victorian place names. The Gazetteer deals with places that are areas (eg. the suburb Richmond) by pinpointing the area at its centre. It’s pragmatic, but it’s not optimal, and if you’re familiar with Richmond you probably wouldn’t pin its heart as being Coppin Street. But, well, maybe you would… it is afterall, just ways of seeing!

Indigenous language groups are also areas, not points (although you can posit that “…a point is really just a very small bounding box” as Aaron Straup Cope does in This is a Story about Naming Things, which if you’re interested in the complexity of location technology is a great read). However, language groups in this context are not points, they’re areas, and we felt that there must be a better solution than single point representation. And so, the partnership with the Koori Heritage Trust was extended, and the thought exercise began of how to:

The first issue we came up against was…

Culture Victoria is funded by the Victorian Government. However, when Indigenous people view this corner of the country they tend to see it more broadly as South Eastern Australia, extending up into NSW and across into South Australia.

We explored the possibility of mapping language groups across South Eastern Australia, not only because it offered an alternative way to see the country and fuzz up the state boundaries, but because it offered a way to meet the mandate of the website to increase access to collections… just because we deal with Victorian collections doesn’t mean the collections relate only to Victoria. If there’s material relevant to the Barindji language group, or to Deniliquin (both of which are just over the border), it would be only a good thing if these items were discoverable through our mapping.

But in the end, as it would add complexity to the project, we made the hard decision to limit the scope to what we were able to achieve. We would include the 38 widely recognised language communities that overlap the Victorian border.

The second issue we came up against was:

We had to determine the boundaries of the language groups. Now determine has an unequivocal ring to it… To be equivocal, I’d posit that it’s almost certain that the borders of the language groups have morphed and shifted for thousands of years. So to draw lines around them at any point in time would not only be difficult, but probably contentious. When you add to this the loss of cultural information due to the massive disruption following colonisation, the task is an even more complex one.

So, we aimed to…

To be as inclusive as we could. This meant taking into account multiple key sources to determine the language boundaries, specifically:

It’s interesting that through time these maps appear to get less complex – become less rather than more detailed. But what we have, in fact, in the less detailed maps, is a more accurate representation of a nuanced view.

It was with this in mind that we decided to NOT show visible borders in our interface. This would be a simple and effective way for us to acknowledge ambiguity and to achieve the goal of being representative but not definitive. And so, the text at the top of the right hand column specifies that content “is associated with Indigenous language groups that overlap the area shown on the map.”

But whether the borders were visible or not, we still had to determine them, otherwise the computer wouldn’t know how to relate the story content to a particular area.

To do this, Kent used the 3 source maps to draw the broadest, most inclusive, shapes for the language groups. Then, where possible, he checked his shapes with information and maps on the Registered Aboriginal Parties websites to include their interpretation of language group boundaries.

The Registered Aboriginal Parties view of the boundaries sometimes related very specifically to geological features, such as a creek or a dirt track, or where the Murray Rivers enters Lake Mulwala…

When the shapes were settled, Kent identified and plotted latitude and longitude coordinates to create polygons that matched the shapes as closely as possible.

To do this he used a version of David Horton’s AIATSIS map that had been overlaid on Google Earth. This enabled him to locate a lot of points relatively easily. But for others, where the area we were drawing differed from the AIATSIS version, or for areas that didn’t have a physical geographical feature identified by Google Earth, he had to go by eye.

He then sent the longitude and latitude points to Simon Sherrin, our Technical Manager at the time, who created visual polygons.

For example, this is the polygon for Yorta Yorta, Jimmy Little’s mother’s country:

And this is the polygon for Pangerang. You can see that they overlap quite a lot. Others overlap only slightly, or not at all. There is no rule.

Some were simple shapes to plot, like Yorta Yorta, others were quite complex, like the Jardwadjali requiring around 50 points:

Kent checked accuracy by comparing the polygons against the shapes he’d drawn. Some were spot on, others required further refinement through additional latitude and longitude points.

The final element we had to consider was representation of alternative spellings of the language group names.

Whilst there are no right or wrong spellings, some people identify strongly with a particular spelling and so we needed the system to be able to deal with any one of these versions that might be used in a story. So, the spelling variations were added to the Language Area database tables.

So, where to from here:

At the moment you can only search by location, not by Indigenous language group. We’ll look at adding that functionality. Also, as the language group boundaries may change, we should schedule a review of the polygons at some point.

Now, I’d like to return to the question at the beginning of this post:

Interestingly, two people I’ve quoted in this talk answer similarly:

This is because there are many elements that make us us, there are many lenses through which to view and answer the question. The reason we did the mapping exercise at all was because we had something to attach to the places; something that gives the places meaning, the stories of how we interpret our world…

For example, The Aboriginal Object Collection at Dunkeld Museum shares changing perceptions of Museum practice and traditional owners. Possum Skin Cloaks includes elders talking about transformation through cultural practice. Interestingly, the possum skins used to create the cloaks are from New Zealand because it’s illegal to kill possums in Australia… In another example of trans-Tasman interaction, here’s a video of Jimmy Little singing a cover of Into Temptation, a Crowded House song (who we Australians like to call our own, but we all know that’s not the only way to see it!):

These interactions and exchanges are a small example of how culture morphs and changes. The ‘browse content by location’ function is also a story in and of itself. By representing, side by side, two ways of perceiving and understanding place, it presents a third layer to the view.

Eleanor Whitworth

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Love stories project – Flinders Street Station

It’s been around for more than 100 years and more than 100,000 people pass through it each day, and we’re wondering: is Flinders Street Station an unsung hero of Melbourne’s geneaology?

As part of our Flinders Street Station blog we are calling for love stories related to the station… Funny, poignant, delightful… it may be an awkward first date that began under the clocks or, a story about your parents. For example, Jane Routley, writer of our blog, recently discovered that her mother and father met in the Flinders Street Station ballroom in the 1960s at a Youth Hostels Association meeting.

If you have a love story to share, submit it (up to 500 words), along with any pictures to us at: and become part of the larger story of our station and our city. We’ll publish a ‘best of’ in a very special Flinders Street Station blog post.

Postcard of a cartoon man waiting under the Flinders Street Station Clocks for a date.

This humourous 1905 postcard was used to make a date by mail. State Library of Victoria Collection.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

How Internet-connected are Victorian community museums?

elecom Computerphone Executive Series: A 14 inch colour monitor, keyboard and phone handset complete with accessories and instruction manuals. The Computerphone was known as a 'CP'.

Telecom Computerphone Executive Series: the computerphone was a telephone, a personal computer with a built-in display and two micro-drives for storage, an information terminal, and electronic messaging terminal and included a printer option. From the University of Ballarat Art and Historical Collections.

Community museums are custodians of technology-related objects, but appear to lag behind Victorian homes and businesses in Internet connectivity. At the Social Media and the Web in Museums session of the Museums Australia (Vic) State Conference 2012 I did a hands-up poll re social media use. 80% of organisations in the room had a Facebook page, 70% used Twitter and 15% had a Flickr stream.

Great. But. The stats seemed high. And, not surprisingly: session attendees would be particularly interested in the topic, and they would represent organisations with the resources to invest in professional development (therefore being more likely to also have the capacity to utilise new technologies). This got me wondering just how (un)representational the figures were, so I did some digging…

As part of the Community Museums Pilot Project, John Watson gathered statistics from 80 community museums in the Goldfields region. His work gives a great snapshot of the sector in one region of Victoria from 2010-2012.

In 2010, 18% of the Goldfields museums used social networking, by 2012 this had increased by 30%. John commented that this amount is likely to escalate in the next 5 years with the arrival of ‘tech-savvy retiree’ volunteers.

In 2010, 67% of organisations had Internet access. This had risen to 76.9% in 2012, meaning 23.1% of the community museums didn’t have Internet access.

Peta Knott, Project Manager of Victorian Collections (VC), has collected statistics during 2011-2012 from organisations across Victoria participating in VC. These figures show a much lower percentage of online activity… Of the 175 organisations using VC, only 4 had Facebook pages.

As part of Peta’s survey, organisations self-ranked their members’ Internet abilities:

46% claimed that they were confident (can use the Internet for social media and to source information); 10% classed themselves as beginners (know what the Internet is but not sure how to use it). Only 46% of the organisations had Internet onsite, meaning 64% of organisations were not connected.

I would hazard a guess that the majority of organisations without Internet connections are located in regional areas. In the Unmet Demand (those who would adopt a service if it were available to them) section of the Telecommunications Spend and Demand in Victoria, 2012, report “almost all inhabited areas of the State can now access at least 256Kbps services, with unmet demand for broadband at speeds of up to 8Mbps falling to just 12,723 premises state-wide”… “In 2011, ADSL+ and equivalent broadband services had reached 92.8% of households and 92.1% of businesses”. Community museums are well below both the household and business norms. It is likely many community museum volunteers use their home connections for museum business. It is also likely that connectivity and equipment costs are prohibitive for many community museums.

Being Internet connected and savvy serves community museum business, and some groups are doing terrific things in terms of access and engagement to their collections. The SurfWorld Museum, Torquay, use Facebook to advertise exhibitions, show off new acquisitions and connect with current surfing events and surfing fans. The Mission to Seafarers share their collection of photographs and documents on Facebook and Twitter to pique the public’s interest in maritime matters. A number of larger museums and galleries are also very active, such as the Bendigo Art Gallery.

Almost all museum conferences now run ‘technology’ sessions, for example, Laura Miles, Executive Director of Museums Australia (Vic) is running a workshop at the Museums Australia National Conference 2012: Twitter for my museum: interactive workshop to get you started.

Museums Australia (Vic) has produced some great tools for museums including the Online Tools for Museums Info sheet, audio from the New Technology in Museums & Galleries seminar presentations, and a practical guide to photographing items to assist with digitisation.

Connectivity and online activity amongst community museums is gradually increasing, and I look forward to seeming many more examples emerge.  We’d love to hear from any small-medium museums regarding experiences and thoughts around being visible online…

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


For regular readers of the Culture Victoria news blog, what follows is a detailed and slightly techncial account of a linked open data workshop. You may wish to tune out now! But, if you’re interested in how our collecting organisations are working together to increase access to the information they hold, read on…

The 2nd LODLAM Melbourne workshop, held 31st July, focused on place-names and ANZAC data. Around 20 participants attended from memory organisations, tertiary institutions and government departments.

The group agreed to share information on data subsets and investigate opportunities to share it – either as open data, or linked open data.

The LOD work being explored by the group sits within the context of the Victorian Government’s recently released IP Policy Intent and Principles whereby:  “The State grants rights to its intellectual property, as a public asset, in a manner that maximises its impact, value, accessibility and benefit consistent with the public interest.”

Wills’s map from Coopers Creek to the Gulf of Carpentaria (detail)

Wills’s map from Coopers Creek to the Gulf of Carpentaria (detail), PROV, VPRS 8168/P2 Historic Plan Collection


Rafe Benli, Office of Geographic Names (OGN), Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, gave a presentation on the VICNAMES database, the official repository for placenames including landscape features (mountains, rivers), bounded areas such as localities, towns and cities, and physical infrastructure such as roads, reserves and schools.  VICNAMES has 200,000 records (commercial names are excluded), which feed into the Australian National Placenames Survey. OGN are upgrading the speed of the site, and will then publicise it, particularly to education groups. VICNAMES includes 3,000 records of Aboriginal names provided by VACL via bulk upload.

VICNAMES has a register for historic place-name information, but for landscape features only. It may be expanded to include roads and localities. Historical content is verified by a volunteer.


  • Alternative names for the same place have different IDs.
  • The entire VICNAMES data set can be downloaded as a CSD file.
  • VICNAMES data does not currently have an API or URI for each place name.


  • OGN expressed interest in exploring how their historic data could be improved, and some organisations expressed interest in options for how their data subsets could be ingested (e.g. volunteers working on the PROV Wiki are tagging place-names, but it would not be feasible to submit the tags one by one, so bulk upload may be an option).
  • Interest was expressed by the group for OGN to provide additional export formats for VICNAMES data. This would enable engaging applications (such as overlaying historical maps with contemporary equivalents using dynamic access to VICNAMES data) to be developed and published to the web (see Neatline for a project ‘in the ilk of’)
  • It was noted that as memory organisations hold material from across Australia, it would be good to explore access to ANPS data, and check how comprehensive it is.


The complexity of describing/categorising place-name data due to its temporal and spatial nature and, therefore, finding a standardised approach was discussed. E.g. IDs for geo spatial elements such as latitude and longitude are categorised differently in Australia and internationally. The comment “some linked data is better than no linked data” was also made, acknowledging the value of taking small steps that are in line with each organisation’s needs.


  • Talking about place ARC project to develop a novel, interdisciplinary approach to automatically interpret human place descriptions.
  • Victorian Groundwater Authorities are bringing data sets together to verify bore water sites via crowd sourcing. Has been low participation. SLV confirmed that they have had low uptake on crowd sourcing tagging of their maps.
  • PROV is digitising its rates records. Whilst these don’t provide spatial information they provide a statistical link to parish plans.
Okay, not a bee: an Owlet moth, Ludwig Becker, Dec. 31, 1860, State Library Victoria

Okay, not a bee: an Owlet moth, Ludwig Becker, Dec. 31, 1860, State Library Victoria


HuNI is linking selected data sets from across domains. The aim is to develop interoperable data sets and a toolkit to enable non-current participants to link data. As such, the importance of user groups in driving the development process has been recognised. As each data set has developed in a silo, HuNI is starting from a point where there is no standardised vocab.

Conal Tuohy presented his Sweetener demo proof of concept (watch for the ‘blink and you miss it’ links that pop up in the left hand column), located on HuNI’s wiki and issue tracker Apidictor. The Sweetener demo utilises the People Australia biographical service’s Party ID (unique identifier) for individuals. An RDF file contains all the example content and describes the relationship between each item in a structure/graph/network, enabling pages to be constructed using collated data contained in nodes. XSL is used to convert the metadata into the required HTML.

Take a look at Conal’s slides for more details.


  • HuNI may be able to provide specific tools to assist with the creation of unique identifiers. Also, if needed, HuNI could potentially provide advice on creating APIs following the Powerhouse Museum model.
  • Research undertaken by this group could possibly play a useful role in HuNI’s software development program.
  • Interested parties could explore a dump of a small number of records to generate them in Party Infrastructure. A Melbourne ANDS contact may be able to assist.
ANZAC Biscuit sent home as a postcard from Egypt 1916, Caulfield RSL Sub-Branch Inc

ANZAC Biscuit sent home as a postcard from Egypt 1916, Caulfield RSL Sub-Branch Inc


Rafe presented on the OGN’s ANZAC Commemorative Naming Project pilot. OGN is working with local government to enable the community to recognise local men and women who served in the ADF from WW1 to the present day by naming roads, features and localities in their honour.


  • Further discussion with the Australian and Auckland War Memorials.


  • Commonwealth budget announcement for the Anzac Centenary
  • It was noted that an ANZAC exhibitions and online network has been established to avoid duplication of commemorative activities amongst cultural organisations.
  • Auckland War Memorial’s Cenotaph database, a biographical database of New Zealanders who have served in the military. Data from AWM is massaged into RDF rich XML sitting in a triples store which is the graph data as basis. Has a Sparkl bases to send a query and get results from the triples. The Australian War Memorial is in discussion with the Auckland War memorial for sharing of data and crowd sourcing material.
  • The Muninn Project is a multidisciplinary, multinational, academic research project investigating millions of records pertaining to the WW1 in archives around the world. Muninn uses LOD to publish its processed, cleaned up, results. Munninn RDF server
  • Out of the Trenches : A Linked Open Data Project an experimental research discovery linked open data project. Partners of the Pan-Canadian Documentary Heritage Network (PCDHN) have developed a “proof-of-concept” to showcase a sampling of the network’s wealth of digital resources using “linked open data” and principles of  the semantic web.
  • Montevideo Maru project by the National Archives of Australia listing prisoners of war and civilian internees on board. Not LOD, but involves crowd sourcing.
  • Europeana 1914-1918 brings European stories online in a World War One stories collection. Not LOD, but involves crowd sourcing.
  • Europeana Collections 1914-1918 a Library project that will create a substantial digital collection of material from national library collections in 8 countries.



Thanks all for participating. A special thanks to Rafe and Conal for presenting, and to Richard Hayward for sharing his notes.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments