News and Media Symposium – Digital Inclusion and Media Use in Remote First Nations Communities
6 October 2021
Dr Heron Loban, Griffith University (chair)
Diat Alferink, Operations Manager, Torres Strait Islander Media Association
Dr Daniel Featherstone, RMIT node, ADM+S
Dr Indigo Holcombe-James, RMIT node, ADM+S
Dr Lyndon Ormond-Parker, RMIT node, ADM+S
Dennis Stokes (First Nations Media Australia)
Watch the recording
Dr Heron Loban:
Okay, so, good morning. Good morning – it is the morning. So, good morning to all of those of you in this symposium. It’s a little bit odd not being in the room, but my name’s Heron Loban and I’m from Griffith University. I’ll be moderating this session. One of the things I would like to do, I didn’t have the benefit of the morning, but as a Torres Strait Islander woman I would like to acknowledge firstly the traditional custodians of the land on which I’m meeting today, where all of you are. And I’d also like to acknowledge the other Aboriginal / Torres Strait Islander people at the symposium, on this panel, and their ancestors past and present. Also, an important part of of what we do as Aboriginal/Torres Straight Island people. So I just want to take a quick minute to briefly introduce everyone and then they can talk a little bit about themselves. So today’s panel as you can see, is about digital inclusion and media-use in remote First Nations communities. So we’ve got some great speakers. We’ve got Daniel Featherstone, who’s from RMIT. We’ve got Indigo Holcomb-James -I can’t see Indigo – from RMIT. We’ve got Lyndon Ormond-Parker who’s also part of the RMIT project, thanks Lyndon for the wave. We’ve got Dennis Stokes, he’s the CEO of First Nations Media Australia, and Diat Alferink who is the CEO of the Torres Straight Islander Media Association.
So what I might do is just sort of throw over to everybody to, I guess do a little bit of an introduction, an opening statement, about the importance of this panel. And so, it looks like Daniel’s first up on the screen.
Dr Daniel Featherstone:
Hi, thanks very much Heron. My name is Daniel Featherstone. I’m the senior Research Fellow at RMIT and Principal Investigator on the ‘Mapping the Digital Gap’ project, which I’ll describe shortly. I’m joining you from Dja Dja Wurrung country in Castlemaine, in Victoria. So, I pay my respects to Elders past, present, and emerging. Both here, and in all First Nations communities across Australia. Previously I worked as General Manager of First Nations Media Australia, the National Peak Body for First Nations media – which Dennis is now in that role. From 2012 until 2020, and before that, I spent nine years managing Ngaanyatjarra Media, the media organization in south east WA supporting 15 remote communities. And that’s where I became aware of the need for effective telecommunications in remote areas, and worked on a number of projects there to help develop communications infrastructure, setting up community Wi-Fi and media access centres in communities, and doing a range of I.T. training programs. In my time at First Nations Media Australia I was involved in helping to establish Broadband for the Bush Alliance, an advocacy group for remote telecommunications, and the annual Broadband for the Bush Forum. And thanks to Heron and others, we started the Indigenous Focus Day as a dedicated space for remote First Nations people and organisations to share their experiences, and discuss policy needs. So I’ll talk more about our project shortly, but I’ll hand over now to the rest of the team to talk about what their part is.
Dr Heron Loban:
So I don’t know if someone else is controlling the screen or not, I have to say, but we’ll go to – I can only see Daniel – but we’ll go to Dennis Stokes from First Nations Media. You just have to unmute yourself Dennis. Perfect. Okay, no I’m sorry I thought someone was controlling sound and everything, so sorry! Oh right, no. Do it yourself a little bit here.
Yeah, so I’m Dennis Stokes, I’m the CEO of First Nations Media Australia. I’m relatively new, so I’m still getting my head around things, especially all the acronyms. I’ve been here for about two and a half months. I’ve been working in the arts and media for over 20 something years – it shows our age! Yeah look, you know I’ve come into the FNMA at a very interesting time, especially with COVID. It’s very challenging at the moment, and it is actually something that, even coming into the role, not realising how challenging it is for our community. Because unless you’re dealing with people on a daily basis and then hearing from them, their stories, you sort of forget. And I’m finding it really interesting, and I’m looking forward to the challenge and working with everybody, and there’s some interesting work coming up at the moment. But I’ll talk about that as I speak. So, yeah. Look, I’m really happy that I’m here, and I thank you for allowing me to have a have a voice on the panel. Thank you.
Dr Heron Loban:
Excellent, thank you so much Dennis. So we might go then, to Diat Alferink.
Good morning. My name is DiatAlferink. I’m here at the Torres Straight Media Association on lovely kauri country. My mob are from the Malaligal people, which is the Western Torres Strait. Yes, I’ve been in TSIMA for about five years and lots of things are changing, and lots of things to talk about. But there’s always issues around local government and all sorts of stuff. But yeah lots of things to talk about around technology, and excited to have a discussion, and good to be here, so that’s all.
Yeah, excellent, thank you Diat. And Diat is, I suppose, the panel member that’s perhaps the most remote, being in the Torres Strait. So it’s great to have her. And Lyndon, could I get you to give yourself a quick intro?
Dr Lyndon Ormond-Parker:
Good morning, I’m Lyndon Ormond-Parker. I’m based at RMIT with Daniel on the digital inclusion project, but I’m also a Gagaguwaja man from the northern territory Barkley tablelands region, and worked in the cultural heritage and IT space for quite a number of years. So, thank Heron.
Thanks, Lyndon. So, I think that just leaves Indigo whom I can now see because I just had to scroll up or down. So thanks Indigo.
Dr Indigo Holcombe-James:
Awesome, thanks Heron. So my name is Indigo. I’m joining you all today from Melbourne where I’m on the unceded lands of the Woi Wurrung people. I’d like to pay my respects to the elders, past and present, and extend those respects to the lands and peoples of where everyone is joining from today. I’m a postdoctoral research fellow in the ADMs, where I’m based working on questions of digital inclusion. I’m a member of the Australian Digital Inclusion Index research team and I’m especially interested in questions of digital inclusion and participation as they occur in the context of cultural and creative industry institutions. I’m really delighted to be part of the mapping the digital gap project and to be part of the conversations happening at this symposium. Thanks.
Well, thank you so much Indigo, and to all our other panel members. So, one of the things that we wanted to do first up, is give you a little bit of an overview of some of the projects that are happening, for you to hear from each of our panel members.
So, I think Daniel is first up, speaking about the mapping the digital gap project, which is the RMIT project. So, I’m assuming somebody is going to do the technology part, the Powerpoints.Okay, indicator is saying yes.
Oh, perfect, okay. Excellent. Thank you so much. I’ll hand it over to Daniel, who’s going to take us through a little bit of the background and overview of the digital gap. Thanks Daniel.
Dr Daniel Featherstone:
Hi, can you see my screen?
Yes we can see your screen, all right.
Dr Daniel Featherstone:
So, yeah this project –
You might just want to go full screen on your powerpoint, thanks. Perfect Perfect. Start again.
Dr Daniel Featherstone:
Alright, thanks. So, yeah, this project has been started earlier this year in about April. We’re calling it Mapping the Digital Gap. The broader name is Mapping Digital Inclusion and Media Use for Informed Decision Making in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. And it’s a four-year project that is to study digital inclusion and look at particularly, we aren’t able to go to communities all around the country, so we’ve been looking at 10 particular communities. The project being undertaken through the ADMs at RMIT. It’s in partnership with Telstra, who also fund the Australian Digital Inclusion Index. So this project has really grown out of the lack of artist, specifically in remote communities within the index we’re looking at, like the index measuring access affordability and digital ability in communities. So, using a sort of adapted version of that survey, as well as use of media, news, and information. Partly because of the taking more of a broader communicative ecologies approach, looking at all the ways that people communicate access information and services in remote communities.
As I say, we’re looking at case studies in 10 communities including one in Torres Strait, Erub, working with Diat and the team at TSIMA. And we’re working with partner organisations in each of these communities, so those local organisations help to build the engagement and trust with the project. And also, we’ll be employing community co-researchers to work with us when we’re on site, and also afterwards, to be able to keep getting information about how things are changing over time. I won’t go into detail on the methodology, but we’re using the ADII survey as one of the tools, and then a mix of qualitative survey, interviews, observation, and case study data, and taking a more action research approach, working with the community to develop local digital inclusion plans, so that there’s something left behind as part of the project, as a reciprocal outcome. You’ve got most of the team with you today obviously we’ve heard over the last couple of days from Professor Julian Thomas who’s the project lead for this project, as well as the ADII, and Dr Jenny Kennedy as well as a co-investigator.
So, here’s some of the research sites. You can see they’re fairly widely spread across the country. From the Kimberleys, we’ve got Djarindjin, Lombadina and Kalumburu. We’re still setting up a relationship with Wadeye, but we’re hoping to be able to include that. Warakurna in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands, where I previously worked and Pipalyatjara in the APY Lands. Tennant creek up in central Australia. And then up in East Arnhemland, Galiwin’ku and Gäṉgaṉ homeland. And then moving across to Cape York we have Wujal Wujal community and Erub on the Torres Strait. And many of you will have been familiar with Wilcannia in New South Wales, which has had a very serious outbreak of Covid in recent times. So, we’ll do a little talk about Wilcannia as a separate case study after, in a later part of the session. So, why is this project needed? First of all we know that remote first nations people are among the most digitally excluded in the country.
However, there hasn’t been good data to really measure and track how that’s changing. Over time the gap has been widening, in fact since 2018. So, it’s gone from 5.8 in 2018 to 7.9 in 2020 according to the ADII index levels. However that’s only looking at the data that they were able to collect in regional and urban communities. And so the difference in remote communities is actually much starker and in fact, up to 20 points difference in some of those indicators. The Covid 19 pandemic has increased the need for online services, including schooling and work and health in communities. A lot of these places have been locked down and the face-to-face services haven’t been available, so that gap has actually been increasing as a result. Particularly in the affordability, as well as in some areas in access. Well things have improved with NBN and mobile black spots programs. Access is still an issue in smaller communities. The lack of up-to-date national data. As I say, there’s been case studies done in Ali Kharung and Pormpuraaw, which show almost 20 points higher than the national averages. Surveys really need to be done in person, and able to be done in language in remote communities. It’s a challenge to do this type of research remotely via phone or internet, and we need that data to inform policies and programs. The government really aren’t coming up with dedicated responses to these needs and I’ll come back to that shortly.
Also the cost of digital exclusion is rising exponentially, as the digital on transformation is happening with online government services. The communities and people who are being left behind is continuing to become a bigger issue for all stakeholders. We also are wanting to build agency and awareness within communities, so they can start developing their own local solutions. So we really want to work with communities on how they can address some of these issues at a local level.
Quickly i’ll just cover off that some of the work that’s come out of the Broadband for the Bush Forum, the Indigenous Focus Day has pushed for digital inclusion to become a closing the gap target. And fortunately that was the case. It’s been announced this year that the outcome, 17, is people having access to information and services enabling participation in informed decision making, regarding their own lives. Digital inclusion has a target of equity by 2026, a highly ambitious target. So, there are measures within that outcome about telecommunications access, as well as access to relevant media and news services. Including employment in first nations and mainstream audience growth, sources of news content, and portrayal in mainstream media. And this is where it’s quite relevant to this forum. But we need that research to be able to track those changes As I said the impact of Covid 19 has meant that there’s been a greater awareness of the need of the digital divide in remote communities and that started to make headlines over the last couple of years with much more awareness, that a lot of people are being left behind. That they don’t have access to services, and that that’s really hampering people’s – well their livelihoods, really. They’re not able to get food and services to people who are very vulnerable at critical times, as well as not being able to do online schooling. There was a report by World Vision, there have been some efforts by NBN and Telstra to make services affordable. And NBN have set up wi-fi services in about 50 communities across the country to enable that, but right now we’ve got many communities – sorry I’ll come back to that next part later _ but I’ll finish up there and hand over, and then we can come back and talk more about Wilcannia shortly.
Yeah, thanks Daniel, for that presentation about what’s happening. And one of the things that we do know, Daniel and I have sort of been working together in this space for sort of over 10 years. It’s been very hard to understand, to know, exactly what’s happening. So when you’re speaking to telcos and speaking to government, there hasn’t really been a clear baseline. So you know, this project is so critical in actually providing the evidence to identify where gaps and issues are. One of the things you might have noticed on Daniel’s last slide is that he had lots of news articles from NITV, Indigenous Exchange, so that’s sort of a good segue over to Dennis who was the CEO of First Nations Media and can speak to a lot of our stories and sharing of information around Covid and other issues, is through our first nations media outlets. So Dennis, if I could ask you just to take a few minutes to talk about your First Nation video.
First Nations media, for those that don’t know, is the peak body in First Nations Media in Australia. Obviously, it was originally under IRCA which is see, I’m sort of going to do all the acronyms and things – Indigenous Remote Communications Association – that was originally from 2001. So back to that, 2016 to 2017, it became First Nations Media. That was then the peak body within Australia. So currently, where there are 62 member organisations and 167 individuals who are members of First Nations Media at the moment, at present, so there is a lot of groups to work with throughout the country. Our staff are situated right around the country, so there is about 20 staff in every state and territory now, I believe, except ACT and Tasmania, which is good. So, we’ve got people based all around the place. The role of first nations media is to empower Australia’s First Nations people through our culturally connected media industry, and we do deal with a lot of television, video and film production, print and online, and radio. And radio is probably the main media outlet that we deal with because that’s probably where most of our people are living and that’s the only access they have to information throughout this country.
So, it’s really important that we look at radio and make sure that they are functioning properly, so that we are getting messaging out there. And I guess coming in at the moment with Covid, that’s really, really important, because they are not able to access internet. So, that’s where they’re getting most of their news outlets from. So, it’s really important that we work on that. So, currently we have to look at access and we have to look at availability as well, and make sure that people have that, so that they can get the information they need, and we are starting to see that. The infrastructure is not there throughout this country, especially in remote and regional.
So, currently under the national indigenous Australian agency, they’ve contacted us to go out and do a national infrastructure audit which is currently underway. And the first step of that is to make sure that we’re looking at if there are gaps within those media outlets what do we need to make sure that we can fix right now.
So, that’s what we’re doing. There was an EOI process that went out recently, that’s closed, and that’s all of those EOI’s have now gone to NAYA to make sure that we can get that funding out there. The good thing about what’s happened at the moment is, it looks like everybody who’s applied may get their funding out, or we’ll all come very close to that. And then the work will start in March in 2022. And so, there’s a lot of work that we need to be doing as the peak body, and we can’t do that work without the stations and the media outlets as well. So, we have to make sure those relationships are strong and make sure that we support those organisations as well, because you know there a lot of organisations, and that especially those are really remote. They’re on their own and then there might be only one person working within that station at certain times. We’ve got to support them, we’ve got to make sure that they are looked after regularly. And so, that’s what one of our main things at the moment is, actually being in contact with all of these stations and the people that run it. Daniel will talk later, as he mentioned with Wilcannia, and Brendan is a prime example of that. He’s got the whole world on his shoulders, he’s doing everything himself. And he’s looking after a whole community. And that’s the only information they’re getting. So, it’s really important that we support Adam in that and make sure that he’s doing the job, and that he’s not burning out as well, because he’s doing a huge role. So, there’s a lot of things that we’re doing in terms of making sure that they are getting the right messaging, as well. So, we do have a news project that has the pilot project ran for the last 12 months. And that was in the Northern Territory where Telstra sponsored that, and we ended up training 12 journalists from remote and regional communities. They will now start producing stories on their own, in relation to the regions that they live in, and we will look at making sure that those stories are going out. And we don’t know who that is, we’ll go into talks with NITV, we’ll go and talk with other radio stations, and we’ll start passing those stories out. That’s the news coming from those communities, from those people.
So, we’re going to get that, that information is coming directly from them. So, that project was so successful that Telstra have refunded it for another 12 months and we’ll also move. So, we’ll move that into South Australia and WA in 2022. So, that’s good news. And so, we are making sure that people out on the ground have got the right qualifications and training to make sure that the right story and messaging is getting out there. Recently we have been contracted by the Federal Department of health to do a Covid messaging vaccine rollout that’s worked out really well. So our first step is mostly throughout Queensland and New South Wales. Those places we have been locked down. So, we make sure that that messaging gets out there as soon as possible. So, that’s underway at the moment as well. So, we’re doing a lot of this sort of work, and Covid has been a big part of what we’ve been doing over the past 12 months, obviously. I’ve only been there two and a half months, but this work has been really important that FNM have been doing. It’ll continue, we seem to be snowballing in terms of people wanting to work with FNM, to get messaging out there. Australia Council have approached us, there’s been Win television, it’s been ongoing. So, the job is getting bigger. So, we might have to start getting some more staff in because the job is getting bigger and that’s a good thing, though. It’s really highlighting the need out there, and what we need to be doing out in remote and regional areas to make sure that they have access, and you know, Covid’s been a bit of a nuisance but it has highlighted the difficulties and the issues that our mob face. And I think it’s been a bit of a double-edged sword, Covid. So, you know, and it’s also made sure that we got a bit more funding than we usually would have got to do the job, and do the job right. So, yeah, that’s a bit of what we’re doing at the moment. There’s still a lot of work to do but I think we’re up for the challenge and I think we can do it.
Excellent, thank you so much Dennis. That was, you know, it’s good to hear the good news stories and the things that are successful. Pilots are being rolled out to other areas, as well. Those learning from other successes, and I think the other thing that you’ve highlighted too is the way that we create news and media as Aboriginal talk to other people, and the way that we share it, and digest it, is really quite different and quite unique. And it was funny, you sort of mentioned Brendan, and Dennis, I’m sorry, Daniel was going to hopefully show a bit of Brendan, who’s become a bit of a superstar. But it was funny, he posted something on Facebook and then I got sent it on my phone. And I’m in Brisbane. And so, you know, just the way that we share, and the way that we share news, it’s not just one. It’s not just social media, it’s not just websites. This sort of black grapevine, if you like. It’s far-reaching, it goes across everywhere. And that’s just, I think, something that we need to keep in mind, you know in terms of how news gets to us, and important news.
So I’m going to throw to Diat now, so a nice little segue here, because Diat’s in radio at the Torres Strait Islander Media Association, and in the remote community. So, it’s going to be great to sort of get that other perspective as well, from the national right through to community. So, yeah, could you talk for a few minutes about what you’re doing up there, and what’s going on?
What’s going on here? Yeah, obviously we’re in Thursday Island, and we’re also REMO. So we’re responsible for the communities across the Torres Strait. I’ve inherited a historical kind of, only seven licenses, for the RIBS network, and that’s been a challenge, to try and get them actually up and running because of the ageing infrastructure. It’s just been every year, there seems to be another problem. So, this welcomed infrastructure. Hopefully we’ll hear about the allocation that we possibly will get, to support those ageing infrastructures, that has really stopped us from getting mob on air. So, we’ve been doing training over the years. We’ve got people ready to go. So, it’s been hard. So, out of the seven, we’ve got three operational at the moment, and would love to have more. And I suppose technology is part of that and getting that sort of streaming service. So, we’re actually getting people on air here, into the Torres Strait Islander Administration and out, obviously on the Indigitube app, which is another fabulous initiative. And all of our mainland island mob are able to tune in to what’s happening at home, and a lot of mob are. So, that’s really been a really good sort of successful thing for us and I think in the future we want more of that. Just recently, we took on the Torres Strait news, which was last week.
So, we’ve just started doing print media, but obviously that’ll also be online issue, as well. So, that’s another way that we’re getting information about key issues like Covid. We’re here on the border obviously, with Papua New Guinea, and it’s a very serious kind of potential thing happening. So, at the moment we’re kind of really doing the best we can, I suppose, and doing a lot of ads in language across the region. Creole, Meriam Mer and Kala Lagaw Ya. So that’s about us giving access to mob to understand the issues, but also addressing some of the misinformation as well. And I mean, historically, CYJMA’s inherited a relationship with the Torres Strait regional council for rental issues, so that’s actually hampered a lot of us moving on with upgrading our digital facilities, because we’ve had to deal with inherited rental and
CYJMA is the only Remo that’s had to pay for rent for our broadcasting services. It’s 58 grand a year, but it’s actual money that actually stops us from doing maintenance and training and all the rest, and employing staff. So, we’re getting through all of that slowly, but they’re the kind of real issues on the ground, you know, things rust a lot in the sea country so there’s always different issues for us, and also we’ve got limited access to technicians like everywhere in remote Australia. So, we really rely on the relationship that we do have with our long-standing technician, but he’s only one man and we really want to skill up our local mob here, to be able to do that ongoing maintenance. So, we’re not spending money but you know, sending people up to fix things that we actually got skilled mob on our land that can go from in between our land to fix all those basic things that need need fixing. So, yeah, sky mesh, sky bridge, people on small planes, it’s all happening up here. But our technician did sort of a trial, something which is a streaming service so that we can take those outer islands through here to the network and then out to the national Indigitube app. So, yeah, it’s going well. We try and encourage our young people.
Our next project is working with AFTRS to do some training, and that’s mobile content creation which was starting next week, and also just a whole raft of other things. So that’s been a partnership that is now going to happen for the next three years. So, we’re really excited about that. I think that’s netflix money that was given to AFTRS, I think, but we’re keen to be one of the guinea pig mobs to do that bit, so we’re just excited about that. And yeah, just really, I suppose encouraging our mob to listen to the radio again. Because it seems to be that it’s only the middle-aged mob, but we’re trying to get our young broadcasters back on board, to be a bit lively and vibrant. And part of that is creating more film content and more animation. So, that’s what’s happening at CYJMA.
Excellent, so not much then. Thank you. So, thank you and I suppose it’s interesting, everyone has seen, well Diat and Dennis have both touched on infrastructure and access issues and I suppose one of the things, for those of us that work in this area all the time, that when you’re looking at social media and you’re looking at accessing news, a lot of us people like me, that live in Brisbane, we’re not thinking about, oh can we get mobile coverage? Oh, can we get the internet, and can I afford it, let alone is it even here? So, a lot of the issues that exist in remote aboriginal island communities are even preliminary and things that wouldn’t even cross our mind in the more populated areas. So, what I might do is I’ve got a couple of questions. So I’d really love to put those to the panel and then we can come back to Daniel and have a bit of a listen to Brendan.
So, the first question is a big thank you to the panel. Everyone’s doing awesome work. This isn’t directed at anyone in particular, so if whoever wants to have an answer to the question, can sort of come forward. But Daniel said, I’m hearing troubling reports of rising circulation of Covid misinformation within indigenous communities. How do you think that this can be addressed from that first nations?
I guess that goes back to what we’re doing with the department of health and you know, didn’t go right into what that. The reasoning around that was for misinformation.
So, what is happening is we’ve received funding from the department of health to actually – that’s production costs for stations and media outlets to make their own messaging for their own community – so that they’re not getting messaging from somewhere else. And they’re being misinformed, but it’s specific to what they need to know in their community.
So, that’s what that is all about and that comes from their own health workers, that will come from their own people as to what is happening within their community. So, all that messaging that will go out will reach who it needs to reach. But it’s specific to them. So that’s one way of getting the right information there and not misinformation. So, I think that’s a really important project which is rolling out now.
Yeah, thanks for that Dennis. And yeah, we might say it’s come a bit late, but better late than never.
And a lot of it has been lately as well.
Yeah, absolutely. Diat, did you have something that you wanted to add to that?
Well, misinformation. Yeah, it’s hard because community are also quite you know, religious in their beliefs, and a lot of that is connected in somewhere there, as well. Which is hard. So I think you’ve just got to give the information you’ve got from the health, and do it in a way that’s: this is the information. It’s kind of – I think the misinformation is obviously for algorithms. Everyone’s on Facebook and that algorithm’s going, going, going, and people still getting the same misinformation. So, it’s about how do we start doing things like the Torres news. And other ways to be able to give them that information, so that they actually can have a choice. I think our vaccination rates were one of the highest in the Cape and Torres and that’s because we’ve just been giving a good plug to it. But also that people know that it’s happening and they’re thinking twice about it. A lot of people were against it because we were the first that was rolled out because of the outbreak in PNG, and Astrazeneca went up to the top three islands of the Torres Strait and then it got pulled back.
So, people were kind of like oh what’s this thing blood clotting. So, all of this stuff. People didn’t know whether to go back for the second shot. So it’s all real- and I think people are now realising it’s okay, it’s safe. So, I think they’re the concerns people have, like everywhere. But I think now people are going, well, just go get it done. It’s all right, you know. So, I think as long as it’s information from the right channels, I think community, you’ve got more confidence now. And hopefully that will continue.
Thanks, Diat. And I think that’s a really, in a sense you know, the Torres Strait is sort of a guinea pig, and a lot of people in mainland Australia probably don’t realise that. So, that wasn’t really, there wasn’t much choice around that. Because it did start to become a life and death situation with what was happening in PNG and so we were you know, the Torres Strait was confronted with that very – what’s happening now more down south, months ago was the reality of the pandemic. So, it’s always good too, for people to be conscious of that.
Now Lyndon hasn’t had a chance yet to share, but it’d be really great to hear from you Lyndon, just from the project point of view at RMIT you know, what you’re seeing or what you’re thinking from your own experience.
Dr Lyndon Ormond-Parker:
Yeah well look, just following up on the previous question, because I have a little bit to say about that and I think during the first round of Covid, and we were doing a little bit of research around the messaging, and so a lot of the remote media orgs were getting a lot of different messaging. Whether it was their state or territory health department, the commonwealth health department, and then trying to sift through that and put that into language in terms that it was very difficult to find particular words for particular aspects of the pandemic. And so, there was a huge burden on the remote media sector to actually sift through and do that with very little financial support. So, it became quite, it was a very stressful process for them . And it’s especially trying to then counter what was going on in communities with some of the misinformation.
And there was a lot of misinformation at the start and so they were trying to maintain their reputation as a reliable source of information, at the same time battling the people on Facebook that were talking about it in other terms. And in particular, some very religious terms. Or it was a white fella disease, you know. So, there was a lot of work and I’m glad that the commonwealth now has come to the party and is funding the local community orgs to do some of that interpretation work around the vaccine roll out. So, I think it was long overdue and it was something that was very painful for a lot of staff, in particular, and places like Wilcannia. I think we’ve got a video to show around some of that. Daniel, I think you’re going to show a short video. So, I’d like to hear from Brendan at Wilcannia perhaps, on the topic.
Yeah, perfect. And another segue, and that was what I had in mind, Daniel, you know, the question really sort of leads into the work that has been done one Wilcannia, through their first nations media platforms, in lots of different ways. So, I wonder if you could share that with the attendees.
Dr Daniel Featherstone:
So, yeah. Wilcannia, for those who don’t know, is located in central Darlingshire, in western New South Wales. About 200 kilometres from Broken Hill, about 900 kilometres from Sydney. It’s got, I think about 75 percent indigenous population of 750. With quite a number of existing issues around poverty, health, housing shortage. So, apparently a 2005 study found that the average life expectancy for men was about 37 and for women about 42. The community, like many remote communities suffers from poor internet coverage. However, being a regional town, it doesn’t get the same attention that other remote communities might get, in policy terms. So, there’s very limited home internet access and during the lockdowns last year, that really made it difficult for people to be able to do home schooling and we’ve talked about Wilcannia River radio, where Brendan Adams works. They ended up putting a lot of the lessons over the radio to be able to get students to be able to engage with their lessons during those lockdown periods. And the teachers have had to go door-to-door with packages of home school information to keep the kids occupied.
There was also a lot of the health messages going out over local radio and over Facebook. They got a video camera a couple of years ago through a grant that we’ve managed to get them, and they’ve really made use of that, as you’ll see if you go onto their Facebook page. But this year, a couple of months ago, we’ve started seeing how the impact of the Covid 19 outbreak has impacted in Wilcannia and some of the other remote communities out there in western New South Wales. And there’s just been horrible stories about how quickly that spread because of the overcrowded housing and the lack of support services in place for that. And so these stories have been on national news. In fact, there was one on the Washington Post yesterday that you know, really highlighted how challenging it’s been for the very small communities, and for these highly vulnerable populations during this outbreak. But the lack of internet support has exacerbated that. Where people can’t work from home, they can’t do home-schooling. There’s real challenges even keeping the kids occupied when there’s not access to online entertainment, as well. So, the role of Wilcannia river radio has been really critical during this time, both in getting information to the community, but also out to the broader public, and they’ve become the spokespeople for the community around these issues. You’ve probably seen either on you know, NITV or ABC, Brendan Adams has become a spokesperson and talking about the impact, but also the work that they’re doing locally. Doing fundraising to get food to the community, going out and hunting kangaroos and distributing those around the community, and also making sure that the community are getting vaccinated. And that they’re getting tested and isolating. So their role has been quite critical. And I think you’ve got a video there from their Facebook page that we can jump to now and see how they’ve been telling their story to the community.
You can’t see the video? Am I doing something?
Dr Daniel Featherstone:
No, Brett can just bring the video on?
Thank you, perfect.
I’m Brendan Adams from Wilcania radio and today I’m standing on the beautiful Barkindji country. Behind me is the great Baaka. But today I’m here for an important message. During this period, the lockdown of the pandemic, of Covid, we have to find ways to keep our mobs safe. We’re in lock down there, so everyone stay home, stay safe, spend time with your families, no going out. Only for essential needs of shopping, chemist, hospital, to get tested, and there’s a vaccine out there. It’s your option to get vaccinated. We love being socialised, but this is now the time where we have to be smart, make sure we keep our elders, our children, and our vulnerable people safe at all times. To do this we have to obey the rules. Keep your family safe. Stay safe. Keep our families safe and keep our community safe. And here from the Wilcannia radio station, we will do our best to keep you updated and informed on everything that is happening in this tragic time of having Covid coming so close to home now, with all of us mob here.
Yes, thanks for that. And I think, even though it’s their radio station, You can see they’ve had to hop onto Facebook and create videos and do all sorts of things. And so, in our communities, our news outlets are really taking on lots of different and important roles. Now we do have, I’m looking at the time, but we’ve got another fantastic question which i’d really like to put to the panel, from Damiano.
So, what are the challenges and opportunities for technology such as voice enabled assistance, to expose or share with the wider population, content that has been created or used, or shared, by first nations peoples?
Do you want to keep, you want to kick that off, Daniel? It looks like you’ve got something maybe, that you’ve already had front of mind?
Dr Daniel Featherstone:
Yeah, look, there’s a whole range of ways that first nations people are already sharing these messages as you can see. Over the radio, over Facebook, there’s Indigitube. There’s a whole range of platforms, NITV and indigenous community television, reaching out into remote communities. So, while many of those aren’t reaching the mainstream audiences, they’re really targeted at the local community audiences. What we have seen is more engagement through Indigenous X, through Guardian Australia, NITV getting more coverage on SBS and ABC stories. So, we are seeing some of these stories now reaching more of a mainstream audience, as well as a lot more first nations journalists working in the mainstream news. So, you know, those messages are getting out. In terms of the voice generated messaging, it’s probably something that we need to start exploring more. So, that’s something worth looking at, but I think, you know, there is certainly plenty of the media being created. It’s how to connect that to the right audience.
Thanks, Daniel. Dennis?
Yeah I mean Daniel mentioned it anyway. I was going to talk about the Indigitube. But you know, we do a lot of music on digital and that, but whatever platforms there are, and we need to start exploring whether or not we adjust that, and what other platforms are there. And then start looking at how we explore, to get the messaging out there. The world has changed in what we do, so if there are existing platforms, can they be adapted to be utilised in other ways, as well.
Yeah, that’s right and I mean, one of the things that i’ve noticed with then voice enabled assistance is i’ve recently been working on a language project, and i’ve been interviewing older people speaking language, but also speaking English. But with a Creole sort of English. And the transcription service is totally hopeless. It does not work. I have to transcribe myself which made me wild because I paid for the transcription. But you know, it makes me annoyed too, because we do get excluded from using some of the technology that’s meant to be for everyone and that needs to be fixed. So, like Daniel
said, once we get through this, as you know, all of us maybe need to turn our mind to some of these other areas where first nations people are in a sense, excluded, and that we need to be included. And how that can happen.
Just on the voice business, because we’re doing the newspaper, but we get quotes obviously from the radio into the same article. So, it was very funny, the other day when we got the first one it was like, one of the quotes was about cultural adoption. Very serious topic in the Torres Strait. And when the transcript came through, like what the heck. And said quibbles is a legal service. We’re talking about information about how to get your cultural adoption recognised, and it came up with something really inappropriate. And I was like wow, it’s almost easier just to do it yourself. Listen to it, take the quotes to it. So, yeah. In that sort of stuff, you kind of need a Creole app to do it, if you know what I’m trying to say – voice generated Creole app that can actually listen to the Creole and then translate it.
Yeah, that’s so true. And that was, I mean, I think we’re sort of laughing but that is a serious point too, because I found the same thing when I was looking at the transcript. There were some things that were rude, could be offensive, so I needed to go through it with a fine tooth comb before I gave it back to the language speakers, because of the cultural issues around some of the terms that were being popped up by Otter or whatever it was. So, yeah. It’s interesting. Lyndon, did you have anything that you want, and then I’ll come back to Daniel.
Dr Lyndon Ormond-Parker:
No, just on the interpretation and getting back to the Covid messaging, you know, in the NT the DAO – the Aboriginal Interpreter Service – was under the pump during Covid, but also the local communities. But there was an expectation that for instance, when they broadcast locally for a couple of hours every morning, that they ended up doing it all themselves. And then you know, because I couldn’t get things through the interpreter service on time, so then you’re expecting the community members that are already overburdened with language interpretation, doing a lot of that work unpaid.
So, I’m glad to see that there’s been a bit of a turnaround in all of this, but also the issues of access to even mobile phones. So, a lot of people ended up going out to the out stations for fear of the spread hitting the townships. And so, everyone dispersed and of course no one’s got satellite phones, very much a lack of communication around the outstations. And so, that was also a major issue, as well, then you know, people were talking about bringing shortwave, long wave radio back as a form of communication, which some of them actually cranked up back at the outstation for communications during the last bush. So, these communication issues are very serious and especially if we’re going into another pandemic phase or you know, a natural disaster, and yet I said yeah, nodding ahead, because I think when we were up at the festival a couple of years ago-, just the fact that you couldn’t necessarily communicate if the tower goes down with one of the islands during a disaster. So, we were I think, First Nations Media were really pushing the disaster management approach and the benefit of first nations media in all these remote locations.
We had a blackout member, we had two days. So if you didn’t have cash you couldn’t go to the shop, you know. That’s the reality, because somebody cut a cord in the Cape, ran over it somewhere in Coen and we were all – I think it was 48 hours, we didn’t have anything, phone and internet.
So, Daniel if you just want to, I think you did you want to add something else and then I’m going to go to Indigo because I realise that we’re nearly out of time and we haven’t heard from her and we just cannot have that, that’s not, we would say ‘good passion’, in the Torres Strat. So, Daniel if you got something sort of great to say, then I’ll go to Indigo to see if she’s got something, and we’re probably out of time.
Dr Daniel Featherston:
Yeah, alright. Thanks, Heron. And you know very quickly, there’s a lot of the online service delivery now that requires people dialling in and being converted into text to leave messages. And so, that’s become a really big issue particularly for people to be able to get that support where they’re having problems with communications. There’s very limited text literacy. So, these services just aren’t working. As part of digital transformation, really need to be targeted more for indigenous communities. I’ll leave you to hand over.
Thank you, that’s probably the shortest thing I’ve ever heard you saying your whole life, Daniel. So, thank you. Indigo, if you’ve just got a comment that you’d like to add before we finish and sort of wrap up.
Dr Indigo Holcombe-James:
Of course, thank you. I’ve been learning so much, it’s been great. The one thing that I have been thinking about, I suppose to go back to those commonwealth community, initially acknowledging how important and necessary they are, but I wonder if they write some sort of broader questions around the circulation…
Oh, you’re freezing Indigo. Have you turned your video off? Because I can still hear you.
Dr Indigo Holcombe-James:
…classic digital inclusion panel.
We we’re doing so well. Sorry, just continue that.
Dr Daniel Featherston:
I think Brett’s saying we’ve lost her.
Oh, Brett. Okay. I can see that. Look, I’m conscious it’s 12:15 and there’s probably another session after us, or lunch or something else. So. yeah. But look, thank you all of those that attended the group. We’ve really enjoyed having you as part of the session in terms of listening to us as first nations people, and also experts, like Daniel and indigo in this area, that are working with us to create some change and opportunities and address challenges. So, thank you so much, and goodbye to everybody, and have a great day, and I think I’m going to hand over to Brett at QUT. Alright, thank you.