Mukurtu’s Creation Story

During the Mukurtu webinar held on September 24, 2014, I was introduced to Mukurtu on a more personal level. Kim Christen Withey, the creator of Mukurtu, and Alex Merrill, who assisted in the creation of Mukurtu 1.0 were guest speakers during this episode. It was great to hear their personal stories first-hand, giving me a deeper understanding as to the drive of the project as a whole.

Mukurtu, as I have noted in a previous post, was originally created as a one-time archival project for one specific community residing in Central Australia. In 1995, Kim Christen Withey began working with the Warumungu people in order to help them create a digital archive meant to house sensitive cultural materials in a way that adhered to their cultural protocols.

Kim told her story of how the Warumungu people were building a cultural center and were receiving mostly CDs containing digitized versions of Warumungu objects. These objects had been removed from the community and were being held in museums and archives, some of which were thousands of kilometers away. The community wanted a way to view these objects while adhering to their community, cultural protocols. In talking about the community, Kim said, “Protocols already function in a very real way offline every single day the way you interact with people”, and people in the community were saying, “How do we make it work on that (pointing to the laptop)?”And so, the seed for the Mukurtu we now know and the version to come in January was planted.

Mukurtu CMS came about after version 1.0 was created because it was apparent that there was a strong need for a CMS (content management system). This need became apparent when Kim went on the conference circuit to talk about the Mukurtu project. She said “my phone in my office starting ringing off the hook with people asking how they could get it” – at first, she thought they can’t and then began thinking of how to make it possible.

Enter Alex Merrill. Alex works with Kim on the Mukurtu project. He had been interested in history in a way that strayed from what he calls “big history”. He said, “History, as you look backward is…you look through a lens. Where that current lens is, it can look different at different times, right, and bringing in this traditional knowledge from people who aren’t part of the ‘western European scholarly record’ gives a more complete view in my mind, and so when these communities share this back with institutions, this collaborative stewardship, it makes me happy.”

After being able to hear both Kim Christen Withey and Alex Merrill talk about the paths that led them to what is happening now with Mukurtu, I understand that Mukurtu is built on a foundation of advocating for the rights of Indigenous groups to be able to be stewards of their own histories and cultures.