For 60 years, Tranby College has been a place of reform, social change and impact for Aboriginal Australians. Within its walls are some of Australia’s most important documents relating to Indigenous vocational training and the Indigenous civil rights movement. Now, those resources are being digitised and turned into a historic archive that’s set to be accessible by all Australians.
Tranby National Indigenous Adult Education & Training (formerly Tranby Aboriginal College) was founded as the vocational education arm of the Cooperative for Aborigines Ltd in 1957. This makes it the oldest Indigenous organisation of its kind in Australia. And, in the latter half of the 20th century, it became a significant focal point for social activism during Australia’s civil rights movement.
Long before the internet and digitisation, and during a time when public and state libraries could feel alienating, Tranby’s library was a resource access centre for information about, for and by Indigenous Australians.
Indeed, under the supervision of Reverend Alf Clint, through the Australian Board of Missions, Tranby served as the centre for social justice and political action via education and information access.
As a result, the library has become a collection and a creative space for thinking and changing. It holds the interests, ideals and challenges of the past and will continue to empower Tranby students into the future.
We know education outcomes improve in line with better access to information. Tools like a library are invaluable assets to this end. What makes Tranby unique is that it holds its own history; every aged pamphlet, every faded poster. With age comes wisdom and Tranby has a wealth of wisdom and experience stored physically in its collections just waiting to be utilised. Tranby though, as a vocational education and training organisation, does not receive any allocated funding for its library and archive collections.
Every year there are fewer and fewer grants to support cultural heritage digitisation on any scale to assist in the preservation of collections. What makes it more difficult for Tranby is that its cultural heritage is not rock art, nor a pre-invasion heritage site, it does not belong in a museum (which also would be culturally insensitive to past donors of significant material), is not going to be available for complete open access, and it reveals a challenging narrative of independent social activism and self-sufficiency.
It is part of the history of the place that if you need to get things going you find a way with volunteers and other social causes as allies.
Tranby’s students in the first summer school of 1957 to 1958 were not government funded. They came from all across Australia to study with Trade Union funded scholarships to an Australian Board of Missions funded house and cooperative school.
The lessons in how to run a cooperative gave students and their communities an alternative to living on the missions, and to work for rations. Tranby’s students connected and shared stories and came up with solutions to forced perpetual disadvantage. Education was key and many students began building bridges from vocational training to academia.
This is the secret hiding in Tranby’s library and archive collections – how to empower students to look beyond what is thrust upon them, dispelling misinformation, finding stolen families, uncovering forgotten history of social justice successes.
And that’s where UTS comes in. Last August, Tranby approached Shopfront and Jumbunna to support our digitisation project. Since then, Emily Virgona has been managing the project as our volunteer research coordinator.
By working together, we’re hoping to reveal fresh strategies to ‘close the gap’ in education outcomes. Each year, the Office of the Prime Minister releases a report which details the successes and shortcomings of Indigenous education and implies investment in improving education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. But successive governments have failed to do anything substantial.
As such, universities have an obligation to support social justice issues like Indigenous education and cultural heritage. After all, it’s the universities that will benefit from the new bright Tranby graduate who has found their thirst for knowledge in their library and is empowered by the past preserved in their archive. These collections are being prepared for digitisation for this exact purpose – to serve as resources for students, for storytelling and as keeping places.
This project was undertaken through UTS Shopfront at the Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion and Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research. It was supervised by Michael Olsson in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.