In a melding of linguistics and sustainable tourism new avenues have been found for digital technologies to conserve Indigenous culture and promote tourism.

Research to aid conservation of Indigenous culture and promote tourism

Wednesday, 31 May 2017


Using digital technologies to conserve heritage in Indigenous Australian communities through engagement in sustainable tourism is the topic of a paper co-authored by University of Newcastle PhD student Gabrielle McGinnis and Endangered Language Documentation, Theory and Application (ELDTA) research group member Associate Professor Mark Harvey, together with Dr Tamara Young from the Newcastle Business School and Professor Ian Clark from Federation University.

PhD student Gabrielle McInnis

Gabrielle will travel to Mauritius to deliver a talk on the paper at the Building Excellence in Sustainable Tourism Education Network conference in June.

As part of her thesis Gabrielle has worked with the Wagiman community in Pine Creek in the Northern Territory. Associate Professor Harvey, a member of UON’s Centre for 21st Century Humanities, has been working with the Wagiman community to document language and culture since the early 1990s.

“The economy of Pine Creek is highly dependent on tourism. It’s a gateway to Kakadu, but it’s a stop over location so tourists aren’t currently experiencing the great Indigenous knowledge captured there. The current tourism focus is on mining and the history of the railway, ” Gabrielle said.

“Associate Professor Mark Harvey has acquired a large amount of linguistic data from the Pine Creek community. We can see the potential for using this data to help empower the communities through Indigenous tourism at Pine Creek. Using technologies such as digital maps, websites, apps and social media to promote Indigenous culture could not only help conserve knowledge for future generations of Wagiman in the area, but also benefit the local communities and tourism industry for longer-term,” Gabrielle said.

“The Wagiman community has rich Australian Indigenous Biocultural Knowledge (AIBK). During our research the community members expressed interest in integrating Digital AIBK (DAIBK) via videos, websites and apps within Pine Creek’s existing infrastructure rather than in independent tourism ventures,” Associate Professor Harvey said.

“These platforms offer Wagiman community members opportunities for sharing AIBK through storytelling, a way of sharing knowledge that is familiar to elders and other community members,” Harvey remarked. “In our research the Indigenous community members viewed this virtual storytelling as a desirable option for tourism engagement.”

“By using digital technologies in this way the Indigenous culture and language can be maintained for generations to come and the community can also benefit from economic growth through tourism,” Associate Professor Harvey said. “It’s a win-win for all stakeholders.”

Gabrielle is half way through her PhD on conserving the special heritage of Indigenous Australia through tourism and sustainable engagement with Indigenous communities. After completing her Masters in Sustainable Tourism at the New York University, Gabrielle came to Australia in 2014 to complete her PhD.

“I always wanted to come to Australia and do field work. Growing up Steve Irwin was an influential figure of mine. His work in wildlife conservation and community engagement inspired me to do what I do today. When I was in New York I saw the opportunity for this PhD come up and I jumped at it as it covered all my interests including Indigenous communities, plants and animals, field work, digital technologies and tourism” Gabrielle said.