Reflection – Ea La Wamanbila exhibition



During Freda’s internship at Special Collections in 2022 she collaborated with the team to design and curate the exhibition ‘Ea La Wamanbila’, that was held during September – October 2022 to encourage conversation on the colonial lens that has been imposed on Aboriginal histories, knowledges, culture, and intellect.


The primary aim of this exhibition was to begin the process of making the archival material more culturally appropriate, findable and accessible for First Nations at the university and within community.  The exhibition sought engagement through the audience by facilitating a Right of Reply on the Indigenous content in the exhibition, this acknowledges archives can be intimidating for First Nations people, that content can be culturally unsafe and inaccessible and that there should be cultural support for First Nations communities and students who would like to begin engaging in Aboriginal collections.

Engaging in an Indigenous led approach ensures that traditional knowledge systems are being represented, Indigenous voices are being elevated, promotes discussion for truth-reading, listening and healing through the use of written engagement that can be anonymous or not.

Fred McGrady (Special Collections, Auchmuty Library University of Newcastle) 2022


The Decolonising Collections Project was Indigenous led to ensure that Aboriginal voices and cultural safety were present throughout the exhibition, the internship focused on the curation of an exhibition that features Indigenous collections, which was made possible through teamwork in planning, curating, idea creation, and material digitalisation. The internship helped to develop new approaches to interacting with Indigenous content and how to further involve university students, guests and academics with materials from with special collections.

Fred McGrady (Special Collections, Auchmuty Library University of Newcastle) 2022
Fred McGrady (Special Collections, Auchmuty Library University of Newcastle) 2022
Fred McGrady (Special Collections, Auchmuty Library University of Newcastle) 2022

Freda reflects here on her internship at Special Collections

My internship with the Special Collections team focused on curating an exhibition that highlighted the Indigenous collection as well as providing another opportunity for students, academic staff, staff, others, and especially Indigenous students to interact with the archives. Ea La Wamanbila sparked conversation among the Special Collections team (those who helped curate), prompting me to develop personal responses within the exhibition as well as ways to encourage the audience to do the same. This aided in the development of opportunities to upskill, build a strong network within the library, and broaden my career options for future opportunities.

During my internship, I selected, wrote about, presented, scanned, and developed ideas for Indigenous material, as well as collaborated with the Special Collections team to curate an exhibition focusing on presenting the Special Collections Indigenous collections within the archives. This was initially intimidating because I had never worked with Special Collections before, and I had no experience in curation, so this internship was very engaging and exciting in the sense that everything was new and unfamiliar to me. The entire internship was focused on learning and listening, so the outcome was a result of everyone’s collaboration in giving and adapting to everyone’s ideas and knowledge about pieces in the collections – doing so has provided different team engagement, particularly working within a small team, using different software to communicate, organising catch ups, teams messaging/calling were ways that I upskilled in communication working with a team. Creating blog posts, handling rare books, organising an exhibition, using the mapping machine, digitising collections, 3D scanning, and book scanning were just a few of the skills I picked up during my internship. This experience will help not only my employability, but also how I will engage with Indigenous history and archives, how to hold and educate others on the Indigenous collections in an educational manner, and hopefully change people’s perceptions of archives and how they can engage in ways that are beneficial to degrees, work, school, and general interest.

Now that I have this internship on my resume, my experience here at Special Collections has contributed to my employability and broadening my career path interest and employability in spaces such as museums/galleries and archives. This is extremely rewarding to know that there are now pathways available to me as a result of my upskilling and development of new skills, as well as because I am aware of the opportunities available. Everyone on the Special Collections team was extremely helpful, and it was also nice to have another intern in the office, so I did not feel completely alone as an intern. Being right next to those I was working with made networking much easier, as well as reaching out for support and clarification on any work I was unsure about. So, as I did not have a lot of experience working in an office prior to the internship, the office experience really made a difference in how I engaged throughout my internship with my supervisor, other colleagues, and throughout the development of the exhibition, which has helped me with knowing about a functional, supportive, and engaging work environment. Moving forward, I will recommend the library as an intern or potential job to my friends who are also Uni students. Having worked in the library, particularly as a Uni student, really encourages going to the library for academic support as well as finding resources to use for assessments and coming to the library staff for support as well. As an Indigenous student, knowing that there is an Indigenous staff member in the library has changed how I interact with the library and the staff, and hopefully now that the exhibition is up, any Indigenous students will look to Wollotuka and the library for support.

Now that I have completed an internship with the library and gained and upskilled transferrable skills, I hope that my internship and the exhibition contribute to the engagement of the Special Collections, changing the perspective on its materials and also the ways the collections can be engaged with, whether that is having an exhibition of items, having work shown of what interns have done, or anything that I have completed to simply encourage Indigenous students to come and look at it. Hopefully, it has contributed to the cultural safety within the library and comfortability. Being able to put in work, ideas, and development on this such as how to present the materials and having conversations with experts within curation and seeing the outcome of challenging work is incredibly rewarding and great to see the final output come together and to see people interact with such important items was rewarding.

Finally, as my internship draws to a close, I am able to reflect on, share with the other interns and staff about my accomplishments and what I have been doing throughout my internship, as well as learn about what others have done in theirs, which is interesting and reminds me how much work is involved within the libraries. I am now able to leave this internship having learned from myself and others – listening was such an important part of this internship and exhibition because everyone came with their own knowledge, ideas, and cultural knowledge I am more informed about my own culture, my people, and our history This helped not only to highlight what the Special Collections have, but also to educate me on the broadness of Aboriginal affairs and have a much more academic view on Aboriginal affairs as well as my cultural lived experiences.

I hope that this encourages Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to engage in collections, to put their voices into colonised history on our people and history, and to understand that their voices are important, that their knowledge of their culture is important, and that they are smart individuals capable of achieving anything…like doing an internship with the library.

Freda McGrady – Intern Special Collections 2022.


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