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Frequently Asked Questions

The AIATSIS Collection

  • What is in the AIATSIS Collection?

    The AIATSIS Collection is the world's largest collection dedicated to Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories. It includes published books, journals, and pamphlets, as well as unpublished manuscripts, maps, sound recordings, films and video recordings, photographs, artworks, and objects. AIATSIS calls these collection items.

  • How can I search the Collection?

    You can search for items in the AIATSIS Collection, using Mura, the Collection catalogue or search through records and images for some other media types. 

    Some larger unpublished collections have a finding aid, which is a descriptive listing of what is in a collection of papers, sound recordings, or films and videos. A link to the finding aid is in the catalogue record.

    See our Mura User Guide for further information about how to search for items in the collection.

  • What if I can’t find what I’m looking for in the AIATSIS Collection?

    The AIATSIS Collection is not a complete collection of work authored by or about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and studies. If you cannot find a particular title, try searching Trove to locate the item at your local, state or university library.

  • Can I access collection items at AIATSIS?

    The Stanner Reading Room is located at AIATSIS, Canberra. The majority of published items held in the collection are readily available for public access in the Reading Room. Note that the reading room is currently closed as a precautionary measure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Rare published items may be accessed on request depending on the condition of the item.

    Unpublished items may be subject to access and use conditions. Their catalogue records provide information about these conditions in the Access field. If you want to access unpublished items, you will need to complete an Indemnity form. You may also need to gain permission from depositors, copyright owners or community representatives, which may take some time. We encourage you to contact us before visiting.

  • I can’t visit AIATSIS. Can I get copies of items sent to me?

    A copy of parts of a published item can be sent to you subject to copyright law.

    Copies of unpublished items in the collection may be sent to you depending on the access and use conditions (see below). Please use the

  • Why do some items in the AIATSIS Collection have access and use conditions?

    Items in the AIATSIS Collection may have conditions that mean only some people may view, listen to and/or have a copy of them. There are a number of reasons why. For example, some items:

    • contain culturally sensitive content;
    • are restricted to men or women only;
    • are restricted to specific community groups or families;
    • contain personal information or genealogical information; and/or
    • the depositor or creator of the collection material would like to be informed of and/or approve access to their items.

    For further information please refer to the AIATSIS Access and Use Policy. 

  • How do I ask for access to or copies of items in the Collection?

    You can make a request for access to or get a copy of items in the Collection by completing our online request form. 

    When making a request, we encourage you to send us one of the following:

    Please also tell us the names of the particular people, languages, places or subjects you are interested in.

    Note that fees may apply.

  • Can I borrow items from the Collection?

    Unfortunately, no. The published items in the AIATSIS Collection are reference items which means they cannot be loaned out to the general public.

    If you would like to borrow published items, search Trove to check if you can borrow a copy from your local, state or university library.

    Unpublished items cannot be borrowed but a copy may be provided to you subject to access and use conditions.

    Requests for exhibition loans can be made by sending an email to

  • What is the ROMTIC program?

    Our return of material to Indigenous communities (ROMTIC) program recognises the importance of providing copies of collection items to the communities from which they originated. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians can receive free copies of up to twenty collection items per financial year relating to their cultural heritage or their family. Normal collection copying fees will apply to any further additional copies.
    We also encourage people to check what is in the collection from year to year as new items are added and digitised.

  • What is an ABI catalogue record?

    ABI stands for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Biographical Index. The ABI is an index of personal names that have been published or mentioned in materials held in the AIATSIS print collection. The ABI can be searched via our Collection catalogue, Mura. The index may be useful for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are researching their family history. 

Visiting AIATSIS


Engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

  • Who are the traditional custodians of my area?

    In order to find information about the traditional custodians of a particular area please contact the local area council, local Aboriginal land council or community organisation. Also try searching the Yellow Pages using the keywords ‘Aboriginal’ in the ‘Business type or name’ box and add a place name. Or, try a web search for ‘Aboriginal’ and the place name. You could also try the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations to locate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations within a particular area.

  • Where can I get information about local Aboriginal land councils or Prescribed Body Corporates?

    The Australian Government website has some information and links.

    Extensive information about Prescribed Body Corporates can be found on the PBC website.

  • I would like to engage with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people for my studies or work, can AIATSIS help?

    AIATSIS cannot help with referral services for engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities or individuals. We recommend that people who want to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should get in touch with their local Aboriginal land council or other local Indigenous organisation(s).

  • How do I find and use word(s) in an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander language?

    There are more than 250 Indigenous Australian languages and many more dialects. Each language is unique and specific to a particular area. We recommend that you reach out to your local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language centre or community group, community organisation or land council for advice. AIATSIS is unable to provide advice about the appropriate use of Aboriginal language terms.

    You can search for languages by name or location with our AUSTLANG database which is accessed via Collection online.

    First Languages Australia also has resources about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages.

    Learn more about Australia’s first languages or the language work at AIATSIS.

  • What is the difference between a 'Welcome to Country' and an 'Acknowledgment of Country', and why is it important?

    It is important that those who are on the traditional lands of Australia’s First Peoples are right-minded and cleansed. Welcome to Country rituals go back to when visitors had to wait to be welcomed into a camp or ceremony — sometimes left sitting outside the camp for days until people were ready for them and sure that they would not bring harm.

    Welcomes to Country have become strong features of contemporary Australian life and are often held at the beginning of meetings and events and may include song or dance and other local rituals such as smoking ceremo­nies.

    Welcomes can only be given by the traditional custodians of that Country, or those who are given permission by the traditional owners to do so.

    Acknowledging when you’re on the land of traditional owners is a sign of respect which recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ownership and custodianship of the land, their ancestors and traditions. Both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples can show this form of respect.

    Most areas will have a local Council of Elders, land council or community organisation who can advise about Welcomes to Country.  It’s important for non-Indigenous Australians to recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations have a lot of demands on their time and that access to knowledge may need to be paid for.

Family history

  • How can I get birth, death or marriage certificates of family members?

    We recommend that you contact the Births, Deaths and Marriages registry for the state or territory that your family lived in.  See further information about Birth, Death and Marriage records.

  • How do I obtain a certificate of proof or confirmation of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander heritage?

    AIATSIS does not ask you to provide a letter of confirmation to identify as an Indigenous person in order to access our services. However, you may be asked to provide proof or confirmation of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander heritage when applying for Indigenous-specific services or programs.

    Government agencies and community organisations usually accept three ‘working criteria’ as confirmation of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage:

    • Being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent.
    • Identifying as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person.
    • Being accepted as such by the community in which you live or formerly lived.

    See Proof of Aboriginality

  • I’m interested in DNA testing for confirming Aboriginality.

    AIATSIS does not provide such a test. You may wish to read the section on Genetic testing and Aboriginality on the Australian Law Reform Commission website for information about using DNA testing for such a purpose.

  • Can AIATSIS research my family for me?

    The AIATSIS family history team can assist people who are looking for information about their families by providing family history research assistance, access to information, skills and knowledge. Our collections include information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals, families, communities and places. Our family history team can help you find material in our collection and also in other collections across Australia. For further information please see Family history

Indigenous Research Exchange

  • What is the Indigenous Research Exchange grant program?

    AIATSIS is committed to ensuring greater involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in setting research priorities, leading research projects and determining the appropriate collection and use of data about communities. The Indigenous Research Exchange (the Exchange) Grant Program will:

    • support high quality impactful Indigenous led research 
    • improve the accessibility and availability of quality robust research and evidence based solutions
    • support organisations (outside of research bodies) to participate in research activities that will have relevance and impact beyond the community and project
  • What are the 2020-21 Indigenous Research Exchange Grant priorities?

    The AIATSIS Indigenous Research Exchange Advisory Board (the Advisory Board) provides strategic guidance to the Grants Program and ensures the outcomes and objectives are achieved. Funding will only be provided to projects that are consistent with the published priorities for the particular year of funding or targeted round.


  • What is an open round grant opportunity?

    Participation in the annual open competitive grant opportunity is available to all eligible organisations wanting to deliver Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander led projects that are aligned with the Exchange program objectives and priorities established by AIATSIS. All applications are given a minimum of two independent assessments and scored against each of the three assessment criteria, with applications then ranked in order of merit.

  • What is a targeted round grant opportunity?

    Participation in the targeted round grant opportunity is a competitive grant opportunity (called ‘Targeted Round’) for eligible organisations who can address a particular identified research need. 

    Targeted rounds will be advertised on the AIATSIS website and through other communication channels.

  • What if my project is impacted by COVID-19?

    As the advice received by the Australian Government's Department of Health changes, the Indigenous Research Exchange funding grant rounds and funded projects will continue as planned. Any changes to the grants program as a result of COVID-19 will be posted on our website

    If you have any concerns during the application process or whilst your approved project is being undertaken, please contact the Exchange team to discuss:

  • If I am applying for funding under an auspicing arrangement do I need a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the auspicing organisation?

    When applying for Exchange grant funding through an auspicing arrangement both parties should consider developing an MOU that clearly sets out the expectations for both parties. This will alleviate any confusion and will ensure a smooth delivery of the project.

  • How should I demonstrate evidence of community support?

    All projects must be led by and have the support of the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait peoples to undertake the proposed project. You should consider how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can lead, be involved in the governance, planning and delivery of the project, as well as participating in the project. We expect to see evidence of community support, for example through letters from community representatives

    If the applicant organisation is a non-Indigenous organisation, letters of support should also outline how the author and/or organisation they represent has been engaged with the planning and will continue to be engaged with over the life of the project.

    When your project is assessed, the level of community support for your project will be taken into consideration as well as the scope and scale of the project. If your project will be delivered in multiple communities, you should provide evidence that all participating communities support the project.

    Some examples of organisations you might seek support from include:

    • Native Title and Traditional Owner organisations 
    • Elders Councils 
    • Relevant local Aboriginal corporations that work in the area of the project such as Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations, cultural and arts centres, resource agencies, reference groups, research centres
    • Other non-government agencies such as those working with young people, employment, housing, substance abuse, justice issues
    • Local Aboriginal Land Councils 
    • Aboriginal Local government organisations
  • How will my application be assessed? 

    Applications are assessed against criteria outlined in Section 4, under the program guidelines. Applications are rated based on the weighting given to each criterion outlined below. The amount of detail and supporting evidence you provide in your application should be relative to the project size, complexity and grant amount requested.

    Take the time to carefully read the program guidelines to ensure your application clearly describes the project, answers the questions, and addresses the selection criteria and program outcomes outlined in the program guidelines. The three assessment criteria are as follows:

    1. Indigenous leadership, governance and collaboration
    2. Project quality
    3. Impact and contribution
  • Who can I contact for help regarding my SmartyGrants application?

    In the first instance you should email the Exchange team or phone (02) 6246 1603 for any advice about the Exchange funding grant program or if you have questions about submitting a grant application.

    If your enquiry is a technical IT SmartyGrants system issue that we are unable to assist with, then your issue will be referred to the SmartyGrants help desk for assistance.

  • How do I submit a grant application?

    Applications (including all supporting documentation) must be submitted using SmartyGrants, an online grant management system.

    When you have submitted your application, you will receive an automated message advising you that we have received your application.

    If you do not receive this message please contact the Exchange team as soon as possible.

  • Can I submit a late application?

    Applications, including supporting documentation must be submitted via SmartyGrants on or before the due date. No late applications will be considered. 

  • How will my application be assessed?

    Eligible applications will be considered through an external assessment process. An independent expert panel will assess your application against each of the three assessment criteria. 

    • See assessment criteria at 4.5 in the grant funding guidelines.  

    Your application will be considered on its merits, based on:

    • how well it meets the criteria 
    • how it compares to other applications 
    • whether it provides value for money. 
  • When will I know if my application has been successful?

    We anticipate notifying all applicants of the outcome of their application by mid December 2020. You will receive an email advising the outcome of your application.  

  • How can I find out why my application was not successful?

    If your application is not successful you will be formally advised and at the same time, you will be invited to seek more detailed feedback.

  • What happens if only part of our funding request is approved?

    It is possible that the AIATSIS CEO, as the delegate, may approve partial funding based on the assessors feedback. If this happens, we will work with your organisation to revise the project objectives, deliverables and budget before finalising your funding agreement.

  • Does my project have to be approved by the AIATSIS Research Ethics Committee?

    All applications supported for funding will require ethical review by the AIATSIS Research Ethics Committee (REC) before the project begins. Release of funds will be dependent on ethical approval.  

Research Ethics