Flight of Ducks - Interviews
  1. 2007-08-03 Don Jacobs Imaginary interview for The Authentic Dissertation: Alternative Ways of Knowing, Research and Representation
  2. 1999-09-22 Sheila McCarthy seeking material for an honours thesis
  3. 1999-03-15 Telematics Interview Introduction [Quicktime Movie 155 Meg]
  4. 1999-03-15 Telematics Interview part 1 [Quicktime Movie 113 Meg]
  5. 1999-03-15 Telematics Interview part 2 [Quicktime Movie 53 Meg]
  6. 1999-03-15 Telematics Interview part 3 [Quicktime Movie 163 Meg]
  7. 1997-11-14 Andrew Yee seeking material for an RMIT press release
  8. 1997-11-09 Felix Hude for the On-line Multimedia Project (OMP)
  9. 1997-06-16 Sarah Hamid Vancouver - Victoria BC


Thanks for the opportunity to reflect on these issues.
You're right - they're not dirty at all - nor are my replies.
I'm always a little uneasy when I have to step out of the personal space
email seems to encourage.

For this reason, my intention is to imagine you're right here beside me.
We have links by way of example, or, where I have gone into more detail elsewhere.
I've taken the liberty of re-arranging the order of your questions.
Some are answered by others.
I'll have another look tomorrow - so consider this a draft response.


It's hard to say when this project began.
Perhaps it was in 1933
when my father began writing his impressions of his trip to central Australia.
The press reporters and photographers present, when the Ghan left Adelaide,
may have contributed to the sense of resolve (even occasion) that is evident in his writing.
But he was certainly not a diarist , and the flimsy notepad he used, points to a last minute decision
to record the journey as text.

Why would anyone keep a record unless an audience was anticipated?
Why would he begin to copy it out in pen unless he intended it to be read?
Why would he take photographs and 16 mm movies if they were not intended to be seen?

In a sense, the sheer force of the existence of historical material means that sooner or later it will out.
All families have stuff like this, in boxes, in sheds, in cupboards and drawers.
Stuff left behind by their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and children who are on the move
in and out of life.
Some of this stuff survives - some doesn't.
Some people think it shouldn't.


During WW2 a bushfire destroyed the 16 mm films he had taken.
I've no way of knowing what photographs were lost
or if it claimed the paintings and drawings by Arthur Murch.

My brother and sister and I were also agents of destruction.
Our interest began when we were very young.
I was the youngest.
The objects he had collected included spears, shields, boomerangs, nulla nullas, bull-roarers and tjurunga
We were allowed to play with them without restriction and sometimes took them to school.
Boomerangs and bull-roarers broke - things were lost.
My sister speaks of necklaces and dilly bags that I never saw.

But somehow this interest was kindled by the objects themselves.
In our individual ways we became experts in aboriginal lore and practice.
and created own stories where and when they were required.


We all grow up eventually.
The remaining objects were left to time, to garage rafters, dust and white ants.
The journal remained unseen, unknown.

I guess there comes a time when children sense their parents mortality and go looking for value in the past.
They selfishly ransack memories for fragments that might prove useful or hold them over - just in case.
We all become minor historians
but without a sense of the narrative threads that often bind ideas and lives together
we delve at random looking for evidence of little more than our own existence.

I would say that it was the Vogel Literary Award that started me off on the `The Flight of Ducks'
- the prospect of winning a $10,000.00 prize.
I decided to write a novel and submit it before I was 35 (the cut off date).
I wrote day and night for 7 months in a tiny room in Mudgee N.S.W. that had once been a prison cell.
I extracted from the shallows of my imagination - a layered journey
about an expedition into central Australia - part Voss - part of my own journey
and curiously, parts that were full of details of my father's journey.
(I had never seen his journal).

When it was finished, (I did not win any prize) I dismissed the novel just as my father had dismissed his journal - as juvenilia.

about that time,
he called in to see me on his way back from central Australia
where he had been completing a longer and more elaborate journey of the spirit.
A journey I knew little or cared nothing about, until years after his death.


I told him about my story.
He told me about the existence of his journal.

Sensing its historical importance,
my sister and I encouraged him to revisit the journey and type it out.
Neither of us took much notice of the result
except that my sister took the typed pages to a book publisher (who showed little interest)
and, as his eyesight began to fail,
I made a tape recording of him describing the content of the photographs that were pasted into an album.
I then went to live in Italy for a few years and we communicated by audio tape.

Following his death in 1990 I found amongst his papers
various versions of the original journal


At first, I felt a responsibility to put the material together for family consumption.
As I began to compare the versions I was surprised to find how different they were
and how little they fitted my own memory of his stories.

In 1991 I bought a computer and spent several years creating an annotated
presentation of the journals
only to lose all this work through a corrupted hard-drive.

It seemed to me that this story was becoming as much about the fragility of memory
as it was about central Australia
and the more I found out about central Australia
the more I began to realise that this was an imaginary place
constructed in the minds of almost everyone I spoke to.
This was a deeply layered story and clearly one that would be difficult to tell in plain text.

In 1994, I began looking for a different means of presentation.
Way back then, CD-ROM was being hailed as the new medium
and games like Myst were the gee-wiz ooh-ah standard.
The Keating Government was throwing money at CD-ROM projects
and it seemed like every fly-by-night video production house was reinventing itself as a CD-ROM maker.
The simplest way to get in on the action was to become a student.
I found myself enrolled in the Animation Department at RMIT.


It was soon obvious that CD-ROM was a highly platform dependent slice of ephemeral storage media.
Because I'd lost so much work to unstable hardware,
I was loath to waste more time and effort on something that would not last.
The internet seemed like a much better environment to work in.
Most attractive was that it was simple to use and not platform or software dependent.

At that early stage I was motivated by the relief of not having to work with proprietary software.
I was not (and still am not) a computer person.
DOS drove me to utter distraction and as a result I had no faith in Microsoft Word or Windows.
I was not building a documentary at all.
I was just looking for a place where I could let the material shape itself.
Some of my background was in theatre where what `works' usually comes from within the text
if you can let it reveal itself.

What I also liked about the World Wide Web (as it was then known)
was the way it's incremental quality
suited the way I've always worked with my hands.
I spent years as a stone mason and then as a woodworker.
I felt that I could shape each screen almost as one would a piece of wood or stone.
I still work that way - going back and back - twisting, bending, re-arranging - always tinkering.
I still thought it might end up on CD - but the web was a way I could play with linkages and relationships.
I worked away scanning and shaping.

Then someone spoke back to me - through the screen - as it were.
I had the material on-line - not because I wanted people to look at it or respond to it
but because I was using the internet as a place to put it
- in case the computer crashed and I lost it.
For me it was just a place to work
I had little understanding or expectation that anyone else would find it .

These unsolicited responses to the material grew and grew
and began to change my perception of it and of what I was doing.
At first, of course, most of the responses were process, rather than content orientated.
It took me several years to actually get the content to a stage where I could shape it.
As the construction of the site grew into a work,
I had to invent ways of managing so many screens
and ways of managing content (such as the email) that I had never expected to become part of the work.
the responses helped shape my perceptions of what the material was actually about.

The greatest change/development came when I began to visit the content
as if I was part of its audience.
At that point,
I was able to stand far enough back to realise that I was travelling through a datascape
in the same way that my father had travelled through a landscape
and that the conventions of writing for this medium were, in fact, very similar to those of the travel journal.

I am the audience - and I still go on excursions into this datascape.

I'm also a bit dim witted and a fairly slow learner,
very gradually, three areas of interest (themes) have emerged as a result of this journey.
They are interrelated
and are articulated in the three evolving `papers' that became a body of academic writing
based on the work.
They were censored by RMIT University in 1997 and examined in the U.S.A . as a Ph.D. in 1998.


The next stage was a kind of mop up and consolidation where my interest in metadata
was the primary focus of activity.
Since 1998, I have had the growing and unsettling awareness that the web was rapidly maturing
and (in its current form) becoming obsolete.
XML appears to allow for differing outputs
and works like `The Flight of Ducks' will soon (I hope) be free of desktop computers
Technically there is little problem - but conceptually this is very challenging.
I'm knee deep in these issues right now.
So much so, that the live work often looks as though it is being neglected.

A most interesting phenomenon is when I give the work some attention
and update things - responses increase.
If I do nothing - responses decline.
Others have noted this in their own sites - I can't explain it.


I mentioned the animation department earlier
There is probably more to say about this.
It's not so much that animation is an expression of documentary
but that it's a fairly accurate description of the process of working with digital material.
Animation not only refers to giving it life - making it compelling
but to the way that fragments are composed and merged together to create meaning.


On the other hand, if by this question, you are interested in the application
of a type of subject genre
then I guess the term `documentary' refers to patterns of storytelling
that are readily understood by audiences.

The term `documentary' was first applied to `The Flight of Ducks'
out of a need to make the work more widely accessible
and to try (in vain) to tap into some of the film (even CD-ROM) development money that was available.
However, `The Flight of Ducks' did not (and still does not) fit into easily into categories
such as adventure, ethnographic, biography or the agonising, infotainment. People and organisations certainly feel more comfortable if they can classify things
but I have to say,
this way of working still seems outside the paradigms of what I understand
to be film or CD-ROM based documentary making.

Part of the problem is the incremental and organic way that works can and do grow and mutate in a networked environment.
I've described this in one of the `papers' as the need to construct a contextual universe.
Perhaps it's just part of the self referential evolving quality of this medium.



Overall, my take on this is that the notion of `documentary' is an artefact of a film or object based funding model
in which, from the moment of conception, all actions are directed towards the vortex of completion.
Even if it takes years and years to make such an object.
In a networked environment the opposite seems to apply and the vortex is inverted.
All actions tend to expand the work towards subsuming every other work.

But I guess there are always limits to growth.
I hope so - because in a sense `The Flight of Ducks' has become a monster
that demands more of me and my time and brain than I can give.

Sometimes I have to do something else for a while - like feed my family.
It scares me to think that this is really not something else at all.
Even my employment is now embedded in the work.
When I think of how many people I've met and places I've been as a result of this work
I ...gulp! feel that I have become the work myself.

Stepping away from the mirror,
`The Flight of Ducks' performs all the four functions you cite in Question 9
but I can't put them in any order.

In addition, I would say that it acts as proliferating organism,
a preservation vehicle with an open window
into intercultural relations and negotiations surrounding the telling of history in a networked environment.
People talk back through this window in passing.
You're one of them.


I don't mind what it's called.
Dog's breakfast might be the most accurate.
But if the term documentary gives it credibility and invites
thoughtful responses then it's doing a good job.


No - the shortage of models for how to work (and behave) in a networked environment
may be responsible for the need to create a contextual universe
in which to construct my own reality (see above).
Your questions and this contact are as much a part of the work
as its, so called, content.
These fleeting contacts are now the substance of the work.

Even now, as I write, I'm pretending that I am talking to you alone.
Who or what are you, other than some incomplete entity
that I have constructed in my imagination?
I have only a few lines of your text - no face - no hands - no feet - no voice.
You flatter me with your attention
I give you time and what I believe may be of value to you.
Why? I don't know.
Will it be of any use? I don't know.
It has a momentum of its own.
I have become the servant not the master.


I censor nothing.
However, propriety (good manners) demands that
those things which are confidential or private are protected from public access but, like memory itself, they do reside within the recesses of the work
to be carried into the future
where, one day, they may be discovered/uncovered.


As for my own behaviour,
I sometimes groan with the embarrassment of my own reflection.
The Arabs say that if a camel should see its own hump it would surely fall over.
So I try not to beat myself up over it.


Good question.
My best expression of this is in:



I believe funding (as we know it) often creates mediocre work
because committees by definition are incapable of vision.
I once received a grant of $500.00 towards the development
of one area of `The Flight of Ducks'.
That area is the most unsatisfactory.
I was fortunate that the amount was so small
because the benefit was not in the money
but in the interest shown in the project.

If we can learn from the damage funding has done
to the dignity and self respect of Aboriginal people
we can see that funding is actually a very effective instrument of oppression.


Time is the great imperative.
Time that passes too quickly.
Time that makes things appear still when they are moving.
Time to learn how to make changes.
Time to think.
Time to play.

Interview with Andrew Yee

Can you please assist me by answering the following questions for the release:

I will do my best - but if you are not web literate and have no access to the web you will have no idea what I am talking about or means of finding out. I apologise now - because I don't want to appear impatient here - but the questions you have asked, lead me to believe you are not the right person to put this together. Correct me if I'm wrong.

If what I say irritates you - then go to the bottom where I have put some resources to make your job easier.

How old are you?


Which department?

Dept. of Visual Communication: Animation and Interactive Mulitmedia

What is your field of interest?

The World Wide Web as a medium of expesssion and vehicle for digital preservation.

What are your immediate plans after your PhD?

I expect to be unemployed - so I will try to find work as a bricklayer.

Are you excited about being a recipient of the award?

Oh yes! I am humbled and honoured to be the first recipient of such a prestigious award. All that is lacking is a wider understanding of the medium I am working in.

Can you tell me a bit about the Premier's Gold Award you collected last year - or you you could just email me any media coverage you received on last year on the award.

The Premier's Gold award was an International award for the Best Multimedia Product (it was shared with a commercial CD-ROM work).

I received no media coverage at all because there was/is no media understanding of the size, scope and content of the work nor any means (other than the World Wide Web) of finding out. Early days you see.

The site also gratefully accepted an ATOM award for the best Australian On-line Production.

Tell me something about your website with Beam Software (You can just email me the info if possible)

This is what I mean by lack of understanding: I have absolutely nothing to do with Beam software not would I expect to. We could not be further apart in our approach and outcome. Beam had a budget of over $1 million for the work with which I shared the award. I had no budget or funding at all. The work they made was a CD-ROM which is a closed work - it was something you can put in a box. You can't put a web work in box. Actually, CD-ROMs are a redundant and ephemeral form of storage media. They don't work, are platform and software dependent, expensive - and from my perspective a complete waste of time. The 1997 winner of this award (just announced) was in the UK where a paid staff of 150 worked on the project for 3 years.

You have to understand that this new medium of the World Wide Web is a medium in which anyone can tell a story. Because it is so simple and cheap to use it is more like a conversation than a fixed idea. This is because, unlike closed media such as book, film, video or CD-ROM, people can and do talk back. This means that building a web work is more like building a living breathing proliferating organism. It is not `product' - it is more like `service'. In this sense I have become the servant of the work. `The Flight of Ducks' (that's its title) changes every day because other people influence what happens to it and shape its ideas. It grows incrementally and mutates constantly.

One of the complex and difficult questions I asked several years ago was how to archive such a work. What do we do with digital work like this? What does RMIT do with a PhD on-line containing live academic discourse which in the real world is changing and evolving every day? In 1995 few people had any interest in such questions because few people had any idea what I was talking about. Today there is a little more interest.

In 1996 `The Flight of Ducks' was identified by the National Library of Australia as a work of national significance. It was to be used as a pilot project for their digital preservation project PANDORA. Since then I have been working closely with the National Library and with Cinemedia on the development of preservation strategies and metadata formats which would allow such a work to be archived. Last week this archive went on-line. This is a major achievement. The challenge now is to integrate such an archive with other libraries including that of RMIT.

This will be a first for RMIT (perhaps a world first) - a PhD on-line. However, it is also the tail wagging the dog because it will require that some of the policies of the Higher Degrees Committee are brought up to date. (see FOD0263.html)

`The Flight of Ducks' is not a tame site. It is a dangerous uncomfortable work which tackles extremely complex and difficult issues concerning privacy, Aboriginal representation on-line and the very notion of history and who can tell it. You yourself have now become part of the site and have changed it. Both your ignorance and my impatience are on display. This is the nature of electronic conversation - this is its danger - our humanity - do you understand?

Of course not. You have a job to do - you're not actually interested in all this stuff - you just need some words. There are 2 places which might make things easier.

A general description of the site is at FOD0292.html
Hyperlinked interviews with little text grabs are at FOD0057.html

In short, I'd appreciate any information you can supply on yourself that might make you an interesting topic for the media.

I am not an interesting topic at all but `The Flight of Ducks' is a story in itself which shows what it is telling, does what it says, displays its own making, reflects its own action.

Sorry to be so difficult.

Questions from Felix Hude about narrative structure

Reply to Felix Sun Nov 9 Some of these are big questions so I have included links to the context from which the answers are drawn.

Short description of your site.

Part history, part novel, part data-base, part diary, part conversation, part museum, part pilot, part poem, part shed.

What was the original purpose of the site.

After my father's death in 1990 I extracted from his belongings a collection of artefacts, journals and several hundred photographs relating to a camel expedition into Central Australia in 1933. Some of the rarest artefacts (secret stone tjurunga) were missing. The journal was barely legible and many of the surviving negatives, which had been stored in rusty cigarette tins for 57 years, had deteriorated.

What to do with this stuff? My thinking moved from book to CD_ROM to the World Wide Web as a repository for this collection. Because it is now in a surrogate digital form it needed a medium which was flexible enough to carry digital material into the future.

What originaly was the story you wished to tell?

The Flight of Ducks began with a comparison of the original pencil version of the 1933 journal with that of a contemporary but incomplete copy in pen and a much later and extended type written version. My aim (as best I remember) had been to produce a kind of annotated record of the variants.

How have you found digital text differs from page text, both in the dramatic content and the physical structure of it on the Web.

At a binary level, all representations of text are abstracted forms of electronic coding - same as images. There are at least seven different types of text used in The Flight of Ducks if you want to make distinctions you can look at them from the perspective of their original purpose, they fall into three distinct (but sometimes overlapping) categories:

Paper based text: handwritten text in pencil, pen and typewriter.
Screen based text: encoding tags, hypertext, email, metadata.
Printable text: book-like text, scholarly expanatory text (like this).

To answer the first part of the question one would have to consider the poetics of the screen space.

What drives your story? Character, action, mood - mystery or something else?

Perhaps taboo. It is a journey of discovery for me. It is about getting as close as I can to areas I find uncomfortable and sometimes extremely personal. For other people I'm not sure.

How do people construct meaning in FOD?

I wish I knew but I don't think there is a single answer. I think people take what they need - like I do. Sometimes they return again. From the messages I receive I get the impression that most people dash in and dash out again (per normal). From a narrative point of view, the fragmented content probably suits the fragmented visits. The story actually spans a lifetime and can be traced through the site by filling in the gaps but only a few people that I know of have taken the time to construct this story.

What motifs and metaphors have you used? Why? How have these changed as the site has grown?

The motifs are self explanatory. They are all drawn from the the content or from the wreckage of memory. There is nothing new in the idea that the structure of a work should reflect the nature of its content; that form conveys meaning. The Flight of Ducks shows what it is telling, does what it says, displays its own making, reflects its own action. Ideas arrive - so I try them out - see if they `work' - often they don't. The term works comes from drama, from theatre, from enactment, from engagement. It involves recognition. It relies on an intuitive sense of the fitness of the part within the whole. It is difficult to define. I think the Spanish call it duende. It is a resonating feeling of connectedness and of integrated wholeness. It comes from behind, tingling the spine or the hairs on your neck. It comes from the discipline of maintaining a unified conception. It comes through tenacity. It is true to itself and is hard to find.

What have you found has been the most popular aspects of the site?

I am told they like the flying ducks.

Has the digital medium allowed people to engage in a way that the traditional text medium hasn't?

ATTENTION: Working at Yuendumu in Warlpiri Media, we are surprised and shocked to find this site without consultation.

Have you used any traditional narrative structure (eg. 3 act) in FOD? How have you made it hang together in a dramatic sense?

Some of it doesn't hang together at all. When I said at the beginning that it was part shed. I meant that there are parts of the The Flight of Ducks that I don't know what to do with yet or haven't got around to yet. Like the stuff from my retracement in 1996. I'm not happy with the form it is in at all. The luxury of this medium is that it doesn't matter. I'll get around to it one day. Until then, anyone can rummage around in it and even carry it away. The shed dooris open.

What is the most surprising thing about FOD, looking back now.

Without doubt, the realisation that what makes this medium different from the closed media of film, book, video, CD-ROM etc is that people can and do talk back. I sometimes spend the whole day in electronic conversation. I can't help it - I'm hooked.

How much of the story relies on text and how much on image?

I can tell you exactly: Text=4 megabytes Image=32 megbytes. Therefore, the answer is that the ratio of text to image is 1 : 8. But byte space is not necessarily story space so, there is more to say about this in the next (perfectly timed) question.

What is the relationship between the text and image - have you done anything different than the traditional text-image mediums? What are the implied connections between the text and image?

There is a definite tension between text and image and there is a great deal of writing on the subject. To the extent that they can be separated. Words are usually much stronger than images. For this reason I generally keep them apart. However, the areas of the site I enjoy working in the most is where I'm trying to exploit this tension in order to enhance meaning and build a sense of rhythm which extends the poetics of verse.

What has the public nature of FOD done to it? Done to the story? Others have added comments, have they added to the story? Has the story become something else entirely?

Just as The Flight of Ducks opens a window into a time and place from where many recollections are now a source of national anguish, so its live and receptive qualities speak to that anguish.

Would you be able to tell the story without image? If so, how?

It would be a lesser place. The site relies on image for substantiation.

How much of the story is told in the branching - ie. the gaps in the screens? see 7
Does folk emailing back extend or complete the story? Is there a bigger story? see 15
What are the meta-narratives: colonialism, loss of innocence, collecting artefacts, white invasion, a meeting between different but equal cultures? all of these
How do you expose, talk about, show the character of your father? Is he central, or is it your own quest for something here?

Obviously there was a journey of the son around the father and this was powerful force for me to tap in to. In my opinion it has gone way beyond that now - perhaps too far away - my father was a very private man. I have no idea where this is going to lead me. So it continues to resemble an expedition. I think of it not so much as a journey through a landscape but as a journey through datascape.

Is it fiction or fact, or is it something else?

I'm very interested in the idea of false history but at this stage I am wary of manufacturing it because it would destroy the credibility of the `genuine' history and it is the `genuine' that I find so compelling.

It came as a surprise to me to discover that we can remember things that might not have happened. It was a strange feeling retracing a journey in Central Australia that was probably imaginary. We should ask why so many digital works are concerned with memory ? Is that there is something about this medium that is making us lose our memories?

How important is it that the site or story in Web text based media be 'alive'? How to keep it alive?

This is a really important question which is also part of an on going conversation. Keeping it alive is an issue I try to explore in an on-line paper called Killing the Duck to Keep the Quack. There are two important issues here. They both revolve around the fact that these on-line works are living breathing proliferating organisms. The first it that we are only just starting to develop the infrastructure to actually hang on to this kind of work. The second is that (at this stage) the maintenance of the site is dependent on a human (me). Soon, I would like to automate it. It could easily turn into a mess (like finger painting) but it will be interesting to see what happens.

Is it a journey? Can you see it in terms of Campbells 'The Hero's Journey?' If you had to, how would you break up the structure to be able to talk about it structurally. see 20
Is there a topographical map of the site? If so/not, why?

If you mean a visual representation of the site - a sense of the breadth and scope of it - then yes, you have what I call a datascape. Another way of viewing these spines of narrative is to return to my answer to question 8 and then run up and down the main combing screen.

What am I missing here that you really want to say about the site? What have you discovered?

You have not asked me anything about metadata? So, I will restrict myself to a thought that might be of use to your course.

All the digital work I have seen relies at its core on a series of databases - like wells. They may be sounds, images, texts, animations - or even generative places which produce data on the fly - a live cam for example. Story or narrative is constructed by travelling through - along - over - under - these databases. There is nothing new about this idea - Vannevar Bush imagined it in 1933 and literary theorists have been post modern about it for decades. It means that all of us can construct our own stories. Reader and writer converge.

Many writers of closed works CD-ROM use an illusion of random access to make this convergence. Perhaps this is because `Random Access Memory' (RAM) is part of the medium (although it is not random). The challenge is, as it has always been, to tell compelling stories. I don't think anyone should be afraid of being linear when they do this. It is probably all a question of context. Consider the difference between these answers with and without a context (hypertext).

For folk doing mm narrative, what advice would you give them?

Keep it simple. Start by putting as little as you can on a single screen.

How does one exact artistic control over the `endless' piece? How much moderating do you do?

Every facet of the FOD is very tightly controlled and edited. Just because the content of the input is out of my control does not mean that I do not control how it is presented and where etc. I see this as a heavy responsibility. First, not to abuse the people who converse with me. Second, not to misrepresent them or their intent. I am always responsive.

Can you say something about the `poetics' of FODs. The small three and four line text vignettes seem to be a successful way to use Web text. They are moody, evocative and quick to load up; and strangely addictive. Comments?

This is my favourite area to work in but unfortunately it involves such intense concentration that I usually do easier things. I find it a very quiet space - very focussed - reflective. Nothing is left to chance. It is totally linear in movement - a one way street. But at the same time it is for me a place of discovery.

Questions from Sarah Hamid - Vancouver - Victoria BC - Mon Jun 16 1997

Hiya Simon, I finally got around to doing some proper research this past weekend. I'd love to hear your thoughts on some of the issues I raise below (I may have a few others before I hand in my outline on Thursday but I think this is the bulk of it!)
You said you wanted feedback on the `table of contents' of sorts on the 4th screen of FOD and I thought it was great...the only suggestion is to put some label or something on the first screen [I never would have thought to click on the duck until you told me].

There are labels on the front screen - which should appear when you press. The text is the same colour as the background so you won't see text until you make it active (see source). On the other hand, when you travel you do not necessarily know where you are going. The top duck appears on every screen so I figure that eventually you are going to press it and arrive at a place of orientation. Maybe I am wrong.

Actually, that lets me segue perfectly into my first question. I noticed on that 4th screen that everything seems all over the place [that's not necessarily a criticism you understand, just an observation]. Photos are mixed with journals mixed with meta-data and other essays and a thesis and sonnets.

Are you talking about FOD0004? This should appear as a nice neat table.

I'm interested to know why you chose to organize it like that? Did you just want to preserve things as you found them or are they in chronological order or did you want that mix intentionally?

You must be talking about the `combing screen' FOD0077.html. This is a list of every screen. Basically it is a site management tool for me, but it also serves as an index to every screen - The best way I can describe it is as a datascape through which you travel- The order is mainly cronological - ie the order of creation. Sometimes a screen becomes redundant so I have used its space for another. It also gives a sense of the breadth of the site, like flipping through a book, you can get an idea of the the terrain through which you are about to travel. It would be impossible to give the screens any sequential order because there is no sequence - sequernce is determined by the path you wish to take.

Related to the above question, it seems that that type of organization mirrors the memory process itself. Fragmented, disordered, unsorted [in the good sense of the words]. Considering my class presentation on the preservation of cultural memory is in the context of an English course on memory, I was really intrigued by your statement that 'the material we currently classify as information is the result of a paradigm shift towards a new form of cognitive representation' and 'in this way hypertextual reading, writing and thinking mirrors the cognitive process itself.' Great ideas and I really agree. Do you think that's one of the advantages of the new digital age? That cultural memory will be remembered/studied/rewritten? in a way appropriate to the memories themselves? If you have any other thoughts on this, I'd love to hear them.

Thanks for your support. What a great question. You have cut to the core of a very important issue. I am in the middle of dealing with this in relation to the representation of Aboriginal people.

See participation screen - Tues June 3rd (above your own message) and then have a look at the working draft of Blinding the Duck.

This is a highly politicised area and some Aboriginal interests seek to have the entire site removed/censored because it shows representations of Aborigines which are not acceptable to current political views. I am trying to convince them that this medium allows their story to be told as well. That all stories can exist at once. That the dominant culture need not be the story teller. But we are talking about remote communities here - some without electricity or English. Is it fair to expect them to use the web. It makes me realise just how dominant American electronic culture is - after all we are looking through American eyes via Netscape etc. The best description I can find of how the power of this culture is capable of overwhelming us all is from Daisy Bates a woman who lived with groups of Aborigines in the 1940s: See under 'ethics' FOD0653.html++

With the railway began the extermination of the Central native groups. Each group through whose territory the track was passing saw its waters used up, the trees and bushes were destroyed for firewood and fence posts, the whole country turned to strange uses. They thought that the train and its people would go away, and leave them the things to play with. They were mesmerised by the trains, the trains became their life, the rhythm of their days.

t worries me. The web has become the rhythm of my days...

Oh, for my next question, I was just wondering if you could clear up the terms 'capture' 'mirror sites' and 'derived screen' for somebody who's not familiar with those terms...thanks :)

capture = a form of taking (capture an image). If you have a PC (on a Mac hold the mouse down) try pressing the right hand button over an on-line image. You get the message 'Save image as..' This way you can 'take' the image into your own space and use it as you will. In relation to digital preservation the idea of capture is tied up with putting live things into closed storage media such as CD-ROM using software that downloads an entire site with names like `harvest'. The paper `Killing the Duck to Keep the Quack' is a about the problems of holding a living thing in a closed space where it can no longer live. See also encrusted comments on this paper for how the National Library of Australia is trying to deal with these problems. Interesting semiotically that the dialogue message is `Save' isn't it ?

mirror site = an agreement between one place and another to mirror each others files at the the server end. The Library of Congress might grab a bunch of files relating to American interests from The Library in Vancouver and send them out through their own server. That way when the Library in Vancouver burns down the files remain on-line.

derived screen = In the context I have used the term I mean - a screen which is being created on the fly - best example is the result of an Alta-Vista search. The screen you get is built on the fly for you. Take this further and add a live camera and live sound and you have screens which are changing moment to moment.

I'd also love to hear what made you change the title of your essay. Is that what you think will happen to information, that it will be killed to study the 'quack'?

I thought the current description was more expressive of the frustrations I feel when trying to find a home for this site. It also refers to putting live things into closed spaces where they can no longer live (above). Besides 'Lest we Forget' - in Australia, is associated with remembering our War Dead. One of our national ceremonies is undergoing an unexpected revival - ANZAC Day - where every town in the country meets a dawn around a memorial and stands in silence while the 'Last Post' is sounded. Someone concludes the ceremony with the words: '...at the setting of the sun we will remember them - lest we forget'

Why and with what implications? Do museums not do this to a certain extent as well by taking an artefact out of its original context?

Good point and always a problem - I guess it comes down to selection. I think that museums as we know them will need to become even more concerned with actual physical objects as we become more and more used to virtual objects.

The problems for institutions are primarily to do with resources or the lack of them - digital preservation is not seen as important for most institutions because it is not their core activity. For the people who create digital material the biggest problem at this stage is that there is so little understanding of the nature of digital work. In my own case I have being trying to put 'The Flight of Ducks' into a new Digital Media Library - the only problem is that the library does not contain any digital media. It has been created for old media - film - in a digital form with an analogue source/backup. Therefore it has not even considered that it might be involved in archival activities.

I agree with Maggie Exon - I think we will lose most of the important digital material.

There is a very real possibility that nothing created, stored and disseminated electronically will survive in the long term. The problem does need to be stated this dramatically. I have an unfailing sinking feeling whenever anybody links the concepts of digitisation and preservation. I have a profound and unchanging belief that these two concepts do not belong in any sense in the same world.

One day there will be a great deal of work for digital archaeologists - good field to get into.

What do you believe to be the greatest new challenge facing the age of digital preservation. I know there are many, but which, in your opinion, are the key obstacles or problematic issues the world will be faced with?

I think the most important shift presented by digital culture will be that our stories will not be considered as being `told' - completed - finished. History/cultural memory will become much more of an on-going story told by everyone. Of course this has always been the case but the way we have represented these stories since the advent of text - film - closed media, has been as completed/definitive/closed stories told by only a few.

On-line digital work has been likened to oral traditions but I suspect the opposite. My view of oral traditions is that they were very conservative and related to social organisation and control. Oral works were handed down perfectly. Often because the mimetic constructions inside them, framed them and kept them stable. Nursery rhymes are a prime example of this kind of stablity.

I fear that when everything is unstable and lacking in authority we will have the opposite. We will end up having no idea at all about what really happened. Again, I suspect that authority is something we crave. Something which re-asserts itself when things become chaotic. Something we gather around like moths around a light. It helps to explain why we are often find ourseves the victims of despots or TV.

And my last question is about your sonnet on the 2nd screen. It's beautiful. Is that what you would call meta-data? What was your intent with starting the archive with this document? And what do you think has happened to the 'wreckage of memory diluted and changed' now that the FOD is being archived on the Web (this relates to the first and previous question too I guess).

This is a big area. My father and I communicated by sonnet. The sonnet is about my engagement with my father's story. I call it meta-data because it is about data and I doubt if anyone has used a sonnet as 'metadata' before. It came as a shock to me to find (during the process of collation) that some of the events/stories I grew up with, did not actually happen (see FOD0259 section 9). My own assembly of this story is a similar invention. We constantly reshape the past to serve the needs of the present - truth is another matter entirely. I am falttered that you liked the sonnet. I keep changing it too.

Well Sarah, this is all just off the top of my head without much artifice and probably full of typos etc. I will ponder your questions and add any thoughts if they come to me.

When you get a chance - tell me more about what you are doing.

Ok, that's it from me. Hope I haven't overwhelmed you with my questions! And feel free to take a couple days to respond if you need to..Thanks again :-)
Hope to hear from you soon - Sarah