A new podcast from RMIT University is shining a light on how mobile technology and the internet are used in Aboriginal communities and towns by members of the world’s oldest living culture.

As part of our 2018-21 Reconciliation Action Plan commitments to support digital inclusion for remote Indigenous Australians, we funded the Disconnect series with RMIT to tell the story of how the internet is used in Aboriginal communities across the country.

Connectivity is something we take for granted as a central part of modern life, whether it’s in a metropolitan area or a remote community. The way that connectivity is used, though, varies with the cultural and geographic context of its users, and their priorities change as they experience it and over time.

Disconnect is written and hosted by RMIT University’s Ellie Rennie, co-hosted with Tyson Yunkaporta from Deakin University. Available on IndigiTUBE, YouTube, Spotify, iTunes and other podcasting apps, each episode examines a unique aspect of internet use and its impact – good and bad, in Aboriginal communities.

Disconnect co-hosts Ellie Rennie and Tyson Yunkaporta in the studio. Credit: RMIT University.

According to Rennie, “the pace of life changes with internet access, and people need to manage the negative things that come with it, such as internet scams.”

“It’s not so much about how the internet is changing communities, but how communities are changing the internet by placing their own rules and order on it.”

For starters, Yunkaporta explains, the assumption that mobile phones are a personal device does not always apply in Aboriginal communities.

“What does it mean to have a ‘personal’ device in a society built on communal obligations and sharing on demand?” he says.

“Everything is shared in these communities and to go against that by insisting a mobile device is only for your use can be a significant challenge.”

The topics covered in the Disconnect series were all contributed by the communities themselves, and interviews were collected with PY Media in the APY Lands and ARDS in Arnhem Land, as well as with inDigiMOB – the digital mentors program run by First Nations Media Australia and funded by Telstra.

Michael from inDigiMOB interviews Trevor and Jasper on Groote Eylandt for the Disconnect podcast. Credit: Ben Ward.

One topic of particular interest throughout the series is the challenge of providing connectivity to geographically remote and disparate communities, including an invention from the Centre for Appropriate Technology to passively boost mobile phone reception in areas where no powered solution is available or appropriate.

Yunkaporta says that the internet and technology can be a boon to protecting and growing Indigenous culture, amplifying social groups and maintaining close community connections using social media.

“Traditionally our cultures have a dense sociality to them. This is not something that is necessarily negatively affected by technology, it’s actually seen in most quarters as something that enables dense sociality, especially over distance.”

“Despite the transience in our communities, people are able to maintain social groups and communities via social media that would have been impeded by distance before.”

Amethea interviews Michael on Groote Eylandt, in Australia’s Top End, for the Disconnect podcast. Credit: Ben Ward.