Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 3, 2022

True Tracks, Respecting Indigenous knowledge and culture (2021), by Terri Janke

Cultural warning to Indigenous readers: This post contains the names of people who have passed away.

True Tracks, Respecting Indigenous knowledge and culture is the book that needs to be on the reading lists of every writing school in the country.

I’ve posted before about the Protocols for using First Nations Cultural and Intellectual Property in the Arts (2020) as an essential resource for anyone working in the creative industries in Australia. True Tracks is like a self-help book that unpacks these protocols into clear explanations with specific examples of what to do — and what not to do…

This is the blurb:

Indigenous cultures are not terra nullius — nobody’s land, free to be taken.
True Tracks is a ground-breaking work that paves the way for the respectful and ethical engagement with Indigenous cultures. Using real-world cases and personal stories, award-winning Meriam/Wuthathi lawyer Dr Terri Janke draws on twenty years of professional experience and personal stories to inform and inspire leaders across many industries – from art and architecture, to film and publishing, dance, science and tourism.
How will your project affect and involve Indigenous communities? What Indigenous materials and knowledge are you using? Who owns Indigenous languages?
True Tracks helps answer these questions and many more, and provides invaluable guidelines that enable Indigenous peoples to actively practise, manage and strengthen their cultural life, keeping tracks into the future to empower the next generations.
If we keep our tracks true, Indigenous culture and knowledge can benefit everyone.

In the Introduction, Janke explains the concept of ICIP (Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property) which covers not just the areas you’d expect like artistic works and cultural property such as objects in museums and sacred sites, but also languages, knowledge, performance and more.  ICIP rights are about the right of control (to use, or to adapt); the right of attribution and integrity, and the right to share in benefits.  (There is more detail about what it covers, here.) Janke offers the Ten Tracks Principles as a framework for interrogating the issues that can arise in the creative industries.

I’m *very* mindful of the need to respect the ICIP in this book, so I refer you to this PPT to see a graphic that shows what the Ten True Tracks Principles are and how they are interconnected.  Scroll down to Slide 14, and read on from there to see brief explanations of each principle.

In the book, Janke devotes a chapter to each of the creative industries that should be mindful of ICIP.  These include:

  • Ch 3: Indigenous visual arts (where there have been high profile cases of appropriation and exploitation);
  • Ch 4: Indigenous architecture (which includes discussion of the controversy around copyright ownership of the Aboriginal flag);
  • Ch 5: indigenous music, of particular importance given the popularity of Indigenous song and performance;
  • Ch 6: Film & TV—protocols for current productions and the vexed issue of ‘legacy’ films made before protocols. As with some other areas of ICIP, copyright often rests with the creator (i.e. the film maker), not the Indigenous people who were filmed.  There is a chapter on the management of archives as well.
  • Ch 7: ‘How the story got its black voice back: amplifying Indigenous voices in writing.
    • This was, of course, the chapter that most interested me because of the rise of Indigenous writing and its prominence in our literary landscape.  But just as there are unscrupulous authors of so-called Holocaust fiction, so too there are authors who deliberately falsify an Indigenous identity or use shallow appropriations or misrepresent or offend Indigenous people.  So I read the section on Non-Indigenous writers and protocols closely because this is something that book reviewers need to attend to.  Janke suggests that non-Indigenous writers can depict Indigenous culture and people, as long as they engage in proper consultation and consent procedures. These are clearly explained with examples and already I am starting to see acknowledgement of these processes in the contemporary fiction I read today.  (I do not, however, read much in the way of genre or commercial fiction so I have no idea whether those authors and publishers are respectful or not.)
    • As with film & TV, copyright law privileges the creator, or as Janke puts it in the case of written work, it favours the person with the pen, that is, copyright belongs to the person who writes the story that is told or given to them.  There are notable cases of this happening with collections of myths and legends, the most well-known being the case of Ngarrindjeri Elder David Unaipon’s Myths and Legends of the Australian Aboriginals, whose contributions submitted to Angus & Robertson had copyright assigned to the anthropologist William Ramsay Smith.
    • Also, copyright law applies to written work.  The Copyright Act 1968 does not apply to oral stories.

After the chapter about literature, there are also chapters about dance, bush foods and traditional medicine, science, research processes, education, digital technologies, Indigenous collections in galleries, libraries, archives and museums, tourism , business and fashion.

So this is a very comprehensive guide that belongs in many institutions and personal book collections!

One way to learn about ICIP is through one of the cultural workshops run by Terri Janke’s law firm.  There was one on June 22, see details here so presumably there will be others in due course.

You can also watch Terri Janke’s TED Talk here.

The ASA (Australian Authors Association) makes resources available for members who are authors and illustrations wanting to learn more. Click here.

I read this book for First Nations Reading Week 2022.

Terri Janke is a Murri woman from Cairns and of Torres Strait descent with Meriam and Wuthathi heritage.

This post was written on the traditional land of the Ngaruk-Willam clan, one of the six clans of the Bunerong (Boonwurrung or Boon wurrung) saltwater people of the Kulin nation.

Author: Terri Janke
Title: True Tracks, Respecting Indigenous knowledge and culture
Cover design: Debra Billson, cover artwork Terri—Butterfly Flowers Dreaming 2020, by Bibi Barba
Publisher: UNSW Press, New South Publishing, (University of New South Wales Press) 2021
ISBN: 9781742236810, pbk., 424 pages including a List of Acronyms, Glossary, Acknowledgements and an Index.
Source: personal library, purchased from Fishpond.

Protocols for using First Nations Cultural and Intellectual Property in the Arts (2020)


  1. Terri Janke is an Impressive woman. I first came across her in my working days because of her work in Indigenous intellectual property but have only ever read articles or papers by her. I’ll look out for this book.


    • Her novel Butterfly Song was the first novel I ever read by an Indigenous author. I’d read most of the memoirs that began appearing in the 70s, but hers was the first fiction I came across.


      • Yes, that’s a novel I’ve had on my want-to-read list for a long time.


        • I wish I still had it, I’d like to re-read it. It might have been a library book because I would have kept it if it was mine.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. BTW Chapter 3. I was with a friend in a country town back in April – not that the place has any relevance – and she saw some picnic blankets in a shop. She asked me for my opinion on which one. I declined until she chose one. It was one of the ones with Indigenous designs and in fact was the one that appealed to me. However, when she asked me my opinion, I asked whether there was any information on the label about the designer, who owns it, etc. There wasn’t – the shop owner (or staff member) was listening. My friend was grateful and decided to choose one of the non-Indigenous designed ones. I know that from now on she will think to check that, because she’s a responsible person who was grateful for my input, and I hope the shop person will too. I love Indigenous designs but you have to be aware of what you are doing.

    Does Janke look at things like Margaret Preston, and similar artists, and their work? I have seen it discussed and think that while it’s great to point out the issues, she was working in a different time and, in away, was recognising that Indigenous representations are Australian in a way that the European traditions were not. We need to see the trajectory of what’s happened without blaming those who worked with honest hearts at different times.

    Anyhow, I will buy this book!


    • I don’t remember seeing anything about Margaret Preston, and I’ve just checked the index to be sure,
      What she says is that working in galleries was the catalyst for her interest in copyright law and she cites some famous court cases involving cheap fakes and outright theft of designs. She has a guide to ethical buying too.


      • We’ll I guess Margaret Preston is probably not so much “legal” theft but people have seen it as appropriating Indigenous perspectives … I think Preston specifically spoke about using those ideas but I’m going here from memory of an exhibition I saw in the last year or so. I should have documented it!


  3. I have often wished I could choose the books for various schools to teach. This, as you said sounds a good one for writers.


    • LOL Pam, one day I’d like to see your list of must-reads for Years 11-12!


  4. I guess our Copyright Law has been well and truly captured by treaties with USA however it seems to me that the traditional cultures of Indigenous people here and there (and everywhere else) should be protected from appropriation by the first person to commit it to paper.


    • Well, yes, but it’s more complicated than that, because as she says, the stories of an oral culture aren’t protected by the law as it stands. Digital content is messy too.
      There’s been a lot of movement in copyright law lately in the digital space because it’s had to catch up with, for example, the content that’s on your blog and mine. I’ve had a few cases where I’ve had to contact an author or a publisher and request that they desist from publishing my entire review on their website. I had to get the ASA’s advice about how to deal with one #WhichShallBeNameless that refused to comply with the copyright notice that I have down at the bottom of my RHS menu. Needless to say, I do not review their books any more.
      But there’s also the issue of schools and universities using digital content. If a school photocopies content from my books, they contribute through their licence fee to my annual CAL payment. But if they crank out multiple copies of my reviews of books on the Y12 reading list, that doesn’t happen. Things are changing in that space so digital content creators are beginning to register their work though I have yet to see how that will operate.


  5. This sounds like an excellent guide and one I would find useful in my current job, so I’m going to place an order for it. We have had some cultural awareness training at work and next month we get to learn some Noongar language (which I’m looking forward to) in a short masterclass session. We have several Noongar people on staff who have set this up, designed to help us with acknowledgment of country and to encourage us to use the language in every day life such as when we greet people.


    • That sounds excellent, Kim, I’m envious!
      I can’t learn my local language because it’s being recovered, and there are restrictions on who can learn it. (You’ll find the chapter on having copyright on a language very interesting!)

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s interesting how on the one side indigenous knowledge is often belittled or devalued and then sometime down the line appropriated and marketed by the very same people. This sounds a relevant read. I’m interested in the language aspects, for instance, how language preservation efforts by ‘outsiders’ should work to do so ethically.


    • I think it varies from place to place. Some welcome academic input and accept anyone who wants to learn the language to increase the pool of people speaking it, and others (like the Bunerong/Boowurrung) where I live, don’t want non-Indigenous speakers potentially speaking the language better than they do.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I can kind of understand that attitude, but how sad that this risks the language being lost.


        • I have my fingers crossed that it will triumph despite everything!


  7. This sounds absolutely fascinating, and also vital for people operating in spaces where they might (inadvertently or not) stray into appropriation and all sorts. Thank you for highlighting it.


    • Thanks!
      It’s useful both for content creators and, as Sue says in her comment above, also for consumers.


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