Director’s Blog – Mid Year Reflections

Reaching July and the middle of our calendar year reminds me that this month’s name honoured Julius Caesar. Fascinating though it is, I’m taken aback by the chronologically recent nature of the ‘ancient history’ of Rome compared with the deep history of the peoples of the Australian continent.

This mid-year blog provides some moments to focus upon the active roles of our Research Centre’s Collaborating Scholars (CS) as well as other activities.

This year we launched Cross-campus Interdisciplinary Lunch Gatherings. The inaugural one in March centred on the theme of Water with CS Quentin Grafton and team. The second was an extensive conversation with CS Azure Hermes of the National Centre for Indigenous Genomics. The most recent one concentrated on the Rock Art theme with CS Robert Wellington, CS Duncan Wright, CS Catherine Frieman and a number of impressive and helpful art and archaeology experts from across the ANU and the University of Canberra. CS Brenda Croft will be playing a key role in the next lunch gathering, to coincide with her coming exhibition at the Drill Hall Gallery – we will keep you posted on that.

CS Annie Clarke and CS Bruce Buchan joined us last year as official RSSS visitors. Although their stays were COVID19-interrupted, Annie was able to return and we are hoping that Bruce can do so later this year.

Another CS, Charlotte Feakins, who now works with GML Heritage, partnered with us to convene the First Nations Speaker Series with Laureate Postdoctoral Fellow Ben Silverstein. CS Leah Lui Chivizhe was featured as the first speaker.

With only one COVID19 postponement, Laura Rademaker managed a rock art trip to the Northern Territory with CS Sally May, with a forthcoming publication ‘Quilp’s Horse: Rock art and the artist life-biography in Western Arnhem Land, Australia’ by Sally K. May, Joakim Goldhahn, Laura Rademaker, Graham Badari and Paul S. C. Taçon appearing soon.

CS Mary Anne Jebb has joined us as a Consultant to work with communities in Western Australia, including the Mowanjum people who have recently opened a new Aboriginal Art and Culture centre in Derby. Several other Collaborating Scholars are working with us on various publication projects, including CS Daniel Smail, Linda Barwick and Sarah Yu.

Shauna Bostock-Smith, who completed her PhD with flying colours, was to have her degree officially conferred at a Graduation Ceremony in July. We are terribly disappointed that COVID19 has led to the cancellation of the ANU’s July Graduation ceremony. Such an outstanding achievement, and I was looking forward to celebrating her thesis and meeting her family at this special event. On the upside, however, Shauna has joined us as a Collaborating Scholar and we will be seeing her at the Peter Read Event and our Early Career Workshops between the 8-10 September.

The Mungo Map

In March, I drove out to Mildura and Balranald, to meet up with families involved in the Lake Mungo/Willandra Lakes region and its deep history. I joined CS Kim Mahood, who has worked as a cultural mapping consultant with community members over several years.

Eunice Hudson, Michael Young, Priscilla Briggs, Ann McGrath, Patricia Johnson at Magenta Woolshed, Mildura. Photo by Kim Mahood.

Kim has painted and drawn the map on a large canvas that now tells the story of the Mutthi Mutthi, Barkintji and Ngyaampa peoples. All content has been supplied by the family members, including the Kellys, the Kennedys, the Johnsons, the Mitchells and others.

Kim Mahood confirming the map information with members of the Mitchell family at the Magenta Woolshed, Inland Botanical Gardens, Mildura

We held meetings with local elders and families at their homes, in community spaces, and at the big woolshed located at the Inland Botanical Gardens. These were to check that all participants were happy with everything they had entered on the map. New material was also added. ANU’s press release sparked a lot of media interest.

Whether displayed on a footpath, in an old woolshed or in the rose garden of the Mildura Grand, the map attracted attention everywhere it was exhibited. With the initial contact made by CS Shirleene Robinson, a large team from the National Library of Australia visited us to assess the map for digitalization and conservation. We will keep you posted on developments.

National Library experts visited our Centre to assess the Mungo map for scanning and digitalization in June.

We aim to organise a regional launch and possibly a travelling exhibition. Led by Laureate Postdoctoral Fellow Mike Jones, with Web Developer and Designer Tabs Fakier, we will also be working to ensure that the map will spread far and wide via a digital life. Participants are keen to supply family photos, videos and additional information for the digital version.

National Library experts visited our Centre to assess the Mungo map for scanning and digitalization in June.

From the perspective of myself as a historian, this map speaks back to all the maps we saw on our classroom walls: the ones that featured only European explorers and navigators. It presents a different kind of history – of Country and strong family connection; one that pinpoints the precise locations where people lived and worked – key family moments, beloved ancestors, their marriages, births, deaths. It shows the upheaval of forcible removal to missions and the removal of children. It also demonstrates the importance of Aboriginal workers to the pastoral industry, to railways and infrastructure.

Travel restrictions continue to impede our fieldwork plans. I was supposed to be heading to Broome and Derby right now with CS Mary Anne Jebb to be part of the launch of the Mowanjum Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre but Western Australia has imposed a hard border on just about everywhere, and a harder one on remote Aboriginal communities. We look forward to working with Mary Anne on the Marking Country Digital Atlas project.

Fortunately, Postdoctoral Fellows Mike Jones and Ben Silverstein managed to travel to Broome for their Thangoo Station Project in north Western Australia, part of ANU’s Grand Challenges scheme, led by CS Maria Nugent and CS Lawrence Bamblett, and assisted by CS Sarah Yu and one of the ECRs we have helped mentor, Naomi Appleby. Yawuru people recorded accounts of their histories of connection. We thank Partner organisation Nyamba Buru Yawuru for their generosity in agreeing to partner with us. We also thank our CS Peter Veth for providing helpful advice during their stopover in Perth.

Mike Jones and I have been meeting up with staff of the Queensland Museum, talking with curators, including CS Britt Asmussen and colleagues. In June, Mike and I also travelled to Cape York, North Queensland with astrophysicist and fellow Laureate Lisa Kewley, to join Johnny Murison of Jarramali Rock Art Tours for an introduction to the art and culture of Quinkan Country. More on this soon. And finally, thanks to the sage advice of the Centre’s Indigenous Advisory Committee and to Professors Lynette Russell and Jaky Troy and Dr Lorina Barker for their collaboration in publishing ventures and conference panels.

L-R Mike Jones, Ann McGrath, Lisa Kewley and Johnny Murison at Jarramali Camp. Photo by the team.

Esteemed Honorary Professor

It has been a great pleasure to welcome Honorary Professor Jackie Huggins to the Australian National University as a highly esteemed colleague. Thanks to Jackie, we recently had a wonderful book-launch by Queensland Minister Leeanne Enoch for the re-release of our co-edited volume with Emeritus Professor Kay Saunders, Aboriginal Workers. An accomplished historian and distinguished Indigenous leader, Jackie is playing a key role in leading the Queensland Treaty process. Jackie has agreed to serve as the Senior Advisor on our Marking Country Digital Atlas project.