MISC – ‘Ancestors’ Words: Noongar writing in WA Government

Date/Time: Wed 19 Apr / 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Location: Monash University, Menzies Building, Room E561


Monash Indigenous Studies Centre Seminar

This paper will discuss preliminary findings of a new collaborative research project between historians and the Noongar community in Western Australia. ‘Ancestors’ Words’ aims to recover and analyse West Australian Aboriginal writing “captured” in the archives. The focus of research is on the Noongar people of the southwest of Western Australia whose writing predominates in the archives for the period of study: 1860s -1960s.These invaluable documents hold the words of Aboriginal people representing their concerns and interests to government agencies. They show the writers negotiating survival and challenging the status quo, drawing on Aboriginal values, justice and human rights frames and transnational networks. Working closely with a Noongar advisory group, research and community conversations aims to reveal the hidden activism in the archive, restoring silenced Noongar stories to the documents, and families, and promoting decolonization of the WA archive.
A challenge for Aboriginal researchers has been the archive’s subjectivity; so many archival documents speak from the voice of a European and state archives have ‘incommensurable ontologies’ of archival and Indigenous knowledge, as shown by academics and activists such as Lynette Russell , Mick Gooda and Steve Kinnane. These letters reveal strong examples of Noongar people expressing their stories and claims in their own words.

Tiffany Shellam is a lecturer in History at Deakin University. She is an ethnographic historian whose research focuses on the relationships between Indigenous people and explorers, settlers and missionaries. Tiffany’s book ‘Shaking Hands on the Fringe: Negotiating the Aboriginal World at King George’s Sound’ was published by UWAP in 2009.

For further information, please contact
Vanessa Fleming-Baillie
990 52929

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