The Storyteller Lady Who Fell Out of the Sky

Dr Gwenda Baker

Wednesday 6 May, 2-3pm

Elizabeth Burchill Room (E561)
Level 5, Menzies Building
20 Chancellors Walk
Clayton Campus

The Aboriginal people of North East Arnhem Land (Yolngu) are a most studied and written about people. Strangely, very little written research reportage is accessible to the people. The Yolngu have had long contact with outsiders, notably with the Macassans from the north at least 200 years before the arrival of white trepangers, cattlemen, missionaries and government officials. Missionaries began the process of translating and transcribing local languages. Soon came anthropologists and later the historians. Adult mission educated Yolngu now seek access to documents, articles and books written about them through their co-operation with researchers. This seminar is about a trip to Milingimbi and work at the nearby island of Galiwin’ku, both old mission sites. It tells the story of an historian recast as a storyteller returning documents and written accounts with a research methodology based on reciprocal storytelling. Taking back stories reconnects them to their geographical and human source, linking narratives to particular people, genealogical lines, clans, geographical locations and associations with spirit worlds. The returned material is in turn discussed with children and grandchildren. In this way the new stories become part of a wider knowledge base.

Dr. Gwenda Baker is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Monash Indigenous Centre. She is an historian with long contact with the people on Galiwin’ku, Elcho Island, and has carried out research with Yolngu researchers, publishing on gender relations, gender and religion, families and value systems, missionary contact, cross-cultural intersections, and leadership and governance. Dr Baker received a Northern Territory History Award in 2005, and an Australian Religious History Fellowship from the State Library of New South Wales in 2013. Her present project, based on the research from this fellowship, a biography of Rev. Harold Shepherdson and his wife Ella, who went to Milingimbi in 1928, established a mission on Elcho Island in 1942, and lived in Arnhem Land for 50 years.

Download the flyer for this seminar… (PDF)

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