The fascinating, so-far undocumented colonial history of Indigenous food in Cape York Peninsula of north Queensland will unfold under a new, three-year study led by a Flinders University team.

Entitled ‘Sugarbag and shellfish: Indigenous foodways in colonial Cape York Peninsula,’ the study was funded by the Australian Research Council Linkage Projects scheme, receiving $301,254 from the ARC and top-up funds to the value of $423,413 from community partners: the Western Cape Communities Trust; Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation; Napranum Aboriginal Shire Council; the Queensland Museum and Flinders University.

The project will trace the role of Indigenous food, labour and knowledge in cultural exchanges between Indigenous people and settler-colonists, addressing an important gap in Australia’s history and reinstating Indigenous perspectives of colonisation, says archaeologist and Chief investigator, Dr Michael Morrison, from the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at Flinders, say

“Food was also a key medium for cultural exchanges during this period and analysis of what people ate, how they obtained and shared it, and the factors that shaped and constrained this, provide unparalleled insights into daily life” says anthropologist, and Co-Chief Investigator, Dr Darlene McNaughton, from the College of Medicine and Public Health at Flinders.

“The Homelands of the northern Peninsula were a microcosm of wider colonial processes in Australia before the Second World War, which included large Aboriginal reserves, Christian missions, cattle stations, goldfields and the iconic Overland Telegraph Line, and this makes them even more signficiant” said Dr Morrison.

“However,  there are many inaccurate and negative portrayals of Indigenous people in modern accounts of Cape York—and our project partners in the communities around Weipa, Coen and Lockhart River are keen to see this remedied,” said Dr Morrison.

In partnership with local Custodians, the researchers will record oral histories, analyse historical records, and look for archaeological evidence of Aboriginal people in the landscape, to develop new perspectives on both local and global history.

“That’s the real power of oral history, anthropology and archaeology. We can piece together a very different story about food and foodways by using a wider range of evidence,” said Dr McNaughton.

The project has received strong support from a range of local Indigenous organisations and leaders in the wider Weipa region.

The Western Cape Communities Central Sub-Regional Trust (Weipa) and the Queensland Museum have also made major investments in this project.

Mr Geoffrey Fahey, Executive Officer of the Western Cape Communities Trust said “that Traditional Onwers and Directors of the Trust consider that projects such as this are vital for the preservation of Aboriginal Culture on the Western Cape.  In addition, the findings of projects such as this assist with accurate recording of activities on the Cape and with providing future generations with information about their ancestors”.

The project team also includes Mr David Claudie, Kuuku I’yu Custodian and Director of the Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation, who said “This project is unique in that the Traditional custodians involved are working in real partnership with western scientists. We are equal participants in the research, leading the research; we are not just the subjects of anthropological and archaeological inquiry as we so often have been in the past,” said

Alongside the oral history, anthropological and archival research, the team will also focus on surveying and mapping the iconic landscapes of the region in partnership with local custodians.

“The project is significant as it will address a gap in the early history of the area, but it is also new as it will use the latest technology to conduct cultural heritage surveys of our ngaachi (homelands)”.
Mr Claudie thanked Dr Morrison, Dr McNaughton, the Queensland Museum and all the collaborating partners on what is a significant project, not just for our region, but globally.

The team will work with rangers from the Napranum Aboriginal Shire Council and the Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation to conduct heritage surveys, interviews and excavations using cutting edge methods including Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVS or drones), geophysical surveys, remote sensing and 3D modelling.

Over 500 artefacts from the region, held at the Queensland Museum in Brisbane, will also be analysed and recorded in 3D in order to provide greater access to community members who wish to do their own research.  Many of these items are also related to food.  Acting CEO at the Queensland Museum, Dr Jim Thompson, commented, that “It is wonderful to contribute to research that will use the collections held in the Queensland Museum to generate inclusive understandings of Indigenous Australian history through Indigenous led narratives.”

The project is being led by Dr Morrison, Dr McNaughton and Mr Claudie.  Other investigators include Associate Professor Heather Burke and Dr Ian Moffat, also from Flinders; Associate Professor Shawn Ross and Dr Adela Sobotkova from Macquarie University; and Dr Brit Asmussen Senior Curator at the Queensland Museum.

Key media contacts:


Dr Darlene McNaughton, Senior Lecturer/Social Anthropologist
Public Health, Flinders University
Mob:  0488 551 747
Project website: 

Dr Mick Morrison
Archaeology, Humanities and Social Sciences, Flinders University
Mob: 0427 339 513
Project website:

Geoffrey Fahey, Executive Officer
Western Cape Communities Trust
Phone: 0740 697 945

Mr David Claudie, Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation
Ph 07 40603240

Ms Kylie Hay, Senior Media Advisor, Queensland Museum
Queensland Museum: 
Mob: 0434 565 852 or landline 07 3842 9388

Jane Clayton, Senior Communications Advisor, Flinders University
Tel: +61 8 8201 3235 / 0415 236 816