The Proper History Project

The Proper History Project

Acknowledging Indigenous peoples’ experiences of colonialism is essential to reconciliation, yet textual accounts are often limited in the insights they provide. Collaborative, community-based archaeological and anthropological research is key to addressing this gap. This research develops foodways as an approach that provides more representative, nuanced and inclusive understandings of Indigenous Australian history, enabling the production of what our Indigenous partners term “Proper History”. This will produce inclusive narratives of Indigenous Australians’ experiences of colonialism, and generate novel insights on the role of Indigenous foodways in the negotiation of power in colonial settings.


Published Paper: War Capitalism and the Expropriation of Country: Spatial Analysis of Indigenous and Settler-Colonial Entanglements in North Eastern Australia, 1864–1939

Global processes associated with the expansion of colonialism and the emergence of capitalist economies after 1500 were often driven by a desire to create new capital via the acquisition of land and resources, with severe implications for Indigenous peoples. These processes were highly variable, and strongly shaped by the local circumstances encountered at the periphery of European networks of commerce and trade. A number of researchers have suggested that a particularly acute phase of violence and landscape expropriation, sometimes referred to as war capitalism or terra nullius colonialism, underpinned the establishment of colonial settlements and new economic enterprises. This paper characterises processes of colonization and the establishment of capitalist industry within a discrete study area in Cape York Peninsula, northeastern Australia. In particular, we aim to examine in an holistic fashion the nature of encounters and interactions between Indigenous custodians and settler-colonists between 1860 and 1939, using a documentary archaeology approach combined with qualitative data analysis methods. We demonstrate that while violence of various forms was a routine aspect of interactions, a holistic approach to analysis of available data enables the development of a more nuanced understanding of the contours and pattern of colonialism and the nature and implications of different forms of violence for Indigenous peoples.

Published Paper: Report on excavation of a shell mound site at Mandjungaar, western Cape York Peninsula

This short report presents results of excavation and analysis of a shell mound deposit at Mandjungaar, near Weipa, Cape York Peninsula. This study was initiated as a cultural heritage management project focused on a shell mound site damaged by unauthorised clearing of access tracks. This study included a small research component to establish a baseline understanding of longer-term use history of the Mandjungaar area at the request of Ndrua’angayth custodians. This included excavation and analysis of a test pit at the site. Results of the study are presented and contextualised in relation to previous research on the Weipa Peninsula in order to expand our understanding of the wider cultural history of the southern Weipa Peninsula. These results provide further support for the assertion that shell mound formation in the Albatross Bay region involved food production activities that were strategically focused on estuarine mud and sandflat ecosystems. In doing so, this dataset provides additional support for the previously proposed niche production model of shell mound formation.

Published Paper: ‘My Country is like my Mother…’: respect, care, interaction and closeness as principles for undertaking cultural heritage assessments

Indigenous cultural heritage management. The value of long-term ethnographic studies is well recognised, however, such approaches are generally not possible in many heritage studies due to time or other constraints. Qualitative research methods have considerable potential in this space, yet few have systematically applied them to understanding Indigenous peoples’ relationships with place. This paper reports on a qualitative study with Alngith people from north-eastern Australia. It begins by exploring the embodied, experiential nature of Alngith peoples’ conception of Country and their emphasis on four interrelated themes: Respect, Care, Interaction and Closeness when describing relationships to Country. We suggest that Alngith people-to-place relationships are underwritten by these ideals and are central to local expectations for respectful, inclusive heritage practices. The results also reveal new perspectives and pathways for Aboriginal communities, and heritage managers dissatisfied with the constraints of ‘traditional’ cultural heritage assessment frameworks that emphasise archaeological methods and values. The paper further demonstrates how qualitative research methodologies can assist heritage managers to move beyond the limitations of surveys and quantitative studies and develop a deeper understanding of Indigenous values, concepts and aspirations (social values).

Published Paper: “Their God is their belly”: Moravian missionaries at the Weipa Mission (1898–1932), Cape York Peninsula

missions designed and staffed by the Moravian Church during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We present findings of archaeological and historical research that illustrate key aspects of the settlement’s development and operations. Moravian missionaries at Weipa aimed to create a built landscape that reshaped Aboriginal social, cultural and economic relations, with particular emphasis on children through the use of a dormitory system. However, their efforts were mediated by the open spatial and social boundaries of the settlement, which enabled Aboriginal people to make choices about the nature and extent to which they engaged with the mission. Adopting a political economy approach, we show that this openness emerged through complex social relationships between missionaries and Aboriginal people. While missionaries required access to children and adults, they lacked the ability (or will) to maintain a resident population through force, with limited financial resources also hampering their activities. Instead, Aboriginal people came and went from the settlement, with some establishing and maintaining social relationships with missionaries to access economic and social benefits. We argue that these social relationships led to the development of the settlement as a more open domain.

Published Paper: Mission-Based Indigenous Production at the Weipa Presbyterian Mission, Western Cape York Peninsula (1932–66)

Previous research on remote nineteenth-and early twentieth-century Indigenous missions in northern and central Australia point to their often tenuous existence and the complex nature of engagements between Christian Missionaries and Indigenous people. This paper explores the contribution and significance of Indigenous production of wild foods in the context of one such settlement located at Weipa on Cape York Peninsula, north eastern Australia. It is premised on the assertion that investigation of the economies of these often remote settlements has the potential to reveal much about the character of cross-cultural engagements within the context of early mission settlements. Many remote missions had a far from secure economic basis and were sometimes unable to produce the consistent food supplies that were central to their proselytizing efforts. In this paper it is suggested that Indigenous-produced wild foods were of significant importance to the mission on a day-to-day basis in terms of their dietary contribution (particularly in terms of protein sources) and were also important to Indigenous people from a social and cultural perspective. We develop this argument through the case study of culturally modified trees that resulted from the collection of wild honey.

New Insights into Indigenous History via Food

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...