Indigenous Peoples: Australian and International

Our research investigates and supports indigenous cultures and the development of educated, scientifically literate and well-informed societies, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Using ethical, responsive and collaborative research practices, we strive to produce research that expands and transforms knowledge and society.


Mapping the archaeological significance of Victoria’s landscapes

Lead investigator: Dr Anita Smith (Archaeology and History)

Co-investigator: Prof Susan Lawrence (Archaeology and History)

Although the value of a cultural landscape approach to the management of archaeological heritage is well recognised, in Australia the archaeological record continues to be managed at the site rather than landscape level. This project provides the foundation for a future ARC Linkage Project that will make a nationally significant contribution to the effective management of archaeological landscapes through analysis of how current heritage legislation, policies, and practices shape understanding of the archaeological record in three case study areas; and the relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous archaeological sites and broader cultural landscapes. Investigation of new technologies will facilitate improved recording of archaeological evidence at the landscape level. The aim of this project is to undertake the initial consultative process with the Industry Partners and carry out preliminary background research to underpin the ARC Linkage Project application.

Successful transitions from education to employment: A case study of Shepparton

Lead investigator: Doctor Lucinda Aberdeen

Co-investigator: Doctor Jenny Chesters (University of Canberra)

This project examines successful transitions between education and employment of youth in Shepparton, Victoria. Given the high levels of youth unemployment in Australia, especially regional Australia, the project has nationwide implications. Young people living in areas of high unemployment are more likely to leave school before completing Year 12 entrenching poor market capacity. Currently, Shepparton has an estimated 25 per cent of its youth population not engaged in education or training (NEET) which is the third highest in Australia. This project will investigate and map how young people living in a large regional centre successfully negotiate pathways from formal education into employment.  We focus on whether there are particular trajectories which facilitate successful transitions from school and training into paid work to inform the development and implementation of policies aimed at ensuring that what happens in schools and the community help youth make successful transitions into employment locally and nationally.

Indigenous eco-cultural futures: re-implementing Nyangumarta burning in the Pilbara, Australia

Lead investigator: Doctor Nicholas Smith

Co-investigator: Doctor Steve Leonard

This project explores the cultural and ecological dimensions of re-implementing anthropogenic burning in the recently declared Nyangumarta Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) in Northwestern Australia. IPAs comprise almost 40% of the national conservation estate and are increasingly seen as a means for Indigenous Australians to achieve cultural, political, economic, social and ecological outcomes.  'Traditional' Indigenous burning is often a key component of IPA management strategies. However, given the extensive ecological and social change that has occurred in the Pilbara, how might Nyangumarta best utilise burning to conserve biodiversity, enhance cultural heritage values and enhance local livelihoods? How can we, as academic researchers, overcome the institutional and epistemological barriers to the recognition and incorporation of Nyangumarta people's knowledge of fire?  This project will develop relationships between researchers and Nyangumarta people as co-producers of knowledge about fire in order to illuminate the political/cultural ecology of Indigenous engagement in the national conservation estate.

Supporting Indigenous people with cognitive impairment found unfit to plead

Lead investigator: Professor Patrick Keyzer (La Trobe Law School)

When indigenous people with foetal alcohol syndrome disorder (FASD) come into contact with the criminal justice system they are often determined to be incapable of understanding legal proceedings.  The courts have power to discharge the accused or make a custodial order that detains the person in a secure psychiatric facility or prison.

These custodial orders typically result in imprisonment, and for a longer period that the person would have experienced had they been found guilty and sentenced. The Australian Human Rights Commission has determined that this is arbitrary and inconsistent with human rights principles. However while the Australian Senate resolved unanimously earlier this year that steps should be taken to ensure that this does not take place, nothing further has been done to address the problem.  The project will assist in the quest for a lasting solution.

Prospects for settlement: Colonial engraving and the inscription of peopled landscapes

Lead investigator: Doctor Liz Conor (School of Humanities and Social Sciences)

Engravings figure prominently in colonial visual histories yet no study has focused on this genre as a discrete and extensive archive that indelibly impressed upon settlers' sense of place in the landscape. Well-known engravings such as William Blake's 1793 Native Family in New South Wales (after Phillip Gidley King's water-colour) reveal the importance of this print technology in interpreting and reproducing from original artworks, and later photographs.

The relation of engraving to other media, including photography, and illustrated print culture, remains an unwritten history. These widely distributed and popularly consumed images visualised prospects for settlement in the print workshops of Europe where copperplate artisans and refining technologies converged with conventions for seeing the 'New World', from the time of exploratory voyages to the Americas through to ethnographic observation.

Through their dissemination in global communication routes and their publication in emigration manuals and guidebooks the project will investigate engravings as a driver for immigration by peopling the landscape in ways that aided the colonial project.

Understanding the role of animal bush tucker in Aboriginal diets

Lead Investigator: Doctor Jillian Garvey (School of Humanities and Social Sciences)

Whilst the role of Australian plants in past Aboriginal diets has been well studied and documented, we know very little about animal 'bush tucker' and its nutritional value, how it was hunted, butchered and cooked. Ethnographic studies have shown that prey animal butchery and body part division play an important role in tribal social and economic cohesion. This project will be longitudinal, aimed at understanding the hunting, butchery and subsistence behaviour by Aboriginal people over the past 40,000 years.

A multidisciplinary approach to the analysis of traditional ethnographic and modern hunting, butchery and cooking techniques will be undertaken. The dietary benefits of key endemic prey species will be recorded through an examination of the nutritional quality of several native animals. It will broaden our understanding of how people survived climatic and environmental change in different geographical regions. Other important outcomes include the potential role of endemic fauna in contemporary diets.

Our stories, our life – maternal Aboriginal women speak from Shepparton

Lead investigator: Professor Helen Lee

Co-Investigators: Ms Julie Andrews, Emeritus Professor Richard Broome, Professor Katie Holmes and Associate Professor Helen McLachlan

Understanding and addressing the widening gap in health and wellbeing between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children is the focus of this pilot project, which will lead into a larger project with the Aboriginal community of Shepparton. The pilot involves collecting Aboriginal women's stories about parenting past, present and future to explore the potential of using storytelling and life history narratives as a strategy for positive social change. The researchers will establish a partnership with the Shepparton Aboriginal community and work collaboratively with the Aboriginal women involved in the pilot project to develop the larger project. With researchers from the fields of medicine, anthropology and history this interdisciplinary research will look beyond failed conventional approaches to addressing problems in regional Aboriginal communities to explore the potential of storytelling to engage communities in the process of intergenerational healing and inform the work of service providers, health practitioners and others.

Small-scale mining in the Philippines: indigenous institutions for sustainability

Lead investigator: Doctor Wendy Mee

Co-investigators: Doctor Minerva Chaloping-March, Doctor Augustine Doronila and Doctor Trevor Hogan

This project examines the extent to which indigenous institutions and local ecological knowledge continue to influence small-scale gold mining in selected sites in the Cordillera region of the Philippines. Gold has been mined by indigenous communities in this region since before Spanish colonial rule. In the recent past, communities in this region continued to regard community membership and indigeneity as the bases of access to mining sites and participation in mining. Given rapid improvements in technology, the high price of gold in recent years, the mining operations of 'gold rush' miners from other areas, and the lack of alternative income sources, this research seeks to determine the extent and strength of indigenous social institutions and environmentally-sensitive practices in small-scale mining in the region. The outcomes of this research will inform the development of appropriate legislative and regulative mechanisms of small-scale mining in this region.

Well beaten paths: antiquity of Tasmanian Aboriginal land use

Lead investigator: Associate Professor Richard Cosgrove

This project examines the archaeology of Aboriginal people in eastern Tasmania. The major aim is to test two models of Holocene and late Pleistocene land use put forward by Harry Lourandos in 1968 and Richard Cosgrove and others in 1990. Specifically it investigates past tribal Aboriginal relationships using stone artefact raw material and the distance it travelled away from quarries as a proxy for social interaction. Stone artefacts will be analysed using non-destructive portable X-Ray Fluorescence (pXRF) to chemically characterise museum collections and quarry sites. Stone artefacts from the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford and Tasmanian archaeological collections are used in the study.  The project will have significance for further understanding the regional relationships and social connectedness between eastern and western Tasmania over 40,000 years.  Significantly it will contribute to debates on the antiquity and land use patterns as well as trajectories of Aboriginal social/economic change and stasis.

Where do you think you are?

Lead CI: A/Prof Felicity Collins (Creative Arts and English, Humanities and Social Sciences. ASSC)

Additional CIs: Eddie Custovic (Engineering/SHE), Prof Susannah Radstone (Univ of South Australia), Dr Karen Charman (Victoria University), Dr Sarah Tartakover (Victoria University).

Project summary

Where Do You Think You Are? is a multidisciplinary collaboration between Creative Arts, Education and Engineering at La Trobe University, Victoria University and University of South Australia. The pilot project will develop a digital research tool, the Where Do You Think You Are? App, to address the common perception by long distance travellers in Australia that 'there's nothing out there.' On the Ghan train journey from Adelaide to Darwin, 10-12 July 2016, passengers will be invited to use the App to locate themselves geographically, culturally and historically in relation to the places they pass through. School communities in SA and NT will upload images and stories of place to the App, inviting responses from the Ghan travellers. The research team will use the App to find out how digital exchanges between school communities and travellers activate recognition of Indigenous and non-Indigenous concepts of place, land, landscape and country in Australia.