Nidjuuk, niih, kaatitjin – look, listen, learn: Noongar and Koories interpreting the silences of a colonial archive

2017-10-10T05:41:10Z (GMT) by Huebner, Sharon
This thesis repositions a story held in a colonial archive for more than 150 years within the stronghold of Western Australia Noongar and Victorian Koorie kinship. It is about the history of Bessy Flowers, an ancestor of both communities, and the production of a cultural legacy from a single historical photograph. The photographer of this particular photograph was colonial settler, Alfred Hawes Stone. Stone photographed Bessy as a girl while living in the care of missionary housemother, Anne Camfield. Anne was responsible for the Annesfield Native Institution established in 1852 in Albany, Western Australia. In June 1867, Bessy was one of five Aboriginal women sent from this native institution to the Ramahyuck Aboriginal Mission in eastern Victoria. In this thesis Bessy’s history situates a Noongar and Koorie displacement from cultural family and community life. It is a history recorded in the correspondence of the missionaries and government officials who played a role in Bessy’s life, as well as in Bessy’s personal letters to Anne Camfield. Such records provide details of Bessy’s life, but it is the historical photograph that has provoked a powerful research inquiry that seeks the fate of this Minang girl, who lived during times of cultural change for Australian Aboriginal people. The historical photograph of Bessy given context by her life history, provides the impetus for exploring Bessy’s contemporary positioning within the everyday realities of her descendants in Victoria and her extended family in the southwest of Western Australia. By retracing the life history of their ancestor as a cultural practice of history, rather than a western practice of history, the Koorie Bryant family and the Noongar Flowers family make visible a story of Bessy that is culturally relevant and significant to Noongar and Koorie ontologies of identity and place-memory. This cultural act of remembering, as I have detailed in this thesis, is grounded in a conceptual and spiritual understanding that ancestors walk in front of you and not behind you, which makes the past relevant to a present day Noongar and Koorie identity. As a result, in this thesis I participate in an exchange of cross-cultural and intercommunity dialogues that produce a cultural intervention with a history that represents from a cultural perspective, loss and absence, together with, hope and resilience. I also record the experience of this cultural intervention of the archive that is made visible through cultural stories and a contemporary visual presence that is off-centre to colonial perceptions, where the past is hermetically and lastingly sealed in archives and, to date, is given unchallenged perpetuity by Australian historians. Indigenous readers should be aware that this thesis contains the names, words and images of people who have passed away.