School of History Seminar Week 2

“The Silence of Daily Life [and] Aboriginal Voices”*: The Archaeology of Post-Contact Western Arnhem Land

A 2008–2012 ARC Linkage Project “Baijini, Macassans, Balanda, and Bininj” sought to investigate how the archaeology of western Arnhem Land could demonstrate the range of historically documented impacts on Indigenous society from contact with the Macassan trepang industry, European colonial outposts, and later the formal 1870s settlement of the Northern Territory of South Australia. The research project started with the investigation of the timing of the Macassan trepang industry in north western Arnhem Land by revisiting the famous Macassan Anuru Bay trepang processing site documented by Campbell Macknight in his greatly influential work on Macassan trepangers in Voyage to Marege. Analysis of radiocarbon dates from the Anuru Bay site reveals there may have been an early phase of visitation (mid-1600s AD) that pre-dates the industrial scale trepang processing phase (mid- to late-1700s AD ) at this location. The investigation then turned to Indigenous rock-shelters and rock art sites to examine the impact of contact. Amongst a range of excavated contact archaeological materials was the significant find of a glass bead assemblage which presented many questions regarding the origins and use of these beads. Contact rock art in western Arnhem Land has also been a major indicator of change and continuity in Indigenous land use and occupation. The art depicts a great deal of complexity in terms of introduced imagery which aligns with various historical events and phases. The challenge for the project has been to analyse this array of Indigenous archaeological assemblages and to attribute which phases of the culture contact experience they reflect. The aim of this presentation is to demonstrate the complex links between Indigenous society and the history of various European administrative, economic, and social enterprises that occurred in western Arnhem Land, including the impact of events of international scale, such as World War II through the application of Altman’s Indigenous hybrid economy model of Indigenous engagement.
* C. J. Robinson, “Buffalo Hunting and the Feral Frontier of Australia's Northern Territory,” Social and Cultural Geography 6 (2005): 885–901

Daryl Wesley has been involved in working with Aboriginal groups in the Northern Territory since 1991. He has been instrumental in negotiating with key Aboriginal Traditional Owners about cultural heritage issues and undertaking collaborative archaeological research. Through his Masters, PhD, and George Chaloupka Fellowship projects, he has always sought participatory engagement and planning with Traditional Owners and based these in his principles of archaeological work. Chiefly during this time he completed a PhD investigating changes that have occurred in Indigenous occupation of the Western Arnhem Land region in relation to contact with the mythological Baijini, the Macassans, and Europeans through the documentation and analysis of the unique rock art and archaeology of the Wellington Range and Anuru Bay region.  Research interests involve historic Indigenous customary land use and occupation, Indigenous engagement in World War II in the South West Pacific Area (Northern Territory), and Australian Indigenous archaeology

Date & time

Wed 29 Jul 2015, 4.15–5.30pm


McDonald Room Menzies Library

Event series


School of History


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