New paper: Mission-based Indigenous production at the Weipa Presbyterian Mission

17Mar10

In 2007 Jane Lydon, Jeremy Ash and I co-convened a conference session at the ‘New Ground’ Australian Archaeology joint conference at the University of Sydney on the archaeology of Indigenous missions and reserves in Australia and the Pacific. A range of papers were presented exploring the contributions of archaeological approaches to the history of missions and reserves,  with case studies including work from the Solomon Islands, New Zealand, Torres Strait, the Gulf of Carpentaria and a series of papers on work throughout south eastern Australia. After the great feedback we received at the conference, we explored publication opportunities and I am (belatedly) glad to report that this collection of papers has recently been published in the March 2010 edition of the International Journal of Historical Archaeology.

One of the key motivations for publishing the papers was to showcase the diverse histories of Indigenous missions in the region, and the equally diverse approaches employed in the investigation of those histories. Lydon and Ash wrote a great introduction to the volume which aptly locates the papers in relation to international debates on missions and the archaeology of cross-cultural interactions, as well as the history of research into Indigenous missions and reserves in Australia and the Pacific.

Darlene McNaughton, Justin Shiner and I wrote a paper that set out to explore the economic contributions of Indigenous people who lived in and near a former Presbyterian mission at Weipa, and the significance of those contributions to both the mission and the health and wellbeing of the mission community. We were most interested in looking at wild food (that is, foods that were gathered and hunted from the bush by Aboriginal people), and we focused upon the case study of culturally modified trees (scarred trees) as well as relevant historical and oral history data. The abstract is below:

Mission-based Indigenous Production at the Weipa Presbyterian Mission, Western Cape York Peninsula (1932-1966)
Michael Morrison, Darlene McNaughton and Justin Shiner

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.

Highlights in the volume for me included the paper by Lydon and Burns on the Ebenezer Mission in Victoria (see also Lydon’s recently published book), Angela Middleton’s comparative paper on Missionization in New Zealand and Australia, and finally, the paper by Birmingham and Wilson comparing the well known Wybalenna Settlement (Tasmania) with  the Killalpaninna Mission (central Australia). We hope to have the volume reviewed in the coming months and I’ll post that once it comes out.

EDIT (26 Mar 2010): Alun Salt has written a great blog post about our paper, which you can read here.

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