Aboriginal Environments Research Centre

You are here

Mary-Jean Sutton

Thesis & Topic: 

Places of shared values:  former missions and government settlements in Queensland

Mary-Jean Sutton

The primary objective of the project is to study changes in the cultural heritage values of mission camps or villages and government settlements and understand why changes in values have occurred.  The relationships between knowledge, caring for country and the history of relations between Indigenous and non-indigenous residents over time will be explored.  Community can be defined in this project as both Indigenous and non-indigenous people who lived within these places during their institutional period and their descendants. 

The term “community” is recognised as outlined in Frances Peters-Little’s AIATSIS discussion paper (2000) and Memmott and Moran (2001:3-4), as is the case of many parts of Australia, it does not refer to a “cohesive social group”  and needs to be used with caution.  To counter these problems, Indigenous members of settlements associated with these places will be identified through historical research and consultation with local Aboriginal Shire Councils and native title groups.  Relevant Indigenous people associated with these places will be identified through listening and seeking advice from any relevant local Indigenous organisations or individuals.  Relevant non-indigenous people who lived in these places during the institutional period will be identified through historical research and through contacts in Church, State and local archives and agencies.

Secondary project objectives include: to investigate the significance of these places to (a) contemporary Indigenous people who live in settlements associated with the former mission and reserve sites; and to (b) the people who occupied them during their institutional period (for example, missionaries, staff and Indigenous occupants); to explore the changes in meaning, significance and relationships to these places for Indigenous and non-indigenous people over time; to investigate how the intent of power relations are reflected in the design and organisation of former mission camps or villages and government settlements through surveillance, segregation and isolation (Foucault 1979).  This question will also include separating out ‘intent’ from ‘reality’ when examining the proposed design of these places in historical records compared to the reality of settlement organisation and interaction between Indigenous occupants and missionaries and staff during the institutional period; and 4. to explore the relationship between the significance of these places and notions of ‘community identity’.

These objectives are important because the cultural heritage values used by people has a direct relationship with the protection and destruction of sites and cultural landscapes (what is saved and what is destroyed is related to what is valued).  Review of the significance assessment criteria particularly those currently utilised by State and Commonwealth agencies may lead to working through some of the current flaws of these systems. These places are also often slipping through the gaps of registration by heritage agencies due their shared values and due to divisions in State legislation.  The history of the establishment of State heritage legislation and the construction of national and “Aboriginal” identity to date is also a fundamental factor in the protection and destruction of sites and in understanding values. 

Research questions regarding significance and interaction will be investigated through one to two missions/settlements in Queensland as case studies.  One case study will be the former missions associated with Mapoon.  A second case study is most likely to be another former Presbyterian mission/government settlement within western Cape York (one of Weipa, Napranum or Aurukun) for detailed historical archival research, community consultation, anthropological, archaeological and architectural survey and oral history recording.  The project will also involve co-operation with State government agencies such as the Department of Environment and Resource Management, Queensland to assist with protecting these places and associated material culture in consultation with Indigenous people.