First Nations

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Australian Settler Colonialism and the Cummeragunja Aboriginal Station

Redrawing Boundaries

In the series
First Nations and the Colonial Encounter

Fiona Davis is a scholar in cross-cultural history with a PhD from the University of Melbourne. She is the co-editor of Founders, Firsts and Feminists: Women Leaders in Twentieth Century Australia and the author of book chapters in Creating White Australia and Outside Country: A History of Inland Australia. The descendant of early settlers, she grew up on a dairy farm in northern Victoria.

In 1938, the anthropologist Norman Tindale gave a classroom of young Aboriginal children a set of crayons and asked them to draw. For the most part the children, residents of a government-run station Cummeragunja, drew pictures of aspects of white civilisation – boats, houses and flowers. What now to make of the records of this event? Were they encouraged, pressured, or did they draw of their own volition? Did the fact that they were Aboriginal change the meaning of their art, as they sketched out this ubiquitous colonial imagery and coloured the spaces inside the images they had drawn?

Australian Settler Colonialism and the Cummeragunja Aboriginal Station traces Cummeragunja's history from its establishment in the 1880s to its mass walk-off in 1939 and finally, to the 1960s, when its residents regained greater control over the land. Taking in oral history traditions, the author reveals the competing interests of settler governments, scientific and religious organizations, and nearby settler communities. The nature of these interests has broad and important implications for understanding settler colonial history.

This history shows white people set boundaries on Aboriginal behaviour and movement, through direct legislation and the provision of opportunities and acceptance. But Aboriginal people had agency within and, at times, beyond these limits. Aboriginal people appropriated aspects of white culture – including the houses, the flowers and the boats that their children drew for Tindale – reshaping them into new tools for Aboriginal society, tools with which to build lives and futures in a changed environment.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-608-0
Hardback Price: £35.00 / $50.00
Release Date: April 2014
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-690-5
Paperback Price: £25.00 / $34.95
Release Date: April 2014
Page Extent / Format: 224 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


List of Illustrations
Series Editors' Preface
Key Organisations
Map of Cummeragunja and surrounding area

Introduction: Redrawing Boundaries
Settler colonial foundations
My narrators
A word on boundaries

1 From Religious Mission to Government Station
The Matthews and the Aborigines Protection Association
Moving from Maloga

2 A Teacher of Unrest?
Taking back farm blocks and an "open breach of friendship"
The 1919 influenza and tensions
Remembering Thomas James

3 Missionary Work and "Getting On"
Labouring for the Lord on Cummeragunja
"Our brother" Russell
Miss M.E. McAulay

4 The Question of Religious Control
A wonderful incident
Healthcare on Cummeragunja
The Christian Endeavour movement

5 Cross-Cultural Encounters and Everyday Boundaries
Thinking about racial experience
School days at Barmah
Cross-cultural friendships and sexual unions

6 Reading of Aboriginal Progress
The procession
Remembering a dying race and a growing white interest

7 White Men Watching
The foundations
Local white experts
The community speaks
The legacy

8 Resisting Control
An inquiry
Lobbying and a polio outbreak

9 The Walk-Off
McQuiggin and the Board
The legacy

10 New Beginnings
Post war years and attempts to close the Barmah hotel
Attempts to close Cummeragunja
A new start

Conclusion: Beyond the Boundaries

Selected Bibliography

The present study by Fiona Davis augments, and goes beyond, an emerging new historiography on indigenous Australians, which “seeks to move past the broad-brush history of colonial Australia into the intimate, quotidian detail that shaped lives and livelihoods, and ultimately brought us to where we are today”. In her search to obtain an emic study of indigenous accommodation, resistance and creativity in the face of “the machinations of Australian settler colonialism”, she employs a wide range of government records, memoirs and oral history to illuminate all corners of the colonial encounter in southeast Australia. She employs a case study, that of the Cummeragunja community.
From the Series Editors’ Preface by David Cahill and Blanca Tovías

An invaluable resource for Indigenous and non-Indigenous readers.
Australia Historical Studies, reviewed by Samuel Furphy, Australian National University

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