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Our Heritage - Your Playground

Author(s): R. F. Langford
Source: Australian Archaeology, No. 16 (Jun., 1983), pp. 1-6
Published by: Australian Archaeological Association
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OUR HERITAGE
-
YOUR PLAYGROUND
presented by
R.F.
Langford
for the Tasmanian
Aboriginal Community
DESECRATION
One hundred
years ago,
a doctor
crept
into the
night,
his
thoughts
weren't on the
living,
but on those who weren't
long dead,
not normal human
beings,
so
implied society,
just
a bunch of
Aborigines,
specimens
of cave
age ancestry,
a
spade
was
found,
the earth was
turned,
the bodies carted off,
then Crowther
played
at
being doctor,
and sawed their dead limbs
off,
a macabre scene no doubt we'd
say,
but in the doctor's
eyes,
the means did
justify
the end,
for science's
experience,
and now the scene is set
again,
the children of those
dead,
have
fought
and won a
major
battle,
for
justice
and
humanity,
to
place
their dead at
rest,
yet
still
today
it is the
same,
where science has but one
thought,
to
dig,
to
probe,
to
take,
without
regard
for
rights,
belonging
to
those,
whose land and
bodies,
they trespass upon,
eagerly searching,
for a treasure trove,
to make their name and
fortune,
regardless
as to who and what
they may
be
hurting
in the
process.
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2
It is time that we defined the Issues which have and continue to cause
conflict between the science of
archaeology
and the
Aboriginal people.
To
date
the Issues have been
confused; archaeologists
feel
unfairly
criticised
and feel hurt because
they say they
are
doing
their best to
develop
an
understanding
of our
culture,
and we are
angry
because we are treated to
token moves to obtain our
approval
and consent to what
you
are
doing.
The Issue is control. You seek to
say
that as scientists
you
have a
right
to obtain and
study
information of our culture. You seek to
say
that
because
you
are Australians
you
have a
right
to
study
and
explore
our
heritage
because it is a
heritage
to be shared
by
all
Australians,
white
and black. From our
point
of view we
say you
have come as
invaders, you
have tried to
destroy
our
culture, you
have built
your
fortunes
upon
the
lands and bodies of our
people
and
now, having
said
sorry,
want a share in
picking
out the bones of what
you regard
as a dead
past.
We
say
that it is
our
past,
our culture and
heritage,
and forms
part
of our
present
life. As
such it is ours to control and it is ours to share on our terms. That is
the Central Issue in this debate.
This Issue involves three
important aspects.
The first is the debate
about the
relationship
of scientists and science with the
community
at
large.
The second involves the
particular aspect
of the
relationship
of a white
oriented science with the
Aboriginal community.
The third is that this
debate is international. It extends to the demands of
indigenous people
throughout
the world and to those countries which were
subject
to colonial
powers
.
The first
aspect
is not of
particular
concern to the
Aboriginal people
although
it should be of concern to
you.
As to the
second,
there can be no
doubt that
your
science of
archaeology
is white
organised,
white
dominated,
and draws its values and
techniques
from a
European
and
Anglo-American
culture and devotes much of its time to the
study
of non-white
people.
As
such it has within it a cultural bias which has
historically
formulated an
equation
between non-white races and
primitiveness
.
Although portion
of
that bias cannot be avoided until there are sufficient
Aboriginal
archaeo-
logists
available
(and
we are not sure that
training Aborigines
within a
white value science is
desirable)
that
reality
of bias cannot be used
by
science to
say
that our claims are unfair and unscientific. Whether one
likes it or not
your
science is value laden and its values come from a
culture which is not the culture
being
researched. As to the
third,
it is
a matter of international debate. One cannot
argue
that the
Aboriginal
people
are
raising
an
empty
or unreasonable demand. It is also the demand
of others who have been treated in the same
way.
Two
arguments
are used to
meet our demand. The first is that the
Aboriginal people
have much to
gain
from science and the second is that even if errors have been made in the
past
then
everything
is different now and that science is
applying
different
values to its work. Let us look at some
examples
to test these
arguments.
Science, including
the science of
archaeology,
determined that
Truganinni
was the last of our
people.
It did so
by using
scientific
principles
based
upon European
values. The effect of this 'scientific fact1
has been incalculable to the 4000 Tasmanian
Aboriginals
who reside in
Tasmania. Science had
proved
that we didn't exist. White
society
wouldn't
accept
us
(after all,
racism transcends
science)
but it was science which
denied us a
separate
existence. Science
got
what it wanted
-
some bones to
parade through Europe enhancing
the
reputation
of white
colonials, leaving
us with a
struggle lasting
100
years
to defeat that view. And science did
not assist us in that
fight.
But what has
changed?
It was the
Aboriginal
people
who
fought
for the return of the
grave-robbed
skeletons known as the
Crowther Collection. There was no
agitation
from within
your discipline
for their
proper
burial or cremation. Instead there was
opposition
and
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3
obstruction to our demand for the return of the dead. And it
says something
for the
power
of science that when one of
your number,
Professor
Mulvaney,
with
honesty,
stated that he had
changed
his mind and
supported us,
the
remaining
doors
opened.
What would have
happened
if a
non-distinguished
archaeologist
had
changed
his or her mind?
Probably nothing. Why
was it
that most of
you
waited and watched? What difference is there between
inaction and indifference and the views of a Doctor Crowther or the Trustees
of the Museum of Tasmania? And what of the role of the Museum itself? Not
only
did the Museum and its scientific staff deceive
Aboriginal people
in
1976
by concealing
the fact that
they
held the remains of
Aborigines
other
than those of
Truganinni,
but
they
also
duped
the Tasmanian Government. The
archaeologists
and their institutions
placed
themselves above Parliament and
the Public as some divine
group.
Is
archaeology tending
towards a view that
only archaeologists
and their associates know what is
right?
But
anyhow,
let's
get
back to the basis of the
disagreement
between our
people
and the
people
that
you represent.
A number of views have been
put
forward
by archaeologists
in
attempting
to come to
grips
with
(I suppose
you
would
say)
the incredible lack of
appreciation Aborigines
have for the
work carried out
by
the
majority
of
archaeologists.
One
argument
is that
archaeological
activities have
not,
in the
past, substantially
aided
Aboriginal groups
and in the main have
been,
and still
are, counterproductive.
Professor
Mulvaney
would
dispute
this. He cites the
acknowledgement
which
Aboriginal
academic leaders have
given
to the contribution made
by archaeology
to land
rights (Mulvaney 1981:20).
Such a view
ignores
the fact that
Aborigines
have been forced to
rely
on white sciences to
support
land claims
and have not done so
by
choice. Land claims are
judged
not on
any objective
universal criterion in this
country,
but
upon
a criterion handed down
by
the
representatives
of
your
race. You
people
invaded
my country.
You
people
have decided what we must
satisfy
to
regain
our land. And now we have to
rely
on
you people
to
support
our claims that we have satisfied that
criterion. Thus the Government,
the Land Councils and the
mining companies
hire their
archaeologists
and
anthropologists
and do battle in the courts.
Science,
not
ownership,
determines which land we shall
get
back.
Another view
suggests
that if
only archaeologists
would take a few
minutes of their valuable time to sit and talk with
Aboriginal people
then
everything
would be fine. As Nason
(1981:16) puts
it:
Much of this data
collecting
is
particularly
onerous for those
subjects.
Some researchers have lacked the
necessary
sensi-
tivity
and common sense to
carry
it out at all well.
And,
some research
projects
are,
from a theoretical and
practical
viewpoint, very poorly
conceived. It is
regrettable
that such
things
have been true. And even
though
these cases are a
minority,
each one is served far
beyond
its actual
potential
for
having
to tear down all such research in the
eyes
of
potential subjects.
When we
apply
the same
perspective
to
the cases of
poorly
done field
collecting
of
specimens
as
well,
we
begin
to have a serious
problem
indeed in
receiving
the
goodwill
and
co-operation
of
many
local communities.
The view that
Aborigines
need
only
be
appeased
is
obviously fairly represen-
tative of
archaeologists1 thinking.
And in
any
event we as Tasmanian
Aboriginals
can
quite clearly
state that there has not even been consultation.
And,
as
many
have found,
to underestimate our
intelligence
is in the
long
term
self-defeating.
The crux of the
problem
is
spelled
out
by
Professor
Mulvaney, when,
in
arguing against Aboriginal ownership,
he
says (1981:20):
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4
This
virtually imposes
a racial
monopoly
of data and its
exposition.
The
implication
of such claims to absolute
custodianship
of the
past goes
much further than the
undoubted need for
Aboriginal
scholars to undertake
research and
tertiary
education in their own cause...
We would have identified the issue in different
words,
but semantics
aside,
the issue
clearly
is 'who owns the
Aboriginal heritage?1
The United States
case of the Zuni War
God1, purportedly
owned
by
the Denver Art
Museum,
is
in
point.
That case made clear that the museum ideal of
collecting
and
maintaining important specimens, legally acquired,
for the
general public
was
superseded by
the
particular
needs of the ethnic
community
that had
produced
these
objects.
The
argument against
the
approach adopted
in that
decision is
perhaps
best summed
up by
Professor
Mulvaney
where he states
(1981:20):
I am also an Australian and I
regard
with
pride
the cultural
achievements
during
the remote
past
of this continent and
wish to
study
and
analyse
it as
part
of the inheritance of
all Australians.
Similar
arguments,
of
course,
are used to
deny Aboriginal people
their
right
to land. It has even been
suggested, by way
of
analogy,
that
Aboriginal
claims of
ownership
of their
heritage
were
synonymous
with the
Adolf Hitler view of the
superior Origin
race. I
quote, 'Testimony
to the
excesses of
mystical
claims to folk
monopoly
of truth and research is
provided by
the
Aryan
racial intolerance of Hitlerite
Germany (Mulvaney
1981:20). Really,
that's a bit much.
Underlying
that view is the notion that
heritage,
no matter from which
particular group
it
originates,
and no matter what the
view,
the
culture,
the
religion
or
conceptual significance
that
heritage
has to the
particular
group,
is the
property
of mankind.
Mankind,
needless to
say,
is
mainly
represented by
that culture which
has,
and continues to
exploit
and invade
the lands and cultures of 'other' societies. The mankind that view refers
to
is,
of
course,
the white one. The
underlying
theme of that view is
nothing
new. In fact colonialism was
justified
on that basis. The view
itself sounds
quite reasonable,
but it has enabled and
justified
the
domination of other
groups by
the
powerful,
and stands condemned on that
basis.
The obvious counter to that
approach
is found in the
question
that if
we
Aborigines
cannot control our own
heritage,
what the hell can we controls
It seems that
whites,
whether
they
be
pastoralists, philosophers
or archaeo-
logists,
not
only deny
our
right
to our land but now want to
deny
us the
right
to our
heritage.
The
theory
that all mankind is
one, hardly
relates
to
practice.
White
people
invaded our
country.
You still
possess
and claim
to own our land. You cannot
go
on
imposing your
will
upon
us
simply
because
you
have the
greater
numbers and
military might.
The time has
surely
come
for
you people
to
accept
our
rights
over
ourselves,
our
destiny
and our
past.
Certainly archaeology
has a
poor
record in this area. Let's look at
the 'modern' or 'informed'
archaeologists.
An
archaeologist prepared
a
paper
for a
program
for
exploring
Tasmania's
'prehistory'
in 1981. And
isn't
'prehistory'
a
lovely
value-laden word? But to the
quote:
The Tasmanian
story
has
only begun
to be told. Yet this
story,
this vast
heritage
locked in those ancient silent
sites,
all
that remains of an
already
vanished
people
-
is threatened
by
destruction; yet again by
the advent of modern human
expansion.
1
Canadian Museums Association
14(4):4-27,
1980
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5
And
further,
!Not
only
would such a
study help
us
preserve
the
evidence,
it would also advance our
understanding
of a vanished
society1.
And in a
section headed fTasmanian
archaeology
-
where to from
here?1,
!A tremendous
resource,
a non-renewable
resource,
is
being
erased from the
landscape
daily.
A resource that has
major potential
for
tourism,
recreation and
education1.1
Then,
because the
paper
contains a
request
for
funding
there
is a
passing
reference to
today's
Tasmanian
Aboriginal community.
So we want to tell
you
some of our views and
policies,
in an area which
can be either a
battleground
or a field of
co-operation.
And
up
until now
science has made it a
battleground.
We all know of the
severing
of William
Lanne's
skull,
and I've
already
mentioned the
digging up
of the
body
of
Truganinni
and the
grave-robbing
of Crowther and the
subsequent
actions of
the
Museum,
all done in the name of science. And that is not the
past.
It
has continued into the 1970s and 80s. And I want to use one
story
to show
this continuation and how the values of
archaeology
have harmed us.
I
speak
of course of the work of Dr
Rhys
Jones and his association with
the film-maker Tom
Haydon. Incidentally, Haydon
was involved in an earlier
film on
Aborigines
with another
archaeologist.
The distortions in that film
caused the
archaeologist
to have the film withdrawn. I do not wish to
discuss the
expertise
of Dr Jones in his
particular
field. Nor do I want
to debate the various technical details of his work. But our association
with him does show
many
of the
ways
in which science is used to harm us and
how we are used to further the interests and careers of scientists. The
history
of the
Royal Society
of Tasmania
(especially
in the 19th
century
and
the
early part
of the 20th
century)
is
apt proof
of this.
Tom
Haydon
and Dr Jones
approached
the
Aboriginal community
for
assistance with their work and the
making
of the film. We were told that
there would be consultation and a
sharing
of information. We
supplied
them
with all of the information
required
for the film
-
names, addresses, places,
contacts and so on. We were
promised
in return that we could see the
film,
have a
say
in its
editing
and
generally
be involved in the view that the
film was
expressing.
That
process
occurred over a number of
years.
Because
of
that, many Aboriginals opened
their
hearts,
told stories,
revealed
secrets. We trusted and were
betrayed.
We weren't
consulted,
our stories
were
edited,
a
particular
line was
advanced,
and we
helped portray
the
story
which denied our existence.
Although
I cannot claim the
expertise
of
Rhys
Jones in his
archaeological
playground,
I can however
challenge any
conclusions he draws from his research
findings.
It seems that
findings
of fewer tools
being
used
by
Tasmanian
Aborigines
than
by
mainland
Aborigines
led to the scientific conclusion that
Aborigines
were in a state of decline in Tasmania. I need not
argue
on
archaeological grounds
to
expose
such a view for what it is worth. 'Isn't
it marvellous that we lived here for at least
25,000 years,
and, having
achieved a
balance,
for no
reason, began
to
go
downhill'.
As we all know the
prevailing
white
opinion
in the 19th
century
of
Aborigines
was that we were
inherently
inferior to whites,
and more akin
to
savages
than to other human races. Well! Hasn't science advanced! Of
course the view was used
by
the white
community
to soften the
guilt
of
invasion and the destruction of a
society.
In
response
to the claim
by
archaeologists
that
they
are not
responsible
for what the
press
or the
community
makes of their conclusions,
I would
point
out that Kutikina
cave in the Southwest is a
good example
of
manipulation by archaeologists
for their own ends.
Archaeologists
have held
press
conferences over the
1
Quoted
from an
unpublished grant application prepared by
the Tasmanian
State
Archaeologist,
Don Ranson. In fairness to Mr Ranson it should be
noted that the document was
prepared
for a State
authority
with no
professional expertise
in
archaeology [Eds].
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6
'finding1
of this cave
(among others)
in
support
of the conservationists
effort to
prevent
the
flooding
of the area. The
manipulation
of that
issue
by
scientists has been made without
recognition
of the
rights
of
Aborigines
to
preserve
their own culture.
Delegates
would be aware that
the
Aboriginal
Movement is in conflict with the Tasmanian Wilderness
Society
on this issue and there has been a
stony
silence
by
them on our claims
whilst much
mileage
has been made
by
them on the
importance
of the sites.
We are not averse to
working
with others on
preserving
our
heritage
but we will
fight
to
prevent
our
heritage being
treated as an historic
commodity.
We are the custodians. You can either be our
guests
or our
enemies. That decision can
only
rest with
you.
Indeed we
recognise
that
there are issues
upon
which we
agree
with the view taken
by archaeologists.
We too believe in
preserving
the environment. We too
oppose mining
of land
because it involves the destruction of non-renewable cultural resources. And
only recently
we met
with,
and
sought
the
support of,
Professor
Mulvaney
for
the return to us of the Crowther Collection. I am
happy
to
say
we received
his
support.
But the ball is in
your
court.
You,
as a
profession,
have a
lot of
ground
to make
up.
It was
your profession
which decreed us a
backward and
primitive people,
that we were further down the
evolutionary
line. It was
your profession
which allowed itself to be used
by
white
Australia
generally,
to live with the
knowledge
of what it did to
my people
and
my people's society.
Your
profession gained
from it
-
it became
established as a science
upon
which the
general community
could
rely
to
excuse
gross
atrocities committed
against Aborigines.
It was
your profession
which made its international
reputation by digging up, analysing
and
proclaiming upon
the
Aboriginal
dead. You
repaid
us with
quotes
such
as,
'He remembered them as
ugly,
rather like
monkeys
with their
clay pipes
in
their mouths'
(Crowther 1974). Reputations,
it
seems,
have been made and
continue to be
made,
on the
graves
of our
people.
As for the future we cannot and will not
say.
Until we have determined
the basis of our
relationship
and until we have stated the fundamental basis
upon
which
you
are
prepared
to work with
us,
we cannot determine the
ground
rules of our
co-operation.
We are not hostile to
'proper'
science and we
love our
heritage
and our culture. But until we can share that
knowledge
we must be secure with control of our land and our culture. When that is
acknowledged
we can
begin
to discuss the basis of our
sharing
that with
you.
The next
step
is for
you
to take. We
suspect
that it will be a much
larger
step
than
you
believe.
REFERENCES
Crowther, W.E.L.H. 1974 The final
phase
of the extinct Tasmanian race
1847-1876. Records
of
the
Queen Victoria Museum 49:1-34
Mulvaney,
D.J. 1981 What future for our
past?
Archaeology
and
society
in the
eighties.
Australian
Archaeology
13:16-27
Nason,
J.D. 1981 A
question
of
patrimony:
ethnical issues in the
collecting
of cultural
objects.
Museum
Roundup
13. British
Columbia Museums Association
Tasmanian
Aboriginal
Centre
GPO Box 569F
Hob art Tasmania
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