Hidden histories of SA’s Riverland

A new chapter of the fate of Aboriginal communities during the European settlement of South Australia’s Riverland region is being written by Flinders University archaeologists.

Supported by a new $157,290 Linkage grant from the Australian Research Council (LP170100479), Flinders researchers will work with the River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Corporation (RMMAC) and Australian Landscape Trust to investigate the stories of the region’s colonial frontier – a region of nationally significant historical events.

“From the early voyages of explorer Charles Sturt along the Murray River, to the establishment of the Overland Stock Route, the Riverland was the setting for major, celebrated narratives of colonial endeavour,” says chief investigator Associate Professor Amy Roberts from Flinders.

“However, this region also saw many violent encounters between Europeans and Aboriginal people that culminated in the Rufus River Massacre in 1841.

“Our project will combine archaeological, anthropological and oral history evidence to generate meaningful narratives for and with Aboriginal descendants.

“These insights will contribute to understandings about the colonial frontier in Australia and globally.”

Photo courtesy Amy Roberts, Flinders University Archaology

While previous studies have focused on discrete events from the historical record, the new project will use a multi-layered strategy to explore this past and its effects in the present.

Ms Christine Abdulla, who chairs the RMMAC, says the project “is the first cohesive opportunity for community members to be involved in research that is being done with them in a post native title setting”.

“Now that the community’s rights and interests have been recognised by the Federal Court, our community members are looking forward to the range of capacity building projects that can set the path for our future,” Ms Abdulla says.

“We want the experiences of our ancestors who lived on the colonial frontier to no longer be hidden.

“This project will allow us to not only learn more about our past but will also afford us the opportunity to educate the general public about the effects of colonisation,” she says.

The new ARC project builds on a pilot project that explored the extent and nature of contact and post-contact interactions on Calperum Station and the wider central Murray River region in SA.

The ‘White People and the Gun: Interrogating the Riverland’s Colonial Frontier’ project, with fellow Flinders archaeologists Dr Mick Morrison, Associate Professor Heather Burke and Dr Ian Moffat,  builds on a growing research archive covering violence against Indigenous people around Australia.

In particular, Flinders University Associate Professor Heather Burke’s Australian Research Council project entitled the ‘Archaeology of the Queensland Native Mounted Police’ contributes to this growing thematic expertise.

See more Flinders Archaeology research projects on the website here.

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