Decentring the new protectors: transforming Aboriginal heritage in South Australiaby Steve Hemming, Daryle Rigney

International Journal of Heritage Studies


International Journal of Heritage Studies

Vol. 16, Nos. 1–2, January–March 2010, 90–106

ISSN 1352-7258 print/ISSN 1470-3610 online © 2010 Taylor & Francis

DOI: 10.1080/13527250903441804

Decentring the new protectors: transforming Aboriginal heritage in

South Australia

Steve Hemminga* and Daryle Rigneyb aAustralian Studies, Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia; bYunggorendi First

Nations Centre, Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia

Taylor and FrancisRJHS_A_444541.sgm(Received 26 February 2009; final version received 27 August 2009) 10.1080/13527250903441804International Journal of Heritage Studies352-7258 (print)/1470-3610 (online)Original Article2 10Taylor & Francis6/20 0 00Ja u ry-March 2010Mr. SteveHemmi gsteve.hemming@flinders.

Disciplines such as archaeology, anthropology and history exercise a seemingly disproportionate influence on race relations in settler democracies. In South

Australia, this influence has complex and unbroken genealogies linked to the beginnings of British settlement and the Protectors of Aborigines. This colonising character survives, and we argue that researchers working in Aboriginal heritage can be positioned as the new Protectors of Aborigines, reinvigorating a colonising network of power relations that remains critical in determining Indigenous interests and futures. In response Ngarrindjeri are theorising and strategising a transformative programme for decentring the new Protectors that avoids contexts where authenticity is at question or fundamental to the negotiations. Mapping actor networks revealed in everyday meetings and performances, and understanding local/global cultures of governmentality, have been necessary to safely bring Indigenous interests into Aboriginal heritage research, planning and policy, without activating the colonial archive and recycling Aboriginalist myths.

Keywords: Indigenous; cultural heritage management; colonising; transformation;

Aboriginalist; governmentality; Australia

Ngarrindjeri have occupied, enjoyed, managed and used our inhabited lands and waters, since Creation. We were here when the sea level began rising about 18,000 years ago, and our ancestors watched the sea flooding over our coastal plains. We were here when the sea stabilised at its current level about 5,000 years ago. Our Creation stories record these dramatic changes. We were here when the European invaders began stealing our land and our resources; killing our people and our Ngartjis, such as Kondoli (whale) and

Paingal (seal); polluting our rivers, lakes and Coorong; and draining our wetlands/nurseries. And we are still here! (Ngarrindjeri Nation, 2006, p. 11)

As you know, all natives are liars unless it suits them to be otherwise. (Sister Phyllis McKenzie, Aborigines Department Welfare Officer, 1947 in Raynes 2009, p. 32)

Introduction: positioning self, theorising context

We write this paper from the perspective of a non-Indigenous, interdisciplinary researcher, with a background in museums, anthropology and history, and an Indigenous Ngarrindjeri educationalist and community leader with expertise in community *Corresponding author. Email:

International Journal of Heritage Studies 91 development and governance. We both teach at Flinders University in South

Australia, and for a number of years we have been working collaboratively with the leadership of the Ngarrindjeri nation, in the Lower Murray region of South Australia (see Figure 1), on projects associated with cultural and natural resource management, governance and community development (see Rigney and Hemming 2006, Hemming et al. 2007a).

Figure 1. Ngarrindjeri lands showing some of the main groups (Hemming et al. 1989).We share with Ngarrindjeri leaders the conviction that the State of South

Australia is yet to negotiate a just settlement with Indigenous nations and that this unresolved issue remains critical in any discussion of collaboration and engagement

Figure 1. Ngarrindjeri lands showing some of the main groups (Hemming et al. 1989). 92 S. Hemming and D. Rigney in the context of Aboriginal heritage research and management (Trevorrow and

Hemming 2006). This political situation has had long-term, negative impacts on the socio-economic status of Indigenous people and the capacity of nations such as the

Ngarrindjeri to engage with the increasing complexity of incursions on Ngarrindjeri lands and waters. There are no treaties or land rights legislation in southern South

Australia. Aboriginal heritage legislation and, more recently, native title legislation are the primary mechanisms for Indigenous people to assert, negotiate or protect interests in lands and waters. This brings Indigenous claims, such as the restricted women’s knowledge associated with Hindmarsh Island (Kumarangk), at the mouth of the Murray River, into the space of litigation, expert assessment and non-Indigenous adjudication (see Brunton 1995, Fergie 1996, Hemming 1996, Bell 1998, Simons 2003, Curthoys et al. 2008).1 Western constructions of culture, tradition and the past frame this context and reinforce the role of non-Indigenous experts as managers and protectors.

We ask whether these new Protectors follow the tradition laid down by their predecessors during the Aboriginal protection era, where the officially designated

Protectors of Aborigines often protected the non-Indigenous population from the ‘natives’, handed out rations to compensate for land ‘acquisition’, stole children from their families, and policed Indigenous peoples’ lives (see Mattingley and Hampton 1988, Foster 1989, Brock 1993, Haebich 2000, Raynes 2009).2 We have recently argued that Aboriginalist myths of cultural extinction have produced a situation where

Ngarrindjeri people remain land and resource poor – rather than land rich and resource poor as is often stated about ‘remote’ Indigenous nations in northern and central

Australia (see Attwood and Arnold 1992, Altman and Hinkson 2007, Hemming and