'How do you fact that?'
: The status and efficacy of Aboriginal oral histories

  • Sean Dominic Heffernan

    Student thesis: Masters by Research - CDU


    In relation to Aboriginal peoples colonial historiography is a 'story of conquest in itself. Histories of culture contact and of Aboriginal cultures and customs were too often seen through the eyes of the victor and written mostly by white academics about' Aborigines'. Indigenous voices were rarely heard in this rational, objectivist text. Aboriginal history was appropriated, controlled, conquered.

    In contrast, postcolonial historiography has provided a platform for previously unheard voices, for example - women's, workers', immigrant and more recently Aboriginal histories. Aboriginal oral narratives, such as that related by Larrikiya elder Topsy Secretary (Juwaning), may be regarded as a postcolonial historical text. These narratives both challenge conventional history and offer different 'truths' which relate to land, culture, black/white relations and historical events.

    In this thesis I use Topsy Secretary's narratives as an exemplar of the indigenous voice and argue that indigenous voices enrich and problematise the writing of histories in which Aboriginal people feature. I also analyse a number of key issues relating to Attwood's notion of Aboriginalism and the role of the white historian as co-author of historical texts that deal with Aboriginal people and culture. In my conclusion I argue that a broader representation of indigenous voices in the production of Aboriginal histories acts as an antidote to the earlier appropriation of their words and actions by colonial historians.
    Date of AwardFeb 1998
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorMichael Christie (Supervisor)

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