This thesis examines the role of tradition in the continuity of Aboriginal society at Lockhart River settlement in Cape York Peninsula, Queensland. Like other remote Aboriginal communities in Australia, Lockhart is the product of an historical process of alien contact, subsequent domination and missionization. Despite deliberate European attempts to change Aboriginal ways, Lockhart people today see themselves as the inheritors of a body of traditions handed down from pre-contact times. From these traditions, people maintain a distinctive identification with the northeastern Peninsula region.
Studies of continuity and change in Aboriginal societies have recently elaborated upon the concepts of tradition and identity. Tradition can be seen as an intellectual phenomenon: beliefs which relate the past to the present and which provide rules for the social order. Identity is defined in terms of ethnocentric categories of people sharing common beliefs of origin which distinguish "we" from "they", and they are present at various hierarchical levels of inclusivity and exclusivity. Both these concepts are used in this study of Lockhart society.
Three major sorts of ethnographic data are presented. Firstly, an account of contact history based upon both European and Aboriginal sources is given. This information reveals a multicultural alien influence for 50 years or so until the Lockhart River mission was founded. Lugger and mining activities were entrepreneurial and based on scattered natural resources. They relied on Aboriginal labour and offered no challenge to Aboriginal occupation of the northeast Peninsula coastline. By the time the mission was established, the Aboriginal people of the region had worked out their own adjustments to foreign intrusion, free from official control. Since missionization, various European attempts to restructure Lockhart society have failed.
Secondly, the current beliefs of Lockhart people about precontact Aboriginal society in the area, and the relationship between people and land are presented. These describe a close identification among people of several dialect areas who shared common systems of kinship, descent and marriage, who occupied a continuous tract of beach and adjacent upland country, and who had a common set of religious beliefs and practices. Within this broad categorization, there were finer levels of identity resolution: beach and inland, north and south, individual dialect territory, common camping area and individual estates. Overall, this resource-rich region was characterized by self-recognition of sociocultural distinctiveness across a wide but well-bounded area, relatively permanent large community camps, and a religious ideology which emphasized wider rather than intensely localistic allegiances.
Thirdly, the current beliefs and behaviours of the people of Lockhart settlement are examined. Identity groups, based on traditional regional distribution, dancing and initiation ceremonies act as expressive vehicles for public group identification. The traditional systems of kinship and marriage have persisted, and these lie at the heart of a common community identity. While group identity underlies formalized community activities, ego-centred "pools" of cognatic kin give rise to various temporary and permanent coalitions for routine activities in the community. These forge links across community divisions. Settlement social processes are therefore a matter of balancing community sub-group identification on the one hand, and common community membership on the other; both are firmly based on traditional ideology.
The conclusion proposes that the concepts of tradition and identity are critical in understanding social dynamics of modern Aboriginal communities. Explanations of continuity and change can only be made if the internal ideological dimensions of Aboriginal society are considered. At Lockhart, provided no alterations are made to the population base or to its location within the region of identification. Aboriginal people should continue to make adjustments based upon their own traditions despite oppressive external direction from a detached European administration which is still attempting to Europeanize the settlement occupants.