The well-crafted mija: traditional Aboriginal building skills and knowledge in the Australian Wet Tropics

O'Rourke, Timothy Charles (2012). The well-crafted mija: traditional Aboriginal building skills and knowledge in the Australian Wet Tropics PhD Thesis, School of Architecture, The University of Queensland.

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Author O'Rourke, Timothy Charles
Thesis Title The well-crafted mija: traditional Aboriginal building skills and knowledge in the Australian Wet Tropics
School, Centre or Institute School of Architecture
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2012
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Paul Memmott
Daphne Nash
Greg Bamford
Total pages 309
Total colour pages 31
Total black and white pages 278
Language eng
Subjects 120199 Architecture not elsewhere classified
210301 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History
Formatted abstract
In the tropical rainforests of northeastern Queensland, nineteenth and early twentieth century photographers recorded a distinctive repertoire of Aboriginal dwellings. Compared with other records of Aboriginal dwellings across the continent, these buildings were distinguished by their relatively large domical forms and pallet of rainforest construction materials. Early in the twenty-first century, Girramay and Jirrbal people in the Tully and Murray rivers district reconstructed ten of their traditional dwellings, or mija, for the purpose of this thesis. An interdisciplinary approach to the study is used to trace the continuity and erosion of Girramay and Jirrbal building traditions across three centuries. A combination of research methods and techniques produced data that raised a number of questions about the evidence, meaning, and significance of the building traditions in the past and the present.

The reconstructed mija opened two intertwined lines of enquiry. Firstly, data gathered in the field on the form, structure, fabric, construction technologies and details are compared with archival evidence of Girramay dwellings at the onset of colonisation. The collation and comparison of these two types of data produce a more detailed and critical record of Jirrbal and Girramay dwellings. Secondly, variations revealed in the process of constructing mija, and comparisons with other examples of reconstruction in the region, raised a primary research question about the skills and knowledge required to not only reproduce building tradition but also to reproduce a well-crafted mija. The factors that influence the level and transmission of traditional building skills are examined through an analysis of the early-contact historical data, twenty-first century reconstructed mija.

The socio-cultural and geographic contexts for Girramay and Jirrbal built environments, as well as the technical characteristics, are central to this architectural and historical enquiry. I argue that social, cultural and environment factors have been integral to the continuity of Girramay building traditions, but equally, destruction of indigenous landscapes, linguistic decline and significant cultural change have diminished traditional building craft, with significant erosion of skills and knowledge by the first decade of the twenty-first century. It follows from this argument that intact indigenous landscapes, and language that describes the ecosystems and technologies, are critical conditions for the transmission of the knowledge and skills that constitute Girramay and Jirrbal building traditions in the production of well-crafted mija.
Keyword Building tradition
Indigenous knowledge
Vernacular architecture
Wet Tropics
Cultural change

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Created: Wed, 07 Nov 2012, 15:24:44 EST by Timothy O'rourke on behalf of Scholarly Communication and Digitisation Service