From dispossession to display: authenticity, aboriginality and the Queensland Museum, c.1862-1917

Burden, Gemmia (2017). From dispossession to display: authenticity, aboriginality and the Queensland Museum, c.1862-1917 PhD Thesis, School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry, The University of Queensland. doi:10.14264/uql.2017.790

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Author Burden, Gemmia
Thesis Title From dispossession to display: authenticity, aboriginality and the Queensland Museum, c.1862-1917
School, Centre or Institute School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry
Institution The University of Queensland
DOI 10.14264/uql.2017.790
Publication date 2017-06-02
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Lisa Featherstone
Geoffrey Ginn
Total pages 223
Language eng
Subjects 2103 Historical Studies
Formatted abstract
This thesis examines the institutional construction of Aboriginality in the Queensland Museum from c.1862-1917. Tracing the history of the Museum through its collection, interpretation and use of Aboriginal cultural materials, it unpacks the ways in which knowledges of Aboriginal people and their culture were constructed and disseminated in the colonial setting. The thesis argues that by situating Brisbane as the colonial core and regional / remote Queensland as the periphery, the Museum’s influence on the development of the concept of Aboriginality in Queensland was aligned with the realities of frontier and post frontier colonial society. While the scientific development of theories concerning human history ran parallel to this, in settler colonial society it was experiences of the frontier and the appropriation of land that was the main imperative underpinning the collection and use of material culture and ancestral remains.

The collection and display of cultural materials was directly linked to the changing nature of the frontier. Aboriginal people and their culture were collected and projected as both frontier aggressors and natural victims of the spread of civilisation. Despite this broad shift, the meanings attached to the collection were stabilised through the twin concepts of authenticity and extinction, key ideas that framed not just the interpretations of the collections, but also what and from where items and objects were acquired.

The construction of Aboriginality in the Museum was not achieved in isolation. It was dependent on the materials and information that arrived in Brisbane from various individuals across the state – almost all of the material came from external collectors – police, missionaries, protectors, government agents, station managers, journalists. Although this disparate group were temporally and spatially varied, there are a number of continuities that thread them together: their amateurism, their locations in remote/regional Queensland and their employment of the concepts of authenticity and extinction in their collecting. Through its key collecting networks of police and protectors, the Museum became not just the focal point for the articulation of Aboriginality, but also a passive agent in the dispossession of Aboriginal people, positioning itself as part of the administrative field that policed and protected Queensland’s Aboriginal population across the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Integral to the Museum’s construction of Aboriginality was its displays. It was through the exhibits that the visiting public viewed and consumed the Museum’s articulation of Aboriginal people and their culture. The displays themselves reflect the changing perceptions of Aboriginal people in a frontier (violent) and post-frontier (evolutionary inferiority) setting. This culminated in the early twentieth century with the unveiling of the Aboriginal camp diorama that showcased Aboriginal people as ‘relics of the past’, remaining unchanged in the Museum for over seventy years.

The institutional construction of Aboriginality sits at several points of intersection between the colonial government, its institutions, curators, agents, administrators, colonists and missionaries. The history of the development of Aboriginality and perceptions of Aboriginal people is found within specific social contexts and individual experiences of the disparate people contributing to the movement of material and information across the state.
Keyword Aboriginal
Nineteenth century
Twentieth century

Document type: Thesis
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Created: Tue, 23 May 2017, 13:00:05 EST by Gemmia Burden on behalf of Learning and Research Services (UQ Library)