Tag Archives: Australia

Happy 160th birthday Dame Nellie Melba: 5 surprising facts about the canny songstress


State Library Victoria

Rachel M Campbell, University of CanberraDame Nellie Melba, who appears on our $100 note, was born Helen Porter Mitchell in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond on May 19, 1861.

An operatic soprano with a voice described as sparklingly clear, her career would take her across the world, from Russia to America, but she always returned home.

This extraordinary Australian was arguably our first celebrity. While her singing is famed, she was a complex woman who shaped her own career, far more interesting than her culinary namesakes — Melba Toast and Peach Melba — might suggest.

On her 160th birthday, here are five things you may not know about her.

1. She avidly pursued the perfect portrait

Full length portrait, Melba in a long white dress and big black hat.
Rupert Bunny, Madame Melba (c. 1902), oil on canvas.
National Gallery of Victoria

Melba was aware of the relationship between image and celebrity, and pursued the “perfect” portrait for years.

The most well known painting of Melba today is by Rupert Bunny, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1902.

But biographer Ann Blainey reports Melba told her friends no one — save Bunny himself — liked the portrait when it was completed.

One of the most striking photographs of Melba was taken by Harold Cazneaux in 1922.

Looking at this image very closely, there appears to be the 19th century equivalent of photoshopping. Melba’s jawline has been subtly reshaped: a little visual nip and tuck.

Side portrait.
Melba photographed by Harold Cazneaux in 1922, at the age of 62. Her jawline has been altered to create a more ‘flattering’ line.
Trove

In what could be characterised as a form of “pre-mythologising”, Melba commissioned a bust by Bertram Mackennal. When the bust was completed in 1899, she promptly gifted it to the National Gallery of Victoria, saying:

may I express the hope that I am not wholly forgotten in our beloved country.

White marble bust
Bertram Mackennal, Melba 1899. Marble, 198.5 × 61.3 × 61.5 cm.
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Gift of Madame Melba, 1900

2. She was shrewd with money

A clever business woman, who always controlled her own interests, Melba only engaged managers for short periods of time in foreign markets.

According to one of her biographers, Joseph Wechsberg, Melba had no time for dinner invitations that carried the implication of a little performance. Once at the party, she would announce she would sing, but only if they would “sign a little cheque”.

She once quoted a fee of £500 to an American socialite who asked her to dinner and to sing afterwards — A$71,000 today.

3. Her OBE was not for her singing

Melba lost five relatives at Gallipoli, and in 1915 she single-handedly spearheaded a charitable endeavour in the form of Melba’s Gift Book of Australian Art in support of Belgian war relief efforts.

Filled with colour plate illustrations from significant Australian artists and writers such as Arthur Streeton, Norman Lindsay and Henry Lawson, the front cover is inscribed with the words “the entire profits from the sale of this book will be devoted by Madam Melba to the Belgian Relief Fund”.

Melba spoke passionately about her love for Belgium in the opening pages of the book:

[…] I made my debut there; my first appearance in opera was in Brussels, and I can still hear the cheers of my first audience, the kindly, warm-hearted Belgians whose generous recognition of the unknown artist from distant Australia gave me hope and courage to persevere.

While Melba is known for her astonishing musical talent, she became a Dame in 1918 in recognition of this charitable work.

4. She was a gossip magazine staple

Celebrity needs both fame and commodity, and Melba ensured her renown reached far beyond the concert hall. Even Australians who could have never heard her sing because they lived in regional areas were avid consumers of her as a product.

You could buy cartes-de-visite of her in costume, or eagerly read newspaper and magazine gossip about her poorly concealed affair with the Duc d’Orleans. From 1904, recordings of her singing could be purchased; and in 1926 she published her own vocal method: a hit with singing students, and still used today.

As early as her 1902 tour of Australia, Melba was being described as “Australia’s Gifted Daughter”. In her farewell tour of the late 1920s she was elevated to “Australia’s Greatest Daughter

Melba and floral tributes on stage. Backdrop reads 'Australia's greatest daughter, our Melba.'
Melba photographed on stage at Melba’s Farewell to Opera, La Boheme, Monday October 13th, 1924.
State Library Victoria

The latter term was also used by the press after her death in 1931. This description of Melba speaks to the collective pride and ownership Australians felt about her.

This pride endures today: where there are highways, tunnels, concert halls, suburbs and streets named after her — as well as her face on our $100 note.

Melba has appeared on Australia’s $100 note since 1996.
Reserve Bank of Australia

5. But she didn’t always love being a celebrity

Melba was fatigued at times by the pressure of singing roles as she aged, and had two extended periods of rest in Switzerland in 1890 and 1897 to recover from vocal nodules.

A big crowd in evening wear.
Melba and other dignitaries in the foreground with a large orchestra and choir extending back to the organ pipes at a Nellie Melba Performance in the Organ Gallery, Exhibition Building, Melbourne, 1907.
Museums Victoria

While she did seek fame, carefully moulding the image she provided to the public, Melba would come to know its darker side. She remarked in her biography, “everybody who has known fame has also known the agonies which fame brought”.The Conversation

Rachel M Campbell, Academic, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Hidden women of history: Melanesian indentured labourer Annie Etinside, hailed as a Queensland ‘pioneer’ on her death


Annie, pictured on left with her children in the town of Halifax, circa 1910, forged a rich life in difficult circumstances.
Author provided

Bianka Vidonja Balanzategui, James Cook University and Claire Brennan, James Cook UniversityIn this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.

The women of the tropical north Queensland frontier were a varied lot
and included Melanesian indentured labourers brought to work on sugar cane plantations. Annie Etinside was one of them.

She was brought to Halifax, a small, sleepy town bordering the banks of the Herbert River that was once a thriving port and tramway terminus for the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s Victoria sugar plantation and mill.

Evidence today of the indentured labourers who once toiled on the plantation is found in small signposts such as one at “The Gardens”, formerly a small Melanesian village on the outskirts of Halifax. Here lived a few families who were not later repatriated to their islands.

Far fewer women than men were recruited as indentured labourers. In 1906, when forced repatriation of these labourers began, only 14 Melanesian women and 500 men remained on the Herbert. Annie, one of those 14, did not live in The Gardens community. Her life took a very different course.

Available records reveal a woman of colour who defied all odds to participate in a predominantly white community. Yet Annie remains an enigma.




Read more:
Hidden women of history: Wauba Debar, an Indigenous swimmer from Tasmania who saved her captors


Recruitment

The “frontier” is generally thought of as a masculine space. In part this is because most frontier history has been written by European men, who tended not to notice women beyond their domestic arrangements, if at all. Fleshing out the lives of pioneering frontier women is difficult enough if they are white, let alone for women of colour.

The first Melanesian men were brought to the Herbert River district around 1872; women came about ten years later. Annie appears to have been among them. While some islanders volunteered, others were secured against their own will by deceit and even kidnapping.

They were paid, and at the end of the three-year indenture period could either return to their islands, re-indenture, or work freely in the sugar industry on a set wage. Following the existing record trail leaves many questions unanswered about when Annie arrived and where from.

Annie’s headstone.
Author provided

In the Halifax cemetery, her simple headstone tells us she came from Ureparapara (the third largest island in the Banks group of northern Vanuatu). Yet her death certificate records her as born on “Lambue South Sea Island”. Her marriage certificate records her birth as “Burra Burra South Sea Island”. Neither of these locations can be identified, but the latter may be a corruption of Buka Buka.

A register was kept listing the names of recruited labourers and other details. The only Etinside on this register is a man brought over on November 5, 1888 from Ureparapara. We don’t know if this was Annie, mistakenly recorded as a male.

Details of Annie’s arrival are further muddied by the information provided on her gravestone, marriage and death certificates. According to these, she was born around 1870, so would have arrived in Australia in 1881 as an 11-year-old.




Read more:
Hidden women of history: Isabel Flick, the tenacious campaigner who fought segregation in Australia


Marriage

Indentured women were employed both in fields and houses by small farmers, and on plantations. Annie’s obituary, published in the Herbert River Express, says she was first engaged as housemaid to Norwegian sugar cane farmer Johan (John) Ingebright Alm and his wife Antonia, then to an English farmer, Francis Herron and his wife Lucinda.

By 1884, she was housemaid to George Gosling who had migrated from Britain in 1881. George was an overseer of indentured labour gangs, then farmed on leased land and in his own right, turning a piece of land called “Poverty Flat” by locals into a successful farm, Rosedale.

George and Annie Gosling, circa 1885.
Albert and Rachel Garlando

Annie married Gosling in 1898 in a civil ceremony. By this time, she had borne him two children. The children’s birth records are the first bearing the name Etenside (misspelt). At this point, Annie may have begun to feel unsafe. The Aboriginal Protection and Restrictions of the Sale of Opium Act of 1897 had just been passed.

Without an official record to prove she had arrived as an indentured labourer, officials could have identified Annie as Aboriginal. This would have meant restriction of her movements and associations; her children, as mixed race and born out of wedlock, could have been taken from her.

The indentured labour scheme was never meant to permit Melanesian people to settle permanently in Australia. In 1901 the White Australia policy legislated to stop the scheme. From the end of 1906, all Melanesian indentured labourers were to be forcibly deported back to their islands, except for those with exemption tickets.

Marriage offered Annie protection. Rather than social disapproval, it seems to have met with tolerance, even if expressed in a patronising way. One Cairns newspaper described her with tongue in cheek as Gosling’s “little black duck”.

George Gosling’s headstone.
Author provided

Annie and Gosling had three more children although tragedy struck on January 17, 1905, when Gosling died of malaria at the age of 45. Annie was left with five young children, the youngest only eight days old. On Gosling’s death, Annie was recognised as his lawful widow, inheriting all his estate. The success of his farm can be partly attributed to her. On the Herbert, small farmers depended on wives and children for all field labour, apart from cane harvesting.

Annie had another child in 1907, who she named Robert Gosling. She went on to marry William John Davey on February 17, 1909. But one month after their marriage, she registered the death of little Robert. Davey died on August 30, in the same year. After his death she reverted to using the name Gosling.

Remarkable feats

Despite her “alien” status, Annie integrated herself successfully into the largely white social fabric of Halifax, becoming a respected member of the community at a time of institutionalised racism. She participated in civic life, was registered on the electoral roll and ran a farm.

Her children attended the Halifax State School, her sons farmed and held jobs at the sugar mills (unusual for children of indentured labourers) and her children married Anglo-Australians, Europeans and Asians.

Annie’s were remarkable feats, given the prevailing racial attitudes and prohibitions regarding land ownership, education and constitutional rights. They indicate her determination to be recognised as an accountable, independent and hard-working member of society, regardless of her skin colour.

When Annie died on November 23, 1948 at the recorded age of 78, she was described in the Herbert River Express as a “grand old pioneer”.The Conversation

Bianka Vidonja Balanzategui, Adjunct Lecturer, James Cook University and Claire Brennan, Lecturer in History, James Cook University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Sydney’s Convict Past



After 140 years, researchers have rediscovered an important Aboriginal ceremonial ground in East Gippsland


A Gunaikurnai Jeraeil re-enactment c.1883 with men, women, and children. Left to right: (standing) Big Joe, Billy the Bull, Wild Harry, Billy McDougall, Snowy River Charlie, unidentified man, Bobby Brown, Billy McLeod (Toolabar), Larry Johnson. Woman, second from right: Emma McDougall.
State Library of Victoria

Jason M. Gibson, Deakin University and Russell Mullett, Indigenous KnowledgeAfter 140 years, researchers have rediscovered an Aboriginal ceremonial ground in Victoria’s East Gippsland. The site was host to the last young men’s initiation ceremony of the Gunaikurnai back in 1884, witnessed by the anthropologist A.W. Howitt.

Howitt’s field notes, combined with contemporary Gunaikurnai knowledge of their country, has led to the rediscovery. The site is located on public land, on the edge of the small fishing village of Seacombe. Its precise location had been lost following decades of colonial suppression of Gunaikurnai ritual and religious practices.

Researchers from the Howitt and Fison Archive project and the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation began searching for the site in 2018. While it lacks archaeological traces, such as middens, rock art, stone arrangements or artefact scatters, the importance of such ceremonial grounds is under-recognised. They are a central feature of Australian Indigenous conceptions of landscape and have considerable historical and cultural importance.

The authors examine the ceremony ground.
Author provided

The Jeraeil

In the first few weeks of 1884, the Gunaikurnai peoples of Gippsland were preparing for a historic gathering. After decades of discussion and negotiation with Howitt, who was also a local magistrate and power broker, they finally agreed to allow him to record their secretive young men’s initiation ceremony, known as the Jeraeil.

Last held in 1857, just a few years before Howitt arrived in Gippsland, the Jeraeil had ceased to be performed due to tighter governmental restrictions and stern dissuasion from Christian missionaries.

On January 30 1884, all the required Gunaikurnai people had assembled. Those coming from the Lake Tyers Mission came on the paddle steamer Tanjil. Those from Ramahyuck Mission, on the shores of Lake Wellington, arrived on the steamer Dargo.

Convinced that an Aboriginal initiation ceremony from this part of the colony would never be performed again, Howitt arranged and paid for his primary Kulin informants from the Melbourne area, William Barak and Dick Richards, to attend so they could contribute their commentary on Victorian ceremonies.

The event, which lasted four days, began with a series of preliminary
ceremonies involving men and women singing together. The women
kept time by beating on rugs folded in their laps and hitting digging
sticks on the ground. Many of the performances that followed were restricted only to men, with six youths eventually initiated into manhood.

“It was remarkable,” Howitt commented, that although he had known many of these men “intimately,” and for a long time, they had kept these “special secrets […] carefully concealed” from him for many years.

Howitt’s published description of the Jeraeil, along with the equally significant work on similar ceremonies in New South Wales produced by Robert Hamilton Mathews, went on to influence the way religious life and ritual in south-eastern Australia was understood.

Finding the site

Lacking from Howitt’s record, however, was a precise description of where the historic ceremony had been held. A recent project to work on Howitt’s field notes in collaboration with Gunaikurnai people has uncovered new details, including a sketch map of the ceremony ground, sparking community interest in finding the site.

Plan of the Jeraeil ground drawn by A. W. Howitt.
A. W. Howitt Collection Museum Victoria.

Howitt’s drawing of the ceremony ground, along with his notes and newspaper articles, enabled the research team to positively locate the site, on the edge of Seacombe, near the McLellan’s strait, which links Lake Wellington with the Southern Ocean.

The site’s significance lies not in any immediately observable physical property, but in its historical and cultural associations. They span the story associated with this place, including the local creation stories associated with Bullum Baukan (a woman with two spirits inside her); the complicated relationship with Howitt; interactions with other colonial authorities and the status of the Jeraeil in anthropological literature.

Discovery of this site means it is now protected under the (Victorian) Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006. All Aboriginal cultural heritage is protected in Victoria whether it has been formally registered or not and it is an offence to harm it.

The Jeraeil site is arguably one of the most significant of places in terms of the ritual and ceremonial life of Gunaikurnai people. However, the prospect of erecting signage at the Jeraeil site can produce mixed responses.

On the one hand, telling the world about these places might secure them. On the other, the Gunaikurnai live in a region dotted with monuments that remind people of the colonial violence enacted by men such as Scottish explorer Angus McMillian. One plaque brazenly describes McMillan as an explorer who achieved “territorial ascendancy over Gippsland Aborigines”.

Victorian Aboriginal cultural heritage continues to be damaged as happened with the recent partial destruction of the Kooyang Stone Arrangement in Lake Bolac. Some in the Gunaikurnai community fear too little is being done to protect such places but also worry about the public’s readiness to embrace Aboriginal cultural heritage.

Still, it is imperative places like the 1884 Jeraeil ground are better understood, recognised and protected. Not only does it tell a story of Aboriginal cultural practice but of shared Aboriginal and European interactions we should all know more about.The Conversation

Jason M. Gibson, Research Fellow, Deakin University and Russell Mullett, Traditional Custodian — Kurnai, Indigenous Knowledge

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


The First Australians grew to a population of millions, much more than previous estimates


Shutterstock/Jason Benz Bennee

Corey J. A. Bradshaw, Flinders University; Alan N Williams, UNSW; Frédérik Saltré, Flinders University; Kasih Norman, University of Wollongong, and Sean Ulm, James Cook UniversityWe know it is more than 60,000 years since the first people entered the continent of Sahul — the giant landmass that connected New Guinea, Australia and Tasmania when sea levels were lower than today.

But where the earliest people moved across the landscape, how fast they moved, and how many were involved, have been shrouded in mystery.

Our latest research, published today shows the establishment of populations in every part of this giant continent could have occurred in as little as 5,000 years. And the entire population of Sahul could have been as high as 6.4 million people.

This translates to more than 3 million people in the area that is now modern-day Australia, far more than any previous estimate.




Read more:
We mapped the ‘super-highways’ the First Australians used to cross the ancient land


The first people could have entered through what is now western New Guinea or from the now-submerged Sahul Shelf off the modern-day Kimberley (or both).

But whichever the route, entire communities of people arrived, adapted to and established deep cultural connections with Country over 11 million square kilometres of land, from northwestern Sahul to Tasmania.

A map showing a much larger landmass as Australia is joined to both Tasmania and New Guinea due to lower sea levels
Map of what Australia looked like for most of the human history of the continent when sea levels were lower than today.
Author provided

This equals a rate of population establishment of about 1km per year (based on a maximum straight-line distance of about 5,000km from the introduction point to the farthest point).

That’s doubly impressive when you consider the harshness of the Australian landscape in which people both survived and thrived.

Previous estimates of Indigenous population

Various attempts have been made to calculate the number of people living in Australia before European invasion. Estimates vary from 300,000 to more than 1,200,000 people.

The 2016 census figures show an estimated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population of about 798,400.

But records prior to the modern era are unreliable because Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were only fully included in the national census from 1971, after the historic 1967 Referendum.

Before 1971, population estimates were attempted by anthropologists and government authorities. For example, the 1929 census reported 78,430 Aboriginal people.

Then, in 1930, the first thorough Australia-wide survey of Aboriginal populations estimated a minimum population of 251,000 at the time of European invasion.

This was based on accounts of European settlers adjusted by anthropological concepts about group sizes and ideas about environmental productivity.

Yet almost all of these older estimates are uncertain because of haphazard or incomplete data collection, and even a healthy dose of guesswork.

A new approach needed

We developed an entirely different approach to tackle the question of how many people were in Sahul, and through which parts they would have moved first as they adapted to a range of challenging new landscapes.

We developed a simulation model grounded in the principles of human ecology and behaviour, based on anthropological, ecological and environmental data.

Animation of our model shows the spread of people across Sahul. Source: Corey Bradshaw.

For example, we estimated the number of people the landscape could support based on climate and vegetation models that recreated ecosystems during the time of the first peopling of Sahul.

We also gathered real-world anthropological information on immigration and emigration rates, long-distance movement, human survival and fertility. We even looked at the probability of disasters such as bushfires and cyclones.

After running 120 scenarios of the model many times each, our research found that after expanding to all corners of the continent, the population of Sahul could have been as high as 6.4 million people, with initial entry most consistent with 50,000 or 75,000 years ago.

How good is our model?

We tested our predictions by comparing the model’s results against the ages and locations of the oldest known archaeological sites from Australia and New Guinea.

If the model predicts realistic movements (even though it’s unlikely we’ll ever know exactly what occurred), we expect its results should at least partially match the patterns observed from the archaeological data.

A map showing the locations of the oldest archaeological sites in Sahul.
A map showing the locations of the oldest archaeological sites in Sahul.
Sean Ulm, Author provided

That’s exactly what we found.

For example, while previous modelling says the northern route of entry through New Guinea would probably have been easier for people to negotiate, our model suggests the southern route through modern-day Timor and into the Kimberley was potentially the dominant entry point.

Why our estimate is higher than others

Our model covers the entire landmass of Sahul, including both New Guinea and the now-submerged continental shelves, which represent about 30% of the total landmass of Sahul. No previous population estimates have included this expansive region.




Read more:
In a first discovery of its kind, researchers have uncovered an ancient Aboriginal archaeological site preserved on the seabed


There is also plenty of precedent for the population densities our estimates imply.

If you divide our total 6.4 million population estimate by the land area available at the time (11,643,000 km²), it comes out to around 55 people per 100 km². This compares well to estimated densities of 34 people per 100 km² in some coastal regions of Australia, and 437 people per 100 km² in swidden-farming agricultural societies in New Guinea.

Population estimates immediately following European invasion are also likely to be low because of the heavy death rates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people suffered from exposure to European diseases such as smallpox, and the devastating history of genocide committed by colonists.

Our findings add to the new evidence constantly being revealed to paint a more complete picture of life so long ago.

With sophisticated modelling tools combined with an ever-increasing pool of data covering all aspects of pre-European life in Australia, and guided by Indigenous knowledge, we are coming to appreciate the complexity, prowess, capacity and resilience of the ancestors of Indigenous people in Australia.

The more we look into the deep past, the more we learn about the extraordinary ingenuity of these ancient and enduring cultures.The Conversation

Corey J. A. Bradshaw, Matthew Flinders Professor of Global Ecology and Models Theme Leader for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, Flinders University; Alan N Williams, Associate Investigator, ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, UNSW; Frédérik Saltré, Research Fellow in Ecology for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, Flinders University; Kasih Norman, PhD Candidate, ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, University of Wollongong, and Sean Ulm, Deputy Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, James Cook University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


We mapped the ‘super-highways’ the First Australians used to cross the ancient land


Author provided/The Conversation, Author provided

Stefani Crabtree, Santa Fe Institute; Alan N Williams, UNSW; Corey J. A. Bradshaw, Flinders University; Devin White, University of Tennessee; Frédérik Saltré, Flinders University, and Sean Ulm, James Cook UniversityThere are many hypotheses about where the Indigenous ancestors first settled in Australia tens of thousands of years ago, but evidence is scarce.

Few archaeological sites date to these early times. Sea levels were much lower and Australia was connected to New Guinea and Tasmania in a land known as Sahul that was 30% bigger than Australia is today.

Our latest research advances our knowledge about the most likely routes those early Australians travelled as they peopled this giant continent.




Read more:
The First Australians grew to a population of millions, much more than previous estimates


We are beginning to get a picture not only of where those first people landed in Sahul, but how they moved throughout the continent.

Navigating the landscape

Modelling human movement requires understanding how people navigate new terrain. Computers facilitate building models, but they are still far from easy. We reasoned we needed four pieces of information: (1) topography; (2) the visibility of tall landscape features; (3) the presence of freshwater; and (4) demographics of the travellers.

We think people navigated in new territories — much as people do today — by focusing on prominent land features protruding above the relative flatness of the Australian continent.

To map these features, we built the most complete digital elevation model for Sahul ever constructed, including areas now underwater.

A map showing the landmass of Australia connected to New Guinea and Tasmania
How the Sahul landmass would have looked more than 50,000 years ago.
Author provided

We used this digital elevation model to understand what was visible to early travellers. Essentially, from each point in the continent we asked “what can you see from here?” This moving window calculates the largest “viewshed” map ever created. When our virtual travellers move, they reorient based on visible terrain everywhere they go. The figure above shows the prominence of features across the continent as increasingly yellow shades against the blue background.

You can clearly make out features such as the the New Guinea Highlands, the Flinders Ranges in South Australia, the Great Dividing Range in the east, and the Hamersley Range in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

But navigation using prominent landscape features isn’t enough to tell us where the most commonly travelled routes were.

For this we also need to take into account other factors, such as the physiological capacity of people travelling on foot, how difficult the terrain was to traverse, and the distribution of available freshwater sources in a largely arid continent.

Billions and billions of routes

We put all these different bits of information together into a mega-model, known as From Everywhere To Everywhere (FETE), and created more than 125 billion possible pathways from everywhere on the continent to everywhere else. Each route represents the most efficient way to move from one location to another. This was the largest movement simulation of its kind ever attempted.

This gives us an idea of the relative ease or difficulty of walking across all of Sahul.

We cannot possibly examine every metre of the 125 billion pathways we created, so we needed a way to weight the relative importance of likely pathways. To do this, we compared all plausible pathways with the distribution of the oldest known archaeological sites in Sahul, providing weighted probabilities for each path.

This provided a scale going from the “most likely” to the “least likely” chosen paths.

Super-highways of the initial peopling of Sahul, with known archaeological sites older than 35,000 years indicated by the grey dots. Megan Hotchkiss Davidson, Sandia National Laboratories (map) and Cian McCue, Moogie Down Productions (animation).

The most likely pathways in the map above are what we are calling the “super-highways” of Indigenous movement. The next most likely paths are marked by dotted lines.

This allows us to discard many of the billions of paths as less likely to be chosen, helping us focus on those that were the most probable.

We now have a first glimpse into where Indigenous Australians likely travelled tens of thousands of years ago.

Pathways well trodden

These super-highways might have been more than just routes used for the initial peopling of Sahul.

Several of the super-highways our models identified echo well-documented Aboriginal trade routes criss-crossing the country. This includes Cape York to South Australia via Birdsville in the trade of pituri native tobacco, and the trade of Kimberley baler shell into central Australia.

There are also striking similarities between our map of super-highways and the most common trading and stock routes used by early Europeans. They followed already well-known routes established by Aboriginal peoples.

An old map showing routes across Australia.
Early routes of European explorers in Australia.
Courtesy of Universal Publishers Pty Ltd

These Aboriginal exchange routes and the relatively recent trade routes of early Europeans cannot be used directly to validate a map from tens of thousands of years ago. But there are strong similarities that might suggest an extraordinary persistence of routes across the entire time period of human occupation of Australia.

Our findings also point to the now-submerged continental shelves of Sahul as important conduits for human movement.

We infer that early populations spread across the broad plains on the western and eastern margins of the continent (now under water) and through the region that now forms the Gulf of Carpentaria, which connected Australia to New Guinea.




Read more:
How ancient Aboriginal star maps have shaped Australia’s highway network


It is worth noting these early people traversed and lived in all environments of Australia, ranging from the tropics to the arid zone. The ease of adaptation to all ecosystems is remarkable and one of the reasons for the success of the human species across the globe today.

Professor Lynette Russell (Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage and Co-Chair of its Indigenous Advisory Committee), who was not involved directly in the study, noted:

[This] modelling establishes the infrastructure for detailed local and regional studies to engage respectfully with Indigenous knowledges, ethnographies, historical records, oral histories, and archives.

The fundamental rules we described apply even to questions about how the first migrations of people out of Africa might have occurred, and how people ultimately proceeded to inhabit the rest of the planet.

This work might even have implications for humanity’s future, if climate scenarios require large-scale migrations. Learning from those who have been present in Sahul from more than 60,000 years ago could help us anticipate migration patterns in the future.The Conversation

Stefani Crabtree, Assistant Professor for Social-Environmental Modeling @ Utah State University and Associate Investigator ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage and ASU-SFI Biosocial Complex Systems Fellow, Santa Fe Institute; Alan N Williams, Associate Investigator, ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, UNSW; Corey J. A. Bradshaw, Matthew Flinders Professor of Global Ecology and Models Theme Leader for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, Flinders University; Devin White, R&D Manager for Autonomous Sensing & Perception (Sandia National Laboratories) and Research Assistant Professor of Anthropology (UTK), University of Tennessee; Frédérik Saltré, Research Fellow in Ecology for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, Flinders University, and Sean Ulm, Deputy Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, James Cook University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Our history up in flames? Why the crisis at the National Archives must be urgently addressed


Bidgee (Wikimedia commons)/The Conversation, CC BY-SA

Michelle Arrow, Macquarie UniversityImagine you are in a large building near Parliament House in Canberra filled with irreplaceable objects. Not jewels, medals or paintings, but a collection of letters, tapes and documents of Australian life.

The collection contains letters written to and from prime ministers, and recordings of their speeches. It has historic episodes of the ABC television programs Four Corners and Countdown. Audio recordings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Your grandmother’s migration records. Your uncle’s military service records. Covert ASIO surveillance footage of anti-Vietnam war demonstrations. Letters from women living under the shadow of domestic violence, written to the Royal Commission on Human Relationships.

These are just some of the things to be found in the National Archives of Australia. Its role is to collect, manage and preserve records generated by the Australian government. This sounds dull, but it is anything but.

The National Archives is a repository for all aspects of Australian history, including iconic television programs such as Countdown.
AAP/ABC/PR handout

It is not merely a “politician’s archive”: while the NAA is famous for its annual release of cabinet records on January 1 each year, some of the collection’s richest records are those that offer insights into the lives of ordinary Australians. Whether they were migrating to Australia, registering for military service, or writing to the prime minister to demand that he fund women’s refuges, ordinary citizens generated paper trails that have been preserved in the NAA’s collections. As a resource for understanding the ways that government works, and the ways that citizens interacted with it, the NAA is a peerless resource. The material it houses belongs to all of us.

Now imagine burning this building to the ground, destroying almost everything inside. Last week, historians around the world watched in horror as the Library at the University of Cape Town burned down, taking with it thousands of irreplaceable historical records. Thanks to years of underfunding, Australia is on track to see a similar, though less spectacular, destruction of historical records, unless the federal government makes an urgent injection of funds.




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Over the past few years, both Labor and Liberal governments have repeatedly cut funding to our national cultural institutions, including the National Archives. All commonwealth agencies have been subject to so-called “efficiency dividends” since 1987. This means that each year they receive a reduction in funding.

While this is intended to drive savings, in effect, according to a 2019 parliamentary inquiry, it has had a “significant and compounding effect” on cultural institutions over the last decade. This was made even worse in 2015-16, when the Turnbull government imposed an additional 3% “efficiency target” on national cultural institutions.

This means institutions like the National Archives have been forced to shed expert staff and reduce services to users. In 2013, the archives had 429 staff around Australia but by 2019, this had shrunk to just 308. This has made it more difficult for people to access material at the archives, as opening hours have been reduced. Users report long delays when they request materials; obtaining digital copies of files can cost you hundreds of dollars. This user-pays system has further restricted access to collections.

Even more urgently, these funding cuts are also taking irreplaceable audio visual collections to the brink of a “digital cliff”: that is, where a combination of material fragility and redundant technology will destroy a huge audio visual archive. Australia’s audio-visual collections will hurtle over this digital cliff by 2025 if no action is taken.

Let’s think for a moment about what this means.

Australia has experienced a century of profound and rapid transformation, all of it captured by the mass media. Television, film and audio show us how people in the past moved, sounded and spoke: they offer vivid and compelling evidence of life in the past that is impossible to obtain any way.

This kind of footage is the mainstay of documentaries. Archival footage can light a fire of curiosity about our past, especially in those who might never pick up a history book. It is crucial especially for engaging young people in history. Brazen Hussies, the recent documentary about the history of women’s liberation, was so successful because of its use of vivid, rarely-seen archival footage, much of it held in the National Archives.

Filmmakers would struggle to create lively historical documentaries if we allow the archival film held by the National Archives to be destroyed. It would be disastrous for our historical understanding.

What is so astonishing is that the amount of money required to pull us back from the digital cliff is relatively small. The government has committed $500m to an expansion of the Australian War Memorial : the Tune Review of the National Archives, released in March this year, recommended the government fund a seven year program to urgently digitise at-risk materials. The cost? Just $67.7 million.

The National Archives is a crucial democratic institution. It plays an important role in holding the state to account, encouraging broad participation in civic life by facilitating access to records generated by the Australian government. This gives it enormous power to control – and limit – access to government records.

Yet it has not always exercised this power wisely.

Given the enormous financial pressures on the National Archives, its decision to fight Professor Jenny Hocking’s bid to access the so-called “Palace Letters”, a legal dispute that cost the archives more than $1 million, was a deeply misguided use of precious funds.




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Similarly, many historians have criticised the archives’ overly cautious approach to clearing records for access, which has led to huge backlogs of unprocessed requests. Its practice of sending records back to the department that originally created them means documents can languish, unchecked, for months or even years.

The archives’ lengthy legal fight over the release of the ‘palace letters’ was a misguided use of public funds.
National Archives of Australia

As the Australian Historical Association noted in its submission to the Tune review,

A process which restricts or even refuses access to government documents without adequate justification does not reflect an open and free democratic process.

The National Archives has much work to do to improve access to the records it holds. But it is also clear it has been denied essential funding for many years, and this has taken a toll.

The archives contains irreplaceable records that are important to every Australian. It is the government’s role to fund our national cultural institutions adequately so they can preserve and maintain this material: not just for citizens today, but for the citizens of the future.The Conversation

Michelle Arrow, Professor of History, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Endless itching: how Anzacs treated lice in the trenches with poetry and their own brand of medicine


Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ (Tiaki reference number 1/4-009458-G)

Georgia McWhinney, Macquarie UniversityWe think we know a lot about Australian and New Zealand soldiers’ health in the first world war. Many books, novels and television programs speak of wounds and war doctors, documenting the work of both Anzac nations’ medical corps.

Often these histories begin with front-line doctors — known as regimental medical officers — who first reached wounded men in the field. The same histories often end in the hospital or at home.

Yet, much of first world war medicine began and ended with the soldiers themselves. Australian and New Zealand soldiers (alongside their British and Canadian counterparts) cared for their own health in the trenches of the Western Front and along the cliffs of Gallipoli.

This “vernacular” medicine spread from solider to soldier by word of mouth, which they then recorded in diaries and letters home. It spread through written texts, such as trench newspapers and magazines, and through constant experimentation.

Soldiers presented a unique understanding of their experiences of illness, developed their own health practices, and formed their own medical networks. This formed a unique type of medical system.




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Flies, filth and bully beef: life at Gallipoli in 1915


What was this type of medicine like?

Soldiers’ vernacular medicine becomes clear when looking at one significant example of war diseases — infestation with body lice — which caused trench fever and typhus.

The men’s understandings of the effect of lice on the body often contrasted to that of medical professionals.

Soldiers described lice as a daily nuisance rather than vectors of disease. The men sitting in the trenches were preoccupied with addressing the immediate and constant discomfort caused by lice, whereas medical researchers and doctors were more concerned with losing manpower from lice-borne disease.




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Many men focused on the endless itching, which some said drove them almost mad.

Corporal George Bollinger, a New Zealand bank clerk from Hastings, said: “the frightful pest ‘lice’ is our chief worry now”.

Australian Private Arthur Giles shuddered when he wrote home about the lice, noting it: “makes me scratch to think of them”.

Soldiers experimented

Soldiers’ reactions to lice, as a shared community, inspired them to experiment and share practical ideas of how to manage their itchy burdens. This included developing their own method of bathing.

When New Zealand Corporal Charles Saunders descended the cliffs to the beaches around Anzac Cove, he would “dive down and nudge a handful of sand from the bottom and rub it over [his] skin”, letting “the saltwater dry on one in the sun”. He also rubbed the sand across his uniform hoping to kill some of the lice eggs in the seams of his shirt and pants.

In some locations, fresh water was scarce and reserved for drinking. Without access to water, soldiers’ extermination methods became more offbeat, creative and original.

Men sourced lice-exterminating powders, such as Keating’s and Harrison’s, from patent providers — retail pharmaceutical sellers in the UK or back home in Australia and New Zealand — and rubbed various oils over their bodies.

Yet, one of the most popular extermination methods was “chatting” — popping the louse between the thumbnails.

Soldiers delousing clothing outside tents
Five soldiers delousing (‘chatting’) their infested clothing outside their tents.
Australian War Memorial (photograph C00748)

An Australian bootmaker, Lieutenant Allan McMaster, told his family in Newcastle it was “amusing indeed to see all the boys at the first minute they have to spare, to strip off altogether and have what we call a chating [sic] parade”.

Corporal Bert Jackson, an orchardist from Upper Hawthorn in Melbourne, took his “shirt off and had a hunt, and then put it on inside out”. He said that if he “missed any, the beggars will have a job to get to the skin again”.

Soldiers shared their knowledge

These soldiers shared their practices via their own medical networks, such as trench newspapers.

For instance, soldiers wrote humorous poems that also educated their fellow men. Australian Lance Corporal TA Saxon joked about lice-exterminating powders in his poem A Dug-Out Lament:

[…] They’re in our tunics, and in our shirts,

They take a power of beating,

So for goodness sake, if you’re sending us cake, Send also a tin of Keating.

Chatting by the Wayside
Soldiers shared cartoons and jokes about delousing via magazines and newspapers, such as this one in March 1918.
Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW (Q91/244, FL3509202)

One image from the trench newspaper “Aussie: the Australian soldiers’ magazine” came with the caption “Chatting by the Wayside” that drew on the well-trod joke about the double meaning of the word chatting.

What can we learn?

Reflecting on these often-overlooked aspects of the past helps us rethink medicine today.

For marginal groups in particular, access to professional health care can, and has often been, an expensive, alienating, or culturally foreign and abrasive task. So even in today’s globalised world, networks of non-professional medicine are as active as ever.

With many people isolated and at the mercy of much conflicting information, informal medical networks (often found on social media) present an opportunity to allay fears and swap information in a similar manner to how Anzac soldiers communicated via trench newspapers.

Perhaps some forms of vernacular medicine are occurring right under our noses.




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The Conversation


Georgia McWhinney, Honorary Postdoctoral Associate, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


‘I want to scream and scream’: Australian nurses on the Western Front were also victims of war


An unusually sturdy and comfortable CCS during the first world war.
Australian War Memorial

Fiona McLeod, The University of Queensland and Martin Crotty, The University of QueenslandThe revival of interest in Anzac since the 1980s has depended in part on the repositioning of soldiers as victims. We rarely celebrate their martial virtues, and instead note their resilience, fortitude and suffering.

This shift in emphasis opens up more promising space for the inclusion of women. Nurses were not warriors – they were caregivers. But they too suffered trauma as a result of their service.

In what must be regarded as something of a miracle, no Australian nurses were killed. But like the men they devoted themselves to, they were worn down and in some cases shattered by the horrors they witnessed.

From 1916, Australian nurses served in Casualty Clearing Stations (CCS), almost on the front line, often under fire and always under immense pressure. This was the most dangerous and intense working environment in which they could serve. It was far removed from the hospital ship environment at Gallipoli, or the hospitals further from the lines, where there was at least the prospect of regular respite.

The CCS was a 1915 innovation designed to provide treatment to men as soon as possible after they were injured. They operated close to the front lines, and so took nurses into the danger zone. CCS nurses were assailed by the realities of trench warfare and the demands of treating damaged men. Soldiers came to the CCS within hours of wounding, bloody and dying, needing urgent surgery for their shattered limbs and mangled bodies, or blistered and blinded from gas attacks.

The sight of the battle front was terrifying and compelling — Sister Elsie Tranter, for one, was captivated. She wrote in her diary that on her first night at a CCS near Grevillers, in March 1918 she:

[…] had the flaps on the tent fastened back and spent most of the night watching the flashes in the sky from the guns […] everything seemed so surreal.

For Sister May Tilton, it was the industrial sounds of battle that impressed. She wrote that the Third Battle of Ypres (also known as the Battle of Passchendaele) started with:

[…] a continuous rumble and roar, as of an immense factory of vibrating machinery filled the night. The pulsing sounds and vibration worked into our bodies and brains; the screech of the big shells, and the awful crash when they burst at no great distance, kept our nerves on edge.

Shrapnel falling to the ground, the thrilling sight of aerial dog fights, damp and dirty dugouts, sandbagged tents, constant artillery fire, the smell of gas, the tremble of the earth — this was the landscape of the CCS.

Nurses and soldiers at the 3rd Casualty Clearing Station.
Australian War Memorial

Sister Connie Keys did not expect they would come through safely, and later confided to her mother that now “I’m only afraid of being afraid”. She had experienced terror beyond measure.

CCSs struggled to cope at the height of battle, and staff worked extremely long hours to deal with the flood of casualties. One of them, 2nd Australian CCS, had a nursing staff of 20 and put through 2,800 patients in the first 18 hours of the “Messines push”.

May Tilton recalled in her memoir that she often “went on duty at 8pm, worked continuously during a ‘stunt’[a minor military operation], until the following midday, with ten minutes for supper at midnight, and half an hour for breakfast at 8am”.

The experience of nurses attests to the aphorism of war as long periods of boredom interspersed with brief periods of terror.

Static attrition warfare, conducted through artillery bombardment, gassing and close fighting, produced fighting conditions and wounds that appalled both the victims and those who cared for them.

The resuscitation wards were the greatest test for nurses. Tilton recalled that:

[…] only the worst cases could we possibly hope to attend to. The work in the resuscitation ward was indescribable. The butchery of these precious lives […] To watch them dying was ghastly.

The night sister confessed

I cannot speak of it […] I want to scream and scream.

Nurses were brought to despair – not because they were unable to save lives, for nurses were accustomed to death, but because they were unable to care for patients as they would have done “at home”. They had been trained to fashion order out of chaos, to bring a patient through the days and nights of a health crisis with patience, gentleness and watchful vigilance, and in some cases to ease their path to a painless and tranquil death.

Nurses and patient at the Auxiliary Hospital Unit in Belgium.
Australian War Memorial

But in war, they wrestled with the irresolvable conflict between duty and fear, and between their compassion and the realities of conflict. Death on the Western Front was ugly, chaotic and painful, so much so that some “ministering angels” came to doubt their Christian faith. “I can’t believe there is a God,” wrote Sister Alice Ross King after the Ypres Offensive, “it is too awful for words”.

Nurses, like soldiers, knew when they were at breaking point, and feared being unable to fulfil their duties. Tilton confessed:

[…] the privacy of our tents was a welcome relief for the weakness we dared not show before our brave, suffering boys.

Even the Armistice, when it eventually came on November 11 1918, brought little comfort. Anne Donnell became terribly depressed and, like many, found joy impossible when she contemplated the sadness of empty homes and hearts.

Nurses carried the burden of putting back together the victims of conflict, yet struggled to maintain their own physical and mental health. For many, their return to Australia was marred by ill-health, and what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder.

But they also displayed courage and resilience. The experiences of Australian Army nurses on the Western Front can be a starting point, reaching through all Australia’s wars, for discussion of the response to extreme physical and psychological stress borne by those who treat the casualties of war. They too were war’s victims.The Conversation

Fiona McLeod, PhD Candidate, The University of Queensland and Martin Crotty, Associate Professor in Australian History, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


‘Our dad’s painting is hiding, in secret place’: how Aboriginal rock art can live on even when gone


December 1972: Billy Miargu, with his daughter Linda on his arm, and his wife Daphnie Baljur. In the background, the newly painted kangaroo.
Photograph by George Chaloupka, now in Parks Australia’s Archive at Bowali.

Joakim Goldhahn, University of Western Australia and Paul S.C.Taçon, Griffith UniversityAboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains images and names of deceased people.


Aboriginal rock art unfolds stories about the present-past and emerging worlds, often described by an outsider as the Dreamtime. Some rock art, it is believed, was put in place by spiritual and mythological beings. Many of these Ancestral Beings travelled vast distances, and their journeys link places, clans and different rock art paintings.

Other images were created to educate children about cultural protocols, or just made to tell an amusing story. The artists who created the works are also important. Some artists were prolific and appreciated. A person who made a hand stencil could often be identified by the hand’s shape.




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Our new research into a 1972 painting made by Billy Miargu in today’s Kakadu National Park shows how rock art can act as an intergenerational media — even when no longer visible to the eye.

In December 1972, Robert Edwards and George Chaloupka, two acclaimed rock art researchers, came across Miargu camping at Koongarra in the heart of Kakadu. They took a photograph of his family. In the background, there was a newly made painting of a kangaroo. The researchers did not think much about this image, describing it as a “poor naturalistic representation.”

When Paul S.C. Taçon revisited the painting only 13 years later, it was gone (probably due to exposure to wind and rain). In 2018, we used state-of-the-art digital documentation methods to try to detect remnants of the kangaroo, but all in vain. We can no longer see the white kangaroo, as shown in the photograph below.

A 2019 image of the rock canvas Miargu painted his kangaroo on back in 1972.
Photograph by Iain Johnston

Revisiting Koongarra

In June 2019, we returned to Koongarra with three of Miargu’s daughters, two of his granddaughters and a great-granddaughter.

We wanted to learn about the artist and what meaning this place holds today for his family.

Some of Billy Miargu’s children, grand children and great-grandchildren, from left to right: Julie Blawgur, Linda Biyalwanga, Linda’s daughter Ruby Djandjomerr, Linda’s granddaughter Keena Djandjomerr (on the ledge), Julie’s daughter Syanne Naborlhborlh and Joanne Sullivan.
Photograph by Joakim Goldhahn.

We learned that Miargu was born in central Arnhem Land. He moved west to Kakadu around the time of the second world war to work at cattle stations — shooting buffalo, cutting timber — and emerging tourist venues. His clan was Barrbinj and his wife, Daphnie Baljur, was Barrappa. Together, they had six children: five daughters and a son.

Miargu and his wife were camping at Koongarra in 1972 while participating in a fact-finding survey on behalf of the Commonwealth government and the Australian Mining Industry Council for a planned uranium mine. They collected mammals and reptiles for this study.

Our conversations revealed that the place where Miargu painted the kangaroo had a special meaning for him. It is situated in his mother’s clan Country, and he had a ceremonial obligation to this place.

Billy Miargu with his daughter Linda on his arm in December 1972. The newly made kangaroo figure is seen in the background.
Photograph by George Chaloupka, now in Parks Australia’s Archive at Bowali.

The original kangaroo painting referenced a local ceremony. Depicting this Ancestral Being in his mother’s Country shows that Miargu had undergone this ceremony and was keen to care for this Country. Today, his son and daughters have inherited some of these obligations.

Even though Miargu’s painting of the kangaroo can no longer be detected, this place holds a special meaning to his descendants. In fact, for the family, they say “our dad’s painting is hiding, in secret place”. They address the painting as if it is still there, visible or not.

Miargu passed away in 1990. This is the only place the family knows where he created rock art. His daughter Linda Biyalwanga said, “we don’t know any other paintings. Only one painting, that’s why we bring our children to show them this painting.”

And she explained:

My daddy, story, memory, like memories, memory for us, and [he] make [the rock art] for the grandchildren, yeah. He said when I passed away, then my daughters will come around and maybe my granddaughter, and grandsons, great-great-grandchildren come and have look at […] rock art […] When they have kids, they can show them the painting.




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Defying Western notions of time

The tangible place, the intangible rock painting, and the family’s recollection of the happy times they spent together with their parents at this special place seem to have merged into a present-past and future which embrace Western concepts of space, but defy similar notions of time.

In an inexplicable but noteworthy way, Miargu’s painting seems more present today because it is absent.

To visit Koongarra and the rock art figure he created is vital for his family. It evokes cherished memories about their parents and feelings, but also sorrow and the loss of “the Old People who finished up”.

Joanne Sullivan, another of Miargu’s daughters, expressed this when she said: “I wish my dad sit here.”

When asked if there are other places where they can connect to their parents in this way, Linda Biyalwanga answered: “It’s the only place. It’s the only place we think about, like, his spirit, mum’s spirit.”

When we left the place, Miargu’s daughters called out to their parents’ spirits and asked them to remember them and take care of them. Even though the rock painting “is hiding”, it is still crucial — it lives on even when gone…

In the front row, Billy Miargu’s daughters, collaborators and co-authors: Joanne Sullivan, Linda Biyalwanga and Julie Blawgur.
Photograph by Joakim Goldhahn.

This research was undertaken in collaboration with the family members of Billy Miargu and Daphnie Baljur.The Conversation

Joakim Goldhahn, Kimberley Foundation Ian Potter Chair in Rock Art, Centre of Rock Art Research + Management, University of Western Australia and Paul S.C.Taçon, Chair in Rock Art Research and Director of the Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit (PERAHU), Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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