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Decolonising Historical Maps
Fellowship Presentation with Dr Bess Moylan
Fellowship Presentation with Dr Bess Moylan
29 May 2019
How might we best catalogue historical maps featuring words from both Aboriginal languages and English? What does it take to decolonise our view of historical maps?
Spatial scientist and researcher from the University of Sydney, Dr Bess Moylan shares her research into how historical maps can be reviewed to give them a wider audience, and make them more useful when investigating Aboriginal cultural landscapes.
Bess Moylan Fellowship 29 May 2019
*Speakers: Rebecca Bateman (R), Bess Moylan (B)
*Location: National Library of Australia
R: Good evening, everyone. Welcome to the National Library. I would like to acknowledge and celebrate the first people of the land that we are gathered on tonight, the Ngunawal and Ngambri peoples and pay my respect to their elders past, present and future. I’m Rebecca Bateman and I’m the Indigenous Curator here at the National Library and it’s my very great privilege and pleasure this evening to welcome you to tonight’s fellowship presentation by Dr Bess Moylan.
For more than 20 years Bess has worked in surveying and – in the surveying and mapping industry. Her main focus has been in environmental mapping and more recently cultural landscape mapping, looking at how people connect to landscape, incredibly important work in the space of indigenous heritage and history.
So Bess’ interest in cultural landscapes was cultivated at the world heritage site at Angkor in Cambodia where she worked on an ARC grant as a research associate for the University of Sydney. The project involved developing methods to record cultural landscape heritage using historical maps and map biography techniques. This experience inspired her work back in Australia as she started to research the Aboriginal history in the area that she now lives, the Illawarra. It has led to collaborations with state government in heritage research, teaching in Aboriginal site assessment courses with TAFE, looking at the role connection to land plays in attachment theory and research into the reuse connection to land plays – sorry, into the reuse of historical maps to explore Aboriginal cultural landscapes.
Bess has been here at the Library as a curatorial research fellow which is supported by the Treasures Gallery Access program. This is an important fellowship for the Library and the community. As you may be aware the Library holds a vast collection of maps however as Bess has discovered it can be difficult to identify maps with references – with refence to Aboriginal cultural features. It can be - historically maps that contain relevant information have not been catalogued with this in mind. From my experience for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people maps are an invaluable resource, contain irreplaceable information about connection to country, traditional practice, culture and evidence of the postcolonial history and impact of removals, relocation and dislocation. So making these maps easier to find and more broadly known about is incredibly important and valuable work for the Library and for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities that use our collections.
Bess’ research here aims to explore map biographies that reveal cultural landscape features, identify connections to country and demonstrate attachment to place. During her time here Bess has been working with staff from across the Library as well as the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies to identify ways to make our collections more informative and accessible which will be of significant value to researchers now and into the future. So I’m delighted to introduce Dr Bess Moylan.
B: Good evening. Before I begin I too would like to acknowledge the traditional owners, the Ngunnawal and the Ngambri people, traditional custodians of the Canberra area and I pay my respects to the elders past and present, to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders here today. I would also like to just warn people that there are some references to material that uses out of date language and possibly some sacred sites. I’d like to also thank the Library staff for all the help that they’ve given me and all the support and as Rebecca mentioned the fellowship is supported by the patrons and supporters of the Library’s Treasures Gallery Access program and I’d like to thank them too.
So to move on. I thought a good way to introduce my presentation tonight would be by reflecting on the 2019 theme for the National Reconciliation Week which is Grounded in Truth. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have long called for a comprehensive process of truth-telling about Australia’s colonial history and I see this call as an opportunity to learn more about the histories of people that have lived in Australia and also to plan for our futures together. To see the truth sometimes we need to take time to look at things from a different perspective, from another’s point of view, outside the square, to review what we see and this is what I am going to ask you to do tonight.
So this image by the surveyor, Robert Hoddle, is a good way to look at reviewing. I apologise, I know this isn’t a map. Everyone’s expecting maps, I am map-obsessed so don’t worry, there’s going to be heaps of maps coming but I’m going to start with an image. So this image can be viewed in different ways and here are two to consider. One can reflect the title and the artist so it’s a surveyor marking an access track in the land that is new and unknown to him. Hoddle might see the bush getting in the way, gullies to cross, measurements to be made, progress to come. Another view of the landscape can be from the perspective of the Aboriginal person in this painting and let’s decide that he’s local or at least knows this landscape. What might he be seeing? A song line, dreamtime stories, ceremonial sites, bush tucker, a country that’s cared for or under threat. So by looking from different cultural perspectives new information can come to light. The landscape can be re-viewed.
Now in the same way the painting can be re-viewed so can historical maps, creating a view that is an alternative perspective to their original intention. What might be acknowledged about Aboriginal cultural landscapes when we move to decolonise the viewing of the map? So let’s take a look and this is the – a part of the map – sorry, a map showing part of that area that Hoddle went through. I’m just going to zoom into a section.
So first you can see in the yellow there, it’s hard to read but what it says is Hoddle’s Road. I’m pretty sure it’s not really his road. A pathway was probably shown to him by locals. Australia’s crisscrossed with roads developed by Aboriginal nations well in advance of European arrival but also notice [Toodawallan] 7:27. It’s a gully and also listed as a trig station or a trigonometric survey station. At the time Hoddle was surveying the Surveyor General, Thomas Mitchell, was directing his surveyors to apply local names to the landscape features so the names and roads on this map indicate that this is more than just a map of ownership and of European land development, this map also contains references to a history that predates the map, a cultural landscape prior to European influence. So this is an example of how to decolonise the map.
But before I continue with some other map examples I’d like to just step back and provide a few examples of how historical maps can be used to research Aboriginal landscape. Let me first establish that maps can be used with some examples. So my first example is the use of historical aerial photography for family research. This material can be invaluable to help document attachment to place. Where did families live? Where did people travel? Revealing stories embedded in the landscape. This example is from Byrne and Nugent’s book called Mapping Attachment where a map biography has been drawn over the historical aerial photo. The National Library has hundreds of thousands of aerial photos in its collection that could be used for purposes like this.
Research into languages and place names of Australia acknowledges the values – sorry, acknowledges and values the world’s oldest continuous human culture. There’s been extensive work done on Aboriginal languages and place names and see the example here of the book, The Land is a Map which I highly recommend. The indigenous place names are being identified as a network. The example parish map shows the two place name systems together, the introduced and the indigenous network. This map here shows – I’ve highlighted in yellow the presumed indigenous network names and the pink ones being the introduced European name. The green one is a bit weird ‘cause it’s called Native Dog Hill. Later on it was changed to Mt Warrigal which apparently means native dog so Native Dog Hill was first and then it got its name changed.
Research indicates a push by the community around about the 1880s and towards federation to restore Aboriginal names. The local newspapers reported on knowledge of place names, there were arguments back and forwards, letters to the editor about the correct name, the correct pronunciations, mostly of course European people discussing this.
In the case of Lake Illawarra around this map a Mr Brown recalled a conversation on place names with an Aboriginal woman called Queen Rosie who was born on the shores of Lake Illawarra. So this map links the stories or conversations between Mr Brown and Queen Rosie to this place. It also gives a voice to Queen Rosie.
Researching pathways is another area where historical maps can be useful. There are clear links between Aboriginal pathways and the travelling stock routes with Aboriginal archaeology I’ve found at stopping places along the routes. This map displays the layers of history if time is taken to decolonise the initial first view of this map.
Another type of research that’s related to landscape management is looking at previous structures of ecosystems and landscape. So as we look of ways to live sustainably in Australia traditional methods are being discussed and this example shows how exploration maps can contain references to the landscape management methods prior to the introduction of European methods. The reference highlighted here says burnt country. It may refer to traditional landscape management techniques. Additionally the map shows land cover along the transect that the explorer took. Other maps show broader vegetation patterns suggesting land use information.
So there are some examples of how maps can be used for Aboriginal cultural landscape research and historical records are heavily relied on when researching Aboriginal landscape – cultural landscapes. These two books here, they use them heavily – more recommendations from me, by the way, if you haven’t had a look at these two books – but they don’t have many maps and I do admit when I go into a bookshop I will flick through the book and have a look and see if there’s a map and if there is one, particularly at the front, I’m pretty hopeful. So particularly when you’re talking about place and location I like to see where this is, the context. So why aren’t there so many maps in these books and references? Are they hard to find? Do people not know how to use them? Not know they’re available so these are some of the questions.
So two areas that can be used to improve access and use of historical maps in Aboriginal cultural landscape research. One is to improve access to the records and the second is to improve connections to the collections. Here are some proposed strategies to do that. Number one is to decolonise the map catalogue records. The other one is stronger links between items in the collections. The third is targeted research guides to allow researchers to discover and understand a range of maps in the Library’s collection. The fourth is the introduction of a spatial browsing system adopting mapping technology to find maps.
So for the remainder of my presentation I’ll talk through these strategies and explain the differences that they could make but before I do I just want to preface my discussion on proposed changes to the catalogue. Cataloguing, I recognise that it’s both an art and a science and the style and the content of the records are definitely of their time. I’ve been made aware that revising the catalogue description needs to be prioritised, focused and where possible not resource-intensive. There are realities to the funding of thousands and thousands of maps and aerial photos in the Library’s collection and looking at them again. It’s just a Herculean task.
But I do acknowledge that the Library has a reconciliation plan in place to improve access to indigenous material and have been developing protocols to catalogue new indigenous materials. But the one thing I ask you to keep in mind is that the maps that I’m talking about today, they’re not considered indigenous materials but colonial and I’ll take a few examples here.
So the first one here is a county map – sorry, it’s a little bit light there for you. It was brought to my attention by the map section staff who’ve started to identify landscape features in maps as they’re being scanned. Aboriginal cultural awareness training has been helping them identify some items that might be useful to note and those that have sensitivities around them so I’ll just zoom into a section here. Oh there, you can see that there.
So for this map it actually has a section that says reserve for Aboriginals but when you look in the map catalogue in the notes section all it says is cadastral map of the county of Hopetoun. So what we’re proposing is to make this record richer. It could have on it Aboriginal reserve so that if someone is searching for Aboriginal reserves this map will come up. If known, the name of the reserve as well.
The subject headings, primarily used by the National Library, have been developed by the Library of Congress in the US. Unsurprisingly these do not reflect the Australian experience, let alone the Australian Aboriginal experience. AIATSIS have provided subject headings for their requirements and the Library has recently begun to adopt these. So this map currently has the subject headings shown here in black and additional subject headings from AIATSIS could also be included there, shown in blue. So you can see the ones recommended here as settlement and contacts, government settlements and reserves so that’s one developed by AIATSIS.
So another example, government land tenure maps and this is the parish map from Lake Illawarra again. The parish map as seen before like most in Australia contains place names derived from indigenous languages and acknowledging these place names in the catalogue description would recognise the long occupation of land prior to European domination and the network element to the indigenous place names. We still need to agree that the wording is right but something like in blue you can see there in the notes section, some place names derived from Aboriginal languages. If this is adopted potentially thousands of parish maps in the Library’s catalogue would be updated with this note. You can also see there’s a suggestion there for an additional subject heading of language, vocabulary and place names.
So as well as changing the Library catalogue record another suggestion is to do some targeted research guides. Parish maps often contain information about land use, land cover and hydrological structures before the introduction of European agricultural methods. Developing a research guide about parish maps could help reconstruct vegetation patterns, water system details and Aboriginal pathways. The catalogue record for this map, the next one and it’s an explorer’s map, does not mention any reference to Aboriginal landscape features although they are clearly shown on the map and I’ll just zoom into this area here so you can see.
So in addition to water sources and the vegetation described here there’s also a reference to contact with Aboriginal people included on the map. So including in the notes section a notification of this such as Aboriginal water sources, vegetation descriptions, references to Aboriginal contact with exploration party would again enrich that catalogue. Also worth mentioning in the notes would be the explorer’s journal for more detail and even in the catalogue of the explorer’s journal it would be good to mention the map so linking the two together.
Additional subject headings that include these features would also make it easier to find and reflect on the contents of the map so suggestions here are for water supply, water holes and rock pools, water supply, wells and bores, settlement and contact, explorers and Aboriginal guides.
This next section, I’ve blurred this just so you can’t see all of the names so just for sensitivity reasons. We’re still working through how to provide access to these types of maps. So Daisy Bates was an early ethnographer and the Library holds collections of her papers and field notes and also a series of maps. The map catalogue records would benefit from more relevant details so again see those noted in blue so the notes that are currently there describe exactly what is there, that’s true. It is a sketch map drawn in ink, it has corrections, notes in pencils. There is some extra information about some place names as well which is great and where those references have come from.
But again putting in the notation, place names derived from Aboriginal languages and maybe even using the [Auslan] 20:03 tags. So recently AIATSIS have developed a whole coding system for languages which is being adopted by the National Library too so to be able to put those codes in for those languages would again enrich those records, make it more easily accessible and link it to other work. Other notes could be maps contain symbols for landscape features and referring to Daisy Bates’ field notes so Daisy Bates’ field notes refer to these maps as pathways, contain further details on the sites and their relationship to Aboriginal groups.
The subject description here again is correct, it’s in the [Pequil] 20:42 region, WA maps. It does have Aboriginal Australians, Western Australia and maps but if I was looking for information around this area I might not necessarily say I know what I’ll do, I shall search for everything in [Pequil] region, WA. It’s probably not the first thing that will come into my mind or the way I would search for this information. Other subject headings here could be water supply, water holes and rock pools, water supply wells and bores and habitation camps.
The Daisy Bates collection has been split into two when it came to the National Library so there is a map collection which is kept separately from the manuscripts collection. It would be great to be able to link those two together so that when people are searching one or the other they know about the other collection. The Library’s developing finding aids where you can actually understand what is in the manuscripts collection and working towards finding aids also for the maps. I recommend further research on the linkages between the two because if you go and have a look at the manuscripts collection there's a whole range of detail in here about the different sites that are on the maps so there’s detail – and here’s an example here of somebody walking through these pathways describing the journey. So this is where we had dinner, this is where we ate and the next place along on the pathway, this is where we slept and again this is another sleeping place and this is where we had dinner and so on.
So embedded in the field notes and the material in the manuscripts are a lot of geographic references and context. Looking at the maps on their own doesn’t give you the story, looking at the manuscripts on your own doesn’t give the story either so there’s a role for somebody to bring those two together and to have a look at them in details. But again you’re not going to find them the way currently the catalogues and the access is to these collections. So I’m a bit obsessed about the Daisy Bates thing. I’m sure some of my colleagues are sick of hearing about it but I’m just finding it fascinating, yeah, that the richness of the maps and the richness of the data that’s in those field notes in the collections.
Another targeted research guide would be for finding and interpreting and using aerial photography for those map biography exercises but also aerial photography is often not that easy to find because it’s based on the way the photography was captured so it’s based on a series of runs that the plane would have taken and then for each one of those runs there’s a photo number so you have to be able to identify where the runs were actually taken and then zoom into where you’re interested in and identify the photos. Now the people and the staff in the map section are brilliant at doing this kind of work but for somebody from the outside it’s not an intuitive thing to do so a map guide again – a research guide again would help this.
So the kind of information that can be found, roads, landscape features, reserves, missions, vegetation patterns, paths, houses, buildings, all useful information, particularly for the postcolonial type of work that people are doing reconnecting with families.
Another one is topographic maps so this is my last example showing historical topographic maps. In this example the location of the Aboriginal community is clear. It’s around about 5km away, though, from the town of the same name so initially when I was helping one of the other fellows find this she said can you find out where this place is? Which I did and then we had a closer look and went no, the Aboriginal community, though, it’s not in town, it’s out of town, it’s further away so the top – she said I didn’t even realise that. I’ve been doing this research and looking at this and didn’t realise that there were two separate places. So this is a topographic map from the 19 – it appears to be the 1920s and it actually even shows the housing there, some playing fields, the roads that are there, the hill nearby so you can imagine again interviewing people who lived in this area doing that kind of map biography approach, that this is a great aid for people to be able to put into context and locate those features and those places and the stories that they’re talking about.
Alright so this is getting into the operational activities of the Library. So my research is recommending that a works program for updating the catalogues when time’s available, updates can be done. Development of research guides using specifications recommended by the research that I do. Formatting of an internal – like map packages so that staff working on projects in the Library involved in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities can actually get access to these maps and start incorporating them into their research. Suggesting an application for research grants to develop and explore linkages between journals and field notes and maps and research into the Aboriginal cultural landscape.
So I want to finish my presentation with the last two final recommendations, the one there listed, crowd sourcing and spatial browsing. So given the limited resources of the Library and given its success in other areas crowd sourcing is a method of enriching the catalogue that the Library can use and this is an example of the catalogue record here. You can see there’s a section there for comments so it says this phase is for comments to help us enhance our existing data for collection items. So the Library could run activities around this and actively promote this tool to harness knowledge from the community so if you feel inclined take a look. If you’ve found a map and you’ve noted something on it this is the place where you can put information.
Trove offers a similar option, a similar tool for comments. You can see there on the right-hand side and also for tags on the left so these can be put in for both public and private but again adding that richness to those collections. I’ve been told that Trove is going to go through a redevelopment process, it’s in the pipeline and so there’s going to be some changes to Trove so keep your eye out for that. Believe there’s going to be a focus on indigenous content and access.
The last one is that spatial browsing, using a map to find a map which can be a handy tool. So one of the difficulties in finding maps is understanding the location that you’re looking for and finding it by text and the whole point of a map is not to have text, is to describe something spatially. But in a library catalogue you’re forced to describe the map via text and it’s not ideal so if we can go back to looking for a map using spatial methods this will make those items in the catalogue more accessible.
So most maps have what’s called a bounding rectangle that’s recorded as part of their cataloguing record. It basically just shows the extremities of the map and it locates them as coordinates and they’re put in there. So what it would take is extracting that information, creating these bounding rectangles that you can see here in red and then someone can go in and select a point or an area and then a result of all of the maps associated with that particular area will be returned. The National Library of Scotland has developed an interface that does this but as was pointed out to me Scotland’s very, very small and probably has less diverse material. I take that point on board but wouldn’t it be great if we could do that too?
So there are some other kinds of maps that I haven’t spoken about today, formed collections, maps in books, pastoral maps, mining maps, town plans, native title, tourist maps. I’d like to finish up with a very important map in the Library’s collection to summarise my presentation. This is one of a series of maps used in the Mabo case. It was used to communicate the community land tenure system that was in place. The map does not have a catalogue record. It’s in the papers of Brian Key and Collins’ collection and it can be found via a link in Trove but it’s buried, it’s not easy to find.
It would be great to see this series of maps better described in the catalogue. It would make it easier to find, create a stronger connection to the collection for Australians to better appreciate Aboriginal cultural landscapes. So thank you for bearing with me, I’m just at the end of my voice. I’m sorry I haven’t gone for as long as you probably expected but I’m going to be coughing my head off at any stage. So thank you very much for your attention and coming out tonight, thank you.
R: Thank you, Bess, it’s just so exciting to see the multitude of possibilities in terms of the way that we look at and interpret and understand maps, and the information embedded in them. It’s just yeah really amazing. We do have time for some questions. If you would like to ask a question I’ll just get you to pop your hand up and Sharon or Narelle will be around with a microphone.
A: Thank you for a very interesting talk. There seems to be a precedence order in mapping where the first named map – the first name sort of has precedence. How do you get on with that? The Aboriginal names of course were far earlier than the recorded names on the maps that have been handed down from the colonial period.
B: It’s a really complex area. Sometimes they change as well, though, so interestingly when the Europeans were floating down the coast having a look they named the mountains they could see. Oh that looks like a hat, that’s Hat Hill. But then later on as directed by the Surveyor General the names were found that were otherwise. So they do sometimes change. The other thing – and the New Zealanders have done a lot of research into this too – that sometimes the names that are given to places in Australia are not the names of the places at all, they’re a variety of different things and so you have to be really careful to make that – make sure that that connection is understood. So yeah, that’s the best way I could answer it. I highly recommend you read This Land is a Map because it discusses a lot of those issues you’re talking about.
A: Good evening. You mentioned just both in your talk and in response to that first question about Thomas Mitchell and his direction, if that’s the right term, of – that his surveyors should at least where possible use I guess local indigenous names. Can you maybe just expand on that a little ‘cause I hadn’t heard that previously – not to say I’m any expert on mapping or surveying but even though I’m of course just from common experience ‘round Australia, see a lot of indigenous names even though there are many missing as well. Indeed maybe just as a subquestion there’s – there are quite a lot of areas where in fact there’s very few indigenous names and I’m just wondering whether that’s because it wasn’t surveyed by people under Mitchell.
B: Yeah. Yeah so Mitchell’s based in New South Wales but similar directives were given in other parts of Australia. Unfortunately some people like to think that Mitchell was doing it because he was benevolent and he thought it was a great idea. What he was really trying to do was make sure that when people went back to the same area they could find those places again so it was a matter of being – it was a matter of people not getting lost by being able to go back to the same places. However there’s some other research that’s recently been done looking at place names for pastoral estates so when people were squatting in Victoria and parts of New South Wales, when they were being converted over to leases they had to give names to places. What you’ll find is that a lot of those names are Aboriginal names and the question’s being asked why? Why did people choose those and not choose more European-based names?
Some of the suggestions that have come up is because – let’s say there was a bit of maybe anti-English sentiment. I came across a couple of poems which said things like I think we’ve got enough things named Goulburn, we’ve got creeks and towns and roads and hills. Can we think of something else? Another one was lamenting the fact that Macquarie seemed to be well named all through Australia and both of these poets went on to say that they liked the indigenous names. So I think it’s a bit of a combination of both. Most definitely the Surveyor General went out and it was a directive, it was a directive sent out to say you will go out and you will try to find these names and you will definitely use these names.
The places where they’re previously not used, I can suggest that there’s probably a few surveyors who just ignored that directive as well and some of the names didn’t come back into the drafting and the mapping area. But it’s an area of research that I think would be interesting to go the State Archives because they would probably hold a lot of these letters that go back and forth. They had to send lists in and the drafting was done through that office so I’d say State Archives has some more information there too.
A: Thank you for your presentation. My question is some lengthy time ago I attended a very interesting lecture on the use of maps as part of conflict resolution and in this particular case they were looking at a conflict between an Aboriginal group and non-Aboriginal group and each community, each part of the community had been asked to map that piece of landscape. It was remarkable how different they were but one thing that came out of it was that the European map indicated why the conflict had existed. Quite a lot of the land use to which Europeans put the land was over the top of various paths etc, various other uses to which the Aboriginal community had put that same landscape. How would your cataloguing system call up that sort of multidimensionality of the different communities in relation to some conflict resolution?
B: Well that sounds like a really fascinating project. I don’t think the cataloguing system would but I think what the cataloguing system could do would be to provide those historical resources for exactly that activity that you're talking about, to have that information there so that people can see the different types of information that’s in the landscape. I suppose by acknowledging in the cataloguing system that suggestion to put place names derived from Aboriginal place names would at least let people think about an alternative view of the landscapes so that would be a way of doing that and using the AIATSIS subject headings. So they would be the two main ways but yeah, I’d definitely see the historical maps as a way of providing resources to do those kind of things.
The great thing is, though, and I haven’t touched on it in this talk, but there are some fantastic new maps that are coming forward, being developed by a whole range of different people that would be great to see catalogued in the Library going forward that would probably have that multidimensionality that you're talking about. So the ones for example that were created from that activity that you talked about, they would be fantastic to have in the Library so that people could see those in years to come.
A: Thanks Bess. A couple of things I’ve seen recently from a sort of map curator perspective that I thought were interesting and that combined that problem of the text and the spatial views that we’re all subject to and as a maps curator I’ve been oppressed by for decades. But seriously there’s some fantastic AI tools which now allow I think or will allow very soon the ability to interrogate the surface of the map for the text so that ultimately we can combine the bounding box approach with the text investigation so that everything can be read off the map. I think that’s a real possibility. Google Vision is one example where they’re now – our IT people have recently tried to apply that software to parish maps, for example, and have come up with many names on the map with a sort of 80 odd per cent success rate which again is another way into crowd sourcing, I think, another opportunity for the Library to engage with people.
B: Yeah and there’s a national place naming survey as well which you could link those results to that would be beneficial and also again AIATSIS has listings of place names as well. But yeah, I think in terms of looking and adopting technologies so that it’s just not well we’re going to have a look through every catalogue [unclear] 40:30 and do that again and do that again and do that again. Yeah, I think that’s definitely an interesting way to go, Martin. I did try one of those optical recognition or text recognition ones and what I found was they were really good with the names that were done on the horizontal but when they started to go off a bit at angles it wasn’t so keen. Thank you.
A: Thank you for your presentation. A lot of the materials that you’ve drawn on, that you’ve shown in your presentation relate to land surveys across Australia so land-based surveys. I’m just curious with the coastal mapping of Australia and the various British navigators who mapped various parts of it, some of those voyages had Aboriginals as part of the crew but I’m wondering – I don’t know if your research or the research books that you mentioned touches on whether those very early – some of the earliest maps of the coast line do pick up Aboriginal place names or not.
B: I’ve only really looked at the east coast around that Wollongong area and most definitely there were not Aboriginal place names used and you could tell – as the Europeans started moving down the coast and making contact with people that those names started to appear. But I think it would be interesting to go to other places that you talked about and see if there is a difference there. But definitely coming up the east coast, no, they were naming features after what they think they look like or experiences they’d had there. Yeah so canoe, creek, yeah. Thank you.
A: Thanks very much, Bess, it was great to hear more about your work, it’s so fascinating and so important. It made me recall a time at Ballarat when I did an indigenous tour and was told that Lake Wendouree – Wendouree means bugger off and I’m not sure whether this is right but I was wondering about the distinction – whether there’s a distinction to be made between names and words so this map contains Aboriginal words as opposed to Aboriginal names. ‘Cause we – particularly as settler people – well certainly I couldn’t be sure that this was an Aboriginal name for a place but rather a word that was yielded up in response to interrogation under diverse circumstances so that they might have been reluctant to give an actual place name.
I’m sure you’ve thought about all of this and it’s probably in the book but I’m wondering how your cataloguing system would deal with that issue and whether in fact there’s a role for saying that these maps contain Aboriginal words. But given the significance of naming and place naming or the attachment of particular words to places within some Aboriginal cultures at least, whether the identification of particular words as place names is a responsibility that really rests with indigenous communities?
B: That’s a really good point, actually. I’m going to take that on board, Andrea, thanks for that. I think you’re right, words is – yeah, it’s less prescriptive and yeah, it provides that. One of the things I found interesting about researching the network or that pathway too is people suggesting in some areas, some of the Aboriginal nations, the names of places were actually more about a memory system to move from place to place and they weren’t necessarily in the same way Europeans named a place, after a certain thing or person or feature. So they have very different meanings and uses in some areas so yeah, probably reducing the emphasis on place might be a good idea. Thank you.
A: I’ve got the same problem you have. Related to the last question, given the erosion and in some areas loss of Aboriginal languages in southeast Australia to what extent do you think it’s going to be feasible to connect words from maps? I take your point that they’re words, not necessarily place names, they’re names applied – they’re words applied to places by surveyors that – in one of the areas that I’m working in in Tierra del Fuego there’s a case where quite clearly the surveyors from the ships said what’s that? The response was a dolphin and they applied it to the hill. When they got the things translated finally they picked it out. So to what degree do you think it’s going to be able to be possible to connect language back to the words on the map and translate them into meaningful things so that you can start to read what’s being said in that – in those words on the landscape?
B: I think that on the east coast as you were mentioning a lot of those languages, there’s a lot of revival programs that are going on at the moment for those languages and one of the things people are doing is taking the old records and the information and looking at them and interpreting them. So I don’t think these maps will do that and I don’t think the catalogue will but what it will do is provide easier access to people wanting to do that information. So as Andrea mentioned it’s the communities who should be making the decisions about these, how they’re adopted and where they’re adopted but these maps are a material resource to be able to support that process so I think that’s how you would look at that generally.
R: Oh that note, yeah look, I’ve just been reflecting on what maps and being able to access maps means from an indigenous perspective and just thinking when you – when Aboriginal people meet each other the first thing that you ask is where are you from? What’s your country? And it’s such an integral part of who you are and your identity, it’s not about – it’s like telling your name so for me the answer is my people, the [Warwan] 47:00 people, I’m from Warren in north-west New South Wales across the Liverpool plains and along the Macquarie River and that’s all very vital to who I am as a person. I guess it just really excites me that we can look at – firstly that we’ve got this amazing collection here and we can look at it thorough that lens and just look at what – which information is actually in that collection and how we can make it more accessible and more broadly known to Aboriginal people and other people who are interested in finding out more about the history of Australia.
On that note I’d just like to ask you to join me once again in thanking Bess for a fascinating and very thought-provoking presentation.
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