Study explores family history amid frontier conflict

Valerie Punch, Lance Sullivan and Hazel Sullivan at Wonomo Waterhole.

Family history in the broader context of colonial settlement and the complexities of frontier conflict is the focus of a new Griffith University Australian Research Council Special Research Initiative study.

The $263, 414 study, Reconstructing Yalluna experiences of the frontier is a multi-institution collaborative project with Deakin University, Flinders University and James Cook University.

Through a collaboration of Indigenous peoples, archaeologists, historians, anthropologists, museum curators and educators, the project will provide the first sustained history of an elusive Aboriginal experience of the frontier.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Lynley Wallis from the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research said the study would provide fresh insights into a contentious period in Australia’s past and contribute in a practical way to reconciliation.

“Australians continue to grapple with what reconciliation might mean for them in a practical and personal sense. This project aims to harness the combined powers of history, archaeology, heritage and anthropology to offer one way forward.”

At the request of an Aboriginal family from Western Queensland, the Sullivans of the Yulluna people, the study will document and map the detailed oral histories and traditions of the family.

“Descended from the Aboriginal survivor of a punitive massacre and a Native Mounted Police officer who conducted retaliatory raids, the Sullivan family’s history speaks to the complex, cross-cultural nature of the Australian frontier,” Associate Professor Wallis said.

She said in part, the project was a response to the call for truth-telling made in the recent Uluru Statement from the Heart.

“While designed as a call for constitutional recognition, the preceding Regional Dialogue Meetings revealed an additional unexpected, but fundamental desire – the need to know more about Australian and Aboriginal history.

“The project aims to produce data of national cultural and social significance that will shape our understandings of a core, but contested, component of recent Australian history.

“Through far-sighted, innovative partnerships with the education and museum sectors the project will provide genuine opportunities for alternative understandings of the frontier that will cement Australia as an international leader in frontier conflict studies.”

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