Richard John Hunter (1946–2006)

01st June 2007

Richard HunterAmy Roberts

Richard John Hunter was born on 27 May 1946 at Swan Reach Mission on the Murray River, South Australia. Richard was the first of five children of Harry Hunter and May Hunter (née Richards). He was a recognised Nganguruku, Peramangk and Ngarrindjeri elder and a custodian of the culture for this region. Indeed, he spent many decades caring for the heritage of his country to which he had a deep connection.

Richard’s formative years were spent at SwanReachAreaSchool where he was head prefect, sport’s captain, tennis captain and football captain. After leaving school he worked many and varying jobs including working on the fruit blocks, as a jackeroo, as a head ganger on the railways and as a gardener for the Mannum Council. Undoubtedly many of these years were tough, although Richard was not one to complain about such hardships. It was in his subsequent years that he was able to devote his time working to protect his culture and heritage.

To achieve his mission Richard enrolled at the University of South Australia and studied archaeology. He also involved himself in many important research projects and came to be involved in most if not all heritage issues on his country. In fact, he was Chairperson of the Mannum Aboriginal Community Association for countless years. This important work is being carried on by his children.

One of the earlier archaeological research projects in which he was heavily involved was the Swan Reach Mission Archaeology, History and Anthropology Project and subsequent publications on which he was a co-author (Anderson et al. 1999; Hemming et al. 2000). Later he was also involved in research at Fromm’s Landing (which included a reanalysis of some of the materials excavated by D.J. Mulvaney) and again was a co-author on one of the papers arising out of this research (see Roberts et al. 1999). These two examples are just a small selection of the archaeological research projects in which he was involved and actually co-authored. Indeed, as mentioned above, his involvement with heritage surveys was extensive.

It was Richard’s enthusiasm for archaeology and other related disciplines which led him to attend numerous archaeological and anthropological seminars, conferences and congresses – often as an invited speaker and/or guest. He was admired in his community for travelling overseas to attend the World Archaeological Congresses in India in 1994 and South Africa in 1999.

Richard was also passionate about preserving his beloved Ngaut Ngaut for the future generations of his people. This dream was finally realised only recently through a co-management arrangement with the Department of Environment and Heritage. Ngaut Ngaut (also known as Devon Downs) is of course famous for being the first archaeological site in Australia to be ‘scientifically’ excavated by N.B. Tindale and H. Hale in 1929 and for challenging the theories of the day which argued that Aboriginal people had not occupied Australia for any significant length of time. Richard of course had a lot to say about such theories!

Ngaut Ngaut is also the site that Richard used to educate many thousands of tourists, students, government officials, archaeologists and others about the importance of Aboriginal culture. In this regard he used the large collection of rock engravings at the site as the conduit for his goals. His involvement in cultural tourism was recognised by both his lifetime membership of Aboriginal Tourism Australia as well as his South Australian Citizen of the Year Award (2006). The important cultural tourism and education work at Ngaut Ngaut continues.

Apart from Ngaut Ngaut, Richard considered that his other major life achievement was gaining the title to the land known as Sugar Shack. In fact, it was these two events that he prized above any other awards or recognition.

In relation to archaeology and education he was also enthusiastic about improving relationships between Aboriginal people and researchers and educating us about the importance of consultation and negotiation with Aboriginal people. This facet of his interest in the discipline is evident in all research projects in which he involved himself. In particular, his views were recorded through his participation in a study which aimed to investigate such issues and the report for which he was also a co-author (see Roberts et al. 2002).

It seems most of all, however, that it is difficult to sum up such a full and remarkable life in a few short paragraphs except to say that his passing continues to be mourned by the very many people who loved him. Importantly, his devotion to protecting the heritage of his people has also left a beneficial legacy to be enjoyed by future generations.

Richard is sadly missed by his friends (many of whom work in the South Australian archaeological community) and especially by his family including his 12 children Sharon, Ivy, Geoffrey, Rynald, Rebecca, Belinda, Phillip, Isobelle, Mavis, Samantha, Shannon, Stephanie, his many many grandchildren, his dearly loved wife Cynthia and countless other family members.

Selected Publications

Anderson, S., S. Hemming and R. Hunter 1999 Swan Reach Mission: Archaeology, History and Anthropology. Unpublished report for the National Estate Grants Program.

Hemming, S., V. Wood and R. Hunter 2000 Researching the past: Oral history and archaeology at Swan Reach. In R. Torrence and A. Clarke (eds), The Archaeology of Difference: Negotiating Cross-Cultural Engagements in Oceania, pp.331-359. London: Routledge.

Roberts, A.L., F.D. Pate and R. Hunter 1999 Late Holocene climatic changes recorded in macropod bone collagen stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes at Fromm’s Landing, South Australia. Australian Archaeology 49:48-49.

Roberts, A.L. with R. Hunter, P. Coulthard, I. Agius, E. Newchurch, J. Bramfield, M. Smith, A. Rigney, V. Copley, D. Hirschausen, V. Branson, T. Trevorrow, M. Rigney, G. Trevorrow, P. Dixon, K. Hunt and one anonymous participant 2002 Indigenous South Australian Perspectives of Archaeology Project Report. Unpublished report to the Department of Archaeology, FlindersUniversity.

Image caption: Richard Hunter at Ngaut Ngaut (published in Australian Archaeology 64:63 with permission from the Hunter family).
Amy Roberts
Richard John Hunter (1946–2006)
June 2007
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