The Yoke of Colonialism: An Exploration of the Research Relationship between Tarby Mason and Norman Tindale

21st April 2013

Trevor Tisdall

BArch(Hons), Department of Archaeology, Flinders University, November 2012

This thesis is concerned with the deconstruction of a research relationship between an Aboriginal man (Tarby Mason) and a Western researcher (Norman Barnett Tindale), to whom the former provided significant cultural knowledge over half a century ago. Along with many positives that may be identified in the outcomes from this interaction, there were also significant problems that have not been satisfactorily dealt with to date. These issues have been brought to a head by Indigenous disquiet about the practices of archaeology and anthropology that have had the effect of appropriating Indigenous cultural heritage. Indeed, for the last 30 years researchers and research institutions have had to deal with questions of the removal and appropriation of tangible cultural heritage and human remains. This disquiet has also extended into serious concerns about the way archaeologists and anthropologists have participated in the appropriation of the intangible cultural heritage of Aboriginal communities. Such issues are at play when considering the work of Tindale, which took place in an early disciplinary phase.

A decolonising theoretical framework was selected as being the most instructive approach to deconstruct such a relationship. Colonial aspirations have their roots in European imperialism and the control and acquisition of land. There has been a tendency to describe Australia as post-colonial, however we may discern colonialism in Tarby Mason’s and Norman Tindale’s relationship through the appropriation of tangible and intangible culture. The definition of colonialism is thus broadened to encompass those practices that deprive Aboriginal people of their cultural heritage.

A ‘participatory action research’ methodology was employed to investigate these issues as, in part, it has the potential to empower Indigenous communities. Consequently, this thesis has identified problematic practices in the field, in scholarly forums and in popular writings.  These practices have provided significant support for colonialism, both within archaeological forums and in the broader community. Rather than purely documenting disappearing Indigenous cultures, there are aspects of the practice of archaeology during this historical period that are identified as supporting colonialism.

Trevor Tisdall
The yoke of colonialism: An exploration of the research relationship between Tarby Mason and Norman Tindale
June 2013
Thesis Abstracts
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