Thesis abstract ‘Fitting Pictures and Stories: A Study of Archaeology as a Resource’

30th December 2013

George Susino

BA(Hons), School of Archaeology, Classics and Ancient History, University of Sydney, Sydney, October 1996

Since the 1960s the political arena and Australian society have increased recognition of Aboriginal culture and tradition. The Australian Government has accepted and adopted several United Nations resolutions and conventions which protect the rights of indigenous peoples. However, this recognition of cultural and social differentiation does not extend to the ownership of cultural material. In 1996, when this research was conducted, Aboriginal heritage legislation in New South Wales therefore did not reflect the wishes and needs of Aboriginal communities.

This thesis is based upon the reported experiences of several Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal heritage professionals who work in New South Wales. Tillett (1996) identified the crux of the argument through discourse with the Aboriginal staff of New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service. He reported that Aboriginal people identify all aspects of their culture and tradition as living and unique, whereas the institutionalised, archaeological and bureaucratic understanding separates and alienates the past from the present.

The Aboriginal people interviewed believe that Aboriginal culture has to reject archaeology, but not reject the entire methodology. The informants’ recognise that Aboriginal cultural sites must be managed by Aboriginal people. This is almost never mentioned in discussions of practical management problems, although the informants directed the relevant institutions towards the resolution of these issues. The requirements of management are clearly subservient to those of ownership and control. Perhaps management discussions are really about ownership and control. It is basically impossible for Aboriginal people to address problems of heritage management until they have control and ownership recognition. The Aboriginal perspective calls for a revision of the current situation. One conclusion drawn by this study is that there is a paramount need for changes in legislation to further facilitate Aboriginal ownership and control of their cultural material. Archaeology as a resource has no value to Aboriginal communities, beyond the use of practical field survey techniques. The informants believe that their priority is cultural renaissance, and archaeology can help this process.


Tillett, G. 1996 NPWS (NSW) Aboriginal Staff. National Parks and Wildlife Service (NSW), Sydney (Internal document, quoted with permission).


Susino, G.
Thesis abstract 'Fitting Pictures and Stories: A Study of Archaeology as a Resource'
December 1999
Thesis Abstracts
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