The Bradshaw Debate: Lessons Learned from Critiquing Colonialist Interpretations of Gwion Gwion Rock Paintings of the Kimberley, Western Australia

01st June 2011

The history of archaeology includes its colonialist roots and the development of conceptual frameworks (tropes) disassociating Indigenous peoples from their land and heritage. While these tropes were products of nineteenth century scholarship, in settler colonial contexts such as Australia these tropes continue to have currency and will be resurrected in the media during periods of political conservatism. During conservative government in Australia in the 1990s and 2000s, high profile media attention was given to amateur research on Gwion Gwion (Bradshaw) paintings of the Kimberley region and notions of non-Aboriginal authorship. The disassociation of Aboriginal people from the paintings played into the hands of conservatives wishing to undermine Aboriginal land claims. Hamstrung by limited empirical research, reactive criticisms by professional archaeologists to the colonialist underpinnings of these views had little traction in the media and were dismissed as political correctness. The ‘Bradshaw debate’ teaches us that strategies to successfully counter publically-contested colonialist archaeologies are underdeveloped. Minimally it requires the combined efforts of archaeologists (professional and amateur) and Indigenous peoples focusing more on empirical facts, and less on theoretical concepts, in proactive mass media engagements.

Ian J. McNiven
The Bradshaw Debate: Lessons Learned from Critiquing Colonialist Interpretations of Gwion Gwion Rock Paintings of the Kimberley, Western Australia
June 2011
72
35-44
Article
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