To see with new eyes: A phenomenological investigation of a contact landscape at the Weipa ‘Twenty Mile’ mission, northwestern Cape York Peninsula, Queensland

01st December 2010

Claire Ratican

B. Archaeology (Hons), Department of Archaeology, Flinders University, October 2009

The thesis presents the results of a phenomenological analysis of a contact landscape at the Weipa Mission in Weipa, Cape York Peninsula, Queensland. Many archaeological studies of contact have framed relations and experiences in terms of domination and passivity. In response, later studies have focused on the innovation, agency, resistance and accommodation of Indigenous people through ethnographic, landscape and material culture studies. This shift towards an archaeology of engagement brings to light the active participation of both cultures in social interaction.

Phenomenology serves as an alternative framework which deconstructs the inequality implicit in conceptions of contact relations by attempting to understand these experiences through the body’s mediation of the contact landscape. The potential of phenomenology to contribute to contact archaeology was tested at Weipa Mission. To do this, archaeological survey was carried out to map the spatial arrangement of the site and mission diaries were analysed for records of people and events occurring within the landscape. These records were plotted into the map generated by the survey using GIS, which modelled the relationship between spatiality, sensuality, social practices and the landscape. These maps also acted as a reference point from which phenomenological recreations of past Indigenous experiences of space were made, complemented by the mission diaries and historical photographs. This enabled a phenomenological exploration of how the landscape was sensuously perceived by the Indigenous inhabitants of the Mission.

Analysis showed that many experiences of Mission places were common to all inhabitants as dictated by the ideological and social role they played in the life of Weipa Mission. However, the phenomenological reconstructions of sensory experience, based on the events narrated in the mission diaries, suggest a wide scope of diverse and individualistic experiences which were deeply personal. This study shows that post-contact relations at the Weipa Mission were much more interactive and dynamic than can be revealed using a domination and resistance model, and that phenomenology has great potential for exploring past human behaviours in historical archaeological contexts.

Claire Ratican
To see with new eyes: A phenomenological investigation of a contact landscape at the Weipa ‘Twenty Mile’ mission, northwestern Cape York Peninsula, Queensland
December 2010
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Thesis Abstracts
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