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The Wudjari People of Esperance… at the Frontier: archaeological investigation of mobility, communication and identity in late-Holocene Aboriginal society, Western Australia

Lecture: ARF Brownbag | March 20 | 12-1 p.m. | 101 2251 College (Archaeological Research Facility)

Myles Mitchell, PhD Candidate, National Centre for Indigenous Studies (Australian National University)

Archaeological Research Facility

This paper presents a discussion of my doctoral research project involving an analysis of rock-art, stone arrangements, and flaked stone assemblages at two important Wudjari (Aboriginal) cultural places in the Esperance region, along the south coast of Western Australia. The region is the traditional country of the Wudjari people, and it is also known to be an area of cultural interaction between the linguistically diverse Ngadju and Mirning cultural groups from the fringing desert regions to the north and east. It has been posited that ritual, cultural and linguistic changes that were taking place in the Esperance region during the last 500 years, were directly related to the broad-scale expansion of the Western Desert cultural bloc, with its origins hundreds of kilometers north of Esperance in the heart of the Western Desert (Gibbs and Veth 2002). Archaeological analysis is used here to understand more about the function of these places in the socio-cultural and socio-economic landscape of Wudjari country during the very late Holocene. The preliminary results suggest these two main cultural places - Marbaleerup and Belinup - functioned as important aggregation locales, facilitating dynamic negotiations of identity, territory and lore. This leads to a discussion about the historical construction of modern Wudjari identity, drawing on ethnographic information provided through the two-way knowledge exchange that underpins a research partnership with the Wudjari Elders.

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