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The Australian National University

Congratulations ACIH Student Shannyn Palmer!

Wednesday, 12th July 2017

Congratulations to our student Shannyn Palmer on the successful examination of her doctoral thesis!

Shannyn is the first of our four Deepening Histories of Place students to graduate, a project led by Professor Ann McGrath.  Shannyn received the Australian Postgraduate Award Industry (APAI) scholarship to undertake her research, and Maria Nugent served as her primary supervision.  Shannyn received the following glowing examiner comments:

'In my view this thesis should be moved rapidly to publication as it brings an important contribution to understanding of the conditions not only in Central Australia but - in the past as well as in the present - across many of the more fertile areas of the country'.

'I applaud Palmer's detailed discussion of how Angas Downs became a place and how it was conceived and located in community connections, and the light she sheds on this sort of small pastoral station and the relationships between Anangu and the 'whitefellas' there'.

'I was very moved by Palmer's beautiful and insightful discussion of Tjuki Pumpjack's testimony - both to her reflexive understanding of why he was talking to her (and why people wish to talk to outsiders who record them) and to how she connects this to details in his testimony...Palmer's discussion of his repetition and insistence on his being 'nguraritja' [traditional owner] is powerful in many ways... Palmer allows us to see that Tjuki feels he must argue or insist on it, as if against some doubtful gaze...It is humanising and profound to locate Tjuki's claim and narration in relationship to this kind of life project in a historical moment'.

We wish Shannyn all the best with her post-doctoral career.

(un)making Angas Downs: A spatial history of a Central Australian pastoral station 1930 – 1980
Angas Downs is a pastoral station situated in the arid Central Australian rangelands, 300 kilometres southwest of Alice Springs. Yet, as pastoral station, it does not articulate easily with the established historiography of Aboriginal people’s participation in the northern pastoral industry. Nor does it conform to the image of the outback cattle station popularised in myths of pioneers and pastoralists which dominate Central Australian history. Located in the marginal lands of the desert interior, Angas Downs was a largely defective capitalist enterprise, and one which actually ‘employed’ very few Aboriginal people. Nevertheless, significant numbers of Anangu lived on Angas Downs, or used it as a base between 1930 and 1980.

By approaching the station as moments in time and space, this thesis examines the ways in which this desert pastoral station was made – and unmade – by Anangu and others in their encounters with each other over fifty years across the middle of the twentieth century. It asks: What kind of place was Angas Downs? And how should we see it and understand it as place? It shows that pastoralism is but a fraction of the story. Taking a spatial approach to history and memory, and drawing insights from anthropology, ethnography and cultural geography, the thesis traces the ways in which Anangu drew upon existing social practices to make sense of the new places that emerged when whitefellas came to the desert. The thesis traces travels, itineraries, and networks of movement. In doing so, it grapples with the question of how people, dislocated by historical and spatial shifts, made a place for themselves. Oral histories are a key resource. More than recollections of the past, Anangu historical remembrance is conceptualised in this thesis as an ‘inscriptive practice’ that brings places into being, and endows them with meaning that is both learned, shared and sustained through particular narrative modes and techniques. Focusing upon extended oral histories of lives that spanned five decades of change, the thesis presents a detailed analysis of the complex and creative social processes involved in place-making at Angas Downs.

Rather than a single site produced through colonial structures, relations and processes, Angas Downs emerges in this study as a deeply complex place of dynamic interaction and social life. The spatial approach and analysis draws out the multiple and layered meanings of Angas Downs, which were created in and through intersecting travels, encounters and exchanges. The thesis explores themes of Anangu knowledge and historical change; the production of locality and place-making as social practice; mobility as productive of social relations and of place; and the interplay between environmental and social ecologies and the ways in which this shaped the making and unmaking of Angas Downs. At a time when the politics of place continues to be keenly felt in Australia, this thesis contributes to understandings of place-making that reflect the complex legacies of colonialism, while holding out Angas Downs as a symbol of hope for more responsive and creative formulations of relationships to place.

Updated: 12 July 2017/ Responsible Officer:  Centre Director / Page Contact:  Web Publisher