“History is experienced, remembered and practiced quite differently by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and settler Australians,” recalls Dr Shannyn Palmer. “These differences have meant that not everyone has had an equal opportunity to shape the Australian story.”
The questions of how to research and write history that is inclusive of both perspectives, and how to engage with Aboriginal perspectives in the history making process, are what have driven Dr Palmer’s work, a historian at ANU who completed her PhD in 2017.
“A developing understanding of how Aboriginal people told their own stories led to my interest in places – both physical environments and the ways in which they are created and made meaningful by people – as fertile ground for exploring the possibilities of writing cross-cultural histories in Australia.”
This focus on place led Dr Palmer to Angas Downs pastoral station, an arid property 300 kilometres southwest of Alice Springs. Over four years she lived and travelled in Central Australia, finding answers to the question, “What kind of place was Angas Downs?” Through sharing local remembrance and recording oral histories in the Pitjantjatjara language, she uncovered a story of complexity, of dynamic social interaction that revealed the plurality of colonial history.
Crucial to Dr Palmer’s research was the expensive endeavour of fieldwork, supported early on in her PhD by receiving the Minoru Hokari Scholarship for fieldwork. The scholarship, awarded annually to honour the memory of indigenous history scholar Dr Minoru Hokari, supports postgraduate students conducted fieldwork or related research in Australian indigenous history.
Travelling tens of thousands of kilometres in her green 80 Series Land Cruiser on the remote roads of the Central and Western Deserts, Dr Palmer worked closely with indigenous community members connected to Angas Downs. With two people in particular, Tjuki Tjukanku Pumpjack and Sandra Armstrong – who had the longest, and some of the deepest associations with that place, she came to learn a new a way of seeing and knowing the land we live on and belong to.
Coming to ANU, Shannyn found a wonderful and supportive research environment, with colleagues in the School of History who made her research journey memorable and rewarding. She remains at ANU, preparing to teach a course in Semester 2 of 2018, and working on turning her these about Angas Downs into a book.
The Minoru Hokari Scholarship for fieldwork is now open for applications. Applications are welcome from currently enrolled postdoctoral students at any Australian university. Applications close midnight on 16 July 2018. More information about applying can be found here: http://history.cass.anu.edu.au/minoru-hokari-scholarship-fieldwork
You can follow Dr Shannyn Palmer on Twitter.