Nicolas Peterson

Nicolas Peterson is Professor of Anthropology in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at The Australian National University. His main areas of research have been with Yolngu people in northeast Arnhem Land and Warlpiri people in the Tanami desert. His research interests include economic anthropology, social change, land and marine tenure, fourth world people and the state, the anthropology of photography and the history of the discipline in Australia. Some publications in this latter area include, Studying Man and Man’s Nature: The History of Institutionalisation of Aboriginal Anthropology (Australian Aboriginal Institute of Studies, 1990); Donald Thomson: The Man and Scholar (Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, 2005) edited with Bruce Rigsby; and The Makers and Making of Indigenous Australian Museum Collections (Melbourne University Press, 2008) edited with Lindy Allen and Louise Hamby.


German Ethnography in Australia »

The contribution of German ethnography to Australian anthropological scholarship on Aboriginal societies and cultures has been limited, primarily because few people working in the field read German. But it has also been neglected because its humanistic concerns with language, religion and mythology contrasted with the mainstream British social anthropological tradition that prevailed in Australia until the late 1960s. The advent of native title claims, which require drawing on the earliest ethnography for any area, together with an increase in research on rock art of the Kimberley region, has stimulated interest in this German ethnography, as have some recent book translations. Even so, several major bodies of ethnography, such as the 13 volumes on the cultures of northeastern South Australia and the seven volumes on the Aranda of the Alice Springs region, remain inaccessible, along with many ethnographically rich articles and reports in mission archives. In 18 chapters, this book introduces and reviews the significance of this neglected work, much of it by missionaries who first wrote on Australian Aboriginal cultures in the 1840s. Almost all of these German speakers, in particular the missionaries, learnt an Aboriginal language in order to be able to document religious beliefs, mythology and songs as a first step to conversion. As a result, they produced an enormously valuable body of work that will greatly enrich regional ethnographies.

Experiments in self-determination »

Histories of the outstation movement in Australia

Outstations, which dramatically increased in numbers in the 1970s, are small, decentralised and relatively permanent communities of kin established by Aboriginal people on land that has social, cultural or economic significance to them. In 2015 they yet again came under attack, this time as an expensive lifestyle choice that can no longer be supported by state governments. Yet outstations are the original, and most striking, manifestation of remote-area Aboriginal people’s aspirations for self-determination, and of the life projects by which they seek, and have sought, autonomy in deciding the meaning of their life independently of projects promoted by the state and market. They are not simply projects of isolation from outside influences, as they have sometimes been characterised, but attempts by people to take control of the course of their lives. In the sometimes acrimonious debates about outstations, the lived experiences, motivations and histories of existing communities are missing. For this reason, we invited a number of anthropological witnesses to the early period in which outstations gained a purchase in remote Australia to provide accounts of what these communities were like, and what their residents’ aspirations and experiences were. Our hope is that these closer-to-the-ground accounts provide insight into, and understanding of, what Indigenous aspirations were in the establishment and organisation of these communities. This volume will be a great addition not only to the origins and history of outstations, but in light of the closing of over 100 Aboriginal communities in Western Australia, it should be a required bedtime reading for all politicians across Australia. The contributors do not simply concentrate on the so-called outstations movement of the 1970s, but rather help the reader understand why in the 1930s, ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s, Aboriginal people moved away from cattle stations, missions and settlements to reconstruct their moral compass in settings which made more contemporaneous sense, not only to them but often to the whites who were there as well. —Professor Francoise Dussart, University of Connecticut.