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Brokers & boundaries: colonial exploration in Indigenous territory.

Brokers & boundaries: colonial exploration in Indigenous territory

Tiffany Shellam, Maria Nugent, Shino Konishi and Allison Cadzow (eds) 2016

ANU Press, The Australian National University, Acton, 212pp, ills, maps, 24cm, ISBN 9781760460112 (pbk)

Reviewed by Blake Singley, AIATSIS, <>

Early narratives of colonial exploration mythologised the role of the explorer. He, for inevitably the explorer was a man, was often cast as a lone heroic figure venturing into the vast uninhabited unknown. This mythical trope was a resilient one that found its way into published journals of exploration and works of literature and art well into the twentieth century. Yet the reality of colonial exploration was vastly different from the myth. The territory being explored was, in fact, inhabited and had been so for millennia. Furthermore, explorers relied on the expertise and knowledge of Indigenous intermediaries and mediators to navigate the unfamiliar landscape. It is the role of these intermediaries that is examined in Brokers and boundaries: colonial exploration in Indigenous territory. The editors of this volume of collected essays have brought together historians of Australia and Papua New Guinea to formulate new narratives in the history of exploration that address the complex interactions between explorers and intermediaries. These accounts draw attention to the agency that was often exercised by these intermediaries and the manner in which they used their positions to navigate relationships with not only colonial explorers but also other Indigenous peoples.

Shino Konishi's examination of Bennelong and Gogy highlights the different manner in which Aboriginal men were perceived in their role as intermediaries. Bennelong was regarded as a strategic and significant cultural broker in his interactions with Governor Phillip, while Gogy was dismissed by his employer, Francis Berailler, as obnoxious and unhelpful. However, Konishi recognises that both men used their relationships as intermediaries in a similar tactical and sophisticated manner that allowed them to strengthen their positions in their own society.

Similar conclusions are reached by Mark Dunn and Clint Bracknell in their respective essays on Aboriginal intermediaries in the Hunter Valley and Western Australia's south coast. Dunn illuminates the pragmatic rationale that lay behind the services provided by Aboriginal guides in the Hunter Valley. This rationale was a response to opportunities provided to them as the colonial frontier was moving onto Aboriginal lands, as well as a survival mechanism in a world that was rapidly displacing them. Bracknell's account of Noongar man Bobby Roberts traces his trajectory from intermediary to outlaw and then to 'native constable'. Roberts' shifting role on the colonial frontier highlights the necessity for many Aboriginal people to adapt to a colonial presence in their traditional territory.

Allison Cadzow turns the lens on the interactions between women intermediaries and explorers in Tasmania and New South Wales. Cadzow examines the motivations and actions of Indigenous women, whose perspectives have often been absent in accounts of exploration. Many women intermediaries were held in high regard for their diplomatic skills, as well as their abilities as guides and translators. Their motivations to act as intermediaries, Cadzow acknowledges, are more difficult to discern but they appear to have been of a more personal nature than that of male guides.

Four chapters of this volume are devoted to explorer/intermediary interactions in Papua New Guinea. Nicole Starbuck examines early nineteenth-century accounts of French explorers in West Papua and highlights the manner in which these encounters were rendered silent in the journals of explorers. Andrew Connelly focuses on the Trobriand Islands; he argues that the positive interactions between British New Guinea Administrator William MacGregor and local intermediaries shaped European understandings of the Trobriands for almost a century. In a series of vignettes, Chris Ballard reassesses the role of exploratory expeditions in the interior of New Guinea and their increasing dependence on local intermediaries for their success. Dario Di Rosa, for his part, examines expeditions to the Gulf of Papua and the manner in which Torres Strait Islands mediators shaped explorers' perceptions of neighbouring communities in Papua.

Together, the authors in this edited collection cast a new light on the history of exploration in Australia and Papua New Guinea. In reading the accounts of explorers against the grain, they are able to reassess the role played by Indigenous intermediaries. This volume re-inscribes the significance of Indigenous intermediaries, mediators and brokers in the history of colonial exploration. It acknowledges the agency of these intermediaries and recognises that interactions with colonial explorers allowed them to assert a place in the liminal space between coloniser and colonised. This collected edition will be a welcome addition to the bookshelves of scholars of Australian and Pacific Indigenous historical studies and those interested in new perspectives in the history of exploration.
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Author:Singley, Blake
Publication:Australian Aboriginal Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2017
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