Current realities, idealised pasts: archaeology, values and indigenous heritage management in central Australia.
By the same token, Indigenous people have in recent times come to use archaeology and heritage legislation to represent their own interests at the political level in a range of arenas. While this process inevitably involves modernisation it does not necessarily reflect wholesale adoption of non-Indigenous values and epistemologies. Lowenthal (1990:302) for example argues that 'the Western emphasis on material tokens of antiquity as symbols of heritage has been all but universally adopted' and sees this as part of the 'diffusion of Western cultural norms'. This raises the question of whether the transmission of new cultural forms and practices must include a corresponding transfer of meaning. It could be argued that rather than the internalisation of Western values, adoption of contemporary heritage practices by Indigenous groups reflects a conscious manipulation of those values in terms of their own priorities and interests.
The archaeological literature of the last decade has increasingly drawn attention to the role of values in the management of archaeological materials and in definitions of what constitutes significant heritage from archaeological and Indigenous points of view. Like Byrne (1991) the work of other Australian archaeologists such as Burke et al. (1994), Murray (1992) and Smith (1996) have helped focus attention on the relationship between ideology, values, discourse and power in archaeological research and management, engaging with the wider discussion in anthropology and the social sciences. These contributions have done much to provide a rationale for the acceptance of Indigenous views in relation to archaeology and an understanding of its role in the construction of Aboriginality. Putting these theoretical concerns into practice has proven to be another matter. There have been few attempts to analyse the 'conflict of values' which underlies the practice of heritage conservation in Indigenous contexts or to bri ng forth alternative constructions of heritage within an Indigenous framework of meaning. Despite the best of intentions, failure to attend to these issues ultimately prevents any real control from flowing to Aboriginal people over archaeological research and management.
Attempts made to address the conflict of values in Indigenous archaeology have come largely from archaeologists working in the Northern Territory and remote Australia (Allen 1997, Strang 1998, Thorley 1996) although the 'Tasmanian Affair', a conflict over demands made by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council for the return of archaeological materials on the basis of their spiritual values, warrants mention (Allen 1995). In the Northern Territory, Allen (1997:151) discusses how values particular to archaeology and its underlying concepts of time and Aboriginal notions of the Dreaming became central to a series of conflicts over the presentation of Aboriginal culture and the role of Indigenous people in archaeological research in Kakadu National Park, concluding that '... academic disciplines [need to] recognize the cultural content of their practice and seriously examine the conceptions of time they use in their interpretations.'
In highlighting the role of cultural differences in the archaeological research process in the Northern Territory, I previously described (1996) the difficulty of reconciling Aboriginal perspectives within an archaeological research framework. While this could be seen to limit Aboriginal control over archaeological interpretations of the past, the potential for conflict was able to be diffused by valued relationships which emerged through research. This appears to hold true for the parts of the Northern Territory where Aboriginal people are able to control access by researchers through ownership of land and protection of rights under the Northern Territory Aboriginal Land Rights Act (NT) 1976. In this context, archaeology can provide an opportunity for Indigenous people to exercise control through granting permission and overseeing research and to develop meaningful relationships on Aboriginal terms, although possibly in ways that challenge the researcher's own expectations. This view is reinforced by Strang (1998) who examines the role of Aboriginal rangers in monitoring archaeology and other activities on their land, revealing that political control and negotiation processes regarding archaeological research are strongly tied up in issues of ownership of and rights in land.
SIGNFICANCE, VALUES AND HERITAGE PROTECTION
Questions of value lie at the heart of the assessment of significance, one of the principal tools of the legal and institutionalised process of heritage management. Significance assessment defines the process by which values are given to heritage places and objects, termed 'objectified value' by Shanks and Tilley (1990:65) and plays an instrumental role in management procedures (Smith 1996). Significance is defined in legislation, influences the allocation of resources for heritage management and plays a guiding role in decisions to conserve actual places and objects.
The criteria used to define significance and its application in heritage legislation can be usefully examined in the broader context of the study of values. The significance or cultural value of objects is not given but is dependent on the specific cultural grid of the valuer. A distinction can be drawn between values as ideals and the social process of valuation. As might be expected there is a close relationship between the two, but it is not difficult to think of examples where values are imperfectly translated into practice. Considering significance assessment in this way raises the question of the relationship between heritage values and the implementation of those values. What are the ways in which decisions and actions concerning heritage are structured according to the assessment of significance or value?
The protection of heritage through various legal and institutional structures and significance assessment mechanisms as they originated in the West embodies a set of core values and assumptions, some of which are contradictory. Hall and McArthur (1993:2) define heritage as the 'things we want to keep' and 'things of value which are inherited'. There is an implied notion that in preserving objects' heritage preserves the values they embody. The benefits of preserving the past are often asserted, but it could be argued that heritage conservation provides at best a contrived mechanism for reproducing the past. Heritage conservation values convey the impression that the past is retrievable by preserving its parts but as Watson (1995:685) states 'cultural phenomena are emergent, more than the sum of the partitive parts'.
As some observers have noted it is no coincidence that the conservation ethic gained momentum during the period of industrialisation and global colonisation (Grove 1992). With the rapid pace of technological development in the West from the late eighteenth century it was no longer possible to ignore change. European consciousness had begun to realise that exploitation of untouched environments could be destructive, and the benefits of preserving past cultures emerged around the same time. Eliade (1960:37) wrote that 'the true fall into time begins with the secularisation of work'. With the rise and spread of the Christian world, the baggage of marking time, if not the actual consciousness which led to it, was advanced in the non-Christian world. Even within Christian societies those who do not observe its religious precepts have assiduously followed the practice of time-keeping. A degree of separation is evident between the temporal concepts used in every-day life and the myths from which they originated.
Global time measurement grew out of the Western modernization and commercialisation of non-Western people and environments as did the practice of conservation as it is manifest in contemporary heritage protection (Grove 1992, Lowenthal 1988). It is something of an irony that those societies who have benefited most from that process were the first to lament its impacts on natural and cultural diversity. For the inheritors of those traditions and those who identify with a Christian-Judaic tradition, the practice of heritage as the 'preservation of things' may function to support the reproduction of core values. Those who do not identify with the same set of values may view the practice of heritage differently.
Nonetheless, heritage programs have been developed for these groups along legal and institutional lines which are purported to be in their best interests by helping them to preserve their own cultural forms for posterity. The insertion of these values has served to promote a custodial role over the material past of Indigenous societies through which the production of meanings about the past has been able to be fashioned in the national interest. The role of archaeology in fostering a sense of nationalism in colonial nation states has been noted by McBryde (1986) and others who question what Indigenous people gain from an archaeological interpretation of their heritage (Murray 1992, Smith 2000).
Equally, heritage has been used as a political tool by groups seeking to frame opposition to powerful interests at national and local levels. At the national level, heritage is not only garnered to the interests of powerful nations but is also employed in the service of what Gandhi (1998:122) calls 'anti-colonial nationalisms'. A widely publicised example of the political role of heritage in contested claims over ownership of the past has been the struggle for control of the Elgin Marbles, taken from Greece over a century ago and housed in the British Museum despite repeated requests for their return. The argument against their repatriation has been expressed in terms of the universal values of cultural property surpassing any national interest (Wilson 1986, Boardman 2000). In Australia, local heritage issues have been a motivating factor in rallying opposition to economic development in urban environments, as became publicised in the union-led 'green bans' of the early 1970s in inner Sydney. Similarly, Hodde r (1991:15) has noted that one of the reasons for a resurgence of interest in heritage in Britain is that '... the past is being used to give a sense of local identity and place in the face of universalising large-scale development and destruction of the environment.' In operating to promote identity at various levels, heritage is as much a political tool as an ascribed cultural value; the manipulation of the past in the interests of the present.
CONCEPTIONS OF TIME: ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE DREAMING
In comprehensive reviews of archaeological heritage management in south-eastern Australia, Smith (1996, 2000) examines the widespread practice in archaeology of valuing archaeological materials in terms of research significance, a practice which she sees as having originated in scientific principles and imported unquestioningly into management principles. She notes that the earliest attempts to conserve Aboriginal heritage in Australia were made by archaeologists and were assessed in terms of their contribution to scientific rather than Indigenous values. The same practice is considered to underlie contemporary archaeological assessments made as part of heritage legislation particularly in southeast Australia.
Aboriginal heritage legislation has taken a different turn in the Northern Territory since the passing of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (NT) 1976. The Northern Territory land rights legislation grants control over land and heritage in terms of a primarily spiritual definition of ownership. Under the related Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act (revised in 1989), significance assessments are determined on the basis of Aboriginal religious values which derive from the Dreaming. In Allen's (1997) portrayal of the conflict over archaeology in Kakadu, the main points of contention are seen to revolve around differences between the archaeological conception of time and the Aboriginal notion of the Dreaming as timeless continuity.
The archaeological conception of time leans heavily on the physical sciences, particularly the principles of succession and evolutionary change. Archaeological accounts are constructed through the use of broad temporal divisions which are employed as the primary analytical units. Divisions are organized to follow a sequence progressing from earliest to the most recent times and to highlight changes through time. A closely related concept is the notion of 'deep time', the extended geological time-scale for the origins of the earth first proposed in the seventeenth century (Gould 1990). Archaeology possesses the technical apparatus for the investigation of deep time through excavation and chronometric dating.
The conception of deep time has held particular significance in Australian archaeology where the antiquity of Aboriginal occupation of the continent has remained the dominant research issue from its inception (Frankel 1995:651). The value placed on the distant and remote past also owes much to public and media perceptions of Aboriginal culture as 'ancient' and understandings of the role of archaeology in providing chronometric dates which conform to these expectations. In the development of the wider consciousness of Aboriginality in Australia it is thus not surprising that archaeology has provided the preferred framework from which to approach questions of origins and long-term change.
The protection of heritage along these lines gives precedence to a Western scientific explanation of how the universe came into being. Such a perspective finds a parallel in religious narratives which 'encompassed the whole of history of creation in a single, progressive story' (Fernadez-Armesto 1999:248). The Northern Territory Sacred Sites Act provided a set of criteria for assessing significance in terms of Aboriginal conceptions of the Dreaming, albeit within a non-Aboriginal framework. On the surface, these contrasting value systems appear to take the form of a classic juxtaposition of science and religion. Of course, the concepts of time on which scientific understandings are based are also seated in religious notions; the chronological ordering of creation in a fixed time-frame having originated from the Judaic-Christian myth outlined in Genesis. As Gould (1990:11) writes 'Many scholars have identified time's arrow as the most important and distinctive contribution of Jewish thought, for most other sys tems, both before and after, have favoured the immanence of time's cycle over the chain of linear history'.
These observations raise two significant insights for heritage management. Firstly, we can glean from this that what the term heritage is in effect describing are myth-object relations. In heritage assessment procedures, objects are given significance through values which are derived from myth, a process in which there is a temporal relationship between the object and the valuer. Secondly, it is possible to see how this scenario sets up an opposition between the time of the present day and the time of myth. The working through of this opposition is a central theme in religious thought as outlined by Eliade (1960), being dealt with in his view through the performance of ritual and other forms of religious experience.
It is through ritual performance and instruction that Myers (1976) argued that Pintupi were able to interpret the dynamics of social life in terms of persistence. The separation between the time of myth and the present is bridged in Aboriginal terms through rituals which re-enact key events in the present and through moral imperatives expressed in terms such as 'holding' and 'following up' the Dreaming (Meggitt 1984:68, Myers 1986:53, Rose 1992: 214-215). Several observers have focussed on the role of Aboriginal 'increase' or 'regeneration' rituals in this specific light (Meggitt 1984:221, Rose 1992: 214-215, Strehlow 1970:102, 103, 111, Tonkinson 1991:117-118). Further examples of the ways in which Dreamings impinge on everyday life, through visions, revelations and the like have been discussed by Sansom (2001). These interventions, though often instituted by some form of human action, are regarded as having come from the Dreaming, so that human intervention is confined to '... discovering, uncovering or ree nacting elements ...' (Myers 1986:53) rather than creating afresh.
The Dreaming then is kept alive through the observance of the moral code and participation in ritual. In one sense the creative acts which took place during the Dreaming transcend the role of individuals in the present and are beyond time and change. In another sense its continuity relies on human action. Through ritual engagement, contradictory notions of persistence and change are assimilated into a coherent view of the world as it is imagined to be.
As Lowenthal (1988) notes, the opposition of past and present was a central theme in Renaissance thought. In perhaps what is the earliest conception of a conservation ethic, Renaissance thinkers saw virtue in reviving classical Greek, Roman and Gothic traditions while expressing disdain at the effects of imitation on artistic creativity. The past began to have value as distinct from the present and there was a corresponding attraction for things old; they became tasteful, celebrated, liked.
In her study of Warlpiri myth-subject-object relations, Munn (1970) describes the process by which creation beings and their actions are incorporated into permanent objects and how they become linked to social identities. These transformations are relevant to the relationship between people and various classes of material objects, including those regarded as artefacts from an archaeological perspective. Dreaming identities are mythically transformed into objects in the landscape which are in turn inherited through descent or conception. In this manner, people's relationship to the Dreaming becomes the basis of cultural property rights, in land and in various forms of personal effects referred to in the Western Desert by the term yulytja. The ability to grant rights to enter the land and use its resources, including those of archaeological interest, are vested in individuals and groups with the appropriate Dreaming credentials.
When a person dies their yulytja are destroyed or given away to distant relatives and it is forbidden to mention their name or refer to objects or places which may invoke their memory. For similar reasons, it is commonplace for people to abandon the places where a deceased relative dwelt. A conscious effort is made to erase the memory of previous generations. Although little survives after death, the Dreaming is kept alive by the present generation of owners through their obligations to 'pass on' the Law in the performance of ritual responsibilities and instruction of novices. Ownership is thus as much an active process of taking on rights and responsibilities and giving them up to others as the passive inheritance of property from one generation to the next.
NEGOTIATING YULYTJA IN CENTRAL AUSTRALIA
I first became aware of the complexities of Indigenous concepts of property ownership in the mid-1980s while I was employed by the Northern Territory Department of Education to work in a Pintupi community near the Northern Territory/Western Australian border. Not long after arriving in the community, Aboriginal men began to approach me with wooden artefacts u spears, boomerangs, shields and the like u for sale. I was impressed by the quality and authenticity of the artefacts and was happy to pay the asking price. The men seemed as well to particularly enjoy the opportunities to socialise that these transactions brought and with time, I began to accumulate a collection. The collection in turn became a focus of interest to Aboriginal friends whenever they visited.
This interest, however, took an unexpected turn when the men began reclaiming back the 'artefacts' I had bought from them to use in settling disputes and on ceremonial occasions. Having made what I assumed was a final payment and concerned at possible damage or loss, I was reluctant to agree to their requests. This at times led to a tense stand-off where I was seen to be acting 'wrong way'. From their view, ownership is considered a negotiable quality. Possession of desirable goods places an obligation on the owner to negotiate with others, whereas I was showing a resistance to claims on what I saw as personal property.
The Aboriginal men, of course, viewed the situation from a different perspective. Goods paid for are not considered to be owned in perpetuity. For them, the significance of the objects lay in their use-value in the present. Of equal importance to their understanding of the circumstances surrounding my collection of artefacts was the low value assigned to individual accumulation of possessions and the role of 'property' in sustaining relationships through exchange. Put simply, objects derive their value not by their accumulation, but by giving them away.
After I had been in the community for several years claims were made on my fourwheel drive vehicle, a highly valued possession. I was informed in no uncertain terms that 'You've had that car for a long time'. These claims were expressed in terms of desired uses for my vehicle based on such imperatives as hunting for prized bush foods and visiting relatives. Claimants were perplexed when I was unable to counter with equally valued usage for the vehicle but still declined to hand it over or sell it. Despite having been what I felt was generous in allowing use of the vehicle whilst living in the community, when I left, disappointment was expressed about my departure on the grounds that 'he never gave us his car'.
Those who have come to live and work in Aboriginal communities in central Australia would be only too aware of these situations (for example see Folds 2001 and Nash, quoted in Rowse 1996). Some time later, after a brief stint in the city in which I managed to extricate myself from these complex entanglements of relationships and property ownership, I returned to central Australia to work as an archaeologist. As well as undertaking archaeological research on Aboriginal sites, this involved working as a consultant to assist in the implementation of legislation designed to protect Aboriginal heritage. Shortly after, I began to realise that the interactions I was having with Aboriginal people in my new role seemed to have a similar undercurrent to what ensued during my time spent previously in an Aboriginal community. As a result of that experience I was better able to make sense of these interactions. A groundwork, of sorts, had already been laid.
With a grant from the Australian Heritage Commission, I undertook a project to examine inter-cultural values and archaeological heritage in 1993. The project aimed to address a number of issues, particularly poor representation of Aboriginal sites on National and Territory heritage registers and a perceived lack of involvement of Indigenous people in mainstream heritage. Initially, it was intended to elicit Aboriginal views on these subjects, but it soon became clear from the types of responses I received to questioning that either my interview skills were not competent enough or the approach I was using was too artificial to provide the type of information required. I instead sought to take advantage of my own experiences working directly with Aboriginal people in central Australia in order to make better sense of the complexities which underlie the encounter of archaeological and Indigenous values.
SYMBOLIC VALUE AND EXCHANGE
For indigenous central Australians, the Dreaming is omnipresent though certain representations in particular are infused with its power. These include specific features in the landscape, the body designs produced for ceremony and the incised ceremonial objects referred to in Arrernte by the term tywerrenge. (1) These representations are linked and in certain instances interchangeable with living persons. They are the ultimate expression of value and identity in the Aboriginal domain. This, however, is not a purely abstract or symbolic value which exists independently of exchanges between people.
As Myers (1988) observes, a Pintupi individual derives their identity through attachment to land and demonstrates this through the exercise of cultural property rights. Because it is shared with others the Dreaming defines the social value of land and other objects. Objects are given value in the context of exchanges with others whose attachments to land are mapped out through Dreaming affiliations. Myers' (1988) account is important because it shows how values concerning time and the significance of objects, including incised ceremonial boards, are revealed through the social process of land and property ownership.
On the one hand, an individual acquires rights in a particular place by the immutable action of powerful ancestors which transcend the role of people in the present and are beyond time and change. At the same time, these actions project into space the present day web of relationships between people who share the same country and with others affiliated with different, yet related, localities. Paradoxically, the dynamic aspect of people's role in the present is reinforced by the conservative ideology of the Dreaming.
While rights are grounded in religious values, they are determined as much through dynamic relationships and exchanges with others. It can be seen for example that in the passing on of country between generations, ownership is as much an active process of 'giving' than a passive 'preserving' of a past order. Furthermore, ownership must be demonstrated through negotiation. Rights in land are contestable because of the multiple basis of claims, each founded in different aspects of the Dreaming, and therefore subject to constant and ongoing re-interpretation.
Before colonial contact and in some cases after, the power to grant permission to others to forage over and utilize the resources of one's country effectively was demonstrable evidence of primary affiliation and rights in land (Peterson and Long 1986:11). More recently, Aboriginal people in central Australia are actively engaged in processes of negotiation and exchange in relation to land in order to control and obtain material benefits from mining and other development, reinforcing the active role of ownership. This highly dynamic process exists alongside and is indeed supported by the timeless continuity of the Dreaming, which is invoked by present day owners to legitimize their status.
In a similar way, the attachment of symbolic and mythological power to objects does not call upon the imperative to preserve them by removing them from the realms of social action but rather reinforces their use as valued items in exchange. It is often noted, for example, that a central Australian 'dot' painting does not derive its Aboriginal value from an appreciation of its aesthetic qualities but from the importance of its story. Disappointment at the amount offered for a painting will often provoke the response from Aboriginal artists, 'oh but this is a really big story'. Tywerrenge, that most revered of Aboriginal ceremonial items, were also clearly once important objects of exchange in Arrernte society (Kimber 1996:75, Strehlow 1970:123). The use of sacred items in this way might be a profanity from a Christian perspective, where to consider the holiest relics as saleable items would be beyond comprehension. Similarly, the procurement of artifacts from World Heritage monuments for sale regarded in the W est as 'looting', would be seen differently from a cultural perspective which does not share those values, but rather stresses their potential as usable items in the present. Examples of stone knives deriving value from their sacred qualities in which they were traded far and wide, often in exchange for larger quantities of less prestigious European goods, have been described in central Australia and in the northern coastal regions and adjacent interior (Falkenburg 1962, Graham and Thorley 1996, Thomson 1949).
EXCHANGE RELATIONS: OBJECTS OF POWER
The dangerous and powerful tywerrenge and the prestigious long blades, these days often referred to by Spencer and Gillen's (1927:312) spelling of their Arrernte name leilira, retain their association with specific places and features in the landscape, which they are seen to embody. The sacred power of the tywerrenge, in some reported cases being indistinguishable from the actual body of the ancestral being (e.g. Strehlow 1978:18), has long been observed (see, for example, Spencer and Gillen 1899:123). In this sense tywerrenge power derives from their timeless association with the Dreaming. Stockton (1995:93), referring to an example given by Strehlow (1970:117) shows, however, how on one occasion time was able to be 'reversed' through human intervention in the modification of tywerrenge. An ancestral being was said to have suffered a bodily injury when a sacred object was dropped and accidentally damaged, an act which led to the punishment of the person responsible in the most severe manner. Stockton (1995:9 3) interprets this as 'a remarkable (as it seems to us) reversal of time', where human action was able to 'operate retrospectively to change the Dreaming'.
In central Australia, the leilira blades first described by Spencer and Gillen and which were later commonly recognised in Australian stone tool typologies (McCarthy 1976:35, Mulvaney 1975:74-75) were also held to have special significance, as ritual objects and as weapons which could inflict particularly grievous wounds through their association with ancestral power (Graham and Thorley 1996:85, Jones and White 1988:61). The quarries from which they were obtained are known and revered through their associated Dreamings. The most important sites which produced the most valued leilira were those connected with sacred men's ritual.
While the power of tywerrenge and leilira derives from their non-material attributes, as a manifestation of the Dreaming power which resides within the landscape, the fact that they are detached from the landscape and movable has heightened their role in exchange. As Myers (1988:69) notes in relation to ceremonial boards
In this lies part of their power. Their being exchanged among men that live far apart constitutes a distinctive level of organization -- a transformation of marriage exchange, ritual and the like, through another medium -- which has the capacity to constitute a common identity through those not in daily contact.
Tywerrenge and leilira were both enthusiastically pursued by early ethnographic collectors in central Australia, most notably Spencer and Gillen. Other material culture items have fulfilled a similar role, such as the 'toa' of northern South Australia (Jones and Sutton 1986). The trade in pearl shell is also seen to have expanded following contact, this being another example of an item within which resides the Dreaming essence and which has became highly favoured as trade valuables. In a recent example of this, the popular TV documentary series 'Bush Mechanics' has Aboriginal men traveling from a remote central desert community to the Kimberley coast to exchange a motor vehicle for pearl shell for use in rain-making ceremonies. The motor vehicle in question is itself adorned with a painted design representing the rain-making cycle.
It is possible to see through these examples how objects infused with a power which is beyond time and beyond human agency are nonetheless able to be manipulated for the purpose of achieving desired outcomes in the present. They draw this significance from their active role, not from a role which sees them consigned in perpetuity as relics.
An important quarry for leilira in central Australia lies near the Wapurtali Ranges, a site still visited by old men with assistance from local heritage bodies. The quarry consists of white chert outcrops formed by the actions of 'two kangaroo' ancestors (Graham and Thorley 1996:84). Blade flakes and debris from the manufacture of leilira are strewn over a large area of the site surrounding the outcrops. When I accompanied a trip to the quarry in 1994 the Warlpiri men each selected a number of flakes from the materials found scattered on the surface of the site which they took back to the community. Not long after, I observed a shop in Alice Springs selling blades similar to those collected by the Aboriginal men for ten dollars each. The items on sale had been modified for sale by attaching spinifex resin to one end in a traditional manner and covering the exposed blade of the knife in acrylic paint in a dotted pattern. The collection of these objects and their modification for sale could be seen as an exampl e of what Jones and Sutton (1986:12) describe as '... an existing traditional practice, modified in form and transformed to a degree in function, [that] flourishes as a medium of transaction between Aborigines and Europeans.'
The traditional value of the blades was clearly recognized by their Aboriginal 'collectors', who sought to exploit it by hafting a resin handle in the traditional way. The painting of the exposed stone portion was an innovation also possibly aimed at reinforcing its connection with the Dreaming. It was expected in turn that these modifications would enhance the economic value of the item yet this view was apparently not shared by the intended market. After several weeks in the shop window none had sold despite the low sale price. Without any explanation of their traditional significance, they were not particularly visually attractive and provoked little interest from passing tourists.
YULYTJA YIRRITITJA: MATERIAL ITEMS FROM THE PAST
Whilst undertaking research in a Luritja-speaking area of central Australia I had opportunities to discuss with the traditional owners the excavation of archaeological deposits which in some cases were around 30,000 years old (Thorley 1998). I would receive results of radiocarbon dating and pass them on to the traditional owners of the sites. This was a time when the land in question was under claim and people seemed satisfied with older dates as an affirmation of the length of time the land had been occupied.
The Luritja man with whom I worked most closely was an intelligent and, by all accounts, a highly respected man. He held authority to speak on matters related to the Dreamings which passed through his country though was not currently active in the Law. He watched intently during the excavation as I extracted charcoal -- purrku -- for radiocarbon samples and dug through increasingly older sediments revealing campfires which people had used at various times through re-occurring cycles of occupation. At this level, the role of archaeology as cultural interpretation appeared to merge with his own views of the past, reaffirming continuity through time. But despite his close familiarity with matters related to traditional Law, his knowledge of stone tool types and their manufacture was limited, they were considered to have less significance than stone arrangements and rock art sites which could be interpreted within the familiar context of the Dreaming. In this case, loss of knowledge about the past constrained his ability to interpret its meaning and control its construction. Yet archaeology also provided the owner with a context in which to demonstrate his authority in Aboriginal terms and to exercise his own set of values by granting permission to carry Out the work and monitoring its progress, in this way affirming his traditional role.
Flaked stone artifacts are the most common type of archaeological material in Australia, occurring throughout the landscape used by Aboriginal people in the past. Much attention is therefore directed toward their conservation in many parts of Australia but for legislative reasons discussed below, they are less of a focus of attention in the Northern Territory. For many Indigenous central Australians, proximity to this hunting and gathering past is at once distant and close. The manufacture of stone implements is seldom practised, yet even today when traveling with Aboriginal people through country great interest is often shown by men whenever large blades of leilira type are found. The same interest is generally shown by women in grindstones.
In the Western Desert, items such as grindstones, leilira and other stone implements are referred to by the term yulytja yirrititja, 'olden-time belongings'. Traditional understandings of the methods of tool manufacture in central Australia are all but lost but Aboriginal people have often retained an interest in certain tool-making sites as places which came into being through revered creation events. Furthermore, in parts of central Australia where people used flaked stone tools in recent history or, in the case of grindstones, continue to use them, these items retain a different type of significance through their association with the deceased. Pintupi have said to me that they don't like to have stone implements, particularly grindstones, removed from sites because they are regarded as personal effects and associated with particular individuals who have passed away. In some cases the removal of yulytja from archaeological sites is said to make the living mourn -- yulalpayi tjananya -- for relatives that ar e no longer with them.
Another case northeast of Alice Springs further illuminates Aboriginal views of non-sacred stone items. In this case a traditional owner was keen to have recorded stone artefact (axe and blade) quarry sites on Knieper Station. The middle-aged man was quick to point out that the Knieper sites were not 'sacred', just 'work' sites. He had no intention of using the sites for tourism or collecting artefacts for sale, and did not want their location widely publicized. Examples such as this contradict the assumption that archaeological materials may have no significance unless deemed sacred.
Other examples of the use of every day items or yulytja show that it is not necessary for objects to possess sacred attributes to be considered significant or ascribed value in the Aboriginal domain. A four-wheel drive vehicle, for example, is a highly valued item in central Australian Aboriginal communities because it allows the practice of a range of socially desirable and valued activities such as hunting expeditions, visiting country and relatives and attending ceremonies. Furthermore, through activities such as hunting and fire-wood collecting, a vehicle also provides access to other resources, it can be shared with relatives and used as an instrument of exchange. Purchasing a car is not an end in itself but a tool in exercising values held to be important in Aboriginal terms. On this level, a four-wheel drive can be seen to be affirming Aboriginal values and identity; the very essence of a 'heritage object' in one sense of the term.
Everyday objects which are considered as personal effects or yulytja have potential to evoke memories of people and places. Associations between people and place have an emotional value and significance beyond the symbolic role of objects as representations of the Dreaming. This is evident from the following observation by Stanner (1933-34:52) in northern Australia early last century
I saw a Nangiomeri woman, long exiled from her country by domicile among the Madngella on the Daly River, break down and weep bitterly when she saw a spearhead of red granite. It had reminded her of her country. 'Dag ngoruma e!' she wailed 'My country, O!'.
In some cases, the capacity of objects to evoke strong memories of the past may reinforce a desire to keep items of personal and emotional interest, though in others these evocations may serve as a deterrent against their preservation, where they act as a reminder of those now passed away. In central Australia, grindstones are sometimes sold. This may be a factor encouraging their sale; that is, destruction or removal may be sanctioned where to do so is to remove them from a location where they may serve to remind people of the dead. There is also often an indeterminate period in which the desire to erase all memory of the deceased lapses and personal loss is less strongly felt. After such time has lapsed, people will revert to using the name of the deceased to refer to living people of the same name and show less hostility to the presentation of images of relatives who have long since passed away. The non-Indigenous imperative to conserve photographs and other objects from the past may have partly influenced this practice, making it now possible to recollect past generations from associations of people with images and items which would once have long since been destroyed.
There are similar issues at stake in the use of photography for classes of archaeological phenomena which are held to be secret under Aboriginal Law. Photographic documentation is a common recording strategy in archaeology and widely used in heritage as a management tool. Yet secrecy will often exclude the most significant Aboriginal items from any form of documentation. An open engraving site west of Alice Springs depicting a ceremonial object is part of a restricted men's Dreaming. When I was shown the site by its Aboriginal owners, several of the motifs were barely discernable and had almost been removed by natural erosion. Photographing the site would have provided a means of salvaging the fading design, though I was instructed not to take photographs as it was 'too dangerous'.
Rules such as this which govern the display and dissemination of sacred knowledge pose difficulties for the involvement of Aboriginal people in heritage in a range of emergent domains in their roles not only as land managers but also as tour guides and public promoters of heritage. Recent calls were made by Aboriginal students at an Alice Springs tertiary college for greater promotion of Aboriginal heritage in 'Heritage Week', challenging the dominant focus of that event on European, particularly built, heritage. Yet Aboriginal involvement in public events is constrained by values in which information about the past is strongly regulated and tied up in a person's customary rights and political standing. In addition to notions of secrecy, rights in country, a person's age and ritual status are critical in determining who can speak and on what issues.
Indigenous views of material items from the past are thus complex and at times appear to reveal a contradiction between behaviour and values. For example, most Indigenous central Australians are likely to express disdain for wilful damage or theft of artefacts, yet may be unlikely to advocate or undertake themselves specific measures (such as a thorough search of an area to locate archaeological materials likely to be affected by development) in order to ensure their protection. Even so, when such materials are brought to their attention they often express in clear terms what they think should happen to them. These responses reflect more of a concern for ownership and control than for identification and preservation. In this way, heritage management procedures have potential to legitimize and sharpen Aboriginal political concepts, while relinquishing interest and to a degree control over the specifics of its practice.
Since the seventies legislation has been created in Australia which aims to protect the Aboriginal past and secure the involvement of present day Aboriginal people in heritage protection. Indisputable benefits have flowed from this legislation which has provided a vehicle for participation of Aboriginal people in a range of contexts. Equally, the inception of heritage legislation presupposed universal concepts of time and preservation whilst reinforcing perceptions of the legitimacy of tradition and change among the wider society.
In the Northern Territory, wider recognition of Aboriginal rights in land saw the passing of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (NT) 1976, providing secure tenure to Aboriginal people through a definition of ownership in legal and anthropological terms. The Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act (revised in 1989) was authorized under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act to protect places 'that are sacred or otherwise of significance to Aboriginal tradition'. Archaeological and historical sites are not specifically covered under either of these acts, yet where they happen to coincide spatially with sites deemed to be sacred sites on the basis of spiritual qualities, they are provided with the same level of protection. However, while ethnographic surveys are routinely undertaken in the course of implementing the Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act, historical and archaeological surveys are not. Once a clearance for sacred sites (referred to as an 'Authority Certificate') has been obtained under the Act, there is no further obligation on de velopers to obtain an additional clearance for archaeological sites.
Where archaeological surveys have taken place they have largely been through rare developer initiatives than legislative requirements. One outcome of this situation is that Aboriginal people are seldom in a position to make decisions about the effects of development proposals on archaeological materials. Legislative channels exist for protection of archaeological sites under the Northern Territory's Heritage Conservation Act (1991) and the Federal Australian Heritage Commission Act, yet there is little incentive for Aboriginal people to use these acts, which may go some way toward explaining the apparent lack of interest shown in nominating and listing Aboriginal sites on Territory and Federal registers.
The Native Title Act 1993 and subsequent decisions made in relation to the act are the most recent legislative changes of relevance to heritage conservation in the Northern Territory. Though not specifically an act which protects heritage, it establishes procedures for negotiating agreements over heritage with native title holders and claimants. The Act itself requires, as the basis of native title rights, that traditional laws and customs are exercised and provide the ability to demonstrate a connection with the land via those laws and customs. While there is no division within the Act regarding laws and customs which are related to the sacred life and those which are considered secular, it is interesting to note the comments of J Olney (Federal Court of Australia 1999:111) in relation to the Yorta Yorta case, the first claim under the Native Title Act to come before the Federal Court in 1996.
There is no doubt that mounds, middens and scarred trees which provide evidence of the indigenous occupation and use of the land are of considerable importance and indeed, many are protected under heritage legislation, but there is no evidence to suggest that they were of any significance to the original inhabitants other than for their utilitarian value, nor that any traditional law or custom required them to be preserved.
Seen from this perspective, the practice of heritage protection is divorced from 'traditional' laws and customs. That is to say, sites which are no longer used 'traditionally' become important as 'heritage'. Their value lies in the discontinuity between past and present, in the rupturing of time's flow.
These comments reflect an underlying notion that sacred sites are of primary concern for traditional Aboriginal groups, while contemporary groups are concerned more with archaeological heritage. Aboriginal Tasmanians, for whom the attachment of religious values to archaeological materials has become a means for asserting their interests, would almost certainly lay challenge to this view. Furthermore, such a view ignores the complex legislative realities in which Aboriginal people now find themselves, where they have come to live with a multiplicity of laws which define their rights and interests in relation to land and heritage. In the Northern Territory, the definition of what it means to be a 'traditional owner' under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act is likely to be viewed as somewhat at odds with the role of protecting and managing archaeological materials under the Heritage Conservation Act. In so far as these concepts are embedded in legislation, their interpretation from an Aboriginal point of view is not neutral, but is dependent on wider political, economic and social concerns.
The positive value ascribed to traditional culture has been further reinforced by popular images and representations of Aboriginality as an exemplar of timeless continuity. The potency of images of traditional life and their incorporation within a variety of media over the past two centuries has certainly been a factor in these evolving perceptions. It is misleading to view these representations as either purely a Western or an Aboriginal construction. Aboriginal religious ideology has itself reinforced notions of timelessness and assigned a low value to change. This imagery has been adopted most enthusiastically outside central Australia in recent times through the marketing of Aboriginal art as a representation of the sacred. Both this and the legal protection of sacred sites in the Northern Territory have served to reinforce a level of conservatism on the religious plane. It can be seen that from the outset, Aboriginal heritage has acted as a medium of transaction which has shaped, and been shaped by, the values and aspirations from both within Aboriginal culture and outside it.
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
Significance assessment as part of heritage conservation appraisal is a process of valuing. Ideally, this is meant to involve the translation of values -- cultural, scientific, spiritual, aesthetic -- about what should and shouldn't be preserved. In practice, significance assessment is a social process of decision-making, politicking and negotiating outcomes where different sets of values are often counter-posed. Heritage assessments, whilst aiming to preserve the past, cannot be separated from the social relations of the present.
Concepts of time have emerged as an underlying factor in conflicting understandings over the role of archaeology in Indigenous contexts. Time is one of the most basic constructs regulating cultural understandings and practices. It is not surprising then that conceptions of time are grounded in core assumptions about the nature of the world and its religious origins that are borne out of specific cultural and historical frameworks. Archaeology -- in so far as it deals with origins -- may be as much a potential affront to Aboriginal religious values as evolution has been to literal creationists. Because they are grounded in deeply held notions and assumptions, there is propensity to view such conflicts of value as fixed. Nonetheless, values are shaped by historical processes of interaction and diffusion and adapted to suit particular circumstances. Just as the estimation of creation in terms of its geological age has come to prevail over biblical accounts in much of what was the Christian world, Indigenous noti ons have readily accommodated non-Indigenous concepts in their own representation of time. For example, I was once told by a Central Arrernte man that 'tywerrenge are a million years old'. This remark shows how an essentially ahistorical concept -- the Dreaming -- can be inserted into linear time, a translation of the value of tywerrenge into the currency of deep time. Similarly, the notion of '40,000 years of Dreaming' illustrates the incorporation of radiocarbon chronology from deep-age archaeological research in what has been given political significance in the wider construction of Aboriginality as 'the oldest continuous cultture in the world' (Koori Mai 6/2/2002:1).
In some situations while there may be no apparent conflict between Aboriginal and archaeological interpretations of sites, there may nonetheless be disagreement between parties about what should happen to them. In these cases, the sticking point appears often to lie in the application of the conservation ethic, which is itself based on particular notions of time and recognition of the role of human action as an agent of change. There have undoubtedly been situations where conservation has worked in favour of Indigenous interests. Yet the lack of an imperative to conserve the past has also been a factor in what may be seen in some instances to be Aboriginal indifference to archaeological materials and other forms widely regarded as 'heritage'. Such apparent lack of interest has the potential to be exploited by non-Indigenous interests and appeals to an ideology intent upon the removal of Indigenous constraints to make way for development. Here, value assigned to sites on archaeological grounds may be disputed by developers who for their part are seen to have acted in accordance with Aboriginal views.
In emphasising the use-value of objects, Indigenous people have at times themselves been implicated in the destruction of their own heritage. This phenomenon is more widely reported outside Australia where much has been made of the removal of artefacts from heritage sites for sale on the international antiquities market (Gill and Chippindale 2002). Ethnographic collectors have for their part also encouraged this 'plundering of the past' by purchasing artefacts while emphasising their conservation value. Both examples involve an economic transaction and the negotiation of an exchange value. The exchange value of objects may seem to be contradicted by the valuation of heritage as part of legal and bureaucratic assessments for conservation purposes, but often they are part of the same process. Economic exchanges have in the past and continue in the present to be a feature of negotiations over resource development on Aboriginal land. The values of the Dreaming might superficially appear to be at odds with the dyn amic elements of the negotiation process, but this has often proven not to be the case.
The relationship between archaeologists and Aboriginal people is increasingly seen to be changing as part of a groundswell of both archaeological and popular backing for the notion of Aboriginal ownership and control of the past. While there has been growing support for Indigenous perspectives, it is doubtful whether wider recognition will be sufficient to resolve underlying conflicts of value. New tensions will inevitably arise with increased Indigenous participation in heritage in a range of settings, as Indigenous participants challenge conventional views of heritage and adapt them for their own ends. The wider currents of change will ensure that the significance of the past will be contested as ownership is asserted and the meanings of heritage not merely articulated but also adapted and redefined in the interests of the present.
There are a great number of people to thank for their contributions toward the writing of this paper. I thank the many Aboriginal people who have led me graciously toward an appreciation of the understandings and values of a cultural perspective different from my own. I would particularly like to thank Barney Campbell, Syd Coulthard, Clive Impu, Edward Ronji, Jack Ross, Wenten Rubuntja and the late Mort Conway, Paddy Nelson, Pinta Pinta Tjapanangka and Towser Tjakamarra. Over the years in which the ideas in this paper have accumulated I have benefited greatly from discussions with Ralph Folds, Robert Graham, Joy Hardman, Anne Mosey, Ken Mulvaney, Fred Myers, Helen O'Malley, Vikki Plant, Steve Sutton and Adrian Winwood-Smith. The comments of the two anonymous referees were particularly helpful. A version of this paper was presented at the 2002 Strehlow Conference 'Traditions in the Midst of Change' and was improved by feedback from conference delegates. The assistance of the following institutions which at var ious times provided funds, resources and/or logistical support is gratefully acknowledged: Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, Australian Heritage Commission, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Central Land Council, Northern Territory Department of Education and the Environment and Heritage Division, Northern Territory Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Environment.
(1.) Current Arrernte spelling. Earlier spelt as churinga (Spencer and Gillen 1899:123) and tjurunga as in Strehlow (1970:102).
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