The Archaeology of an Aboriginal Mission
By (author) Jane Lydon
Publication date:16 November 2009
Length of book:330 pages
Fantastic Dreaming explores how whites have measured Australian Aboriginal people through their material culture and domestic practices, aspects of culture intimately linked to Enlightenment notions of progress and social institutions such as marriage and property. Archaeological investigation reveals that the Moravian missionaries' attempts to "civilize" the Wergaia-speaking people of northwestern Victoria centered on spatial practices, housing, and the consumption of material goods. After the mission closed in 1904, white observers saw the camp settlements that formed nearby as evidence of Aboriginal incapacity and immorality, rather than as symptoms of exclusion and poverty. Conceptions of transformation as acculturation survived in assimilation policies that envisioned Aboriginal people becoming the same as whites through living in European housing. These ideas persist in archaeological analysis that insists on Aboriginality as otherness and difference, and equates objects with identity. However Wergaia tradition was place-based, and, often invisibly, Indigenous people maintained traditional relationships to kin and country, resisting white authority through strategies of evasion and mobility. This study examines the complex role of material culture and spatial politics in shaping colonial identities and offers a critique of essentialism in archaeological interpretation.
Some of the first physical traces left in the Victorian landscape by European settlers were those of Major Thomas Mitchell’s dray as it passed through the soft earth and left tracks that remained visible for years. As a slowly fading image of the passing of people and animals through country it is a powerful one that remains in the imagination of the reader throughout this book. Soft footed wallabies and bare footed humans had never before left permanent tracks in the sandy soil such as these. ... There are many fascinating insights into the mission as a place of exchange of culture provided by this book. This is set within a wider context of both secular and religious thought and writings of the late eighteenth and nineteenth century. Fantastic Dreaming sets out to explore many things and it does so in a scholarly fashion. The endnotes to each chapter are extensive and illuminating, and the range of sources are extensive, representing a wide range of views. The strength of the book comes from Lydon’s own intimate knowledge of the place through archeological surveys and through talking to Aboriginal people descended from those who lived at Ebenezer.