Tossing and turning: Working in the contact zone on Wurundjeri Country today

Year: 2017

Author: Foley, Angela

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The 'contact zone' is sometimes explained as a cross-cultural meeting space of the colonised and the colonisers that may involve geographic, material, social, intangible and cultural matters (Pratt 1991). The business involved in achieving defined cross-cultural projects in the contact zone on brief, on time and on budget is usually reported on in fine detail. However, even detailed documented outcomes may not reveal much of 'what happened' there. In this presentation I consider my doctoral and professional work in the Australian contact zone and the less revealed stories and interactions that work like undercurrents or 'back stories' in the contact zone (Kowal 2015a) to suggest how they offer insights about what it means to recognise, live and work together on Country.

Writers working from various fields on Australian cross-cultural projects such as planning, art, health, film and education have observed what happens in the contact zone (Kowal 2015b, Mahood 2012, Barry & Porter 2012, Somerville & Perkins 2010, Peters-Little 2002, Langton 1993). In this presentation I acknowledge two 'revelatory' projects about working in the contact zone, the documentary 'Balanda and the Bark Canoes: The making of the Ten Canoes' (2006) and the story about the repatriation of drawings from the National Museum of Australia to the Warlpiri community (Hinkson 2014). The relevance of these projects here is in their stories of complexity and volatility in production. Stories otherwise hidden might mean projects are misjudged as being uncomplicated if the only available result is the project's neat products: award winning film and insightful book.

What has this to do with a non-Indigenous woman working from Wurundjeri Country today? I consider the role of conscious determination involved for mainstream recognition of Wurundjeri Country today in three ways: situated stories, indifference and silence and active celebration. I outline some experiences of working with Wurundjeri where formal, informal and non-formal methods involving ethics approvals and agreements to work together have supported Aboriginal cultural revival projects and other everyday cross-cultural encounters.
I build on all these educational experiences to explore Wurundjeri Country as a cross-cultural space of occasional co-presence requiring shared determination for interaction, recognition and appreciation.

What happened when representatives from the Wurundjeri community and I spent time together? What did our agreed research focus on making, talking and places produce? In this session I share and think again about some research encounters on Wurundjeri Country taking interest in the undercurrents of things said, places visited and other matters that weigh in amongst the objects, the places and the words shared in the contact zone.