Peopling the Cleland Hills: Aboriginal History in Western Central Australia 1850-1980

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Peopling the Cleland Hills: Aboriginal history in western Central Australia 1850-1980

Michael A Smith

Aboriginal History, Canberra (Monograph 12), 2005, 103pp, ISBN 0958563780

Peopling the Cleland Hills--the latest in the excellent series of Aboriginal History monographs which have covered topics such as biographies, population, stolen children, Indigenous farming and cultural boundaries--is an excellent study of one small part of Australia and its people. Professionals who chose Indigenous studies may form close and lasting relationships with their informants and in time become the conduit for the telling of their stories. An early book in this genre was Phillip Pepper's 1980 story set in the Victorian Gippsland, You are what you make yourself to be, and more recently Howard Pederson, Kingsley Palmer, Ian Crawford, Mary Anne Jebb and others have liaised with Aboriginal peoples to bring their histories into print. In some respects it is the principle of reciprocity, with something given for something gained.

John Axtell described ethnohistory as combining anthropology and history, with the former upstreaming from the cultural knowns of the present to the blurred past, and the latter downstreaming from that distant past to a nominated present. Michael Smith's monograph is a most readable ethnohistory of the Kukatja's long association with the Cleland Hills, located some 400 kilometres west of Alice Springs in Central Australia. The author's own dating of human occupation in the region to 35 000 years BP equates with the coastal regions and raises questions about the patterns of ancient settlement across the continent.

The chapters begin with the expeditions of Giles and Gosse in the 1870s and their observations of the land usage by unseen Aborigines. The author, when describing these travels, introduces the reader to the geography of the country surrounding Cleland Hills and cleverly weaves into the historical encounters the time-markers of Kukatja genealogies. Historical records, including Norman Tindale's 1929 genealogies, place Jatjitja Tjangala, Panta Tjungarrayi and Tuluka Nungarrayi, male and female ancestors of contemporary Kukatja, in the area at least in 1850 and therefore young adults in 1870. …