Embodied Places in Indigenous Ecotourism: The Yarrawarra Research Project

By Beck, Wendy; Somerville, Margaret | Australian Aboriginal Studies, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Embodied Places in Indigenous Ecotourism: The Yarrawarra Research Project


Beck, Wendy, Somerville, Margaret, Australian Aboriginal Studies


Abstract. Little research has been done on how places with shared Indigenous and colonial pasts are communicated to tourists. One problem is that many tourists lack an understanding of Indigenous cultural landscapes and have stereotyped views of Indigenous peoples and places. In order to address this problem we argue that an embodied presence in the landscape, focusing on knowledge by the body as well as knowledge by the mind, is essential to understanding Indigenous place stories, and for seeing the landscape in new ways. On the mid-north coast of New South Wales, where ecotourism is increasingly important, we are carrying out a collaborative research project to develop interpretive materials with the Yarrawarra Aboriginal Corporation. In the Yarrawarra Place Stories project (1997-2000) we have carried out oral history and archaeological research, and through a series of five books based on individual places, we attempt to convey Aboriginal places in complex and layered ways which focus on an embodied presence in the landscape, and explore how tourists may construct places visited in new ways. In this article we provide a reading of an example of the place representations from this project (Yarrawarra Place Stories Books 1-5) to make evident the embodied nature of local place stories in this interdisciplinary research project.

 
   Places, and images of places, are fundamental to the 
   practice of tourism ... Tourism is a strongly visual 
   practice. We spend time in advance of a tourism trip 
   attempting to visualise the experience by examining 
   guidebooks and brochures, or in anticipatory day 
   dreams; we often spend significant parts of the trip 
   itself engaged in the act of sightseeing in which we gaze 
   upon places, people and their artefacts; and we relive 
   experiences as memories and recollections, aided by 
   photographs or home video footage ... In the process we 
   are inventing (or reinventing) places to suit our 
   purposes. [Williams 1998:173] 

The notion of the tourist gaze (Urry 1990) has been an important one for research into tourists and tourism. But the 'tourist gaze' is often a disembodied one, so in this article we explore the notion of a bodily presence, putting tourists into the landscape. Our research question becomes: how can we represent Aboriginal heritage tourist places in a local and embodied way?

Little scholarly research has been done on the representation of places for tourists, especially those places with shared Aboriginal and colonial pasts AHC 2002; Zeppel 1999, Zeppel 2001a). In this article we examine how our research project with Yarrawarra Aboriginal Corporation, which involves Indigenous ecotourism, archaeology and oral history in coastal New South Wales, has chosen to represent local places in books produced for tourists (Yarrawarra Place Stories Books 1-5). The key to our images of place lies in embodiment. Following Somerville (1999) we argue that an embodied presence in the landscape is essential to understanding Indigenous place stories and to developing relations of empathy with the landscape and with the storytellers so that there is the possibility of developing new stories, and of seeing the landscape in new ways. Seeing the landscape in this context also involves seeing a different and nonstereotypical Indigenous presence and making hidden places and histories visible to non-Indigenous persons. Walsh (1992:145) has argued that:

 
   ... heritage, in many of its forms, is responsible for the 
   destruction of a sense of place. The representation of 
   historical surfaces via a uniform set of media which 
   tend to appear in all heritage representations, 
   emphasize the spectacle rather than any depth of 
   historical questioning and analysis. 

Many researchers present a dichotomy between the 'inauthentic' place identification of tourists and the 'authentic' lifestyles of local peoples. …

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