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An Aboriginal ontology of being and place: the performance of Aboriginal property relations in the Princess Charlotte Bay area of eastern Cape York Peninsula, Australia

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posted on 2022-03-28, 18:37 authored by Marcia Lynne Langton
This thesis presents an ethnographic study of the property relations of the Aboriginal people of Princess Charlotte Bay area of eastern Cape York Peninsula, Australia. It sets out the possibilities of inscribing an interpretive account of Aboriginal property relations, and the land tenure system that the subjects themselves subscribe to as matters of tradition and custom, albeit changing and dynamic, by means of an investigation of the performative aspects of the social and subjective expression of these matters. Critical and interpretive theorists and exponents of phenomenological approaches to anthropological endeavour enriched my capacity to explain the distinctively Aboriginal conceptions of such matters - an Aboriginal ontology of being and place - grounded in an Aboriginal way of conceptualising the world. Despite the radical alteration to their traditional economic and social life that followed colonisation and enforced settlement, groups of traditional owners, guided by Elders, maintained their traditions of property relations in estates and territories, and other phenomena, reinvigorating them with strategic interventions that transformed the burden of their subaltern history into a vision for the future. They engaged with the consequences of the changes that resulted from the settler colonisation of their world, and continued to practise rituals and customs which inscribe places with sacred meaning and historical memory and express the legitimacy of their tenure. Such traditions include a range of classical and postcolonial Aboriginal social principles and laws, including descent principles and language affiliation, religious beliefs and customs, the practice of various rituals, and their land use and management practices. In this study, their knowledge and practices concerning use of fire and water forms and bodies are revealed as active and purposeful stewardship of land and waterscapes and the flora and fauna on which they still depend to a significant extent for their livelihoods, and critically as the performance of property relations. Property relations are found to be embedded in the texture of other social relations and subservient to the fundamental social relationship with the sacred ancestral past which bestows not just property rights, but a social world, as a sacred endowment.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- The context of the study -- The limits of legal and anthropological notions of Aboriginal property -- Methodology, law, policy and anthropology -- The diaspora and the return: pain and resistance -- The edge of the sacred, the edge of death: sensual inscriptions of place and spiritual affiliations to estates -- Burn grass and storm burn: Aboriginal knowledge of fire in the Laura Basin -- Earth, wind, fire and water: the social and spiritual construction of water in Pama society -- Aboriginal property as sacred endowment -- Conclusion.


Bibliography: p. 443-482

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD



Department, Centre or School

Department of Human Geography

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Richard L. Howitt

Additional Supervisor 1

Nancy M. Williams


Copyright Marcia L. Langton 2005. Copyright disclaimer: Complete version suppressed due to copyright restrictions. However, on receipt of a Document Supply Request, placed with Macquarie University Library by another library, we will consider supplying a copy of this thesis. For more information on Macquarie University's Document Supply, please contact Access to this thesis is restricted to Macquarie University staff and students. Staff and students of Macquarie University should contact to organise access.






1 online resource (xiv, 482 p.) illustrations, maps

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