Closing the Gap: Awkward histories: place, history, kin

turtleIn observance of National Closing the Gap Day, we bring you an academic thesis on Yorta Yorta, a place where the gap was not closed: upon the loss of the Yorta Yorta Native Title claim in the High Court, the Yorta Yorta community (alongside environmental advocacy organisations) worked to lobby for the establishment of a jointly managed National Park.


This thesis examines the shape and contours of the deeply personal ways in which colonialism has become embedded in the lives of settler descendants.

Following the loss of the Yorta Yorta Native Title claim in the High Court, the Yorta Yorta community (alongside environmental advocacy organisations) worked to lobby for the establishment of a jointly managed National Park. Building on previous experience of opposing Indigenous people’s claims to land, local settler descendants (including timber and grazing interests) built a campaign to oppose Yorta Yorta struggle for land justice.

This thesis studies the push by settler descendants to contest a Yorta Yorta managed National Park and uses it as a case study to examine what Birch has described as a “cultural terra nullius”. Through close readings of the ways in which settler descendants have asserted their place on the land, I explore the manner in which colonialism becomes a personal and enmeshed part of people’s lives.

In this work I consider place within a colonial context, where the past and the present are written, as it were, into the landscape so as to eliminate Indigenous people from the land. This has become most palpable in contestations over the meaning and purpose of remnant forests and rivers on Yorta Yorta Country, where despite shared (though unequal) experiences of history, Aboriginal people’s social and emotional geographies have never been recognised by the settler descendants I discuss.

The local-history research of these settler colonial places has relied on this sense of a silence in the palimpsest of memories on the land, and Aboriginal people are rendered into a position of vox nullius within a shared, mutual past, by being erased from the local-history books of the region. Within such histories, Aboriginal people are rendered as strange curios of a long lost past, akin to pre-contact wildlife and at the mercy of civilisation and fate. The silence over the violence of expanding empire runs deep in these narratives.

In such contestations as were seen over Yorta Yorta Country during this time, family histories in the region were used to fortify a sense of ownership through the invocation of generational belonging. In a similar capacity to the ways in which settler descendants have related to place and local history, family histories have been written in such a way so as to diminish the length and breadth of shared histories. My research takes an autoethnographic approach to the ways in which family history has been written and can be rewritten with a decolonising ethic in mind. Broadly, this thesis examines issues of home and belonging in a settler colonial society.

Link to full thesis (Monash University/Trove)

Long neck turtle of yorta yorta

Yorta Yorta – land of the long-necked turtle

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