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Great Scott! Shared histories and shared stories moving towards a shared learning

Indigenous Services Manager, Kirsten Thorpe and Jessica Harris, Acting Coordinator Education & Scholarship travelled to Singleton and Newcastle with 2016 CH Currey Fellow, Dr Mark Dunn to discuss his research project, Civilised or Savage: the colonial legacy of Robert and Helenus Scott with the Wonnarua Nation Aboriginal Corporation and Wollotuka Institute at the University of Newcastle. The purpose of the visit was to ensure that the research outcomes of this project are founded on a process of meaningful engagement and reciprocity between the researcher and the local Aboriginal community. The Library proudly supports the rights to full and fair participation of Indigenous people in the research that is undertaken on its collections through its Fellowship program and sees this as an important principle in ethical research. 

Dr Mark Dunn’s research focuses on the correspondence of Robert and Helenus Scott, in particular their good and bad relationships with Aboriginal people across the Hunter Valley area. The Library’s collection are a mix of personal correspondence and private journals as well as official reports and business letters. This combination gives a broad picture of the day-to-day workers of the colonial estate at Glendon. The research deals with confronting content relating to  local massacres and also holds references to local Aboriginal language, including a short song and guitar accompaniment in a mix of Aboriginal and pidgin English.  The research has important connections to the Wonnarua community as the traditional landowners in the Singleton area of the Hunter Valley. 

One of the main aims for this research is the Scott brothers’ complex and conflicting connections with the Aboriginal people at the time. This project represents an important part of the complicated and contested past and it is important that the stories which emerge from the research create a balanced understanding of the histories it represents and takes into consideration the cultural backgrounds and connections to family and communities. These stories create an important space in understanding our history as they underpin and shape the communities we are today: “telling a story about our history that is both good and bad is important; people need to know these stories so it doesn’t happen again” (Laurie Perry CEO Wonnarua Aboriginal Land Corporation). 

Wonnarua Aboriginal Land Corporation, CEO Laurie Perry, Manager Indigenous Services State Library NSW Kirsten Thorpe and Library Fellow Dr Mark Dunn

From left to right: Wonnarua Aboriginal Land Corporation, CEO Laurie Perry, State Library NSW Indigenous Services Manager, Kirsten Thorpe and 2016 CH Currey Fellow, Dr Mark Dunn. 

Part of Mark’s project is to have an integrated collaborative approach to research, drawing from a range of archival collections as such he will be undertaking research on the manuscript collections of the Windeyer, Glennie and Wyndham families who were contemporaries and associates of the Scott brothers. During our visit we also consulted with Professor John Maynard, Dr Raymond Kelly and Ms Amanda Kelly from the Wollotuka Institute at the University of Newcastle about the project. In discussing the unravelling of the Scott brothers’ stories from the vast collection of papers and correspondence Professor John Maynard raised the importance of creating an ‘alternative perspective’ to give depth to our historical understanding and cultural fabric. Professor Maynard referred to this history as a complex jigsaw that needs to be unpicked through such research projects, but stressed the need to maintain the significance of cultural backgrounds, connections to family and communities to ensure their protection but to tell the stories in order to create change: “No stories, no change”. Dr Raymond Kelly also highlighted that by telling these stories we contribute to creating a postcolonial truth: “turning it on its head creates stories from a new dialogue which assists in creating an open dialogue rather than a one-sided historical narrative”. 

Wollotuka Institute University of Newcastle

From left to right: Professor John Maynard, Amanda Kelly, Kirsten Thorpe, Dr Mark Dunn and Dr Raymond Kelly. 

Creating stories from an integrated community based approach allows us to understand significant parts of our cultural heritage and provides the opportunity for all Australians, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to gain a better understanding our cultural history, opening up the dialogue to discuss what we want out future to be.

Dr Mark Dunn’s research project will continue connections with the Hunter, incorporating a community based partnership with the Wonnarua Nation Aboriginal Corporation and the Wollotuka Institute, University of Newcastle. Our research fellowships apply the principles of the AIATSIS Guidelines for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies. Dr Mark Dunn will be delivering a lecture at the Australian Historical Association conference in Newcastle in 2017 and a short paper about his research project will be published on the Library’s website later in the year.