“All Things Are Connected”: An auto-ethnography of archaeological practice with and for the Ngarrindjeri Nation

Author: Kelly Wiltshire

Wiltshire, Kelly, 2019 “All Things Are Connected”: An auto-ethnography of archaeological practice with and for the Ngarrindjeri Nation, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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This thesis presents an auto-ethnography of archaeological practice set within the context of long-term archaeological investigations at Waltowa Wetland, located on the eastern shore of Lake Albert, South Australia. This project has emerged from a collaborative program of research with organisations and leaders of the Ngarrindjeri Nation, who are the traditional owners and Native Title Claimants for the Lower Murray, Lake Alexandrina, Lake Albert, Kurangk (Coorong) and Encounter Bay regions of South Australia. At the heart of the Ngarrindjeri Nation lies the philosophy of Ruwe/Ruwar (land/body), an interconnected understanding that dictates Ngarrindjeri connection, rights and responsibilities to their Ruwe (land). This philosophy is, however, marginalised in the ongoing development and management of Yarluwar-Ruwe (sea-country); most notably during the events surrounding the Hindmarsh Island Royal Commission, which failed to comprehend this philosophy whilst denying the existence of gender-based divisions, knowledges and areas. As a result, the ongoing management of Yarluwar-Ruwe privileges archaeological driven assessments, which translate and limit Ngarrindjeri connection, rights and responsibilities into a set of confined and manageable archaeological sites. Therefore, archaeological practice and the knowledge it produces maintains a hegemonic and privileged position in the ongoing management of Ngarrindjeri Yarluwar-Ruwe.

In order to address the privileged position archaeology maintains, this thesis draws upon Actor-Network Theory (ANT) to reconceptualise archaeological practice as an assemblage, in order to ethnographically describe or disassemble the everyday activities, interactions and connections often marginalised in the production of archaeological knowledges. In doing so, this thesis maintains that disassembling archaeological practice provides an important first step towards reassembling archaeological practice, in order to produce new knowledges that privilege Ngarrindjeri rights, responsibilities and interests; however, the findings of this research highlights how the agency of the Ngarrindjeri Nation has been actively reassembling archaeologists and archaeology long before this research commenced, challenging the premise from which this thesis emerged. At the same time, this agency continues to be marginalised by the self-evident nature of archaeological practice, which instead nurtures a mutually constitutive connection between archaeologist and ‘archaeology’; a connection that contributes towards my development as archaeologist, whilst simultaneously producing the ‘archaeology’ at Waltowa Wetland. The findings of this research also highlight how the key point of archaeological knowledge production occurs beyond the boundaries of an archaeological ‘site’, through a process of literary transcription that actively assembles and transcribes observations produced by this connection. Lastly, the findings of this research highlight how the existence and agency of Ngarrindjeri gender-based divisions, knowledges and areas continues to play an important role in the ongoing management of Yarluwar-Ruwe. Therefore, in many respects the findings of this research challenge the outcomes of the Hindmarsh Island Royal Commission from which this thesis emerged, in turn demonstrating all things truly are connected.

Keywords: Archaeology; Ngarrindjeri ; Actor-Network Theory; Auto-ethnography

Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2019
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Mick Morrison