- After Captain Cook: The Archaeology of the Recent Indigenous Past in Australia
This volume is the international edition of a published session at the Australian Archaeological Association (AAA) conference in 2000. It was originally issued under the same title through the University of Sydney in 2002. It was selected as one of the first volumes in a new World Archaeological Congress (WAC) Indigenous Archaeology series, which, in the words of the series editors' foreword, "is committed to . . . the empowerment of Indigenous peoples." Aside from this foreword and some administrivia in the front papers—and an attractive new cover—the two volumes are identical. Before saying anything more, I should declare that I am WAC secretary but play no role in the publication of this series.
Following the volume editors' scene-setting introduction, "Too Many Captain Cooks?" there are ten chapters and an epilogue organized into three major groups reflecting areas of research concentration. The first group comprises chapters by Ferrier on contact-period material culture, Harrison investigating the archaeology of the pastoral industry (ranching), Lydon analyzing settler photography at an Aboriginal reserve, and Williamson discussing contact-period archaeology in Tasmania. The second group, on indigenous land rights, includes only two papers, one by Riches and the other by Veth and McDonald. The former is about how archaeology might help remedy shortfalls of Native Title legislation, the latter about archaeology and "exclusive possession" (i.e., defining group boundaries and cultural continuity through space and time). The final major section deals with ways in which heritage managers can overcome decades of "erasure" of the historical archaeology of Indigenous [End Page 112] Australians, featuring studies by Byrne, Brown, Avery and Goulding, McIntyre-Tamwoy and Godwin, and L'Oste-Brown. Tim Murray acts as discussant in his epilogue, critically recapping the other chapters in a historicized international context.
The title of the introduction refers to the tendency of Aboriginal Australians to weave the English navigator Cook into local histories, even in regions thousands of kilometers from those he visited, while at the same time he is mythologized by Australia's Anglo-Celtic majority as a father of the settler nation. For the volume editors, "the sharing of Cook as a historical figure for both settler and indigenous Australians" creates a productive space in which "a shared Australian history can emerge" (p. 4, their emphasis). This is a worthy goal, to be sure, and one that by the evidence of this book generated a lot of compelling research that was highly topical when first delivered at AAA. It is now five years on, though, and one has to ask how the work is standing the test of time. Is this stuff still relevant, or is it now all a little passé? Given that the volume is an international edition, this question must be posed in relation to global developments and not just those in Australia. Does the volume really "provide a model for the rest of the world," as the WAC series editors claim (p. xv)?
While I was thinking about this question, Silliman (2005) published a paper entitled "Culture Contact or Colonialism: Challenges in the Archaeology of Native North America," which canvasses a range of relevant issues. He makes it clear that the volume under review, as well as other Australian work over the last decade or so, is not just still relevant but remains internationally class-leading. Citing After Captain Cook and other material by the volume editors, as well as contributors Byrne and Murray and other Australians, Silliman observes that archaeologists in Australia "seem more attuned already" to the challenges he addresses (p. 57). Like Silliman, I (and the contributors to After Captain Cook) would be amongst the first to acknowledge the pivotal insights into these challenges made by North American scholars over a long period. His comment nonetheless reinforces anecdotal evidence that Australia is ahead of the game at the moment when it comes to advancing understanding of the complexities...