Women on the Colonial Frontier: Decolonising Gamilaraay Herstory

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Sunderland, Naomi L

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Tacon, Paul S

McGregor, Carol A

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My Doctor of Visual Art research aims to decolonise narratives of women on the New South Wales colonial frontier. I focus on my Ancestors and events on Gamilaraay Country. I am a Gamilaraay woman who has lived, for the most part, a colonised life. Therefore, I recognised the need to ensure my own mind, beliefs, and narratives had been decolonised before I began my research. This process has included an ongoing analysis of my own attitudes and prejudices and reconnecting to my cultural and spiritual roots. As defined by University of Warwick, decolonisation refers to "the undoing of colonial rule over subordinate countries but has taken on a wider meaning as the 'freeing of minds from colonial ideology' in particular by addressing the ingrained idea that to be colonised was to be inferior".1 Ironically, the institution of the colonising nation defines an ideology that they understand and articulate, yet are unwilling to implement or interrupt the status quo. As Franz Fanon writes, "let us admit it, the settler know perfectly well that no phraseology can be a substitute for reality".2 Such pervasive narratives have informed histories, spirituality and religion, education, healthcare, government policy, legislation, land management, and, importantly, societal and familial relationships. Drawing on decolonising methodologies and archival research, this thesis and my art practice demonstrate a two-part process. The first is a decolonising of the self, which involves investigating and documenting the stories and events that have shaped my identity and ways of being, both in the past and present. The second is an investigation of the historical accounts of colonisation focussed on interracial female relationships and the resultant impact on Gamilaraay women's lives. The thesis takes the form of an autobiographical rumination and narrative, recalling major influences in my life and the journey of identity development. The storytelling method reflects the oral transfer of wisdom and history by the Gamilaraay. The thesis describes the trials and tribulations of navigating unfamiliar waters, the treading softly on the ground and the trepidation of overstepping unspoken marks and unwittingly or unknowingly causing offence. It reveals hidden or discarded family histories. The thesis also celebrates my reconnection to Country and community. In a conscious attempt to reflect the oral and performative transferences of knowledge by Gamilaraay, I maintain a conversational style in this thesis. By doing so, I preference Gamilaraay tradition while finding a balance with academic expectations. My artmaking processes and materials are profoundly tied to connections with Gunima (Mother Earth) and Ancestors, ceremony and ritual, culture and community, and places and memory. My body of artwork demonstrates the visual aspects of my spiritual journey and the retelling of herstory.

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Thesis (Professional Doctorate)

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Doctor of Visual Arts (DVA)


Queensland College of Art

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The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.

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