Something before, that still remains: experiential treaty-making on Kulin Country

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Amerena, Massimo (2020) Something before, that still remains: experiential treaty-making on Kulin Country. Research Master thesis, Victoria University.

Abstract

Narrm, later named Port Phillip Bay by colonisers, shapes Aboriginal politics. This thesis is a place-based examination of the forms of treaty-making practised around Narrm. It aims to deepen the understandings of settler-Australians and historians of the political sophistication of the Kulin federation, a group of allied Aboriginal nations whose Country covers what is now central Victoria, Australia. Drawing on Aboriginal oral histories and colonial primary sources, as well as anthropological and archaeological scholarship, I use knowledge of Kulin culture and philosophy to explore, imagine, and decolonise the history of their politics from 14,000 years ago to the end of 1835. The forms of treaty explored in this thesis have been continuously practised for thousands of generations and exist within, and as an expression of, Kulin law. This thesis is divided into two parts, each consisting of two chapters. Part I examines the Kulin’s pre-colonial traditions of treaty-making, showing political relations were performed with Country, the non-human world and humans. Part II builds on this and shows that when encountering settlers in 1835 the bayside Kulin continued, and evolved, their treatymaking traditions. To describe these forms of Kulin political agreement-making, highlight Kulin agency and the political role of women, I introduce the term experiential treaties. An experiential treaty exists within the Indigenous oral tradition and is a political accord between a sovereign Aboriginal group and another party, be they a neighbouring Aboriginal clan, a refugee, a group of settlers as guests, or the non-human world of Country and animals. Exploring the Kulin world through experiential treaties centres Aboriginal political agency and selfdetermination. It is important to highlight that the practice of treaty-making does not have to include the modern or colonial settler-state. Experiential treaties are characterised by reciprocity and repetition, as they require iterative renewal through personal interactions between host and guest. With an imaginative approach based on Greg Dening’s historical methodology, I explore experiential treatymaking on Kulin country to decolonise Victorian history and highlight the silences and absences within current revisionist historiography of 1835. Rather than analyse the founding of Melbourne, I turn to the underresearched and unacknowledged political agency of the Waddawurrung living around present-day Geelong. Through exploring interactions with John Batman and his crew, I examine the exclusion of women from the narrative of 1835. Re-interpreting the political relations between the Waddawurrung and settlers camped at Indented Head shows that Kulin political traditions were continued, not disrupted, through what I term the Geelong Treaty based on the principle of iterative renewal and reciprocity. This thesis has significance in expanding the narrative of 1835 to include Kulin women and the Waddawurrung, but it also gives new depth to understandings of modern treaty-making and Indigenous activism in Victoria. As Wiradjuri legal scholar Mark McMillan states on the history and custom of Indigenous treaty-making: “There was something before, that still remains”. Key Words: treaty-making, Geelong Treaty, Kulin Treaty, Batman Treaty, Aboriginal treaties, decolonisation, Victorian colonisation, experiential treaties, Indigenous sovereignty, settler-colonialism, Kulin agency, Waddawurrung (Waddawurrung, Wathawurrung), Narrm (Port Phillip Bay), Beangala, Indented Head, William Buckley, cross-cultural lawful relations, environmental history, the Yarra camp.

Additional Information

Master of Applied Research

Item type Thesis (Research Master thesis)
URI https://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/42145
Subjects Current > FOR Classification > 2103 Historical Studies
Current > Division/Research > Institute for Sustainable Industries and Liveable Cities
Current > Division/Research > Moondani Balluk
Keywords treaty-making; Geelong Treaty; Kulin Treaty; Batman Treaty; Aboriginal treaties; decolonisation; Victorian colonisation; experiential treaties; Indigenous sovereignty; settler-colonialism; Kulin agency; Waddawurrung (Waddawurrung, Wathawurrung); Narrm (Port Phillip Bay); Beangala; Indented Head; William Buckley; cross-cultural lawful relations; environmental history; the Yarra camp
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