On Survival Day, January 26, 2018, the community garden committee held a celebration of Aboriginal peoples resistance and survival. As part of this celebration we exhibited archival documents from the Frontier Wars on the so-called ‘New England’ Tablelands, and from the bureaucratic and institutionalised war waged on Aboriginal people at the East Armidale Aboriginal Reserve. Many people who attended the Survival Day gathering had spent their childhoods on the Reserve, and were able to identify themselves and family members in the photographs displayed in the outdoor exhibit.
Some of the material we exhibited was from the Anaiwan Language Revival Programs’ recent publication documenting histories of violent colonisation and Aboriginal resistance on the New England tablelands: Mūgūŋ & Gun: Resisting New England– Frontier Wars, Edition One (2018).
When the material from the Mūgūŋ & Gun publication was exhibited alongside documentation of the East Armidale Aboriginal Reserve gathered from surveillance records of the Armidale Association for the Assimilation of Aborigines and the Aboriginal Welfare Board, the connections between the ongoing machinations of colonial violence, including the ongoing bureaucratic war against Aboriginal people, were made visible.Place was mobilised to anchor seemingly distinct historical periods – a ‘grounding’ of history that produces embodied attention to emplaced histories of dispossession and genocide.
Exhibiting the archival material documenting waves of colonisation at the old Reserve site was a decolonising tactic to mobilise environmentally embodied memories, family histories and ancestral connections in one situated and particular environment in order to draw the past into the present. Settler-colonial narratives of nationhood generalise the process of settlement and invasion, and obscure links between violence on the frontier and the ongoing material and institutional structures of settler colonial occupation. Colonialism becomes something abstract that happened somewhere over there, a long time ago, thereby eluding recognition of the complex inheritances of the frontier wars and the legacies of colonial violence.
Archives themselves are weapons of colonial warfare. Edward Said observed that imperial powers were able to maintain power by controlling the information that was recorded in the archive, and omitting the ideas and voices of the conquered. Michel Foucault also suggested that power was derived from the meticulous collection of data about the colonized and that new kinds of power could be attained simply by observing and keeping records about the “other”. Repatriating archival material to country and community to work toward decolonisation is a form of archival activism. Fifty years ago, residents on the East Armidale Aboriginal Reserve were taking up the discarded trash of the colonisers to create shelter from Armidale’s bitter winters. The reclamation of history is another form of resistant gleaning, where archival material is repurposed to illustrate the survival and resilience of Aboriginal peoples against waves of colonial violence and control.