CULTURE, feature -

Researcher traces true history of buffalo soldiers

The role of Aboriginal women in the Northern Territory’s buffalo-shooting industry will be explored in new research by the Australian National University, which aims to correct a white-washed history.

Charlotte Feakins, a PhD candidate with the ANU School of Culture, History and Language, said Aboriginal people were crucial to the industry which thrived from the late 19th century to mid-20th century, but they were largely ignored in the official and popular histories.

 “Newspaper articles and popular histories described the romantic, nomadic life of the white buffalo hunters, popularising their bush-legend status. However, this has led to an overtly-biased account of the past,” Ms Feakins said.

 “Aboriginal people, but particularly women, were absolutely integral to the industry’s success. Without them it just wouldn’t have been possible.

 “The women’s work was often longer and more labour intensive, as they not only cleaned and salted the heavy hides but also cooked and cared for the camp, as well as gave birth to, and raised, children.

 “However, their story has received little acknowledgment let alone celebration.” 

 Buffalo were introduced to the NT in the early 1800s from Indonesia and thrived. The industry was influenced by the culture of buffalo shooting in the American West and buffalo hunting grew to be an important industry for the NT.

 “It was a good way to get people into those remote parts of the Top End at a time when people were very anxious that it was going to be invaded,” she said.

 “The symbolism of buffalo is integral to the Northern Territory’s identity, and I feel Australia’s identity nationally. Banjo Paterson wrote poems and bush ballads that were influenced from staying with buffalo shooters.”

 Ms Feakins’ research will involve looking at archaeology, folklore and oral histories to investigate how Aboriginal people were involved.

She was awarded a grant of $8000 by the Berndt Museum of Anthropology in WA to undertake her research. She hopes to have it completed by 2018.

 “This history needs to be rewritten,” she said.

Wendy Caccetta


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