This paper reflects on the predicaments encountered while bringing ethnographic and linguistic archival materials, and in particular a dictionary manuscript (1909) by Lutheran missionary Carl Strehlow with 7600 Aranda, German, Luritja and Dieri words, into the public domain. This manuscript as well as other unique documents held at the Strehlow Research Centre in Alice Springs and elsewhere in Australia are surrounded by competing views relating to ownership and control over them. For the Aboriginal community, it is their cultural heritage and of great socio-symbolic importance to which they assert ownership rights, for others it is a body of knowledge that is perceived to be general patrimony and the wider Lutheran congregation believe that they too have ownership rights based on historical associations. To illustrate these predicaments I discuss my work with Western Aranda people on Carl Strehlow’s dictionary manuscript and the immense difficulties with publishing it. In this case study, there were several ‘conscious, politically significant subjects’ (Clifford 1988: 41) whose ownership claims to this ethno-linguistic treasure I had not been aware of and which nearly destroyed the dictionary work with their vested interest, forcing others to become involuntarily active. 

About the Presenter

Dr Anna Kenny is a consultant anthropologist who has been based in Alice Springs for over 25 years and was between 2012 and 2016 an Australian Research Council postdoctoral fellow in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at The Australian National University. She has conducted field research with Indigenous people in the Northern Territory since 1991 as well as in Queensland and Western Australia. She has written 12 Connection Reports for Native Title claims and is the author of a book on Carl Strehlow’s ethnography, titled The Aranda’s Pepa: An Introduction to Carl Strehlow’s Masterpiece Die Aranda-und Loritja-Stämme in Zentral- Australien (1907–1920) (2013), the coeditor of German Ethnography in Australia (2017) and the editor of Carl Strehlow’s 1909 Comparative Heritage Dictionary (2018). Currently she is working on a book about T.G.H. Strehlow and Arandic ethnography called Shadows of a Father


About Anthropology Working Papers

The Working Papers in Anthropology seminar series provides a forum for dissemination of anthropological research and ideas among UQ scholars and invited researchers. All students are invited to attend the series and postgraduate students, from honours upwards, are invited to present their research. The aim is to provide opportunities for students, staff and those from outside UQ, to present and discuss their work in an informal environment.


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