Popular narratives of Australian places are often patched together from ellipses and erasure, legend and debate. A primary concern in Australian studies has long been to bring attention to such absences in the dominant chronotope—that is, ‘time-space’ narrative—of settler colonial society. However, there remains much to be explored in regards to how collective histories of place undergo re-negotiatiation at the level of local spatial understandings and individual bodily practice.

This paper examines the ways in which a variety of narrative and material absences were negotiated through embodied interaction with ruins in a rural Queensland town. During festivities marking 150 years since the town’s founding, some families of mixed Aboriginal and Chinese descent returned to the demolished town camp where they or their forebears once lived to hold their own commemorative celebrations. This included public tours attended by some settler-descendent town residents who had forgotten about the camp’s existence or had not known what it signified.

I engage with recent scholarship on the anthropology of absence (Bille et al 2010) and ruins (DeSilvey & Edensor 2012) to argue that during the event the affective qualities of rubble and ‘mutable things’ (DeSilvey 2006) created a ‘narrative space’ (Stewart 1996) in which people could sensuously and imaginatively re-engage with the past to make present silenced histories. I suggest that the very ambiguity of material traces prompted practices through which previously marginalised voices emerged, thereby redistributing narrative agency and resisting the teleology of dominant chronotopes. 

About the Presenter

Alana Brekelmans is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at the University of Queensland. Her thesis examines the ways in which people of various cultural backgrounds in North West Queensland communities co-construct, negotiate, and embody narratives of place. With an academic and professional background in creative arts, writing, and embodied narrative, Alana’s research engages with questions of personal biography, nationalistic mythology, and somatic experience in Australian environment.


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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