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Lost Australian stories etched in iconic ancient trees

Lost Australian stories etched in iconic ancient trees

Image: One of the iconic boab trees with a carving in the Kimberley, WA. Credit: Jane Balme

Full article issued by the University of Notre Dame Australia (UNDA), The Australian National University (ANU), The University of Western Australia (UWA), and the University of Canberra (UC).

Research leaders Dr Melissa Marshall (UNDA), Professor Sue O’Connor (ANU), Professor Jane Balme (UWA), and Dr Ursula Frederick (UC) will work with Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley as part of a new ARC Special Research Initiative for Australian Society, History and Culture grant to develop the first systematic archive of carved boab trees ever undertaken.

Australian boab trees record the stories of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the region, including from the time of the first European contact. The project will create the archive using state-of-the-art technology to capture accurate 3D records of the markings.

With a lifespan of centuries (some individual boab trees are over 1,500 years old, making them amongst the oldest living beings in Australia), the tree lacks foliage for much of the year, before exploding with large, fragrant, organic sparklers of flowers. The local Aboriginal people have used the boab in multiple ways, as food, medicine, shelter, and even for creating intricate art work both on the boab nuts and the trunk of the tree itself, and it is the latter that interests this particular group of researchers.

“We will record both Indigenous and non-Indigenous carvings on boabs, to learn about this little-known traditional Indigenous cultural and artistic practice, and about the daily lives of people living on missions and pastoral properties prior to and immediately following European contact,” says ARC Australian Laureate Fellowship recipient, Professor Sue O’Connor from the ANU School of Culture, History and Language.

“Many of the carved trees are already many hundreds of years old and there is now some urgency to produce high-quality recordings before these remarkable heritage trees die.”

The team will also examine unpublished manuscripts, diaries, letters, mission records, newspapers and published historical and anthropological literature for the Kimberley.


Image: One of the iconic boab trees with a carving in the Kimberley, WA. Image Credit: Jane Balme.

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