Showing and Telling: Australian Land Rights and Material Moralities

Showing and Telling: Australian Land Rights and Material Moralities


In Kowanyama, Queensland, Aboriginal groups have property rights to several thousand square miles which are opposed by groups such as local pastoralists and the National Parks service. This paper explores the processes through which one group, the Kunjen community, asserts its moral and political claims over the disputed area through stories and material artefacts.

Research goals and methods

This paper draws from an ethnographic study conducted as a part of a process of creating a cultural map of the National Park area in Kowanyama. The Kunjen community sought the assistance of an anthropologist to create this cultural map in order to support its claims over the area at the land claims tribunal, and to regain control over its own culture and history in opposition to the European educational system.

Conclusions and takeaways

The community’s claims to the land are linked to origin stories which includes stories of their ancestors creating land and bequeathing the land to it in perpetuity, along with giving it the responsibility to care for the land. Each individual has links to a spiritual conception site which is either on or near clan land, and ceremonies and rituals at important life events reaffirm these links with the land. A humanization of the land is evident in references to the land as kin, and the view of the land as imbued with nurturing and malevolent qualities. According to the author, through a performative show and tell of spaces as well as through the production of material artefacts, the community ensures the transmission of values across generation in addition to garnering support towards its claims to disputed territories.


Strang V. Showing and Telling: Australian Land Rights and Material Moralities. Journal of Material Culture. 2000;5(3):275 - 299. doi:10.1177/135918350000500302.


  • University of Wales, Lampeter, UK