Butchulla PhD student seeks Indigenous voices hidden in Queensland history

AN INDIGENOUS student is working to bring light to the history of Queensland’s First Nations people that has been hidden in state archives.

USC PhD candidate Rose Barrowcliffe is working towards giving the history of Queensland’s First Nations people a voice.
PHOTO: Supplied.

Butchulla woman, Rose Barrowcliffe of Gympie is a PhD student at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

She hopes her work will help amplify the voices of First Nations people in historical narratives.

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Ms Barrowcliffe was recently appointed by the State Government as the inaugural First Nations Archive Advisor at the Queensland State Archives.

“I’m excited that my home state recognises the important role that archives have to play in truth-telling,” Ms Barrowcliffe said. 

“Queensland has many diverse First Nations people, so it will be a challenge to the current archival practice to honour their many histories and priorities.

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“There are many records in our state and national archives that have documented the lives of Indigenous peoples, but there has been long been a focus on sectioning off archives into ‘Indigenous’ and ‘non-Indigenous history’.

“We need to look at archives with fresh eyes to find stories that are recorded but haven’t been part of history.”

USC Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Helen Bartlett congratulated Ms Barrowcliffe on her historic appointment, which is an extension of her doctoral research at USC which aims to highlight the stories of the Butchulla people, the traditional custodians of K’gari Fraser Island, contained in the K’gari Research Archive collection, held by USC.

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“We are extremely proud as a University to have one of our talented research students recognised in this way, and to be undertaking such significant work to record the experiences and perspectives of First Nations peoples,” she said.

Working with USC supervisors Dr Clare Archer Lean, Dr Sarah Casey and Associate Professor Sandy O’Sullivan, Ms Barrowcliffe will also identify ways in which previously unrecorded Butchulla histories could be included in the K’gari archive, preserving their vital role in the history of the island and Wide Bay. 

“My inspiration for my PhD was born out of my experience of expecting to see my own family and tribe’s history in the archive but coming away with very little,” Ms Barrowcliffe said.

“My family, and Butchulla people, have always been on Butchulla Country. So this experience sparked my curiosity about why there was so little of us in archives and historical narratives about our Country.”

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Ms Barrowcliffe will present a creative examination of her research through an exhibition she has curated for the Sunshine Coast Horizon Festival. 

The exhibition, ‘Reading between the lines: Uncovering Butchulla history in the K’gari research archive’, will be on display at the USC Gallery from 13 August to 30 October.

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