‘Reading’ the Landsborough, Leichhardt and Gregory Explorer Trees of Northern Australia in Cultural Studies and Anthropology

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Richard James Martin


This article examines theoretical as well as methodological issues provoked by different responses to three landmark trees marked by Europeans during the exploration of northern Australia. The first of these trees is an ironwood that was reportedly marked by Ludwig Leichhardt during his first expedition from Moreton Bay to Port Essington in 1844-45. The second tree is a coolibah marked by William Landsborough during his search for the missing Burke and Wills in 1862. The third is a boab tree marked by the explorer A. C. Gregory during the North Australia Exploring Expedition of 1855-56. Drawing on the results of fieldwork conducted at Borroloola, Burketown and Timber Creek since 2007, I highlight overlapping as well as divergent responses to these trees by local residents of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal descent, pointing to continuing struggle over the meaning of exploration, and colonisation, in northern Australia.

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Author Biography

Richard James Martin, The University of Queensland

Anthropology Research Fellow

University of Queensland Culture and Heritage Unit

School of Social Science