Ceremony Men: Making Ethnography and the Return of the Strehlow Collection cover

Shortlist year: 2021

Shortlist category: Australian history

Published by: State University of New York Press


'Ceremony Men' investigates the significance of one of Australia's greatest collections of Indigenous song, story, and ceremony—the collections of the linguist and anthropologist T. G. H. Strehlow. By critically interrogating Strehlow's collection in partnership with contemporary Arrernte and Anmatyerr people, the book challenges the centrality asserted by Strehlow in the making of 'his collection'. Gibson restores balance by highlighting the instrumental role played by the many Aboriginal people that guided and educated Strehlow over four decades and illuminates the depth of cultural knowledge maintained by their descendants.

About the author

Jason M Gibson

Jason M Gibson

Jason Gibson is an anthropologist and historian who has worked extensively with Aboriginal custodians throughout Australia on history, museum, and heritage related projects. He has contributed to some of the biggest and most important Australian repatriation and community engagement initiatives, including two public online repositories of Indigenous cultural heritage. He has served as a Repatriation Curator with the Melbourne Museum, taught Indigenous Studies at Monash University and is currently an Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Deakin University.

Judges’ comments

An old man in the Strehlow Research Centre at Alice Springs watches himself on film made years earlier by Strehlow. He quietly explains fine points of the ceremony and begins an excited conversation with his family. From the 1930s, Central Australian men invited Strehlow to record performances and gave and sold him ceremonial objects. They did this for their own reasons and the resulting collection is a collaborative effort. Decades later the author began journeying on country with Anmatyerr men through the film and recordings from the collection. Individuals recognised their fathers and places and the archive gained further meaning. Strehlow, born on country and fluent in local language, believed he was preserving a past. Anmatyerr responses to the archive reveal social memory and a living present. They assessed Strehlow as a 'high school' man, not a ceremonial leader. No one had earlier thought to ask 'the informants' what they thought of the anthropologist. The Ceremony Men are the ritual owners, experts in the complex relationships between people, place and Dreaming. Their tradition is dynamic. The 'beautiful and dangerous' archive has contemporary relevance. The museum-men may be integrated into ritual as ceremonial assistants sharing responsibility for this remarkable archive with the ritual experts.