It belongs to me, I belong to it
A few years ago I revisited the Hopevale community in North Queensland with the intention of “repatriating” various sorts of materials – mostly photographs and films – from more than forty years of (discontinuous) research among Guugu Yimithirr-speaking people north of Cooktown. Taking as the central focus a short film about the traditional preparation of gambarr, a tar-like substance manufactured from the roots of the biniirr or ironbark tree and an essential traditional material for making spears and woomeras, I reflect on evolving and contested notions of land, kin, and ownership that surfaced in a disconcerting and unexpected way during that journey. The film is based on a compilation of photographs and audio commentaries from the 1970s and 1980s. Although at first the families of the now-deceased participants enthusiastically endorsed their elders’ desire that the knowledge they were trying to impart about making gambarr be widely shared among younger people, over the course of days of discussion and debate, the families concluded that instead the film ought not to be further disseminated or deposited in a shared community archive of traditional custom and practice. I try to untangle some of the contentious logic of such a decision.
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