Indigenous Australia

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Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

The Australian Indigenous Autobiography Archive

Why such an Archive?

The Australian Indigenous Autobiography Archive is an initiative of the University of Western Sydney, hosted by the National Centre for Biography, at the Australian National University. Using research funds granted by the University of Western Sydney to Tim Rowse, the project has employed Ms Elizabeth Watt since 2011. Under standardised headings developed by Tim Rowse, Ms Watt had summarised fifty Australian Indigenous Autobiographies by February 2014. More will be added.

Indigenous Australians write history in a number of genres. The genre that they have found most accessible, and in which they have been most prolific, is the story that each person has wanted to tell about their own life and times – autobiography. Some published stories have been facilitated by another person who has recorded and edited their words; other autobiographies are entirely the work of the autobiographer him or herself. These works are of great value to any person who is interested in Australia’s colonial past and in Indigenous Australian perspectives on that past.  There is a small but growing scholarly literature about Australian Indigenous autobiographies. However, scholarly historians of Australia have hardly begun to make use of Indigenous Autobiographies as evidence or as a source of perspectives on the past that are not found in other written sources.

We have established the Australian Indigenous Autobiography Archive in the hope that it will alert any person who is interested in Australia’s past to the richness of this genre of historical writing. Each item is a summary (written by Watt, edited by Rowse) of an autobiography written by an Indigenous Australian. We do not present these summaries as substitutes for reading the works themselves. Rather, we offer the summaries as invitations to read particular works whose region, period and themes are of interest to any person who is curious about the Indigenous construction of the past. This digital Archive is a thematic map of the genre.     

Using the Australian Indigenous Autobiography Archive

The Australian Indigenous Autobiography Archive sits within the ‘Indigenous Australia’ website, and as a user of ‘Indigenous Australia’ you may search either within the entire ‘Indigenous Australia’ site or confine your search to the Australian Indigenous Autobiography Archive.

Start at the ‘Indigenous Australia’ page, and click on ‘advanced search’. Then click on ‘projects’. You will see a box Australian Indigenous Autobiography Archive. If you tick this box then your subsequent searches will be restricted to the Archive.

The summarised autobiographies are structured according to a standard set of sub-headings:



Birth date

Birth place

First language

Significant localities

Experiences of education

Experiences of employment

Important Institutions

Salient laws and policies

Physical and mental health

Relationship with parents

Relationship with partners

Relationships with children

Experiences of Religion

Important/influential figures


Mode of literary production

You may wish to search within the Australian Indigenous Autobiography Archive by using the above terms as your search phrase (e.g. ‘Experiences of religion’). This will allow you to gather page references, quotations and brief paraphrases that have been stored under this heading, across a growing set of autobiographical works. To go back to a wider search, within the entire ‘Indigenous Australia’ site, return to ‘projects’ and de-select the Australian Indigenous Autobiography Archive.

We advise you not to treat your access to these paraphrases and quotations as substitutes for reading the book itself. Rather, we hope that you will use the results of your searches as doorways; within these books there are materials richer than the summaries can convey.