Past Event


Negative Reciprocity or taking what’s yours? Aboriginal economic engagements 1830-1920

5 February 2015 17:00–18:30

Fulton B Lecture Theatre,
University of Sussex, Falmer,

Across Australia Aboriginal men and women are grossly over represented in the criminal justice system. While the overall prisoner population of Australia has steadily decreased, for over a decade the numbers of Indigenous prisoners has grown.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Indigenous Australians are over 15 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-indigenous Australians. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders make up one quarter of all prisoners, yet they are only 2.5% of the general population. A myriad of reasons are offered for these shocking and shameful statistics, however few seem to read the historical trajectory of colonialism as a factor.

In this Sussex Development Lecture, Lynette Russell will consider early to mid-nineteenth century moments of Aboriginal theft and begging. She will argue a kind of economic engagement that the colonists and authorities misunderstood as recidivism and criminality. European colonisation of southeastern Australia brought Aboriginal people into contact with a vast array of new material culture items. These were often first introduced via ‘gift giving’ and exchange introduced in an attempt to create and cement social alliances.

Many Aboriginal people engaged in the new economy including the cash economy via trade and exchange, employment and what the European’s described as begging. For the most part such engagements have not been systematically studied or analysed. Lynette Russell will argue that this was far from a mere opportunistic strategy for the acquisition of money, food and other, but was perceived by the Kulin as a viable, justifiable form of economic engagement—a kind of reciprocity for what they had lost.

About the speaker

Lynette Russell is an Australian Research Council Professorial Fellow (2011-2016) and Director of the Monash Indigenous Centre (Archaeology, Anthropology and History). For 2012-13 she was Creative Fellow at the State Library of Victoria. She is widely published in the areas of history, post-colonialism, indigenous or native studies and representations of race. Her current work is in the area of anthropological and post- colonial history.

She is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences of Australia and an elected fellow of both the Royal Anthropological Institute (London) and the Royal Historical Society (UK). She is currently vice president of the Australian History Association. In 2015 she will be visiting fellow at All Souls College, Oxford. She has written, co-authored or edited ten monographs and numerous articles and book chapters.

Her books include:

  • Roving Mariners: Aboriginal Whalers, in the southern oceans 1790-1870 (2012)
  • Boundary Writing: living across the boundaries of race, sex and gender (2006)
  • Appropriated Pasts: Archaeology and Indigenous People in Settler Colonies (2005)
  • A Little Bird Told Me (2002)
  • Colonial Frontiers: Cross-cultural interactions in Settler Colonies (2001) 
  • Savage Imaginings: historical and contemporary representations of Australian Aboriginalities (2001)

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Key contacts

Hannah Corbett

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+44 (0)1273 915640


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