Unusual couples: Relationships and research on the knowledge frontier

Wednesday, 29 May 2002
Peter Sutton

Peter Sutton's 2002 Wentworth Lecture pays tribute to intellectual partnerships in the history of Australian Indigenous studies, with a particular focus on four pairs of research collaborators who figure prominently:  Biraban and Lancelot Threlkeld, Mahkarolla and Lloyd Warner, Billy Mammus and Ursula McConnel, and Smiler Durmugam and William Stanner. 

Researchers frequently make it clear how dependent their own work has been on the engagement, intelligence and commitment of the key people from whom they learned, and also, at times, on the systematising capacity of their teachers. Sutton's focus here is not on these individuals as representatives of large collectivities such as coloniser and colonised, or black and white, but as pairs of individuals whose relationships were usually complex, may have been at times emotionally intense, and often had an impact on both individuals over a long period. 

In recent decades the old division of labour between indigenous subject and non-indigenous investigator has begun to fade. Nevertheless it is more or less inevitable that differences of power, of culture and, at times, of gender are woven into these stories in ways that will become apparent, and relevant perhaps to any social research situation between individuals.