“When doing archaeological research, it is essential that local Aboriginal communities are deeply involved in defining the questions and how the research is to be done before it can even begin, because it is their story that is going to be told.”
For Professor Bruno David, studying the Aboriginal past represents “more than history; it is about telling community stories today”. Having closely worked for decades with Indigenous communities in Victoria and beyond, Professor David is deeply motivated to tell the stories that communities would like to reveal to the broader world. Some of those stories had long been lost, others forgotten, and others, at times, hidden.
Bruno’s work focuses on how places are important to people: we all grow up and live in places rich in experiences, our own, those of friends and family, and of the ancestors. When communities approach Bruno to work with them to reveal the stories that those places may hold, it is not just a linear history that he is asked to tell. Rather, it is one that moves in and out between past and present and future, between things that can be told and other things that need to be retained within the community. These are locally and globally meaningful stories that navigate through the complexities of life as revealed through archaeology. The stories are not just stories of the past; they are experiences for the world to hear.
Telling other people’s stories comes with responsibilities. First and foremost is honesty, and transparency. And telling the stories together, in partnership with those whose stories are told, is fundamental to make sure the stories are told in culturally appropriate ways. This includes being upfront about the mix of capabilities needed to tackle research issues, what kinds of expertise are needed when putting a team together to do the research, and drawing on the talents of the community in an appropriate, ethical way. He recognises his own limits as a researcher – any one individual is but one member of a research team – and being faithful to the notion that when invited to work on Aboriginal Country, on other people’s homelands, the community is the host and he is a guest.
Based in the Monash Indigenous Studies Centre, Professor David feels fortunate to draw on the deep expertise of other colleagues. He has long realised that the best kind of research involves many people, of different skills, each with their strengths and weaknesses. Working together to bring the best of people, mentoring along the way, is fundamental to good research. In addition to community members, other researchers in projects Bruno works on usually involve other specialists from Monash University, other researchers from around Australia and overseas. He highlights the value of respectful team work: “to form great teams without undue pressure is a wonderful dimension of the Monash research ethos.”
Working with and for communities who wish to apply archaeological methods and expertise on social issues of the day is a privilege for Professor David. Enhancing the Monash Indigenous Studies Centre’s capacity to research in partnership with communities is at the forefront is something Bruno is actively conscious of, and towards this end he is keenly engaged with mentoring both university students and community members, such as rangers, on-Country. Questions such as how can we be more personalised in our approach to the training of future Indigenous scholars, both within the university and within communities, are at the top of his mind.
Professor Bruno David,
Monash Indigenous Studies Centre - Faculty of Arts