Indigenous lives and the Australian Dictionary of Biography

It has been more that 50 years since the first volume of the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) was published. Over that time the ADB has consolidated its reputation as the pre-eminent repository of Australia's story. It charts the lives of more than 12,000 individuals who lived during the first European exploration of Australia through to those who died in 1990. Yet, the ADB's inception was also a product of the 'great Australian silence', an era when Indigenous Australian people were largely overlooked by historians, who, as William Edward Hanley Stanner evocatively explained, constructed a partial view of Australia's past that excluded Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The legacy of this exclusion is that, today, Indigenous Australian people only represent 1.5% of all ADB entries, or 210 in total. Moreover, for the earlier period of 1788 to 1940, this drops to a mere 32, or only 0.4% of all entries.

The Australian Research Council supported project, 'An Indigenous Australian Dictionary of Biography', aims to redress this historic exclusion by working collaboratively with the ADB and both Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars to produce 190 new biographies of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and increase the inclusion rate to a more representative 3%.

In this lecture, Dr Shino Konishi will chart how the ADB has addressed Indigenous lives in the past, and draw on other national dictionaries of biography for insights into new conceptions and practices of Indigenous biography. This analysis will suggest new directions for how we might produce a more inclusive ADB in the future, which is more attentive to Indigenous perspectives, interests, and cultural considerations.

Dr Shino Konishi is an historian in the School of Humanities and School of Indigenous Studies at the University of Western Australia, and the lead Chief Investigator on the Australian Research Council project, 'An Indigenous Australian Dictionary of Biography', with Dr Malcolm Allbrook and Professor Tom Griffiths. Her publications include The Aboriginal Male in the Enlightenment World (2012), and the co-edited collections Indigenous Intermediaries: New Perspectives on the Exploration Archive (2015) and Brokers and Boundaries: Colonial Exploration in Indigenous Territory (2016). She is a descendant of the Yawuru people of Broome, Western Australia.