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30 July 2004

The unknown stories of intermarriage, domesticity and the acts of cooperation — and conflict — that form the global frontier experience will be revealed in a ground-breaking conference at the National Museum of Australia next week.

Narrating Frontier Families in Australia and North America on 4-5 August brings together leading international scholars to explore frontiers stretching from the America and the Arctic Circle to Australia and Fiji.

'Television programs like Frontier House and now Outback House show a public hunger for historical insight, yet we know so little about the families of the real frontier,' said Professor Ann McGrath, former National Museum curator, now Director of the ANU's Australian Centre for Indigenous History.

'Here's a chance to hear startling insider stories about the women, their families and the diversity of frontier experiences. They stretch well beyond any TV show or what we read about violent frontier conflict between Aboriginal people and settlers or cowboys and Indians.'

The Frontier Families two-day symposium is a collaboration between Yale University, the National Museum of Australia, Australian National University and Charles Darwin University.

Ms McGrath said this was the first time these leading US scholars had visited Australia to exchange stories firsthand with Aboriginal elders. The group travels to the Northern Territory after the symposium to research traditional storytelling through music, song and dance.

Margo Neale, director of the National Museum's indigenous programs said the symposium and week-long study tour also extended frontier understanding for our cultural institutions.

'The National Museum's First Australians Gallery looks at co-existence and frontier conflict, but we're seeking to broaden the story, to be more inclusive and challenge the very definition of the frontier and who was involved,' said Ms Neale.

Key speakers at the Canberra symposium include:

  • Professor Clara Sue Kidwell, Director of Native American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, on the southern Choctaw Indian women as cultural mediators;
  • Professor Nancy Shoemaker, leading historian of the Cherokee and native American women, on the American whaling industry in the Pacific;
  • Clinical psychologist Michael Kral on rising suicide rates among Canadian Inuit;
  • Professor Jay Gitlin, Deputy Director of Yale's Lamar Centre for the Study of Frontiers and Borders, and a professional musician, on frontier music and art.

The Australian speakers include Dr Tom Griffiths with tales from Antarctica, Dr Gordon Briscoe on half-caste policy and Professor Ann Curthoys on frontier nation-building.

Bookings for the free symposium on 02 6208 5021 or

For interviews, a full program or more information please contact Public Affairs Director Martin Portus on 02 6208 5351, 0409 916 481 or

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