Distinguished Professor Sue O’Connor ‘Art in the Bark: The Indigenous carved boab trees of northwest Australia’

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Thursday, 29 February 2024 - 12:30pm to 1:30pm
Distinguished Professor Sue O’Connor at field site
Distinguished Professor Sue O’Connor at field site

The Australian boab (Adansonia gregorii) is an iconic tree which is related to the baobabs of Africa and Madagascar.  Found only in a restricted area of northwest Australia, boab trees are instantly recognisable by their massive bottle-shaped trunks. Boabs are an important economic species for Indigenous Australians with the pith, seeds and young roots all eaten, and the bast of the roots used to make string. Less well known is that many of these trees are culturally significant and some were carved with images and symbols. This paper will look at the history of research on carved boab trees in northwest Australia and the results of recent fieldwork in pursuit of these rare trees

Sue is a Distinguished Professor in the College of Asia Pacific at the Australian National University. She is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. Sue’s research focuses on migration and colonization in the Indo-Pacific region. She is particularly interested in the cultural flexibility of modern humans and has contributed to our understanding of the colonisation of Island Southeast Asia and Australia. She has undertaken numerous research projects in Indonesia, Timor-Leste and in northern Australia in Arnhem Land and the Kimberley. Sue has a current ARC Special Research Initiative project Archives in Bark researching carved and inscribed boab trees in northwest Australia.  Sue has published more than 100 articles and five books including 30,000 Years of Aboriginal Occupation, Kimberley, Northwest Australia (1999), East of Wallace’s Line: Studies of Past and Present Maritime Cultures of the Indo-Pacific Region (2000) and The Archaeology of the Aru Islands, Eastern Indonesia (2005) and New Directions in Archaeological Science (2009).           

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