Prestigious award for Laura Rademaker for work on Indigenous and mission history

Historian Dr Laura Rademaker has been named one of four recipients of the 2021 Paul Bourke Awards for Early Career Research by the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia – a prestigious academic award.

The Paul Bourke Awards for Early Career Research honour Australians in the early part of their career who have achieved excellence in scholarship in one or more fields of the social sciences. The Awards comprise a Citation and Medallion presented to each recipient.

“Laura Rademaker is a leading historian of Indigenous Australia, with an outstanding research record encompassing religious, gender and deep history. Her book Found in Translation: Many Meanings on a North Australian Mission, based on doctoral research into the Anindilyakwa-speaking peoples on Groote Eylandt, explores the roles of linguistic translation and mis-translation in the settler colonial project,” the award reads.

Focussed on the Northern Territory, Rademaker works closely with Indigenous communities.

“I’ve discovered such a richness of stories and wealth of history through working with communities – and building relationships with people, I’ve found, gives a real depth to history,” Rademaker says in her award acceptance video.

“I’m passionate about collaborative history – working closely with communities to gain new insights about Australia’s past.”

The historian is highly esteemed both within the Christian and secular space for her innovative approach to unearthing Australian history.

“I’m passionate about collaborative history – working closely with communities to gain new insights about Australia’s past.”

“When I first started my research I began with doing oral histories with communities in the Norther Territory and that was great, but I found it wasn’t enough. I’ve become increasingly collaborative in the way that I’ve worked, involving communities in the very design of the research, through to the research process and the creation of disseminating the research outputs,” she says.

Rademaker brings the insights gained from these oral testimonies together with a detailed examination of the archival records of Christian missions, looking in particular at translation projects. In 2019, Rademaker’s book Found in Translation (University of Hawai’i Press, 2018) was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s history awards.

Found in Translation, which explores the Anindilyakwa people’s interactions with Christian missionaries on Groote Eylandt in the mid-1900s around translation projects, received high praise from the judges.

“Functioning both as a metaphor and a focus for concrete historical investigation, Rademaker’s interest in translation proves an inspired choice,” the judges wrote. The book was also awarded the awarded the 2020 Hancock Prize.

The Bible in Buffalo Country: Oenpelli Mission 1925-1931 (ANU Press, 2020), another book co-authored by Rademaker with Sally K. May, Donna Nadjamerrek and Julie Narndal Gumurdul, was awarded this year’s Chief Minister’s History Award.

“I think the story is really one of resilience of Aboriginal people, the way Aboriginal communities were able to withstand so much change, the way Aboriginal people were able to take what was good in what colonisers offered and reject what they didn’t find useful, but were able to integrate changes into their community and reject the rest,” Laura told Eternity’s Anne Lim in August.

“I think it tells a really complex story about the missionaries. I don’t like stories which had the missionaries as heroes or had the missionaries as villains; they are very complex people. They had a complex and sometimes contradictory agenda. I find that really fascinating.”

Rademaker is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Centre for Indigenous History at Australian National University. At present, she is contributing to the Deep Human Past project, seeking to tell Australia’s ‘deep’ history and expand notions of history and the past. She is also working on a book about the Tiwi Islands and Aboriginal encounters with Catholicism as well as researching the closing of Christian missions, secularisation and Indigenous self-determination.

She is co-editor of the Journal of Religious History and associate monographs editor for Aboriginal history Monographs.