chapter  7
19 Pages

Message Sticks and Indigenous Diplomacy

“Thomson’s Treaty” 1 —Brokering Peace on Australia’s Northern Frontier in the 1930s
WithLindy Allen

This chapter focuses on the historic meeting of Donald Thomson, the anthropologist and Wonggu Mununggurr, Djapu clan leader, in the history of Arnhem Land and Australia's northern frontier. Although Wonggu and Thomson struck a peace deal, an essentially unique event in Australia's history, it remains unresolved whether it can be considered a form of negotiated treaty between two nations or states. Thomson's meeting with Wonggu brings to a conclusion a series of events referred to as the 'Caledon Bay crisis'. Several historians have since credited the Caledon Bay crisis and the publicity surrounding it throughout the early 1930s as a key turning point in Australian race relations. Thomson applied his anthropological understandings and invoked Indigenous systems of diplomacy. Nevertheless, when Wonggu handed Thomson a message stick, the one with his own distinctive mark, he acknowledged Thomson's role as a messenger and gave sanctuary as he would to any messenger.