Making gambarr

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A few years ago I revisited the Hopevale community in North Queensland with the intention of &#8220;repatriating&#8221; various sorts of materials &#8211; mostly photographs and films &#8211; from more than forty years of (discontinuous) research among Guugu Yimithirr-speaking people north of Cooktown. Taking as the central focus a short film about the traditional preparation of <i>gambarr</i>, a tar-like substance manufactured from the roots of the <i>biniirr</i> or ironbark tree and an essential traditional material for making spears and woomeras, I reflect on evolving and contested notions of land, kin, and ownership that surfaced in a disconcerting and unexpected way during that journey. The film is based on a compilation of photographs and audio commentaries from the 1970s and 1980s. Although at first the families of the now-deceased participants enthusiastically endorsed their elders&#8217; desire that the knowledge they were trying to impart about making <i>gambarr</i> be widely shared among younger people, over the course of days of discussion and debate, the families concluded that instead the film ought not to be further disseminated or deposited in a shared community archive of traditional custom and practice. I try to untangle some of the contentious logic of such a decision.


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