Reclaiming Performance Under Assimilation is a collaborative project funded as an Australian Research Council Discovery Project. It has uncovered a largely hidden and dispersed history of ongoing Aboriginal cultural engagement, political mobilisation, and reclamation through performance.

In this project, our multidisciplinary team - musicologists, linguists, dance historians, digital humanists, curators, artists and cultural historians - are remapping the 'long' Assimilation era (1935-75) by excavating, curating, and mobilising a corpus of public cultural records of the period. We are augmenting this corpus with present-day interpretations and responses from personal archives, oral histories, exhibitions and creative works. Focusing on urban and regional networks in south-eastern Australia, we are re-evaluating the artistic legacy of public performances by Aboriginal people (music, dance and associated cultural practices) to reclaim these rich and hybrid histories for broad cultural benefit. The dates 1935-1975 encompass key political events leading up to the official adoption of Assimilation as government policy in 1937 through to the introduction of the Racial Discrimination Act in 1975.

This project is producing a performance-centred account of the Assimilation period. Throughout this period, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people responded innovatively and insistently to assimilationist policy in order to maintain, enliven and develop their culture and its diversity and reach, and to build networks across the country to mobilise a pan-Aboriginal identity that could demand recognition. This study provides a new lens for considering how the cultural agency exercised by Aboriginal people came to be ignored in the twentieth century, ultimately leading to the deficit view of Aboriginal peoples and communities prevalent in government and public thinking. By investigating the unfolding of a resilient, dynamic and innovative Aboriginal resistance to the predicted decline of all things Indigenous in Australia, this project sheds new light on how, far from losing agency in their own lives, Aboriginal people resisted governments and their officials, laws and policies and the apathy of the wider public by continuing to perform their identity using uniquely Aboriginal forms of performative practice.

Explore visualisations of our research on these pages, including network maps showing the interconnectedness of performance networks, timelines, and mapping of events and places. The visualisations show networks of events and Indigenous performers in the southeast of Australia, and also show how these groups were connected with Aboriginal performers in the continent's far north.

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