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Indigenous sport and heritage: Cherbourg’s Ration Shed Museum

I am pleased to announce the online publication of Indigenous sport and heritage: Cherbourg’s Ration Shed Museum by Murray Phillips and Gary Osmond of the University of Queensland, and Sandra Morgan of the Cherbourg Historical Precinct District.This paper is part of the special “Sport, Heritage, and Tourism” issue of the Journal of Heritage Tourism, available in its entirety this autumn.

From the abstract:

So much has been lost about the culture of Australia’s Indigenous people. Their languages, traditions and heritage were dissipated under the process of white colonization from 1788. This paper investigates the actions of the people from Cherbourg, an Aboriginal settlement in southeast Queensland, Australia, to reclaim their culture, identity and heritage. The focus is specifically on the Ration Shed Museum (RSM), which officially opened in Cherbourg in 2004. The RSM is a particular type of Indigenous museum, a community museum, in which those who curate the museum are simultaneously its subjects. Through a combination of ideas drawn from new museology, critical heritage and cultural geography, the relationships between the three buildings of the museum – the Ration Shed, the Superintendent’s Office and the Boys’ Dormitory – and the displays of sport are examined via the voices of Cherbourg people. The buildings evoke stories of surveillance, discipline, punishment and control and, in many ways, sport mirrors these features of life at Cherbourg. Importantly, however, sport functioned in a parallel capacity by creating identity: sporting achievements were symbols of pride, resilience and hope for Indigenous people.

My thoughts on the paper, from the forthcoming editorial:

Phillips, Osmond and Morgan use sport heritage – this time, at a museum – as a means of revealing heritage as both a tool for collective pride and as an instrument for challenging dominant narratives. Many sport heritage narratives, particularly at museums and halls of fame, are about remembering great sporting achievements and, in this, the Ration Shed Museum is no different. However, the role of sporting achievement takes on a much broader social and political context at the Ration Shed Museum, given the history of Aboriginal athletes in Australia. Similarly, sporting achievement in this case also becomes a tool for challenging stereotypes and, as such, these sport heritage narratives provide an even more potent form of inspiration. However, the capacity for heritage to reflect both positive and negative legacies (Lowenthal, 1998; Smith, 2006) is tested here, as the “sport heritage” displayed at the Ration Shed Museum was also about anguish and humiliation. The authors aptly employ James’ (2013) Beyond a Boundary to this case, revealing that sport – and, perhaps by extension, sport heritage – is a tool for both liberation and subjugation. Perhaps most importantly, these mixed sporting legacies are given a voice, reflecting the wider concern of “whose heritage” is being told and to what end (Hall, 2008). The tourism question is left somewhat ambiguous by the authors, and one has to wonder to what extent sport will be used in the on-going promotion of the site, and whether tourists seek out the museum based on its association with sport. Similarly, will there be any tension between the cultural and economic ends of this museum (Graham, Ashworth & Tunbridge, 2000), given that many museums that employ sport, as Vamplew (1998) reminds us, are unabashedly commercial.

I am very pleased that this paper is part of the special issue, as I believe it helps move the sport heritage debate into some new and much needed areas.


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