Bronwyn Shepherd


Bronwyn recently completed her PhD, and is now an Affiliate member of CHRG.

Making a Mission space: The early years at the Milingimbi Methodist Mission, 1923-1943.


The arrival of Methodist missionaries in North East Arnhem Land in the early twentieth century drew Yolŋu of Milingimbi into new and expanding networks of people and places. These had enduring implications for Yolŋu.  Through a critical reading of the colonial-generated archive, I argue that the mission, as a physical, cultural and relational space, emerged during the first twenty years out of encounters between missionaries and Yolŋu that were co-produced but still hierarchical. This research contributes to the historical scholarship outlining the complexity of Indigenous-settler relations in settler colonial contexts by drawing on anthropological frameworks to attend to the multiple and intersecting ways that people connected with the mission space. In doing so, it allows for a deeper understanding of the adjustments, accommodations and resistance by Yolŋu as they negotiated the establishment of missions on their lands.

  • What first sparked your interest in your field and how has that interest lead you to topic of research?

    Having lived in places like Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu where there are obvious and ongoing everyday links with their entangled mission and colonising history, I was prompted to think about this in relation to the place I call home. I am interested in the ways European Christian Missions formed and were formed through the colonisation of Australia’s Aboriginal people and their lands. The Methodist missions in Arnhem Land are particularly interesting as they are strongly linked with the expansions of missions across the Pacific region, yet they developed through the local political economy and the transforming policies governing the lives of Australia’s Aboriginal peoples. I am particularly interested in the emergent intercultural space formed through sustained interactions and negotiations across differences, cultures, ideas and meaning makings, that were taking place on and around the Methodist missions in Arnhem Land.

  • Why did you pursue a PhD?

    A PhD allowed me the time and resources to pursue in detail the different archival holdings spread across diverse institutions and to develop structures for analysis.

  • What has been the highlight of your candidature so far?

    By far, a highlight of my candidature was visiting Milingimbi and engaging with people there about their interactions with mission days. This was the most important aspect of my research, as it continued to ground what I was reading in the archive with the expressions and experiences of real people today whose daily lives continue to be affected by the various ways they and their ancestors have been represented by visitors to their place.

  • Imagine an ideal world with no constraints. What would you be doing with your HDR/where would your HDR take you?

    The Methodist missionaries at Milingimbi produced enormous amounts of narratives and commentaries about Yolŋu worlds. I would ideally love to spend more time at Milingimbi, exploring ways to make this material more accessible to Yolŋu and more conversational with Yolŋu commentary in relation to this mission generated material. I also would like to see and be involved in developing mission history, taught in its complexity, as significant for understanding Australia’s history.

  • What do you do when you’re not working on your HDR?

     I take every chance I get, outside thesis and family duties, to be out in my veggie garden or walking in bushland.

  • If you could research another area/field/topic outside of your current area/field/topic, what would you research?

    I am deeply interested in relational spaces and so would love to extend my research, someday, into more-than-human/animal intercultural spaces.

  • Writing is big part in the HDR process. Do you have any rituals that help you get in the writing mood/vibe/mindset?

    My deepest and best thinking is done away from the computer, mostly when I am outside walking.

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