Research Stream


Robyn Heckenberg (2016)
Curtin University

The Emotions of Connection and Alienation: An Emotional and Spiritual Reflection of Place

This ongoing research project, which has received substantial support from CHE to review Indigenous story and archival sources, examines the significant position of mission settlements in the cultural lives and kinship relations of Aboriginal Australians from the first missions in colonial Australia to their influence today on the sentiments and emotions of Aboriginal people and communities. 

Yabbies (Gauche) by Robyn Heckenberg 2012 - cropped and rotated

The study will explore the emotions of Hope and Faith within the communities who lived on the mission, as engendered through Christian belief and as portrayed by strong links to the Land. The study will look as well at the sentiments and feelings of Aboriginal people during a time when physical and emotional resilience bore witness to social upheaval and the stress of uncertainty. Yet in these instances clans and tribal groups sought refuge from missions who offered a safe place from impinging white expansion.

Within this framework, Robyn has accessed the collection of historical documents at St Mark’s National Theological Centre (Canberra), searched Aboriginal depictions of mission life within literary and biographical texts and encountered memories through oral history. Her work continues through art practice creating visual representations of mission life, expressing the emotions of connection or alienation, and resilience.

The research is also based on site visits to mission locations, recognising the significance of place and the feelings and responses engendered. This research element creates spontaneity through emotional and spiritual reflection of place and ancestral connection.  

This project is still building as it discusses loftier questions arising through the research of emotions and feelings regarding Place and Country.

Image: Yabbies (Gauche), by Robyn Heckenberg, 2012. Copyright Robyn Heckenberg. Used with permission.