Author(s): Martin Thomas
The Many Worlds of R.H. Mathews is about the life and work of the renowned 19th century surveyor turned ethnologist, R.H. Mathews, whose studies of Aboriginal Australia were path-breaking and quite controversial. His childhood in Goulburn meant that he grew up with Aboriginal children as playmates, so when he began his obsession with documenting Aboriginal life, he came to his subject with fond familiarity, not the freakshow interest that spurred many of the English anthropologists of the time, especially Baldwin Spencer, who went out of his way to discredit Mathews' work, especially after his death. Largely due to this conspiracy, Mathews has been a reasonably unknown figure in early anthropology, but his legacy and work have been reassessed and he is emerging as one of our most important documentors of Aboriginal language, legends and mythology. So important, in fact, that it is his legacy of papers, interpretations and documents, held largely in the National Library of Australia, that is being used by contemporary Aboriginal people to rejuvenate their culture. Martin's approach to his subject is not conventional biography, but something more ambitious and unusual, and one perfectly tuned to the revelations it contains.
Martin Thomas is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow in the School of History at the Australian National University. He is the author of the acclaimed and award-winning The Artificial Horizon: Imagining the Blue Mountains.