Dr Lester Richard Hiatt
(1931-2008) (aka Les Hiatt) was a scholar of Australian Aboriginal societies
who promoted Australian Aboriginal studies within both the academic world and within the wider public for almost 50 years.. He is now regarded as having been one of Australia
's foremost anthropologists
Primary Ethnographic Research
The part of Australia where Dr Hiatt did most of his primary, detailed ethnographic fieldwork is in, and around, Maningrida, in the Northern Territory's Arnhem Land.
From the late 1950s (at which time the Australian Aboriginal community of Maningrida was first being formed and gazetted as a township), Dr Les Hiatt spent more than 45 years, of and on, researching, learning and recording the views, language, songs, stories, understandings, and practices of the Burarra or Gidjingarli language speakers.
It was here at Maningrida that Les developed some of his deepest, most persevering research relationships, producing at least one film and a book in memory of Frank Gurrmanamana, one of the 'informants' with whom he worked most closely.
Institutional Reforms and Change
Institutional assistance and support for 'Aboriginalist' scholarship (studies into Australian Aboriginal societies) has improved from that time when Dr Hiatt first started his own studies, and he has since been attributed with playing an important role assisting and supporting this reforms (particularly during the Whitlam and Fraser governments, with the early establishment of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
Contributions to Australian Anthropology
In addition to Dr Hiatt's detailed ethnographic records and works, there is a substantial body of written works inquiring into, questioning and sometimes challenging some of the more conventionally 'received' anthropological knowledges held by academia and the general public about Australian Aboriginal peoples. (Some of these works are identified and briefly annotated below)
Significantly, for instance, Dr Hiatt effectively challenged the previously conventional understanding that patrilineal descentis the primary social organisational principle applying across all Aboriginal Australians (a 'knowledge' inherited from the work of British social anthropologist, Professor Alfred Radcliffe-Brown)
In 1982, the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (RAI) awarded it's annual ethnographic film prize to a film ('Waiting for Harry') recorded at Manigrida, within which Dr Hiatt played a key role (both in its filming, and as an 'actor' within the film)
Annotated Sample of Works
- HIATT, L.R (1985) "Aboriginal land ownership'". Current affairs bulletin. Volume 62. Number 3. Pages 17- 23.
- Examines methods of determining traditional ownership of land, with reference to Gidjingarli people; discusses applicability of Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 as a model for State Governments.
- HIATT, L.R & JONES, Rhys (1988) "Aboriginal conceptions of the workings of nature" in R.W. Home (Ed) Australian science in the making. Cambridge University Press. cambridge, England. Pages 1 - 21.
- Deals with Aboriginal conceptions of the workings of nature, including archaeological evidence; dicussing plants, animals, totemism, magic, magical use of songs; Manikay songs, Gidjingarli, Aranda, Arnhem Land.
- HIATT, L.R (1996) Arguments about Aborigines: Australia and the evolution of social anthropology. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, United Kingdom.
- "Gives a history of Aboriginal anthropology examined through debates about aspects of traditional culture; cultural and political background to the development of anthropology; models of Aboriginal land ownership - definition of clan and horde; effects of land claims and native title recognition; kinship and marriage systems - problem of group marriage; definition of the family; marriage relations; the place of women - bestowal; role of womens ritual - love magic; sexuality and gender; theories of social evolution and control; political organisation - autonomy and hierarchy; high gods (Baiame, Wonjina, Rainbow Serpent) - totemism and cosmology; conception beliefs; incest taboo - mother-in-law avoidance and sister antagonism; interpretation of ritual (the Kulama of the Tiwi); initiation"
- GURRMANAMANA, Frank, HIATT L.R, McKENZIE, Kim (2002) People of the Rivermouth: The Joborr texts of Frank Gurrmanamana Aboriginal Studies Press. Canberra.
- "..arguably the most comprehensive work ever produced on a single Australian Aboriginal group. It is the result of a four-decade long relationship between the Anbarra people of the Blyth River in northern Arnhem Land and leading scholars from various fields of research.
- The book and CD-ROM are based on twenty extraordinary texts created by Frank Gurrmanamana in 1960 to explain to anthropologist Les Hiatt the protocols and etiquette of Anbarra society. They follow an imagined life from birth through boyhood, to marriage and death."
- HIATT, L.R. (2001) "It seemed an interesting career to follow" in Geoffry Gray (Ed) Before it's too late: anthropological reflections, 1950-1970. Oceania Monograph 51, University of Sydney. Pages 108-116.
- CROWN CONTENT (2005) Who's Who in Australia. Cown Content. Melbourne: see L.R. Hiatt's entry.