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Flinders University

  • 19% international / 81% domestic

Thomas Habel

I grew up in Nhulunbuy, a remote community in the Northern Territory. It was in my childhood town where I was mesmerised by the stories of the tamarind trees (a native African tree) which managed to make it's way to the remotest part of North East Arnhem Land. The trees marked the locations of Macassan trepanging camps where seacumber fisherman lived and processed their catch, riding the monsoon winds south from Indonesia. These stories had a profound impact on me as a young child and I loved the trees' physical presence which seemed to whisper the history and interactions that occurred hundreds of years pre-colonisation. As a child eating the sweet and sour tamarind fruit I felt connected to something that was still relatively unknown by many Australians and wished to attach a greater understanding to that feeling.

Fast forward through five years of boarding school and another five years of university and I had graduated from the Queensland University of Technology in 2015 with a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Justice Studies. I was then admitted to the Supreme Court of Queensland as a lawyer in early 2016 following the completion of my practical legal training and an internship in the Queensland Land Court. My pre-admission internships exposed me to Indigenous land use agreements, mining leases and Native Title concepts.

Following my admission as a lawyer I decided to work in Beijing with my partner before knuckling down and getting a 'real job'. We spent eight months together teaching in a Beijing university and getting by on our scrappy Mandarin. For me the culmination of our adventure came during a fantastic backpacking tour of China. It was on the second last leg of our trip, in Shanghai, that we visited the C.Y Tung Maritime Museum. The museum had a display on Chinese maritime trade throughout South East Asia and featured some dried sea cucumber (possibly from near my home town). It was at this point that my interests finally interconnected and I discovered the path I wanted to pursue.

To date, archaeological studies of Macassan trade in Australia focuses primarily on the Macassans, their camps and tools. However, to my knowledge, there is a substantial gap in information about the product, its destination, its market and the concept of fishing rights granted by Indigenous land/sea owners to the Macassan fishermen.

With the emergence of Native Title claims in Australian waterways, most recently sea rights claimed by the Anindilyakwa people of Groote Eylandt, I believe research into pre-colonial trading and fishing systems and the application of these concepts to future Native Title cases will have incredible importance.

As a result of my interest I have commenced studying a Graduate Certificate of Maritime Archaeology at Flinders University. I am currently completing my third subject with the intention of enrolling in the masters program following my expected completion at the end of this year.