Deep Timetable: A Noongar Rail History

The invisible history of Indigenous peoples and Country in building Australia’s rail infrastructure is slowly being recognised. Noongar Country – south-western Western Australia – has been profoundly impacted by such development. Railway development was one of the early technologies foundational to colonial expansion, lands were appropriated for tracks, sidings and stations with the rock, water and trees used to create the physical infrastructure. Noongar labour was vital to the building of the railways and Noongar social history is intertwined with the railways.

Yet this story has never been told and it is a story that Noongar community wishes to be heard. This project, auspiced by the Noongar community, will clarify the impact of the railway on Noongar people and Country. Working closely with Noongar knowledge custodians, the project aims to reconstruct the hitherto overlooked history using a Noongar narrative framework – where storytelling actively maps Country and kinship relations – to plot the relationship with the emergent rail network.  The project aims to help mature an understanding of the foundational relationship between infrastructure development and Indigenous peoples and Country.

The project is funded by the Australia Research Council, is conducted in collaboration with the Wadjuk and Gnaala Karla Booja communities, and with Metronet (PTA WA). The PhD scholarship is provided to the project by RMIT University.

PhD role outline

The PhD project is to develop an analysis of the relationship between Noongar Country and the development of the railways. While the candidate will have some scope to develop the methodology and approach, we anticipate that at least part of the research will use archival records that help show the historical development of the railways.

The wider Deep Timetable project has been collecting oral histories with Noongar participants, under Noongar leadership as well as an archival history of Noongar labour on the railways. The PhD research will complement this work and help develop a spatial and historical mapping of how the railways were instrumental in colonisation and the reorganisation of Noongar social life.

The PhD will suit someone with training in disciplines such as history, geography, social anthropology, critical Indigenous studies. The PhD will need to have a well developed ability to think and analyse in spatial and geographical terms and strong textual analysis skills. The PhD project will involve considerable archival data, and therefore the preferred candidate will need to have the skills to manage a large textual dataset in a sensitive manner following Noongar-established protocols.

Further details:

  • PhD stipend for 3 years and tuition fee waiver scholarship (RMIT provided)
  • 3 years duration
  • Supervised by Professor Libby Porter and Professor Paul Carter

Eligibility requirements:

  • A Noongar or Aboriginal candidate is strongly preferred.
  • Ability to work in a culturally competent and safe way with Noongar community
  • Ability to access, interpret and analyse historical archival records
  • Ability to work creatively and analytically with those records to deliver a sensitive analysis of the relationship between railway development and colonisation
  • Strong understanding or ability to grasp the dispossessory role of urban infrastructure and the implications of that for contemporary community
  • Satisfy RMIT University’s Doctor of Philosophy entry requirements
  • Have a first-class Honours or Masters degree in a relevant discipline with a major thesis component, or an equivalent level of research or community-based experience
  • International applications must meet the minimum English language requirements

How to apply:

Please submit the following documents directly to Professor Libby Porter via email at libby.porter@rmit.edu.au :

  • Cover letter outlining your interest and alignment with the proposed research, statement of understanding of working in accordance with Noongar protocols and respect for Noongar knowledge, and addressing the eligibility criteria
  • Copy of academic transcripts
  • CV including the names of two referees

For further information, contact Professor Libby Porter at libby.porter@rmit.edu.au