Mr Myles Mitchell

PhD scholar

Topic or working title

‘The Esperance Nyungars, at the Frontier: an archaeological investigation of mobility, aggregation and identity in late-Holocene Aboriginal society, Western Australia.’

Abstract or summary

This thesis documents the results of an Aboriginal community-based archaeological research project in the Esperance region, southern Western Australia. It is based on analysis of rock art, stone arrangements and flaked stone artefacts. The aim is to understand the role of the study sites – Belinup and Marbaleerup – within patterns of movement that underpinned society and economy in this region during the late-Holocene. The research explores concepts of identity (Jones 1997; Meskell and Preucel 2004) relating to the local Esperance Nyungar people, and the broader Noongar and Western Desert cultural blocs. It has been suggested that negotiations over territory, law and identity during the recent past were directly related to the expansion of the Western Desert cultural bloc (Gibbs and Veth 2002), which situates the study area at a dynamic frontier of cultural change. The results demonstrate the inherent dynamism in Aboriginal society in southern Western Australia and highlight a historical legacy to the processes of cultural change underpinning Esperance Nyungar identity today. Those processes predate the colonial interruption, and continue into the post-Native Title era. This leads to a discussion and critique of the Native Title system, which often neglects to acknowledge the nuanced realities of Aboriginal societies and the inherent mutability of identity and connections across time and space. It is argued that the internal social dynamics of Aboriginal society are an important part of identity, as people continually negotiate who they are and how they relate to people and places. This constant process of identity-making is a fundamental part of Aboriginal culture and society now and into the distant past.

Panel members and positions

Primary Supervisor / Panel Chair:
Associate Professor Cressida Fforde, Deputy Director of NCIS.


  • Dr Moya Smith, Head of Department of Anthropology & Archaeology, Western Australian Museum.
  • Dr Alex Mackay, Senior Lecturer Centre for Archaeological Science, University of Wollongong.


Myles Mitchell works as a consultant and research archaeologist specialising in Indigenous community-based archaeology. Maintaining a focus on contemporary culture, identity and values within custodian communities, Myles combines a background in archaeology with skills in facilitation, project management, community liaison, anthropology and natural resource management. Myles’s focus is on working towards an archaeology that is socially and culturally relevant to custodian communities as well as being academically rigorous, and solutions-oriented for cultural heritage management.

Research outputs: most recent

  • Mitchell, Myles, 'Stone arrangements as symbols: a theoretical and methodological approach in Esperance Nyungar country, Western Australia', in: C. Bird, M.B. Mitchell, A. Ross and F. Hook (eds.), The Archaeology of Australian Aboriginal Stone Arrangements, Access Archaeology Series, Archaeopress, Oxford (forthcoming) pp:xxx. BOOK CHAPTER.
  • Gunn, R.G.; Mitchell, Myles; Webb, E., 'The rock art of Marbaleerup and its place in the art traditions of Southwest Western Australia', Rock Art Research, Archaeological Publications, Vol.34 (forthcoming) pp:xxxx. JOURNAL ARTICLE.
  • Guilfoyle, David; Mitchell, Myles, 'Compliance-based archaeological heritage management and place-based participatory mapping for negotiated outcomes', Australian Archaeology, Australian Archaeological Association, Vol.80, 2015, pp:80-90. JOURNAL ARTICLE.
  • Guilfoyle, David; Mitchell, Myles; Webb, Wayne, 'Identity and culturally defined methods of adaptation amongst the Wadandi people of Southwestern Australia', in: P.F. Biehl, D.C. Comer, C. Prescott, H.A. Soderland (eds.), Identity and Heritage: Contemporary Challenges in a Globalized World, Springer International Publishing, Heidelberg, New York, 2015, pp:85-96. BOOK CHAPTER.
  • Mitchell, Myles, 'The Archaeology of Australia’s Deserts', review of The Archaeology of Australia’s Deserts by Mike Smith (ed.), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K., 22 September 2014, pp:498-499. LITERARY REVIEW.
  • Guilfoyle, David; Mitchell, Myles; Morgan, Catherine; Coyne, Harley; Gillies, Vernice, 'Exploring the role of archaeology within Indigenous natural resource management: A case study from Western Australia', in: S. Brockwell, S. O’Connor and D. Byrne (eds.), Transcending the Culture–Nature Divide in Cultural Heritage (Terra Australis), ANU Press, The Australian National University, Acton ACT 2601, Australia, 2013, pp:101-116. BOOK CHAPTER.
  • Mitchell, Myles; Guilfoyle, David; Reynolds, Ron; Morgan, Catherine, 'Towards sustainable community heritage management and the role of archaeology: A case study from Western Australia', Heritage & Society, Maney Publishing, Vol.6, Iss.1, 2013, pp:24-45. JOURNAL ARTICLE.
  • Mitchell, Myles, '‘The Wudjari People of Esperance, at the Frontier: archaeological investigation of mobility, communication and identity in late-Holocene Aboriginal society, Western Australia', presented at the Archaeological Research Facility ‘Brown Bag Lecture’ series on 1 March 2013. Berkeley University, Western Australia. LECTURE.
  • Mitchell, Myles, '‘Mapping ceremony and interaction in Wudjari Country – Esperance, Western Australia', presented at the Australian Archaeological Association conference: ‘Science and Archaeology’ on 10 December 2012. University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW. CONFERENCE PAPER.
  • Loo, Isa; Nystrom, Inger; Mitchell, Myles, '‘Recovery of a possible “petrified” boomerang in Cape Le Grande National Park, Esperance, 23-24 February 2011', presented at the joint Australasian Society for Historical Archaeology/Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology conference: ‘Surf and Turf’ on 1 October 2012. School of Arts &‚Äč Sciences, University of Notre Dame, Fremantle, W.A.. CONFERENCE PAPER.

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Updated:  24 November 2016/ Responsible Officer:  NCIS Project Coordinator/ Page Contact:  NCIS Administrative Officer