Peter Sutton (anthropologist)

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Peter Sutton
SUTTONPeter NNTT25Years.png
Dr Peter Sutton 2017
Alma materMonash University
Scientific career
FieldsAboriginal languages,
Anthropology of Aboriginal Australia
InstitutionsSouth Australian Museum's
Division of Humanities;
University of Adelaide
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, School of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Sciences, University of Adelaide

Peter Sutton FASSA (born 1946) is an Australian social anthropologist and linguist who has, since 1969, contributed to: recording Australian Aboriginal languages;[1][2][3] promoting Australian Aboriginal art;[4][5] mapping Australian Aboriginal cultural landscapes;[6][7] and increasing societies' general understanding of contemporary Australian Aboriginal social structures[8][9] and systems of land tenure.[10][11][12][13][14]

In 2004–2008 Sutton held an Australian Research Council (ARC) Professorial Fellowship at the University of Adelaide's School of Earth & Environmental Sciences and within the South Australian Museum's Division of Anthropology. In 2003-2009 he was an Honorary Research Fellow at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London.[15]

Biographical material[edit]

Born in Melbourne in 1946, Peter Sutton's earliest years were spent growing up in a Port Melbourne working class environment[16] His paternal grandfather was a driver at the local fish markets (and prone to violent, alcoholic outbursts).[16] His paternal grandmother worked in the Swallow and Ariell Biscuit Factory. His maternal grandfather was a pastry cook, and his mother and father began life as factory workers.[16]

His father attended, and was profoundly affected by, a Lord Somers Camp held to 'dissolve' class barriers between waterfront children and the sons and daughters of Melbourne's doctors and lawyers, and, early on he and his wife pushed to break out of the working class mould:[16]

"We were not dirt poor, but my mother pushed to get out of Port Melbourne, to get a small business, a Milk Bar in East Malvern, and then a block of land and build a house."

After working as an anthropologist and linguist in Aboriginal Australia for more than 40 years, publishing or co-writing more than 15 books on Aboriginal languages, art, culture and land rights, Peter Sutton wrote a book titled The Politics of Suffering: Indigenous Australia and the end of the Liberal consensus (2009) in which he reflects upon all he has seen and begins questioning Australian public policy across all those years, as follows:[16]

"Through personal observation, forensic rigour and an anthropologist's eye, he questions the foundations on which 40 years of public policy, often imposed with bipartisan goodwill, has been constructed"

A 2016 symposium on Sutton's life and work led to a two-volume tribute: Finlayson and Morphy (eds) 2020, Ethnographer and Contrarian. Biographical and Anthropological Essays in Honour of Peter Sutton, and Monaghan and Walsh (eds),[17] More than Mere Words. Essays on Language and Linguistics in Honour of Peter Sutton. Both Wakefield Press.[18]

In 2021 Sutton published two books: Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate (with Keryn Walshe),[19] a forensic critique of Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, and Linguistic Organisation and Native Title: The Wik Case, Australia [20](with Ken Hale).

By 2021 when he retired from consulting work, Sutton had acted in various differing capacities as a researcher assisting with 87 Aboriginal land claims in three jurisdictions: the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (Northern Territory) 1976,[21] the Queensland Aboriginal Land Act 1992, and the Native Title Act 1993.


  • Anisfield-Wolf Award (Anisfield-Wolf Foundation, USA 1988), for serious works that combat racism, awarded to Sutton (ed.) Dreamings (1988).
  • James Henry Breasted Prize (American Historical Association, USA 1999, for the best English-language book on the ancient and early medieval history of Africa, North America and Latin America, awarded to the Woodward and Lewis (eds) volume The History of Cartography, Volume 2.3: Cartography in the Traditional African, American, Arctic, Australian, and Pacific Societies[22] (1998, contains two chapters by Sutton, see papers below)
  • The Manning Clark House National Cultural Award for an outstanding contribution to the quality of Australian cultural life in 2009, for The Politics of Suffering: Indigenous Australia and the End of the Liberal Consensus..
  • The 2010 John Button Prize for the best piece of non-fiction writing on politics or public policy published in Australia in the previous year, for The Politics of Suffering: Indigenous Australia and the End of the Liberal Consensus.[23]


  • MORPHY, Howard (2001)"Seeing Aboriginal Art in the Gallery", Humanities Research Volume 8. Number 1
  • MORTON, John (2007) "Sansom, Sutton and Sackville: Three Expert Anthropologists?". Anthropological Forum. Volume 17. Number 2. Pages 170–173
  • PONSONNET, Maia. (2007) "Recognising victims without blaming them: a moral contest? About Peter Sutton's 'The Politics of Suffering: Indigenous Policy in Australia since the 1970s' and Gillian Cowlishaw's replies. " Australian Aboriginal Studies. 43(8).
  • SCHWAB, R.G (2007) "Sutton, Peter. Native title in Australia: an ethnographic perspective. xxiii, 279 pp., map, figs, bibliogr. Cambridge: Univ. Press, 2004." Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute Volume 13. Pages 504–505.
  • WEINER, James F (2007) "Anthropology vs. Ethnography in Native Title: A Review Article in the Context of Peter Sutton's Native Title in Australia". The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology. Volume 8, Number 2. Pages 151 – 168


  • MacDOUGALL, David (1980), Familiar Places, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. 53' (filmed in 1977)
  • MacDOUGALL, David (1980), Narrator and anthropological advisor for Familiar Places: a film about Aboriginal ties to land. Director: David MacDougall. Canberra: AIAS 1980. Colour, 53 minutes. A film from the Aurukun project.
  • Aboriginal art: conserving, exhibiting, interpreting.[24] Part d of Video 4 of the series Talking about Aboriginal art. Videotaped lecture by Peter Sutton. University of Sydney: Power Institute of Fine Arts, 1992 (original forum 1990). Producers: P. Lipscombe, D. Roberts & C. Willing. Colour, 18 mins.
  • Assisted with the production of Dhuway: An Australian Diaspora and Homecoming. Producer and Director: Lew Griffiths.[25] Canberra: Oziris Productions 1995. Colour, 60 minutes.


  1. ^ SUTTON, P. (ed.) (1976). Languages of Cape York. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. Canberra.
  2. ^ SUTTON, P. & WALSH, M (1979) Revised Linguistic Fieldwork Manual for Australia. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. Canberra.
  3. ^ Sutton, P. (1995) Wik-Ngathan Dictionary. Caitlin Press. Adelaide.
  4. ^ SUTTON, P. (ed.) (1989) Dreamings: The Art of Aboriginal Australia. Viking. London.
  5. ^ MORPHY (2001)
  6. ^ SUTTON, Peter, MARTIN, David, von STURMER, John, CRIBB, Roger & CHASE, Athol (1990) Aak: Aboriginal Estates and Clans between the Embley and Edward Rivers, Cape York Peninsula. 1000 pp Restricted Access Publication. South Australian Museum. Adelaide, Australia
  7. ^ SUTTON, Peter (1998) "Icons of Country: Topographic Representations in Classical Aboriginal Traditions." in WOODWARD, David & LEWIS, Malcolm (eds), The History of Cartography, Volume 2.3: Cartography in the Traditional African, American, Arctic, Australian, and Pacific Societies. Chicago University Press. Chicago. Pages 351–386
  8. ^ *Australian Broadcasting Commission's 'Lateline' (25 June 2007) interview with Professor Peter Sutton re: Australian Aboriginal Futures.
  9. ^ PONSONNET (2007)
  10. ^ SUTTON, P. (1995) Country: Aboriginal Boundaries and Land Ownership in Australia. Aboriginal History Monographs (ANU).Canberra.
  11. ^ SUTTON, Peter (1998) Native Title and the Descent of Rights. National Native Title Tribunal. Perth.
  12. ^ SUTTON, Peter (2003) Native Title in Australia: an Ethnographic Perspective. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.
  13. ^ WEINER (2007)
  14. ^ MORTON (2007)
  15. ^ South Australian Museum WebPage Archived 30 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ a b c d e *Age article about Peter Sutton Accessed 13 July 2009
  17. ^ Finlayson, Julie (2020). Ethnographer and Contrarian : Biographical and anthropological essays in honour of Peter Sutton. Frances Morphy. Adelaide: Wakefield Press. ISBN 1-74305-792-X. OCLC 1225553299.
  18. ^ Monaghan, Paul (2020). More than Mere Words Essays on language and linguistics in honour of Peter Sutton. Michael Walsh. Adelaide: Wakefield Press. ISBN 978-1-74305-795-7. OCLC 1251440600.
  19. ^ Sutton, Peter (2021). Farmers or Hunter-gatherers? : The Dark Emu Debate. Carlton, VIC: Melbourne University Press. ISBN 978-0-522-87785-4. OCLC 1249030997.
  20. ^ Hale, Kenneth Locke; Sutton, Peter. Linguistic Organisation and Native Title. ANU Press. doi:10.22459/lont.2021. ISBN 978-1-76046-447-9.
  21. ^ "". Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. Retrieved 11 June 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  22. ^ The history of cartography. J. B. Harley, David Woodward, Matthew H. Edney, Mary Sponberg Pedley, Mark S. Monmonier. Chicago. 1987. ISBN 0-226-31633-5. OCLC 13456456.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  23. ^ Steger, Jason (4 September 2010). "Anthropologist wins Button Prize". Sydney Morning Herald.
  24. ^ Conserving, exhibiting, interpreting., Sydney: Sydney University Television Services for the Power Institute of Fine Arts, 1992, OCLC 221583932, retrieved 11 June 2021
  25. ^ Pearson, Noel; Calley, Karin; Griffiths, Lew; Oziris Productions Pty. Ltd; Cape York Land Council (Qld.); Oziris Australia; SBS Independent (2014), Dhuway: an Australian diaspora and homecoming, OCLC 908416624, retrieved 11 June 2021

External links[edit]