Peter Sutton (anthropologist)

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Peter Sutton
Born 1946
Citizenship Australian
Nationality Australian
Fields Aboriginal languages,
Anthropology of Aboriginal Australia
Institutions South Australian Museum's
Division of Anthropology;
University of Adelaide's
School of Earth & Environmental
Alma mater Monash University

Peter Sutton FASSA (born 1946) is an Australian social anthropologist and linguist who has, over a period of almost 40 years (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]

Most recently[when?], Peter Sutton has shifted his anthropological focus away from Aboriginal Australian subjects themselves, and more towards the nature and effect of the public policy that has governed those Aboriginal Australians over the 40 years he has been conducting anthropological research:[15]

"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"

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. His project title was "Cape Keerweer 1606-2006: an ethnographic history of the Wik region, Queensland".[16] He was also, recently[when?], an Honorary Research Fellow at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London.[17]

Biographical material[edit]

Born in Melbourne in 1946, Peter Sutton's earliest years were spent growing up in a Port Melbourne working class environment [15] His paternal grandfather was a driver at the local fish markets (and prone to violent, alcoholic outbursts).[15] His paternal grandmother worked in the Swallow and Ariel Biscuits Factory. His maternal grandfather was a pastry cook, and his father was a factory worker (and later a salesman).[15]

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:[15]

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

The Politics of Suffering[edit]

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 has written a book entitled 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:[15]

"Sutton argues that self-management in the 1970s, the equal pay decisions and granting of land rights and access to "sit-down money", the homelands movement, bilingual education, and a plethora of other policies concerning health and community development employment projects have not lead [sic] to any discernible improvement in living conditions, or in today's political lexicon, a closing of the gap. What is more, he says the "Aboriginal industry" has until only recently stubbornly resisted acknowledging the brutal realities of daily life"


  • 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)


  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. ^ a b c d e f *Age article about Peter Sutton Accessed 13 July 2009
  17. ^ South Australian Museum WebPage

External links[edit]