Minutes of Evidence

Promoting new and collaborative ways of understanding Australia’s past and engaging with structural justice

A scene from the premiere of
A scene from the premiere of "Coranderrk: We Will Show The Country", La Mama Courthouse Theatre, 2011. Photo: Steven Rhall.


The Minutes of Evidence project sheds light on a little-known chapter of Victoria’s past, the 1881 Coranderrk Inquiry, in order to spark broader conversations about historical and structural justice in Australia, and elsewhere. It enhances public understanding of colonial history and its ongoing impact and fosters new scholarly and community approaches to addressing it. It demonstrates a model of collaborative, cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary research engagement, enabling project partners together to produce a range of public, community, and scholarly outputs that transcend their individual fields of expertise. The project and its outcomes attest to the importance of fostering respectful, collaborative relationships between Indigenous and non- Indigenous people in order to promote a just and shared future.

The project responds to key recommendations of the ‘Report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody’ (1987-1991) and the ‘Bringing Them Home’ Report (1997) concerning the need to extend community understanding of Australia’s colonial history and foster reconciliation. Through its research, performance, education, and engagement dimensions, the project creates ‘meeting points’ in schools, On Country, in theatres, public forums, and between scholars, in which the nation’s past – and present – can be shared and explored in new and engaging ways. The project was hosted by the University of Melbourne, with university partners, and an extensive team of government and community partners: VicHealth, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD), La Mama Theatre, Ilbijerri Theatre Company, Koorie Heritage Trust, Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Inc., (VAEAI), Arts Victoria, State Library of Victoria, Regional Arts Victoria.

The project was designed to make complex understandings of justice more accessible, provoking debate and reflection on how the legacies of past injustices continue into the present – despite official responses designed to redress them.

Outcomes / activities / impact


The Victorian Aboriginal Education Association (VAEAI) and The Department of Education and Training (Victoria)(DEECD), in consultation and engagement with Indigenous and non-Indigenous stakeholders, produced the ‘Minutes of Evidence Coranderrk Curriculum and Teacher Resource Package’. It includes school curriculum modules for Years 9 and 10 ‘History’ and ‘Civics and Citizenship’ that align to the new Australian and Victorian curriculum. There had previously been little local material available to teach Indigenous history and Indigenous-settler relations in Victoria. It also includes the development of protocols for engagement with Indigenous communities around educational resources. The curriculum was trialled in three state schools (Worawa Aboriginal College, Healesville High School and Melbourne Girls’ College), and includes the production of a DVD comprising individual testimonies from the ‘Coranderrk: We Will Show the Country’ play.

Curriculum and Teacher Resource Package


In collaboration with La Mama Theatre and ILBIJERRI Theatre Company, the project developed the verbatim theatre production ‘Coranderrk: We Will Show the Country’ to bring alive the minutes of evidence of the 1881 Inquiry. This innovative medium makes accessible to general audiences the actual testimonies of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people debating matters of justice in 19th century Victoria; the shared and complex character of colonial history and its continuing effects in the present; and the meaning of nuanced scholarly concepts such as structural injustice. Multiple sold-out public seasons were staged throughout 2011-2016 in Melbourne, on Country, in metropolitan and rural locations, at the Sydney Opera House and Old Parliament House Canberra and the play has been seen by more than 8000 people.

Nanni, G. and James, A. (2013). Coranderrk – We Will Show The Country. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.

Coranderrk offers no less than the truth. It captures the strength and stamina of a people who stood tall and publicly fought together for the rights of all people. And they almost won! Hearing these words today, from this rare occasion, helps to heal the hurt within, knowing that the same caring for each other still lives on between our families.”

~ Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin, descendant of William Barak and the Coranderrk community

Using history and theatre to build a just future


Through bringing relatively abstract scholarly inquiry on historical and structural injustices into relation with the local concerns of the places in which we live and work. the project developed a significant innovation in methodology in the social sciences, humanities, and law. Project research: connected the experiences of Coranderrk and other Koori people with parallel experiences of Indigenous communities in North America and elsewhere; brought together the largely disconnected fields of settler colonial theory and transitional justice; developed a particular concept of ‘structural justice’ based on the collaborative methodology of the broader project; examined how despite legal and public recognition of claims of injustice, harm so often continues; and demonstrated the localised complexity of lived history. Researchers organised a public-facing symposium at State Library of Victoria, attracting 200 public registrations, which brought together project partners and academics to speak about historical injustice, structural injustice and the role of education and the arts in enhancing public knowledge and understanding. It hosts a dynamic public website which over 20,000 people have visited.

Minutes of Evidence website


The ongoing performances of the Coranderrk play, the curriculum development component, and the research outcomes have a life beyond the project. Other legacies of the project include: the digitisation of the original minutes of the Coranderrk Inquiry (7.5Mb pdf) at the State Library of Victoria; DVDs of the performances and to-camera readings; the digitisation of the book Letters of Aboriginal Women of Victoria; and the Minutes of Evidence website. The project also provided research training for four Indigenous Early-Career Researchers and sustained opportunities for professional development for Indigenous creative artists. The central legacy of the project is a lasting model of engagement with complex social issues beyond the confines of the university.

Selected publications

Balint, Jennifer, Evans, Julie, McMillan, Mark and McMillan, Nesam (2020). Keeping Hold of Justice. Encounters between Law and Colonialism. University of Michigan Press.

Keeping Hold of Justice focuses on a select range of encounters between law and colonialism from the early nineteenth century to the present. It emphasises the nature of colonialism as a distinctively structural injustice, one which becomes entrenched in the social, political, legal, and discursive structures of societies and thereby continues to affect people’s lives in the present.

Balint, J., Brown, L., Dullard, C., Evans, J., McMillan, N. and McMillan, M. (2018). “The ‘Minutes of Evidence’ Project: Doing Structural Justice,” in State Crime Journal 7(2), pp. 389-409.

Evans, J. (2016). “The Ethos of the Historian: The Minutes of Evidence Project, and Lives Lived with Law on the Ground,” in Law Text Culture 20, pp. 136-164.

Balint, J., Evans, J., McMillan, N., Nanni, G. with Reynolds, M. (2015). “The Minutes of Evidence project: creating collaborative fields of engagement with the past and present,” in Russell, L. and Boucher, L. (eds.,). Settler Colonial Governance in Victoria, 1851-1900. Aboriginal History Monographs.

Cruickshank, J. and Grimshaw, P. (2015). “Women, Authority and Power on Ramahyuck Mission, Victoria 1880- 1910,” in Russell, L. and Boucher, L. (eds.,). Settler Colonial Governance in Victoria, 1851-1900. Aboriginal History Monographs.

Laidlaw, Z. and Lester, A. (eds.,) (2015). Indigenous Communities and Settler Colonialism: Land Holding, Loss and Survival in an Interconnected World. Palgrave Macmillan.

The new world created through Anglophone emigration in the 19th century has been much studied. But there have been few accounts of what this meant for the Indigenous populations. This book shows that Indigenous communities tenaciously held land in the midst of dispossession, whilst becoming interconnected through their struggles to do so.

Nanni, G. and James, A. (2013). Coranderrk – We Will Show The Country. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.

One of the first sustained campaigns for justice, land rights and self-determination in colonial Australia was undertaken by the Aboriginal people of Coranderrk reserve in central Victoria. Despite having created an award-winning farm they were targeted for removal to make way for white settlement. As skilled communicators and negotiators, they lobbied the government, in alliance with their white supporters, and succeeded in triggering a Parliamentary Inquiry in 1881. Coranderrk – We Will Show The Country derives from a unique verbatim-theatre performance where professional actors brought to life the witnesses who gave evidence before the 1881 Parliamentary Coranderrk Inquiry.

More information

Minutes of Evidence website

Project details


Australian Research Council – Linkage Grant 2011-2016

Research partners

Ilbijerri Theatre Company
La Mama Theatre
The Department of Education and Training Victoria
Creative Victoria
Koorie Heritage Trust
Victorian Aboriginal Education Association (VAEAI)
Regional Arts Victoria
State Library of Victoria
University of Sussex
Royal Holloway, University of London
Deakin University

Project team

Associate Professor Julie Evans, Lead Chief Investigator (LCI)
Associate Professor Jennifer Balint, Chief Investigator (CI)
Dr Nesam McMillan (CI)
Dr Joanna Cruickshank (CI)
Emeritus Professor Patricia Grimshaw (CI)
Professor Mark McMillan (CI)
Rachael Maza Long, Partner Investigator (PI)
Elizabeth Jones (PI)
Jennifer Bates (PI)
Professor Alan Lester (PI)
Professor Zoe Laidlaw (PI)
Julie Newnham (PI)
Erin Birch (former PI)
Dr Giordano Nanni, Research Fellow


Associate Professor Jennifer Balint
Dr Nesam McMillan
Professor Zoe Laidlaw