Dr Paul Burke

PhD (Anthropology), ANU 2006
ARC Research Fellow, School of Archaeology and Anthropology
ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences

Areas of expertise

  • Social And Cultural Anthropology 160104
  • Studies Of Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Society 169902
  • Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Law 180101
  • Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander History 210301

Research interests

Indigenous diaspora, cultural implications of internal migration, intercultural history, historical transformation of culture, the language and culture of the Warlpiri of central Australia.

Anthropologist as expert witness, the interaction of law and anthropology in native title claims, culture and traditional land tenure among the Torres Strait Islanders, Australian Western Desert peoples, and the Aboriginal peoples of Broome, southern Queensland and the Pilbara.

Problems of applied anthropology in native title claims.


Paul Burke commenced his career in Alice Springs in 1983 as an Aboriginal Legal Aid lawyer and Land Council lawyer during which time he worked on several land claims and became friends with Warlpiri people.  On moving to Canberra in 1991 he studied anthropology part-time at ANU and ultimately won a scholarship to complete a PhD in anthropology at ANU.  Following the award of his doctorate in 2006 he worked as a consultant anthropologist on native title claims in southern Queensland and the Pilbara.  In 2008 he won a three year Australian Research Council post-doctoral fellowship to investigate the cultural implications of Aboriginal people leaving remote areas, using the Warlpiri as a case study.  The research on that project commenced in July 2009.

Researcher's projects

Paul Burke is the Chief Investigator for the Australian Research Council Discovery Project 'Indigenous Diaspora: a new direction in the ethnographic study of the migration of Australian Aboriginal people leaving remote areas' (DP0987357) 2009-2012.

The aim of the project is to explore the phenomenon of the migration of Aboriginal people leaving remote areas analytically, historically and ethnographically, using the concept of diaspora.  Known for their willingness to move onto new locations, the Warlpiri of central Australia are also one of the best documented exemplars of traditional Aboriginal society and represent an ideal case study for this project.  Understanding the Warlpiri will shed light on the process of urbanisation among all remote Aboriginal populations.

In the complex demography of contemporary Warlpiri society different degrees of transience must be distinguished in order to identify those who wish to establish a permanent life outside Warlpiri homelands from those who are simply travelling on some established circuit -- the travelling Warlpiri.  Factors such as marriage, permanent employment and housing will obviously be relevant here.  But the primary questions for the project will be:

  • to what extent do these demographic changes represent some sort of critique of life on the Warlpiri homelands, or at least a subtle repositioning to allow more diverse ideas of Warlpiri identity to emerge without the pressures towards conformity in settlement life;
  • the extent to which residential fragmentation has put strains upon maintaining a Warlpiri orthodoxy, social networks, shared identity;
  • whether improvements in communications technology and transport have counteracted the effects of geographical fragmentation; and
  • the variety of experiences among different segments of Warlpiri society, particularly younger versus older, men versus women, more educated versus less educated (to what extent are the outwardly mobile also the upwardly mobile).


Year 1

Survey of Warlpiri diaspora locations commencing in Alice Springs.

Exploration of Warlpiri travelling circuits. Choice of in-depth studies.

Year 2

Completion of the first two in-depth studies.

Year 3

Completion of the third and fourth in-depth study, writing up research.


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Updated:  28 January 2023 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers