Australian Aboriginal Studies: abstracts of major articles

2012 volume 1

Indigenous early school leavers: Failure, risk and high-stakes testing
Jerry Schwab

Abstract: Indigenous early school leavers in Australia’s major cities comprise a significantly larger proportion of students than their non-Indigenous peers. Drawing on recent findings from the National Assessment Program: Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) and the Australian Census, this paper examines what those data may or may not tell us about those young Indigenous people and their engagement (or lack of engagement) with education. The paper explores the notions of educational failure and risk as they apply to this cohort of young people and then lays out a critique of the application of high-stakes tests, such as the NAPLAN, with particular reference to the educational disengagement of Indigenous youth. The paper concludes with some alternative policy options derived from evidence-based research in Australia and principles underlying education policy in what are often cited as some of the best educational systems in the world.

Indigenous poverty in New South Wales major cities: A multidimensional analysis
Rebecca Reeve, Centre of Health Economics Research and Evaluation, University of Technology Sydney

Abstract: Income alone is an insufficient indicator of poverty, which is a multidimensional phenomenon. Previous research demonstrates that Indigenous people are disadvantaged according to multiple indicators and the nature and solutions to poverty differ depending on location. In this paper the interconnected aspects of Indigenous poverty in New South Wales major cities are demonstrated based on a framework developed by the Productivity Commission’s Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision (SCRGSP 2003). In this framework, headline indicators identify multiple areas of disadvantage and strategic change indicators represent possible causes of disadvantage that can be targeted by policy makers. The results of an econometric analysis, using 2002 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey data, suggest the key causes of Indigenous disadvantage and the interdependence of headline indicators, including health, labour force outcomes, education, income, victimisation and incarceration. The recent New South Wales policy approach Two Ways Together recognises this interdependence and has the potential to improve Indigenous welfare in New South Wales major cities. However, an examination of specific policy documents and preliminary evidence drawn from changes in the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous outcomes indicates that further progress is required to reduce Indigenous poverty in major cities of New South Wales.

Rectifying ‘the Great Australian Silence’? Creative representations of Australian Indigenous Second World War service
Noah Riseman

Abstract: Until the publication of Robert Hall’s landmark book The Black Diggers in 1989, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were essentially ‘written out’ of Australia’s Second World War history. Still, more than 20 years since the publication of Hall’s book, Australian Indigenous participation in the war effort as servicemen and women, labourers, scouts, in wartime industries and in various other capacities continues to be on the periphery of Australia’s war history. The Second World War remains part of what WEH Stanner referred to in 1969 as ‘the Great Australian Silence’ of Indigenous history.
Notwithstanding the lack of significant academic histories of Indigenous military history, there have been a few creative depictions of Aboriginal participation in the Second World War. Both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people have used creative mediums, such as poetry, short fiction, film, musical theatre and music, to portray Aboriginal Second World War service. This paper examines these creative cultural representations and how they position Australian Indigenous war service within a wider narrative of the Second World War and Indigenous history. Though the portrayals of Aboriginal service vary, the majority of creative works present the Second World War as central to Australian Indigenous history. Moreover, the creative representations depict Indigenous servicemen’s hopes for a better life after the war, only to be crushed when they returned to ongoing discrimination. Even so, the creative depictions use the Second World War as an early marker of reconciliation in Australia, portraying the conflict as a time when ideals of liberty and equality overruled prejudice to unite Australia. Such a message continues to resonate, as creative representations of the Second World War contribute to contemporary understandings of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander citizenship and reconciliation.

A comparison of traditional Kaurna kinship patterns with those used in contemporary Nunga English
Dr Rob Amery and Vincent (Jack) Kanya Buckskin

Abstract: The Kaurna people were the first South Australians to bear the brunt of the effects of colonisation. Even as early as 1850, the Kaurna language was said to be ‘extinct’, though it was probably still spoken as an everyday language up until the 1860s. Ivaritji, the so-called ‘last speaker’, died in 1929. Nonetheless, we still see enduring patterns of kinship categorisation and associated behaviours that clearly have their roots in Kaurna culture, or at least local Aboriginal cultures, persisting to the present day. This paper sets out to document those enduring patterns, as well as the re-introduction of kin terms and accompanying knowledge of Kaurna kinship associated with Kaurna language reclamation efforts. A great many Kaurna kinship terms were documented in the 1840s and a few in the early twentieth century, though many of these were under-defined and poorly described. Comparative linguistics has assisted in making sense of the historical record, though many uncertainties remain.

A recent history of the professionalisation of Australian applied anthropology and its relevance to native title practice
Pamela Faye McGrath

Abstract: This paper describes collective efforts over the past 30 years by Australian anthropologists towards achieving national representation and accreditation for applied practitioners. The intention is to better understand the viability of various strategies aimed at strengthening a community of practice for native title anthropologists today. The ‘professionalisation’ issue has recently re-emerged as a topic for discussion and debate in the context of an identified shortage of suitably qualified and experienced anthropologists in the area of native title research. This shortage is reportedly contributing to delays in the processing of native title claims and raises concerns about professional standards. The potential consequences for those Aboriginal groups seeking recognition of their native title are profound. Drawing on a range of historical sources, this paper documents the rise and fall of a number of professional networks, organisations and training programs for applied anthropologists established since the early 1980s, including the Professional Association for Applied Anthropology and Sociology, the Queensland Association of Professional Anthropologists and Archaeologists, and the Australian Association of Applied Anthropology. What this short history reveals is that past efforts to organise and accredit applied anthropologists coincided with significant changes to the political, legal and commercial frameworks in which they were required to work, with the uncertainties and anxieties that accompanied change driving the desire for a more robust and supportive community of professional practice. The ultimate failure of these organisations suggests that improving the professionalism of applied practice in native title anthropology cannot be achieved solely from within the discipline itself. Rather, it will require engagement with and the support of external stakeholders who also have interests in ensuring high quality native title research outcomes.

Models of supervision: Providing effective support to Aboriginal staff
Natalie Scerra

Abstract: This paper identifies models of supervision that have successfully been utilised to support Aboriginal staff and establishes an evidence base around effective supervisory practice. The literature review, on which this paper is based, was largely driven to meet the needs of Aboriginal staff in a large non-government organisation dealing with issues around the professional development and retention of Aboriginal staff. While there are some models developed for Indigenous workers internationally, there wasn’t one specific to Australian Aboriginal staffing needs. This paper therefore seeks to identify aspects of supervision that have been successfully utilised with Indigenous staff and that may be adapted to suit the unique cultural needs of Aboriginal staff in Australia. It encourages further research into the development and applicability of specific models for Australian Aboriginal staff.

2012 volume 2

A profile of gambling behaviour and impacts among Indigenous Australians attending a cultural event in New South Wales
Nerilee Hing, Helen Breen, Jeremy Buultjens and Ashley Gordon

Abstract: This study examines gambling behaviour, gambling motivations, gambling-related problems, impacts of gambling and help-seeking among a sample of Indigenous Australians. The study is exploratory and cross-sectional and represents the first quantitative analysis of Indigenous gambling in New South Wales since 1996. With the help of several Indigenous Australian research assistants, a survey was conducted at a 2011 Indigenous arts and cultural event, capturing responses from 277 Indigenous Australian adults. While about one-quarter of respondents had gambled on card games in the previous 12 months, nearly three-quarters had gambled on commercial forms of gambling, especially poker machines. Participation rates and weekly gambling on poker machines, keno and wagering, and the proportions of problem and at-risk gamblers, were higher in the Indigenous sample than in the general New South Wales population. While the main reasons for gambling were reported as pleasure and fun, socialising, to relax and the chance to win money, several negative impacts were reported, including financial problems and subsequent reliance on relatives or friends. More than one in ten gamblers also reported gambling had led to household arguments, depression and violence. Distinctive barriers to seeking help for gambling problems included lack of knowledge and confidence about help services and lack of culturally appropriate help services. Although limited by a non-representative sample, this paper highlights some distinctive aspects of Indigenous gambling that warrant further research to inform appropriate public health and treatment measures to address problems associated with contemporary Indigenous gambling.

Measuring problem gambling in Indigenous communities: An Australian response to the research dilemmas
Sue Bertossa and Peter Harvey

Abstract: This paper examines evidence relating to harmful consequences of gambling in the Australian Indigenous population and highlights the failure of research to date to define problem gambling from Indigenous perspectives or to tailor research processes to accommodate the cultural beliefs and experiences of Indigenous groups. It advocates for the development of a unique set of measures to assess the function of problem gambling aspects, negative impacts, trends, risks and protective factors. This would be informed by more recent qualitative studies into gambling that are specific to Indigenous communities. Additionally, this paper argues the need to adapt and validate a commonly applied assessment tool, such as the Canadian Problem Gambling Index, to monitor prevalence of problem gambling over time. Targeted research into Indigenous people’s experiences of gambling will facilitate the development of culturally based responses and interventions into problem gambling.

Handing on the teaching of Kaurna language to Kaurna youth
Rob Amery and Jack Buckskin

Abstract: Kaurna, the language of the Adelaide Plains, has been taught now for many years. It was introduced into Kaurna Plains Early Childhood Centre in 1989/90 and Kaurna Plains School in 1992 and has been taught there ever since. It has also been taught in a range of other schools and institutions to children of all ages, adults, members of the Kaurna community and to the public at large. By far the biggest hurdle confronting efforts to implement Kaurna language programs has been finding the teachers. Teaching languages requires special skills, and teaching a language, such as Kaurna, that is being reclaimed from written sources poses additional challenges, not least being the need to learn the language first and to be flexible and creative in developing new words and expressions where needed. It has been especially difficult to find young Kaurna people to take on the teaching. One who has risen to the challenge is Jack Kanya Buckskin, who started out working on Kaurna language projects, which included recording Kaurna words and phrases. He began attending Kaurna language classes at the Living Kaurna Cultural Centre, Warriparinga, then taught these classes in 2008 and in 2009 took full responsibility for these and other Kaurna language classes at Kaurna Plains School. This paper reflects on the positives that flow from taking on the teaching role, as well as some of the difficulties faced.

Lakun Ngarringdjeri thunggari: Weaving the Ngarrindjeri language back to health
Mary-Anne Gale, Eileen McHughes, Phyllis Williams and Verna Koolmatrie

Abstract: This paper tells of the efforts of three Ngarrindjeri women to revive their language over the past three decades. These three mi:minar (women), Auntie Eileen McHughes, Auntie Phyllis Williams and Verna Koolmatrie, are respected Aunties in the Ngarrindjeri community, as well as talented weavers and feather-flower makers. Just as they are relearning the ancient craft of weaving and teaching themselves to weave increasingly intricate patterns into their baskets and placemats, so are they relearning how to weave increasingly complex sentences and texts in their traditional Ngarrindjeri language. This requires learning a grammar that has not been used for well over 40 years. With these new-found skills, Eileen, Phyllis and Verna are translating familiar hymns and their favourite songs into Ngarrindjeri to be sung, and are constructing complex texts, such as welcome speeches, to be given at special community events.

This paper reflects on the collaborative efforts that the Ngarrindjeri revival process requires, and the research, training, hard work and enthusiasm it demands. It celebrates the rich rewards and the improved sense of wellbeing that language revival offers, particularly to the authors of this paper as they embrace the Ngarrindjeri language in all its complexities.

Aboriginal vernacular names of Australian cycads of Macrozamia, Bowenia and Lepidozamia spp.: A response to ‘Cycads in the vernacular: A compendium of local names’
Britt Asmussen

Abstract: In 2007 Bonta and Osborne published ‘Cycads in the vernacular: A compendium of local names’, in which they concluded that, in contrast to other cycads around the world, very few names and meanings had been documented for Australian Macrozamia species. This paper aims to better document the cycad species utilised by Aboriginal people for the benefit of researchers in diverse disciplines. It draws on information contained in primary sources and many early historic documents to present Aboriginal names and meanings for various species of Bowenia, Lepidozamia and Macrozamia in Australia, to clarify the names of some Australian species, and to provide additional names for species and plant components not included in the compendium. In addition, it compares patterns in the meanings of names in Australia to those used overseas, finding similarities and differences. By providing a more comprehensive synthesis of information on Indigenous names and meanings of these three genera, the paper demonstrates that the gap identified by Bonta and Osborne is more apparent than real, and highlights the value of cross-disciplinary collaboration in ethnohistorical, ethnobotanical, linguistic, anthropological and archaeological research.

Indigenous card gambler profiles in North Queensland
Helen Breen

Abstract: Card gambling has been engaged in by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in northern parts of Australia for centuries but limited information is available explaining the games and the gamblers. To deepen our understanding of card gambling, this paper uses a public health approach to analyse card gambler profiles in north Queensland. Three typical profiles emerged from the results and have been labelled social, binge and committed gamblers. They have also been identified as being positioned along a public health continuum of gambling from healthy at one end (gambling in low-risk situations) to unhealthy (gambling in high-risk situations) at the opposite end. A model of these gambler profiles explains the gambler’s participation, behaviour, motivations and outcomes on the continuum. Potentially, and in consultation with local communities, these findings could help to inform the development of culturally appropriate public health strategies for specific groups of card gamblers.

Iconography, science and Lightning Figures (research report)
Albrecht Ploum

Abstract: Some Australian Aboriginal figurative paintings in the Kimberley and the Northern Territory, known as Lightning Figures, show remarkable resemblance to strange atmospheric phenomena, such as Red Sprites (upper-atmospheric optical phenomena associated with thunderstorms), which sometimes can be perceived with the naked eye in those parts of the continent. I argue that some ancient markings can be related in a consistent way to real perceived atmospheric phenomena.