Indifferent Inclusion
Aboriginal people and the Australian Nation

Aboriginal people and the Australian Nation

Russell McGREGOR

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Winner of the 2012 NSW Premier’s Prize for Australian History

Shortlisted for the 2012 Prime Minister's Literary Award Prize for Australian History

September 2011, pb, 230x152mm, 288pp, b/w Illustrations
RRP $39.95 incl. GST
ISBN 9780855757793

| Contents | Sample Chapter | Index |

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Extract of a review from Australian Journal of Politics and History, Vol. 59, Issue 1, March 2013 by Richard Broome

This is an important book, covering the years from federation to the 1970s. It begins with the Day of Mourning’s Manifesto of 1938 that called for equality, respect and inclusion in the nation.

The book covers much familiar ground for the initiated, but features many new or under-researched elements, and presents them in a unique and nuanced argument about relations within the nation, which encompasses the much-maligned assimilation policy. Allegedly, Australians on the right favour assimilation while those on the left and Aboriginal people oppose it. Russell McGregor reveals these positions as caricatures by showing the complexities of the policy and how it was imagined and contested at each stage and over time.

Russell McGregor is one of the foremost scholars in the field of Aboriginal history. The very title of the book breaks new ground because of the questions implicit in its approach…his perspective is genuinely fresh and insightful. Historian Mark McKenna

McGregor offers a holistic interpretation of the complex relationship between Indigenous and settler Australians during the middle four decades of the twentieth century. Combining the perspectives of political, social and cultural history in a coherent narrative, he provides a cogent analysis of how the relationship changed, and the impediments to change.

McGregor’s focus is on the quest for Aboriginal inclusion in the Australia nation; a task which dominated the Aboriginal agenda at the time. McGregor challenges existing scholarship and assumptions, particularly around assimilation. In doing so he provides an understanding of why assimilation once held the approval of many reformers, including Indigenous activists.

He reveals that the inclusion of Aboriginal people in the Australian nation was not a function of political lobbying and parliamentary decision making. Rather, it depended at least as much on Aboriginal people’s public profile, and the way their demonstrated abilities partially wore down the apathy and indifference of settler Australians.

Russell McGregor is Associate Professor of History at James Cook University in Townsville. He has published extensively on the history of settler Australian attitudes toward Aboriginal people, including the award-winning book Imagined Destinies. His other research interests are in Australian nationalism and environmental history.

Extract from the launch speech by Professor Sandra Harding — Vice Chancellor, James Cook University

Indifferent inclusion is not just a very fine book. It is an excellent book, a most insightful piece of work and while those in Russell’s field will be more nuanced in what will certainly be their praise of his work, for me, this was revelatory.

Russell has explored and explained Aboriginal Australians’ quest for national inclusion. His period covers the meat of the twentieth century, from the 1930s to the early 1970s.

Russell takes the reader on a journey, starting before his chosen period, to background Aboriginal Australians relationships with settler Australians. He starts with Deakin and the indifference attached to Aboriginal peoples in the heat of forging a new nation, pointing out that reference to the “aboriginal race” in the Constitution was an afterthought.

In contrast to the deep fear and suspicion that attached at the time to other coloured minorities, in the scheme of things, Australian Aboriginal people were considered to be of little consequence They were thought to be harmless, incapable, a dying race and certainly not of the right stock.

The key point, it seems to me, of Russell’s work is to reveal that while there was a shift in views about Aboriginal Australians and what’s to be done, indeed the attitude of settler Australians towards the national inclusion of Aboriginal Australians was transformed during his period, the dominant attitude adopted towards, Aboriginality, Aboriginal peoples and the idea of their national inclusion was one of a more or less polite indifference.

This cannot be a simple reading of history. And indeed, Russell looks to point and counterpoint. The record he both reflects and creates is not linear: it is not monochromatic.

There is just so much here. About changes in approaches to ‘inclusion policy’ and justifications for the same. Russell exposes cringing rhetoric, expert pronouncements, wrapped in ignorance. But there is reason, too. Russell recounts and assesses the lively debates about shifts in unofficial and official government policy from biological absorption and incorporation, to social assimilation and integration. He explores the shift over his period from an ethnic nationalism to a civic nationalism.

Those debates engage contemporary scholars, as evidenced by the commentary Russell brings to bear. Point and counterpoint about issues like: to what extent were these policy positions the same or different? Where were they enacted? What led to them — and where did these lead? What were the continuities and discontinuities? Where were Aboriginal Australians in this mix? Who were they? A primitive, stone-age people or children and incompetents or a model of sustainability. Object, subject, activist.

Alongside academic debates and insights on the context of, and framework for, the relationship between Aboriginal and settler peoples and the Australian nation, this work is replete with great stories, masterfully told, connecting evidence with its critical interpretation.

Russell’s beautifully weighted work ends with an appeal — to do much better than continue to consider issues of the national inclusion of Aboriginal Australians as polarized polemic.

His hope is that tracking “the tentative steps of the past” will encourage settler Australians to be more willing to consider, perhaps even embrace, the full inclusion of Aboriginal people in the Australian nation.

If that does not happen, it won’t be for wont of putting in place an eminently readable account of the history of Aboriginal inclusion during the middle 20th century.

Russell, I applaud your work and I applaud you for it.

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