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Australian Aboriginal Studies: abstracts of major articles

2013 volume 1


We don’t leave our identities at the city limits: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in urban localities
Bronwyn Fredericks

Abstract: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who live in cities and towns are often thought of as ‘less Indigenous’ than those who live ‘in the bush’, as though they are ‘fake’ Aboriginal people — while ‘real’ Aboriginal people live ‘on communities’ and ‘real’ Torres Strait Islander people live ‘on islands’. Yet more than 70 percent of Australia’s Indigenous peoples live in urban locations (ABS 2007), and urban living is just as much part of a reality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people as living in remote discrete communities. This paper examines the contradictions and struggles that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience when living in urban environments. It looks at the symbols of place and
space on display in the Australian cities of Melbourne and Brisbane to demonstrate how prevailing social, political and economic values are displayed. Symbols of place and space are never neutral, and this paper argues that they can either
marginalise and oppress urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, or demonstrate that they are included and engaged.


Juggling with pronouns: Racist discourse in spoken interaction on the radio
Di Roy

Abstract: While the discourse of deficit with regard to Australian Indigenous health and wellbeing has been well documented in print media and through images on film and on television, radio talk concerning this discourse remains underresearched. This paper interrogates the power of an interactive news interview, aired on the Radio National Breakfast program on ABC Radio in 2011, to maintain and reproduce the discourse of deficit, despite the best intentions of the interview participants. Using a conversation-analytical approach, and membership categorisation analysis in particular, this paper interrogates the spoken interaction between a well-known radio interviewer and a respected medical researcher into Indigenous eye health. It demonstrates the recreation of a discourse emanating from longstanding hegemonies between mainstream and Indigenous Australians. Analysis of firstperson pronoun use shows the ongoing negotiation of social category boundaries and construction of moral identities through ascriptions to category members, upon which the intelligibility of the interview for the listening audience depended. The findings from analysis support claims in a considerable body of whiteness studies literature, the main themes of which include the pervasiveness of a racist discourse in Australian media and society, the power of invisible assumptions, and the importance of naming and exposing them.


Changes in Pitjantjatjara mourning and burial practices
Bill Edwards, University of South Australia

Abstract: This paper is based on observations over a period of more than five decades of changes in Pitjantjatjara burial practices from traditional practices to the introduction of Christian services and cemeteries. Missions have been criticised for enforcing such changes. However, in this instance, the changes were implemented by the Aboriginal people themselves. Following brief outlines of Pitjantjatjara traditional life, including burial practices, and of the establishment of Ernabella Mission in 1937 and its policy of respect for Pitjantjatjara cultural practices and language, the history of these changes which commenced in 1973 are recorded. Previously, deceased bodies were interred according to traditional rites. However, as these practices were increasingly at odds with some of the features of contemporary social, economic and political life, two men who had lost close family members initiated church funeral services and established a cemetery. These practices soon spread to most Pitjantjatjara communities in a manner which illustrates the model of change outlined by Everett Rogers (1962) in Diffusion of Innovations. Reference is made to four more recent funerals to show how these events have been elaborated and have become major social occasions.


The world from Malarrak: Depictions of South-east Asian and European subjects in rock art from the Wellington Range, Australia
Sally K May, Paul SC Taçon, Alistair Paterson, Meg Travers

Abstract: This paper investigates contact histories in northern Australia through an analysis of recent rock paintings. Around Australia Aboriginal artists have produced a unique record of their experiences of contact since the earliest encounters with South-east Asian and, later, European visitors and settlers. This rock art archive provides irreplaceable contemporary accounts of Aboriginal attitudes towards, and engagement with, foreigners on their shores. Since 2008 our team has been working to document contact period rock art in north-western and western Arnhem Land. This paper focuses on findings from a site complex known as Malarrak. It includes the most thorough analysis of contact rock art yet undertaken in this area and questions previous interpretations of subject matter and the relationship of particular paintings to historic events. Contact period rock art from Malarrak presents us with an illustrated history of international relationships in this isolated part of the world. It not only reflects the material changes brought about by outside cultural groups but also highlights the active role Aboriginal communities took in responding to these circumstances.


Addressing the Arrernte: FJ Gillen’s 1896 Engwura speech
Jason Gibson, Australian National University

Abstract: This paper analyses a speech delivered by Francis James Gillen during the opening stages of what is now regarded as one of the most significant ethnographic recording events in Australian history. Gillen’s ‘speech’ at the 1896 Engwura festival provides a unique insight into the complex personal relationships that early anthropologists had with Aboriginal people. This recently unearthed text, recorded by Walter Baldwin Spencer in his field notebook, demonstrates how Gillen and Spencer sought to establish the parameters of their anthropological enquiry in ways that involved both Arrernte agency and kinship while at the same time invoking the hierarchies of colonial anthropology in Australia. By examining the content of the speech, as it was written down by Spencer, we are also able to reassesses the importance of Gillen to the ethnographic ambitions of the Spencer/Gillen collaboration. The incorporation of fundamental Arrernte concepts and the use of Arrernte words to convey the purpose of their 1896 fieldwork suggest a degree of Arrernte involvement and consent not revealed before. The paper concludes with a discussion of the outcomes of the Engwura festival and the subsequent publication of The Native Tribes of Central Australia within the context of a broader set of relationships that helped to define the emergent field of Australian anthropology at the close of the nineteenth century.


One size doesn’t fit all: Experiences of family members of Indigenous gamblers
Louise Holdsworth, Helen Breen, Nerilee Hing and Ashley Gordon Centre for Gambling Education and Research, Southern Cross University

Abstract: This study explores help-seeking and help-provision by family members of Indigenous people experiencing gambling problems, a topic that previously has been ignored. Data are analysed from face-to-face interviews with 11 family
members of Indigenous Australians who gamble regularly. The results confirm that substantial barriers are faced by Indigenous Australians in accessing formal help services and programs, whether for themselves or a loved one. Informal help from family and friends appears more common. In this study, this informal help includes emotional care, practical support and various forms of ‘tough love’. However, these measures are mostly in vain. Participants emphasise that ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ when it comes to avenues of gambling help for Indigenous peoples. Efforts are needed to identify how Indigenous families and extended families can best provide social and practical support to assist their loved ones to acknowledge and address gambling problems.


Western Australia’s Aboriginal heritage regime: Critiques of culture, ethnography, procedure and political economy
Nicholas Herriman, La Trobe University

Abstract: Western Australia’s Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA) and the de facto arrangements that have arisen from it constitute a large part of the Aboriginal ‘heritage regime’ in that state. Although designed ostensibly to protect Aboriginal heritage, the heritage regime has been subjected to various scholarly critiques. Indeed, there is a widespread perception of a need to reform the Act. But on what basis could this proceed? Here I offer an analysis of these critiques, grouped according to their focus on political economy, procedure, ethnography and culture. I outline problems surrounding the first three criticisms and then discuss two versions of the cultural critique. I argue that an extreme version of this criticism is weak and inconsistent with the other three critiques. I conclude that there is room for optimism by pointing to ways in which the heritage regime could provide more beneficial outcomes for Aboriginal people.


Read With Me Everyday: Community engagement and English literacy outcomes at Erambie Mission (research report)
Lawrence Bamblett

Abstract: Since 2009 Lawrie Bamblett has been working with his community at Erambie Mission on a literacy project called Read With Me. The programs — three have been carried out over the past four years — encourage parents to actively engage with their children’s learning through reading workshops, social media, and the writing and publication of their own stories. Lawrie attributes much of the project’s extraordinary success to the intrinsic character of the Erambie community, not least of which is their communal approach to living and sense of shared responsibility.


The forgotten Yuendumu Men’s Museum murals: Shedding new light on the progenitors of the Western Desert Art Movement (research report)
Bethune Carmichael and Apolline Kohen

Abstract: In the history of the Western Desert Art Movement, the Papunya School murals are widely acclaimed as the movement’s progenitors. However, in another community, Yuendumu, some 150 kilometres from Papunya, a seminal museum project took place prior to the completion of the Papunya School murals and the production of the first Papunya boards. The Warlpiri men at Yuendumu undertook a ground-breaking project between 1969 and 1971 to build a men’s museum that would not only house ceremonial and traditional artefacts but would also be adorned with murals depicting the Dreamings of each of the Warlpiri groups that had recently settled at Yuendumu. While the murals at Papunya are lost, those at Yuendumu have, against all odds, survived. Having been all but forgotten, this unprecedented cultural and artistic endeavour is only now being fully appreciated. Through the story of the genesis and construction of the Yuendumu Men’s Museum and its extensive murals, this paper demonstrates that the Yuendumu murals significantly contributed to the early development of the Western Desert Art Movement. It is time to acknowledge the role of Warlpiri artists in the history of the movement.

2013 volume 2


Indigenous higher education: overcoming barriers to participation in research higher degree programs
Toni Schofield, Rebecca O’Brien and John Gilroy, The University of Sydney

Abstract: This paper explores barriers to Indigenous people’s participation in research higher degree (RHD) programs, which are critical mechanisms for increasing the presence of Indigenous students, staff and senior decision makers in universities. Indigenous RHD participation has emerged as a critical dimension of social inequity, particularly in relation to Indigenous struggles to be heard in major Australian institutions. It plays a central role in Indigenous Australia’s capacity to voice its concerns and represent its interests in all the major institutions that shape people’s access to economic and social resources. In analysing the obstacles encountered by Indigenous peoples in accessing and completing postgraduate research education, we argue that while Commonwealth Government higher education policy has progressed Indigenous RHD participation, it has simultaneously contributed to consolidating universities as international businesses whose main priority is to compete in an increasingly integrated global knowledge economy in order to survive. The organisational dynamics required of such institutions marginalise the advancement of social goals related to equitable participation, such as Indigenous participation in RHD programs. The paper suggests that, although some universities have begun to include Indigenous academics in management, more thoroughgoing integration of Indigenous Australians at all levels of university organisation is required.


New ways for exploring who knows what in a native title case: a sociological approach
Rebecca O’Brien and Catriona Elder, The University of Sydney

Abstract: This paper explores native title legal processes. It seeks to build on earlier scholarship that has investigated what goes on in the tribunal encounter; in particular, it examines what makes it so hard for Indigenous claimants to be heard in the courtroom. Making an intervention into this broad debate, we present a new sociology of knowledge model that can be used to read native title legal processes in a slightly different way — one that brings knowledge and legitimacy to the fore. Drawing on Legitimation Code Theory and postcolonial theory (Homi Bhabha, in particular), we establish some of the structural relations that enable or disable the voices of Indigenous peoples being heard in native title cases. Our key case study is the Yorta Yorta native title case and the interpretation of a squatter’s diary, a piece of knowledge that was central to the outcome of the claim.


Conceptual framework for policy and research development with Indigenous people with disabilities
John Gilroy, The University of Sydney; Michelle Donelly, Southern Cross University; Susan Colmar and Trevor Parmenter, The University of Sydney

Abstract: There is currently no explicitly Indigenous conceptual framework to advance research and policy development in a way that assists Indigenous people with disabilities. This paper proposes a conceptual framework that brings together the strengths of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health and Indigenous Standpoint Theory for research and policy development regarding Indigenous people with disabilities. This framework provides six criteria that bridge the cultural interface between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, while emancipating Indigenous people with disabilities in the research and policy development process in Australian disability and Indigenous affairs.


Policy influences affecting the food practices of Indigenous Australians since colonisation
Tarunna Sebastian, University of Technology, Sydney and Michelle Donelly, Southern Cross University

Abstract: Aboriginal Australians face a range of health challenges that can be linked to dietary factors. Diet-related illness, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and renal disease, is more prevalent among Aboriginal people. This paper examines factors affecting the food practices of Aboriginal Australians since colonisation and contrasts these with the sustainable food practices of Aboriginal people prior to permanent European occupation. Significant shifts in policy and other factors affecting food and eating practices in Australia have occurred over the past 200 years. Influential overlapping historical epochs including the pre-colonial, colonial, protection and assimilation periods have been identified, as has the influence of the industrialisation of food production. The literature review draws on historical sources and policies that highlight the impact of the changing food identities of Aboriginal people that affect diet-related illness. The paper concludes with some implications for food and nutrition policies. Evidence drawn from these findings indicates that further progress is required to inform the development of culturally appropriate food policies to address the diet-related health issues of Aboriginal people.


Proper mixed-up: miscegenation among Aboriginal Australians
Cindy Solonec, The University of Western Australia

Abstract: Early in Australia’s history, legislation was passed in most states to deal specifically with an ‘Aboriginal problem’. The perceived ‘problem’ involved Aboriginals, Asians and white people producing offspring that interfered with official aspirations for a ‘pure’ white British race. In Western Australia from 1915 to 1940 the Chief Protector of Aborigines was AO Neville, who had become fixated with the idea of eugenics. Neville played a significant role by endorsing the misguided belief that Australia should be made up of ‘white’ citizens, by deciding who Aboriginal people under his control could marry. His folly eventually dissipated and, following the Second World War, authorities moved away from the notion of ‘biological’ assimilation to one of ‘cultural assimilation’. Mixed-descent families became the bane of such ambitious ideologies and Aboriginal Australians and migrants evolved as a significant part of Australian society.

This paper is written from an Aboriginal perspective, and snippets from the lives of the author’s Rodriguez and Fraser families in the Derby region place the times in context. To explain the local history, this paper draws on Indigenous Standpoint Theory, which can be described as a paradigm in which commonalities of the underprivileged are analysed. It provides a viewing platform from which this story exposes everyday life of marginalised people by investigating the reality of the Fraser clan and its mixed marriages in Western Australia. The paper considers the assimilationism, miscegenation and developmentalism that were played out during the middle of the last century.


Cultural heritage management, ethics and rock art in Western Australia (research report)
Robert G Bednarik

Abstract: This report presents a critique of established cultural heritage practices in Western Australia, focusing on the control of the process by corporate proponents and its effects on rock art and stone arrangements. The moderating roles of scholarly societies in questions of ethics are reviewed, and the report concludes with a constructive proposal to end practices that have facilitated large-scale destruction of cultural heritage sites.