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At its very core, this paper is interested in Aboriginal identity in Australia; the principle concern is to analyse in-depth, the relationships between their cultural identity and the land. One of the main issues that face Aboriginal people in contemporary Australia has indisputably been the arrival of white settlers in the 18th Century. The events that have followed over the past 200 years have led to generations of disputes, degradation and ultimately the loss of land by the Indigenous people. Thousands of Indigenous people were killed and the survivors were simply put in reserves; their homeland have been exploited and resources taken without consent.
First and foremost, it must be made clear that the literature review here is as much about defining and understanding what Aboriginal geography is as much as providing a rigorous demonstration of the current issues of Aboriginal land rights and identity through views of both Aboriginal and non Aboriginal peoples. The aim therefore, is wholly about ensuring that the background of indigenous Australians is understood which will then put into perspective the context of the research project that follows, in Chapter 4. This review will geographically encompass the cultural issues and differences Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals have faced in recent history with reference to the effect of Aboriginal land rights on identity; a discussion of key texts from Gumbert and Maddock will allow a solid focus and reference point for the research. This will not only ensure that seemingly broad generalisations are eliminated but will also allow an in-depth understanding of why such research is necessary for a successful future regarding these issues. By this, the paper refers to the reconciliation of the Aboriginal race from the apparent generations of wrong doing by the colonisers.
The great importance in assessing the impacts on identity of such events in the modern day means there must be a level of understanding for the political and historical background of white settlement in Australia, meaning the nature of Australian colonisation and the struggles that have been part of the defining nature of the Aboriginal culture today will be thoroughly explored. The review and investigation that follow explores the difference in Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal values, knowledge systems and attitudes towards each other and the contested landscape.
There is of course, a further need to examine these issues in more than one context to ensure that the argument does not simply generalise and stereotype Aboriginal communities across Australia. Therefore, the review will not only discuss the history of land issues and identity creation but also discuss them in relation to the two knowledge systems involved in this process: that is, the separate concerns of the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people of Australia. Clearly, over the country’s history, there has been a phenomenal difference in the way that the two groups view land and the link between the two is paramount to future development for an understanding between the two groups of people.
In light of the papers aims, the predominant classification that must be addressed is the very definition of an ‘Aboriginal’ person. Lenzerini (2008, p.75) notes that the term Aboriginal ‘encompasses an infinite variety of diverse realities that sometimes greatly differ with each other’. A definition must be made despite this; a commonly accepted definition of Aboriginal people is written by Cobo (1986). It states that Aboriginal:
‘communities, people and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from the other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories , or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to the future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity , as a basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal system’.
This definition broadly contains the meaning of what it means to claim Aboriginal identity in Australia and interestingly notes the negative connotations of colonialism. For a true understanding of Aboriginal identity and its relation to land rights, the study must look to the roots of the issue. At its very simplest then, as Gumbert (1984, p.xiii) notes, ‘the founding of an English colony in 1788 led to the Aborigines losing their rights to their land. The loss of their land led to many generations of Aborigines losing their identity and their land’. The suggestion here is that when Aboriginal people lost their land to the British in the 20th Century, they also lost their identity. This is because their own cultural knowledge shows a strong understanding that each of them is attached to the country that they are at one with each other. As Sarra (2010) notes, this is ‘qualitatively different from the relationship to land that prevails in mainstream Australia’. It can be instantly recognised then that the knowledge systems that the two groups demonstrate are undeniably different at their core, suggesting why there is such complex controversy surrounding the compatibility of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in the same vicinity. For the indigenous people, the land is part of them and they are part of the land, making their dispossession even more offensive and disrespectful. Anderson and Gale (1992, p.220) discuss the inextricable binding that the Aboriginal people have with the land, explaining that it is not an external physical object but has mythical significance to their culture. The colonial vision however demonstrated a significantly different view of land. Heathcote (1972, p.27) recognises three stages in which Western cultures had entirely different knowledge systems in relation to land: The first stage was the increased level of industrial machinery used to exploit the land and its resources in an unregulated fashion, the second stage encompassed the same exploitative framework but in a more technical, strategic fashion. The third stage has been influenced in recent years by an ecological vision that recognises the limited resources used and is becoming rebranded under the framework of sustainable development. While this framework is of great use in recognising an economic colonial knowledge system, the author fails to consider the socioeconomic uses of the land, limiting its vision. This does however, successfully show the exploitative system that was brought by the colonisers. This enhances the divide between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginal.
It was then, in retrospect, seemingly inevitable that the struggle for land would always be fought by the indigenous people of Australia. There are undoubtedly a number of important events that have permeated this struggle and deserve recognition; however, rather than to generalise and dilute an examination of a range of different land claims and events over the course of history, the more significant examples will be discussed in detail to give a solid understanding of the issues. For example, one of the most significant movements that started Aboriginal land claims began in the 1960’s with the Gurindji people, who in an effort to reclaim what they believed to be their land, left the areas which had been selected for them by the white people and instead moved back into an area which was legally owned by a British company (Gumbert, 1984, p.1). This powerful act demonstrated to the white people not only that they wanted their land back, but truly believed that the land belonged to them, and had done since to Dreamtime (which refers to the beginning of time for the Aboriginal people, an era in which spirits created the Earth (Flood, 1995, p.5)) . This movement became widely recognised as the Aboriginal land rights movement. It can be argued that this marked the beginning of the legal and political struggle for land and in effect, also demonstrates the real struggle that Aboriginal people have in showing white people what the land means to them. This strongly links to the Aboriginal knowledge systems and beliefs and again, their identity.
To be Aboriginal is significantly different to what it means to be British or European. At the heart of each culture is a considerably different approach to many of the values of life, not least to the land. As has been demonstrated, from a whiteman’s perspective land is a commodity, a legal product to be bought and sold to each other whereas the indigenous people of Australia have a spiritual attachment to the land from the moment they are born (Morphy, 1983, p.110). It is these different knowledge systems that the research in Chapter 4 is interested in, as this has clearly been the issue for many generations between the two cultures. The fact that the term ‘Aboriginal’ did not exist until European settlement is testimony to this (Brush, 1996, p.1). The issues faced by the indigenous communities are more often than not quantified into economic terms which is an entirely Westernised view of looking at issues. The argument here is that the current issues surrounding Aboriginal people are seen through a biased, Western perspective and do not therefore consider what is significant to the Aboriginal people themselves. In this sense, the cultural significance that they uphold regarding the land was ignored and in its place laws of displacement were put forth (Myers 1991, p.127). Through a cultural understanding of the land and its people, the environment can be significantly affected (Saggers and Gray, 1991, p.16) yet as demonstrated, the arrival of Europeans brought different customs that upset the Aboriginal traditions; political power and laws being a significant driving force for the dispossession of land. It is argued then that Aboriginal land rights would never come about through settlers learning about the land tenure systems of Aborigines and a constant declaration of their attachment to the land (Morphy, 1978 p, 39).
It should be noted that as Australia became a colony of Britain it meant that it fell under British law instantly, unquestioned. Government policies brought to Australia instantly reduced Aboriginal people to ‘aliens’, giving them no legal stand point. This occurred to the extent that even their physical liberties were taken away from them. (Scholtz 2006, p.87). As Aboriginal people were increasingly displaced and ’rounded up’ into small, controllable areas, there was a clear sign that the white people were trying to convert the indigenous people to their own societal values and began to lose what was their own culture and practices, particularly in more urbanised areas (Gale, 1972, p62). The Queensland Act number 17 of 1987 permitted this rounding up of Aboriginals which allowed Parliaments to put them into reserves which gave great power over the indigenous people. Further to this in the Northern Territory in 1910, the Aborigines Act and, in New South Wales the Aborigines Protection Amending Act 1915 was passed which gave the Chief Protector of the land legal powers and guardian status over Aboriginal children above and beyond the legal powers of the parent (Morphy 1991, p.32). This was obviously devastating to the Aboriginal community, yet was seen as a management scheme for white people against the Aboriginal ‘problem’. It was hoped by the white that by legally confining Aboriginal people to institutions it would decrease the risk of miscegenation and the black people would eventually die out. These political laws led to what is referred to as the ‘Stolen Generation’ (Young, 2009, p.36) whereby children were taken from their parents and put into institutions. It was a way for white people to try and assimilate the blacks into their own customs. Robin argues that communities are still recovering from this attempt at assimilation, however this does not place more emphasis on the family attachments rather than the significance this has to land which is a slight weakness in the argument. Rather than understand the cultural difference, it has clearly been demonstrated that European settlers attempted to force their own laws upon the indigenous people of Australia, forcing them to lose their own culture and identity that had been with them for thousands of years (Broom and Jones, 1973, p.1). The argument for the ‘stealing’ of the children was that it was to integrate the indigenous people to the rest of society yet for the most part the Aboriginals who were removed from their parents were in reality more displaced than the rest of their community. It meant that they were not brought up in the same community as people from their own cultural heritage, and were instead taught the customs of the Westernised world, leading only to further loss of culture and identity.
As Maddock (1983. p.5) discusses, ‘Aborigines can be seen as disadvantaged Australians in need of assistance if they are to step into the mainstream of life in this country’. There was a severe lack of help for the indigenous community in terms of the law. They could also be viewed as a minority, distinctly different culturally from the rest of the country and maintained as best they could. This distinction was an attempt to retain what British law was trying to wipe out. Whichever view was taken, it was clear that legally, either would make a significant impact on laws and policies of the future for Aboriginals in Australia. It was extremely clear that Aboriginals wished to claim their land back whichever way it was viewed; however in 1970, Peter Nixon, Minister of the Interior, presented a speech that shook the Aboriginal community, creating a deep sense that something must be done (Dagmar, 1978, p.134). Nixon stated that Aboriginals should not be encouraged to demand ownership of land simply because previous generations from their families had an attachment to the land. They would then, have to claim land in a similar way to other Australians.
Undoubtedly then, if the Aboriginal people wished not only to simply survive but to create a fairer livelihood for themselves then something ultimately had to be done. As the Europeans had entirely stuck to their own customs and laws then the Aboriginals realised the only way to create a lasting and permanent change was to bring the case to the courts. In June 1992, the High Court of Australia ruled in favour of the Mabo and Others v Queensland (No.2) case (or as it will be simply referred to, the Mabo case). This is undeniably one of the greatest achievements in recent history for Aboriginal communities all over Australia as it rejected the previous law of terra nullius that in essence was a term used to describe the land in a manner that allowed Britain to colonise the country; it did this by stating that the land had never been owned by a sovereignty, therefore nobody owned it (Kidd 2005, p.310). The case also agreed that there was such a notion of native title which meant Aboriginal people were free to oppose the white people who had dispossessed them from their lands previously.
This, of course, did not end Aboriginal plight overnight. There were still issues of validity surrounding whether the Aboriginals really did own the land previously and this is the issue further embedded in the Land Rights Act (Northern Territory) 1976. In the present day, existing property rights are based upon the written European law as opposed to oral traditions; can traditional land relationships to be a valid cause for ownership? There is no shortage of petitions from Aboriginal sources demonstrating a strong view that they are more than just legal, rightful owners of the land. As discussed, Aboriginal people believe they have more than simply a physical connection to the land but also a spiritual one. They believe that ‘their relationship to it is part of divine history , and [he] loses sense when considered apart from his spiritual beliefs’ (Woodward, 1974 p.38). This meant that the opportunity to gain their land back was a way of preserving this spiritual link with the land, giving back their sense of identity. These petitions demonstrate a view that they were invaded as the land was used without their permission. For example, the Gurindji (QUOTE) petition stated that the Aboriginal people have lived in these lands further back than memory serves and their cultures and sacred places have evolved in the lands. (Maddock, 1983 p.35) The important message here is that not only should the Aborigines legally own the land but it is also a moral right that it is theirs. The same can be said for the Yirrkala tribe who petitioned that the land taken from them was taken with disrespect as they had hunted for food there for thousands of years (Maddock, 1983, p.37).
Even though Aboriginal Australians have been dispossessed from their lands for over two hundred years, they would still have no difficulty in knowing where the lands of their ancestors were which gives more depth to the argument that land rights should be based upon tradition (Bell 1993, p.115). As aforementioned, the meaning of property, as aforementioned, to the Aboriginal people is much different to them and has legally been extremely difficult to put into terms in English law as their view of country is one of identification rather than ownership. A land claim hearing then, is based upon ‘history, dreaming sites and actions, continued use of and care and concern for the country… Evidence is oral’ (Rose, 1991 p. 249). It would give an opportunity for the Aborigines to explain who they are, and why they believe they are right to claim the land back. This is referred to as traditional evidence and allows Land Commissioners to gain further knowledge from the Aboriginal communities; it also allows multiple systems of knowledge to be engaged without eradicating each other (Broome, 1996, p.52). To elaborate, the land rights Acts (Central Land Council, 2012) that have been lawfully submitted in Australia, are fairly open in the sense that they do specify any anthropological models that Aboriginal people must conform to in order to demonstrate their Aboriginality to the Land Commissioner and courts. This is a valid argument but Broome fails to note the irony in that the Aboriginal community must present themselves in a Westernised court of law. There is then, a paradoxically produced system. The post-Mabo era of land claims could become a ‘cannon of authenticity for proof of land’ (Broome, 1996, p.53) yet this expectation to prove authentic Aboriginality could in other cases reduce Aboriginal communities even further should legal recognition of native title become rejected. It can be argued that the Acts have become paradoxical in that rather than giving freedom to Aboriginals, they actually give Westernised cultures in Australia the opportunity to silence the claims forever through a knowledge system produced by their own practices.
Now that it has clearly been established that there is an opportunity for Aboriginal land rights to be discussed, we must look forward from the theoretical context. The following chapters discuss in a variety of ways how identity issues in relation to land rights have moved on in contemporary Australia, through a political, socioeconomic and cultural lens. There are clear themes of reconciliation and thorough discussions concerning the different types of knowledge systems presented in Australia today.
As part of my degree, I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad for a year and I was lucky enough to study at Sydney University in Australia. Upon arrival I was blissfully unaware of the scale of the Aboriginal issues that permeate the everyday lives of the people around me in Sydney. I didn’t think much more of it until quite early on in my year abroad three Aboriginals attempted to mug me in the street one night. When I spoke to my Australian friends about it nearly everybody replied ‘Yeah, they’re a problem’. Nobody however seemed willing to talk about the matter anymore, choosing rather to give a strangely vague answer and move on. Naturally I was shocked by the responses I received, provoking me to look further into the issue. I soon discovered that Aboriginal issues were deeply rooted in Australian history and most of it was bitter. I realised there were a wide range of contentious topics from education to heath and from the standard of living to outright racism. What struck me most however was the displacement most of the Aboriginals had faced over the past 200 years. With the Mabo case (Attwood, 1996, p.45) having just passed its 20th year since inception, I felt a strong desire to continue with this line of research to see what the impacts have been on both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Surpassing this however, it became clear that the main issue for Aboriginal people was that the strong relationship they felt with the land had been taken from them when there was no permission granted for such dispossession of land, leaving them with a sense of identity loss. With this in mind I continued my research with a strong idea of the issues surrounding land rights and identity for Aboriginal people in Australia.
There is a vital need to understand the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people and the relationships each of these groups has with the land when concerning identity. While there is a focus on the relationships with non-Aboriginals, the research must gain a complete understanding of what it is to be an Aboriginal in contemporary Australia. The following research questions have therefore been devised :
1. What are the dominant impacts of land rights on both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people?
2. What are the differences and similarities in the views of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal knowledge systems concerning land rights and identity?
3. What are the future factors of change for Aboriginal people?
The following methods have been chosen as the most effective way of documenting this construction of Aboriginality:
After much consideration, it was decided that the best form of interview would be a semi-structured interview. This way it would allow me to ask questions in the style of an structured interview but also vary the questions should the interviewee seem to wish to talk more about one area than another (Silverman 2007, p.43). While there is this flexibility, the structure also allows me to bring the interview back to any particular matter I find more important should the interview go off topic slightly. While the questions are more general in their frame of reference from that typically found in a structured interview schedule (Bryman, 2008 p.196). When choosing whom to interview, it was clear that I must be very careful in the way that I approached the interviewee. This came to my attention when I was aggressively turned away from an Aboriginal land rights office by one of the members inside. In hindsight, it was naive of me to think that Aboriginal people would be so open to an interview by a white (and British) student after they are under such pressure in society already. After this incident I approached the matter much more carefully, instead choosing to find contacts through members of staff at the University of Sydney.
The following research from my interviews is based upon interviews with:
Warwick Hawkins- A lecturer at Sydney University who teaches about Indigenous sport, education and culture. An Aboriginal himself, Warwick was a good choice from whom to get an academics viewpoint while also having vast knowledge on Aboriginal life.
Darryl French- Head Community Development teacher at the Tranby Aboriginal College- An Aboriginal who’s dream it is to get more Aboriginal students into Universities
Mowan Garri- A groundsman at Komay Botany Bay National Park in Cronulla
It is interesting to note that Mowan Garri, despite meeting prior to the interview, was still unwilling to take the interview face to face. This created some positives and negatives. Firstly, it meant that the interview had to be taken over the phone which initially worried me as I would not be able to engage in non-lexical observation during the interview. Shuy (2002) suggests that this may make the telephone interview inferior as interviewees do not fare as well when asked about sensitive issues. However, the interviewee chose the setting so I feel it was the correct decision as they felt most comfortable talking over the phone. I asked if I could record the conversation and permission was granted. There are of course many more advantages and disadvantages to telephone interviews; for example Frey (2004) believes that a telephone interview is not likely to be any longer than 25 minutes which may not be long enough to gather enough data yet a positive is that by not being in the same room, the respondents feel less inclined to respond to the interviewer’s non-lexical gestures and facial expressions, making them feel more at ease. It was having this in mind that made me believe that in order to make all the interviews fair, I would then have to do all the interviews over the telephone despite most other interviewees suggesting they were willing to have an interview face to face. I believe rapport was upheld well with all respondents and each were given a full briefing of the research proposal before hand so they were comfortable in the knowledge that their answers were not going to be taken out of context and used in a negative light. This, as Bechhofer and Paterson (2000, p.70) state, is extremely important in the interview process to minimise any manipulation. It was made clear from the outset that the research aim is to try to find a positive perspective on Aboriginal land rights and identity issues.
It is necessary to address the reason for the respondents being the perfect candidates for this research. By choosing a lecturer from an Aboriginal background who has been through the tough Aboriginal education process, answers can be answered effectively on both a personal anecdotal manner and an academic framework. Warwick demonstrates a great influences on contemporary ideas, giving the answers depth and meaning in relation to future work. Darryl French is the head community development teacher at Tranby College in Sydney that takes up to 28 Aboriginal students a year, all of whom come from a struggling background as a consequence of the belligerent conditions they have been put under by the colonising British. This therefore has given me the opportunity to directly address research question 3 about what he believes the future concerns are for his students and local Aboriginal people. Mowan Garri was also an ideal candidate to interview as the Komay Botany Bay National Park employs all Aboriginal workers which provides interesting thought for discussion and, despite not owning the land, demonstrated a clear connection to the park and its protection.
Surveys were further used to back up the initial interviews taken out. The survey was taken out in three parts, the first of which was given to a University class studying Indigenous Sport, Education and Culture. Survey one was taken in week one before any teaching had commenced and survey two was taken towards the end of the semester when the class was near the end of the teaching period. This was done in order to gain an understanding of the students knowledge of Aboriginal land right issues and identity problems both before and after the classes were taken. It will also give insight into whether this provides a positive or a negative impact on the views of those learning about the issues. As Blaikie (2000, p.29) states, a ‘critical stage in any research is the process of selecting the people, events or items from which about the data will be collected’. This is precisely why a great deal of thought was given to who should be the respondents of the surveys to give the best results. The other chosen group for the third survey were the students of Tranby Aboriginal College. This, much like the interviews, was excellent for providing a compare and contrast view of knowledge systems between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. The surveys themselves, varied slightly with each setting but the core research questions were all asked in one form or another. Some questions were deemed inappropriate to ask both groups as they would provoke biased answers. Bias is always at the centre of surveys (Collier et al. 2004, p.101) and many precautionary measures were taken when phrasing certain questions correctly to ensure nobody was offended. The majority of the questions were open ended as the nature of the research asks for opinions and thoughts; simple yes or no questions were seen as unsuitable and they would not provide an in-depth account of the knowledge systems that were required. Despite the questions being open ended, the surveys were kept relatively short to avoid respondent fatigue. Without an interviewer present also, it allows the respondent to write more freely than if they were the subject of an interview. Furthermore, it reduces the researchers imposing ability on the participant (Stoecker 2005, p.39). Naturally, there are downsides to using a survey, for example the respondent can read the survey as a whole meaning that the answers are not truly answered independently of each other and they may find it difficult to answer a lot of questions. Of course there is also the risk of a low response rate. However, taking this into consideration a survey was seen as the most effective method as time restrictions did not allow for individual interviews and many of the Tranby College students were either unwilling to or could not attend a focus group session.
To support the ideas expressed further, an extensive range of reliable secondary data will be drawn upon in order to express and reiterate the ideas and views shown by the interviewees and respondents to the surveys. Dale et al. (1988) argue that this form of data analysis is paramount to a research project as it provides high-quality data and allows opportunity to give views real depth and understanding in the context of Aboriginal issues in the wider community. By using this in tandem with primary research, I believe it gives the project as a whole a great anchor for any concluding arguments that are put forth. Government statistics are paramount to the research as clearly time and money constraints would not allow for my own research into Aboriginal demographics. It further gives opportunity to analyse unbiased data whereas all other primary research is subject to unavoidable bias, no matter how small. While the data may not address my research questions directly there will undoubtedly be statistics that are useful for the research.
Pictures can demonstrate many different emotions and encompass a vast amount of what an identity involves, therefore a range of photographs were taken and one in particular powerful photograph has been included to help exhibit the need for Aboriginal title and identity to be recognised in the wider community. The messages behind this particular photograph will be discussed in the Analysis chapter.
Thus far, it has been necessary to provide an analytical background to the histories of Aboriginal land rights and cultural identities. Therefore in order to contextualise the analysis, there must initially be a base knowledge of the Aboriginal population to gain a true understanding of the qualitative size of their race in relation to the rest of the Australian population; it has been noted previously that the indigenous population of Australia is very small in comparison to the non-indigenou
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