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Australian Aboriginal Studies: Issue 2, 2017

Australian Aboriginal Studies: Issue 2, 2017
Publication date
Australian Aboriginal Studies Journal


How kinship structures have been adapted to allow continued descent of rights and interests in north-western Victoria — Michael P O’Kane

Abstract: With colonisation, Aboriginal kinship structures in the central Murray riverine have been adapted from their precolonial form in order to function in the contemporary context. Where once meta-structural realities such as moieties and sections regulated many aspects of regional Aboriginal society, contemporary people in the region are commonly organised into surname groups or groups associated with particular ancestors that provide the arenas within which the politics of identity are negotiated. This paper seeks to compare the information available concerning social organisation in the ethno-historical record with contemporary forms of social organisation in order to highlight the functional continuities of Aboriginal kinship in the region from the precolonial era to the present. Ultimately, I argue for the persistence of a cultural bloc along the central Murray riverine, which, while structurally adapted through colonisation, is functionally extant and stable.

Revisiting the Mount William Greenstone Quarry: employment specialisation and a market economy in an early contact hunter-gatherer society — Phillip Roberts

Abstract: This paper revisits the distribution of greenstone from the quarry at Mount William near Lancefield, Victoria, to investigate traditional exchange mechanisms associated with the stone. The research finds that the value of the stone appears to be driven to a substantial degree by systems associated with a market economy, a system that was a socio-economic benefit to both the managers of the quarry itself and to the Wurundjeri more generally. Historical ethnographic sources indicate that a permanent presence was maintained at the quarry site by specific Wurundjeri-willam community members. This suggests that employment specialisation was associated with the production of this non-food resource, an observation not usually associated with hunter-gatherer populations. These observations do not fit with many existing models of Aboriginal socioeconomic systems. Their presence in this setting alludes to complex commercial organisation and asset management for at least some high-value resources in southeast Australia prior to the colonial period.

Access to sustainable employment and productive training: workplace participation strategies for Indigenous employees — Bronwyn Ewing, Grace Sarra, Robin Price, Grace O’Brien and Chelsey Priddle

Abstract: Access to sustainable and viable employment is crucial to an individual’s potential to achieve a reasonable quality of life. Policies introduced to promote Indigenous employment in Australia, such as Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP), have had minimal impact on long-term employment outcomes and the percentage of Indigenous people in employment has barely moved in 35 years. According to statistics in the Prime Minister’s Closing the Gap report, there has been no improvement in Indigenous employment targets since 2008 and the ‘Indigenous employment rate fell from 53.8 per cent in 2008 to 47.5 per cent in 2012–13’ (Australian Government 2016:27). National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) 2014–15 data indicate that only 46 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and older were employed (ABS 2016). The purpose of this paper is to report on an investigation into employment and workplace participation strategies for Indigenous employees in one government organisation in Queensland. The study adopted a mixed methods approach, predominantly qualitative, and focused on descriptive similarities and differences in terms of Indigenous employment strategies to develop in-depth comparable case studies. It used thematic and discourse analysis to bring together theoretical understandings of communities of practice to theorise employees as participants in workplace employment and practice. The findings indicate that employees want careers, not just jobs. They enjoy working in culturally safe environments with other Indigenous employees onsite and want to improve their life opportunities.

Indigenous sporting pasts: resuscitating Aboriginal swimming history — Gary Osmond

Abstract: This paper explores swimming as an area of sport and physical culture in which Aboriginal involvement historically is little understood. Although colonial reports and contemporary historiography comment on Aboriginal swimming practices, detailed evidence is fragmentary and much has been forgotten. Through three case studies — of stroke development in mid-nineteenth century Sydney; a swimmer in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, who swam on equal terms with white competitors; and a commended surf life-saver on the Gold Coast, Queensland — this paper offers a partial redress of this forgotten past and recognises the unknown overlap of Aboriginal swimming with the development of ‘modern’ swimming cultures in Australia. The value of investigating these pasts extends beyond broadening historical knowledge to the potential use in eliciting memories and generating storytelling within communities.

Aboriginal Community Education Officers’ fight for agency and equality: a historical overview — Belinda MacGill

Abstract: Aboriginal Community Education Officers (ACEOs) play a critical role in the lives of Indigenous students. They provide support in the classroom and liaise between Indigenous communities and schools. Despite the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recommendation to recognise the value of ACEOs in schools, they continue to be marginalised in the literature and the workplace. Arguably, the presence of ACEOs on education boards and committees has informed a political body of knowledge that has shaped Indigenous education policy. The South Australian Aboriginal Education Consultative Committee included many ACEOs and was one of the first political bodies to focus on the working conditions of ACEOs. Oral histories of ACEOs, coupled with a review of the literature concerning ACEOs, highlight their significant commitment to Indigenous education and foreground their work within the context of educational policy and workplace change. The significance of these oral accounts cannot be underestimated and offers a counter narrative to the dearth of literature on ACEOs in shaping educational reform.

Bulldust, flat tyres and roadkill: a disorderly decolonising fieldwork journey through remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia— Suzanne Plater with Julie Mooney-Somers, Jo Lander and Lesley Barclay

Abstract: The purpose of this paper is to discuss the iterations and outcomes of a doctoral fieldwork experience where the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants challenged me to radically adapt my constructivist grounded theory methodology and commence decolonising data gathering and analysis while in the field. The starting point for the research was a discourse of defeatism in the literature around mature-age Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander university graduates and students, which the participants, my doctoral supervisors and I perceived as unjust and unjustifiable. The aim of the ongoing research, therefore, is to explore and explicate an alternative discourse, beginning with the emic perspectives of matureage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander university graduates. In the context of the remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander field, I detail the early and somewhat disorderly enactment of decolonising methodology — disorderly because I was unprepared for the extent to which the participants would take control of both the research agenda and methods. Disorder also partly characterised our collaborative methodological adaptation, in that it was initially more intuitive than deliberate. I discuss how the participants shifted the post-graduation narrative from one of personal and professional uplift to one they dubbed ‘the blessings and burdens of being an educated black’. This narrative unequivocally challenges the notion of Australia as a postcolonial society and positions the participants as activists in the fight for indigenous self-determination. I reflect on mistakes made and lessons learned, and articulate pragmatic and achievable fieldwork research methods that privilege participants as knowledge producers and custodians. The paper concludes by discussing the next stages of the decolonising constructivist grounded theory project, which necessitated a return to the field to test and refine the emerging conceptual categories with the participants, most of whom have remained active partners in the research.

Aboriginal inmate experiences of Parramatta Girls Home — Corrinne Sullivan

Abstract: The treatment of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal inmates of Parramatta Girls Home highlights a powerful convergence of a shared history. The recollections of both groups of inmates tell a similar story of shame, abuse, violence and neglect. Both groups have had to fight hard to get their stories heard, known and acknowledged. The Bringing them home report (HREOC 1997), the Forgotten Australians report (Australian Senate 2004) and the 2014 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse have brought the experiences of former inmates of Parramatta Girls Home to the fore of public acknowledgment. It is estimated that more than 30,000 girls were incarcerated in the Home between 1887 and 1974. At any given time the Home held between 160 and 200 inmates. The girls were generally incarcerated for between six months and three years, and were eligible for release when they were 18 years of age (Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 2014c).