Skip to main content

Australian Aboriginal Studies: Issue 2, 2016

Australian Aboriginal Studies: Issue 2, 2016
Publication date
Australian Aboriginal Studies Journal


When you sleep on park bench, you sleep with your ears open and one eye open: Australian Aboriginal people’s experience of homelessness in an urban setting — Kathryn Browne-Yung, Anna Ziersch, Fran Baum and Gilbert Gallaher

Abstract: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are ten times more likely than non-Indigenous people to be homeless, which is an indicator of the level of health and social disparity that exists between the two groups. This paper presents the experiences of homelessness for a group of ten Aboriginal people located in Adelaide. Using Bourdieu’s theoretical approach, we explore how these individuals interact with their environment, notably in the context of historical institutional disadvantage, and explore how this affects health and wellbeing. We highlight the subjective nature of homelessness, which is influenced by factors such as culture, age, and poor mental and physical health. We demonstrate the complex, diverse needs and heterogeneous nature of homelessness for Aboriginal people, which occur in the context of an enduring, specific historical experience of disadvantage, where the pathways into homelessness may vary and where homelessness may not always be perceived as negative. All participants experienced racism and reported resultant ill effects. Our study indicates the need for effective responses to homelessness to take account of the historical context of dispossession in developing culturally sensitive responses that reflect the nuances and diversity among homeless Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

A third space social enterprise: closing the gap through cross-cultural learning — Martin Brueckner, Rochelle Spencer, Gareth Wise and Banduk Marika

Abstract: Australian government policy envisages that pervasive socio-economic disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians be overcome by economic mainstreaming. Critics, however, consider the political attempt at ‘Closing the Gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians to be ineffective in the absence of material improvements in Indigenous welfare statistics. At issue also are the colonial mindsets and structures that have given rise to Indigenous disadvantage in the first place and the fact that economic mainstreaming largely occurs on the terms of the colonisers to enable the participation of Aboriginal people in the formal economy, which is itself a construct of the privileged. It is in this context that this paper employs a Bhabhaian perspective, exploring the work of an Indigenous social enterprise operating in north-east Arnhem Land, an organisation that is understood here as a ‘third space’ for cross-cultural learning. The third space enterprise is presented as an alternative pathway for Indigenous economic participation, one that is without the assimilation pressures commonly associated with the Closing the Gap policy approach.

The gift and the ethics of representing Aboriginality in Australian children’s literature — Xu Daozhi

Abstract: This paper draws on theories of the gift to address the ethics of representing Aboriginality in Australian children’s literature, which is a contentious debate that centres on who is eligible to tell Aboriginal stories and how the stories can be told. Considering the historical indebtedness in Australian racial relations, the paper suggests that children’s books that incorporate reference to Aboriginal cultural elements constitute a metaphorical ‘gift’ exchange between Aboriginal custodians as the givers and writers as the recipients who are expected to ‘return’ such an intellectual gift through their books in an appropriate manner. In this view, the paper specifies the ethical issues confronted by non-Aboriginal writers for children, including Patricia Wrightson, Phillip Gwynne and Kate Constable, and examines the way in which the gift relationship sheds light on the question of how to avoid infringement of Aboriginal protocols without submitting to self-censorship. A caring gesture, underlining the relationship between self and others in gift exchanges, is identified to negotiate the writer’s interests in Aboriginal stories with cultural sensitivity against unauthorised appropriation. The paper therefore argues that the morality of gift exchanges, which demands a balanced consideration of disparate interests in obligatory reciprocation, offers a possible solution to the dilemma of non-Aboriginal writers in the treatment of Aboriginal subject matter.

 The Aboriginal flag as art — Mathieu Gallois

Abstract: Is the Aboriginal flag art? And, if it is, what end does that argument serve? Art is not a helpful noun; certainly it is a risky one on which to base an argument. Yet, to fail to read the Aboriginal flag as art or, more precisely, to fail to read it as Indigenous activist art, is to fail to understand the Aboriginal flag and, more broadly, the role of culture in Indigenous activism post colonisation. This reading of the flag, through my research, appeared in every direction, far on the horizon, until I spoke to Indigenous historian Victoria Grieves. Grieves helped me recognise the value and intent of this argument from an Indigenous perspective. The Aboriginal flag is art. The Aboriginal flag’s Indigenous and Western art epistemologies are instrumental in shaping its form and semantics. As Aboriginal art, the flag represents a continuum with traditional Aboriginal themes and aesthetic values. In a Western context it is read as a flag and it exists as a mass-produced object. In all its guises the Aboriginal flag has melded itself into many aspects of popular imagination and become one of Australia’s significant symbols.

 ‘Listen to my drum’: notes on historical and contemporary uses of Torres Strait Islander warup / buruburu drums in Australia — Karl Neuenfeldt

Abstract: This paper illustrates two main points: (1) warup/buruburu drums have long been a key component of Torres Strait Islander (henceforth Islander) music and dance but as they migrate with diasporic Islanders they also carry with them profound sociocultural and multicultural meanings and engender innovative artistry in decoration, performance and maintenance; (2) Islander drums are the key musical marker of Islander identity, the sonic component of their identity narrative. After providing some pertinent historical, social, cultural, geopolitical and regulatory background, this paper explores via interviews, description and analysis how Islander drums were and are currently sourced, decorated and repaired as they are incorporated into the sociocultural life of Islander families and individuals in the Torres Strait region and also on the Australian mainland.


From boardroom to kitchen table: shifting the power seat of Indigenous governance in protected area management — tebrakunna country, Emma Lee and Tran Tran

Abstract: Indigenous governance in Australia is determined by connections to country and enacted through family structures. Often unrecognised and/or inappropriately treated through non-Indigenous policy structures that govern protected areas and Indigenous-owned lands, Indigenous peoples on representative boards, councils and committees find themselves in opposition to Western governance systems. This often results in perceptions of governance dysfunction and conflicts of interest, while delegitimising kinship and family structures. This paper discusses the growing questions surrounding how Indigenous governance is framed by interrogating the formal mechanisms where Indigenous and non-Indigenous governance is discussed and influenced. We reflect on critical information gaps that are required to be filled to ensure equity among actors in land and sea management.

Cultural precedents for the repatriation of legacy song records to communities of origin — Sally Treloyn, Matthew Dembal Martin and Rona Googninda Charles

Abstract: Repatriation of song recordings from archives and private collections to communities of origin is both a common research method and the subject of critical discourse. In Australia it is a priority of many individual researchers and collecting institutions to enable families and cultural heritage communities to access recorded collections. Anecdotal and documented accounts describe benefits of this access. However, digital heritage items and the metadata that guide their discovery and use circulate in complex milieus of use and guardianship that evolve over time in relation to social, personal, economic and technological contexts. Ethnomusicologists, digital humanists and anthropologists have asked, what is the potential for digital items, and the content management systems through which they are often disseminated, to complicate the benefits of repatriation? How do the ‘returns’ from archives address or further complicate colonial assumptions about the value of research? This paper lays the groundwork for consideration of these questions in terms of cultural precedents for repatriation of song records in the Kimberley. Drawing primarily on dialogues between ethnomusicologist Sally Treloyn and senior Ngarinyin and Wunambal elder and singer Matthew Dembal Martin, the interplay of archival discovery, repatriation and dissemination, on the one hand, and song conception, song transmission, and the Law and ethos of Wurnan sharing, on the other, is examined. The paper provides a case for support for repatriation initiatives and for consideration of the critical perspectives of cultural heritage stakeholders on research transactions of the past and in the present.

Standing up to be counted: data quality challenges in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher education statistics — Neil Drew, Judith Wilks, Katie Wilson and Gillian Kennedy

Abstract: Data quality and availability in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students’ higher education participation and pathways remains a persistent challenge. In this paper we identify that, to date, there has been no systematic attempt to conceptualise and summarise many important aspects of data quality. The research reported in this paper, enabled through funding from an Office for Learning and Teaching seed grant, redresses this and proposes a conceptual framework for identifying and understanding the impacts of matters of data quality. We argue that the pursuit of a shared statistical literacy is best viewed through the dual lens of whiteness and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terms of reference. Borrowing from the health sector, we conceptualise data quality issues as upstream, midstream and downstream. This framework identifies the locus of responsibility and intervention as a catalyst for purposeful action to address data quality challenges at the national, sectoral and institutional levels. The benefits of applying the proposed framework include a conceptual lens through which cultural issues may be unmasked; enhanced sector-wide critical statistical literacy; and a systematic accountability framework for assessing efforts to improve data quality. Finally, it is proposed that key elements from this framework might be usefully applied to the development of sector-wide guidelines for the collection, interpretation, use and storage of quality data and statistics to enhance the transition, participation and retention experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher education students.