Abstracts for Issue 1, 2007
The moral lexicon of the Warlpiri people of central Australia
This paper discusses words that match ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’; examples of ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ behaviour; morality and law; and egalitarianism and dominance. It also presents a comparison with Gidjingarli (Burarra).
Mobs and bosses: Structures of Aboriginal sociality
Patrick Mullins (Mount Druitt, NSW)
A commonality of Aboriginal social organisation exists across the continent in communities as different as those from the Western Desert across to Cape York, from the towns of New South Wales and Western Australia to cities like Adelaide. This is found in the colloquial expressions ‘mob’ and ‘boss’, which are used in widely differing contexts. Mobbing is the activity where relatedness, in the sense of social alliances, is established and affirmed by virtue of a common affiliation with place, common experience and common descent, as well as by the exchange of cash and commodities. Bossing is the activity of commanding respect by virtue of one’s capacity to bestow items of value such as ritual knowledge, nurturance, care, cash and commodities. Mobbing and bossing are best understood as structures in Giddens’ sense of sets of rules and resources involved in the production of social systems, in this case social alliances. Mobbing and bossing imply a concept of a person as a being in a relationship. Attention needs to be given to the way these structures interact with institutions in the wider Australian society.
Recognising victims without blaming them: A moral contest? About Peter Sutton’s ‘The Politics of Suffering: Indigenous Policy in Australia since the 1970s’ and Gillian Cowlishaw’s replies
Maïa Ponsonnet (Université Paris- 8-Saint-Denis)
Peter Sutton’s texts on Aboriginal violence, health and their politicisation are replied to using his methodology, and acknowledging his convincing points. Sutton rightly denounces a lack of lucidity and scientific objectivity in anthropological debates. These inadequacies impede identification of what Aboriginal groups can do to improve their situations for fear that this identification would lead to blame the victims. At the other end of the ethical spectrum, those who advocate a broader use of what I will call a ‘resistance interpretation’ of violence fail to recognise victims as such, on the implicit grounds that seeing victims as victims would deprive them of any agency, on the one hand, and entail blame, on the other hand. I aim to define a middle road between those views: the idea that victims should be acknowledged as such without being denied their agency and without being blamed for their own condition. This middle road allows identification of the colonisers’ responsibilities in the contemporary situation of Indigenous communities in Australia, and to determine who can do what. Secondly, I show that Sutton’s texts convey, through subtle but recurrent remarks, an ideology of blame rather than a mere will to identify practical solutions. As a consequence, some of his proposals do not stand on a solid and objective causal analysis.
'You would have loved her for her lore’: The letters of Daisy Bates
Bob Reece (Murdoch University)
Daisy Bates was once an iconic figure in Australia but her popular and academic reputation became tarnished by her retrograde views. Her credibility was also put in doubt through the exposure of her fictionalised Irish background. In more recent times, however, her ethnographic data on the Aborigines of Western Australia has been an invaluable source for Native Title claims, while her views on Aboriginal extinction, cannibalism and ‘castes’ are being seen as typical of her time. This article briefly reviews what has been the orthodox academic opinion of her scientific achievement before summarising what is reliably known of her early history and indicating what kind of person is revealed in the 3000 or more letters that she left behind.
What potential might Narrative Therapy have to assist Indigenous Australians reduce substance misuse?
Violet Bacon (Curtin University of Technology)
Substance misuse is associated with adverse consequences for many Australians including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Extensive research has been conducted into various intervention, treatment and prevention programs to ascertain their potential in reducing substance misuse within Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. I explore the potential of Narrative Therapy as a counselling intervention for assisting Indigenous Australians reduce the harm associated with substance misuse.
Bone points from the Adelaide River, Northern Territory
Sally Brockwell (University of Canberra) and Kim Akerman (Moonah)
Large earth mounds located next to the vast floodplains of the lower Adelaide River, one of the major tropical rivers draining the flat coastal plains of northern Australia, contain cultural material, including bone points. The floodplains of the north underwent dynamic environmental change from extensive mangrove swamps in the mid-Holocene, through a transition phase of variable estuarine and freshwater mosaic environments, to the freshwater environment that exists today. This geomorphological framework provides a background for the interpretation of the archaeology, which spans some 4000 years.
A different look: Comparative rock-art recording from the Torres Strait using computer enhancement techniques
Liam M Brady (Monash University)
In 1888 and 1898, Cambridge University’s Alfred C Haddon made the first recording of rock-art from the Torres Strait islands using photography and sketches. Systematic recording of these same paintings and sites was carried out from 2000 to 2004 by archaeologists and Indigenous Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal communities as part of community-based rock-art recording projects. Computer enhancement techniques were used to identify differences between both sets of recordings, to reveal design elements that Haddon missed in his recordings, and to recover images recorded by Haddon that are today no longer visible to the naked eye. Using this data, preliminary observations into the antiquity of Torres Strait rock-art are noted along with recommendations for future Torres Strait region rock-art research and baseline monitoring projects.
Sources of bias in the Murray Black Collection: Implications for palaeopathological analysis
Sarah Robertson (National Museum of Australia)
The Murray Black collection of Aboriginal skeletal remains has been a mainstay of bio-anthropological research in Australia, but relatively little thought has been given to how and why this collection may differ from archaeologically obtained collections. The context in which remains were located and recovered has created bias within the sample, which was further skewed within the component of the collection sent to the Australian Institute of Anatomy, resulting in limitations for the research potential of the collection. This does not render all research on the collection unviable, but it demonstrates the importance of understanding the context of a skeletal collection when assessing its suitability for addressing specific research questions.