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Redefining viability: aboriginal homelands communities in north-east Arnhem Land.

Introduction

In 2005, towards the end of the final Howard Coalition government, two very different views of remote Aboriginal homelands communities were in circulation. Referring to their origins in the homelands movement of the 1970s, in which there was an exodus from missions and government settlements back to 'country', Nicolas Peterson characterized them as an example of 'Indigenous life projects'. This term:
 refers to the desires of those Indigenous people who seek
 autonomy in deciding the meaning of their life independently
 of projects promoted by the state and market, and to people
 developing their own situation-based knowledge and practices in
 the contemporary world ... these can involve partnerships and
 co-existences, where such are not denied by the encompassing
 society, and involve continuously emergent forms and resilience
 on the part of Indigenous people (2005: 7; emphasis added).


In this view these small settlements, in places of people's own choosing, are the product of Aboriginal agency and are at least potentially dynamic and changing. However, since the 1970s their inhabitants had become increasingly dependent on Commonwealth and Northern Territory grant funding, not only for health and education but also for their housing and infrastructure, and for the bulk of their income in the form of employment through the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP), and welfare payments. So long as governments remained willing to subsidize homelands communities in these ways, the nature and extent of this dependence was relatively unproblematic; it was a taken-for-granted component of the homelands way of life.

But to be dependent to this degree is to be very vulnerable in a situation where government begins to question the 'viability' of homelands, and where CDEP has been under attack for some time at the highest level of the Commonwealth bureaucracy for having failed to move people into 'real' work (Shergold 2001: 70). The second view, more in tune with the thinking of policy makers in the final years of the Howard government, was promulgated chiefly by Helen Hughes of the Centre for Independent Studies and the Australian newspaper. In this view, the homelands are a 'failed socialist experiment' (Hughes and Warin 2005: 1) engineered principally by H.C. (Nugget) Coombs under the dual influence of anthropologists who 'considered that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, ceremonies and traditions could only be preserved by hunter-gatherers living in isolation', and of 'Marxist philosophies' (Hughes 2007: 12; emphasis added). In such a view, Aboriginal agency is downplayed or even denied, and 'homelands' are viewed as static 'cultural museums' in which Aboriginal people are trapped through lack of education and lack of access to the labour market. Hughes does not see it as government's role to support the continuation of such settlements. Rather, in her view, it should be assisting people out of the 'museum' and into the marketplace. In advocating the dismantling of a pattern of settlement that has its roots in the precolonial past, it is Hughes, ironically, who is advocating social experimentation.

In her idiosyncratic use of the term 'homelands' Hughes conflates the small outstation settlements with the larger remote settlements that are the product of colonization, and thus obscures the differences between them. And indeed at present quantitative comparisons between homelands and other kinds of discrete Indigenous townships are difficult. The comparative data have simply not been collected.

Policy makers have a responsibility to make informed decisions. At the very least, policy directed at the future of homelands (as conventionally understood) needs to be based on an understanding of the social characteristics of their populations. Some basic measuring of these populations and their characteristics would also help governments to understand the likely consequences and costs of the radical social engineering that is being proposed by commentators such as Hughes, as opposed to more organic development in place.

In the absence of such quantitative data, this paper spells out an ethnographically-based case for the continued existence and development of homelands communities. It focuses on north-east Arnhem Land, the home of the Yolngu people. The arguments are based in lived experience on and off over a period of 35 years in the Laynhapuy homelands communities and in the hub settlement of Yirrkala where their resource centre is located. This experience is filtered through anthropological and linguistic observation and analysis (see e.g. Morphy 1983, 2002, 2004a, 2004b, 2005, 2007, 2008, in press), including the collection and analysis of demographic information.

Viability and its definitions

In December 2005, in one of her final public pronouncements as Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Amanda Vanstone (2005; unpaginated) began the public debate about the 'viability' of homelands communities, suggesting that: 'Perhaps we need to explicitly draw a line on the level of service that can be provided to homeland settlements.' Characterizing such places as 'cultural museums' (Media Monitors 2005), she thereby designated them as static repositories which could not be a valid field of social action and value, and paved the way for a purely economic definition of their 'viability'. During the final years of the Howard government the consequences of this view began to be felt, in changes to CDEP and in the recommendation of a report commissioned by the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs to 'continue the shift away from building housing "on country" on outstations and homelands and focus on building new housing where there is access to education, health, law and order and other basic services' (PricewaterhouseCoopers 2007: 23).

Despite an avowed return to respecting the 'oldest continuing culture in the world', the Rudd Labor government's current conceptualisation of viability is not fundamentally different. A recent Discussion Paper on 'Increasing Indigenous Economic Opportunity' (Commonwealth of Australia (CA) 2008) distinguishes three 'types' of economy--'established', 'emerging' and 'limited'--and says of the last-mentioned that they are: 'Places where enterprise, cultural activities and community are all important, but developing a fully-fledged labour market and full range of services may not be realistic' (CA 2008: 3). There is thus a passing acknowledgement of 'cultural activities and community', but the underlying focus is on the market economy, and elsewhere in the Discussion Paper it becomes clear that the main agenda is to 'encourage people living in areas with poor opportunities to travel in order to take up training and work opportunities' (CA 2008: 5).

It is clear that if the definition of viability that underpins government thinking remains narrowly focused on the 'established' and 'emerging' market economies, then homelands communities have a struggle on their hands. The remainder of this paper essentially makes an argument for a more complex definition of viability that takes account of socio-cultural factors, and of a broader definition of 'economy'. In doing so it attempts to re-insert the view from the homelands side of the fence--a view conspicuously absent in the thinking that drives current policy initiatives (see Morphy 2008).

The Laynhapuy homelands: structure, governance and leadership

The Laynhapuy homelands communities are different from the hub settlement of Yirrkala in several important respects. First, they are constituted according to Yolngu principles of social organization. Secondly, they are small communities. The largest in the Laynhapuy region has only just over 150 usual residents, and some are much smaller. But though small they are not isolated, because they are linked by networks of kinship to one another. Djambawa Marawili, for example, once described the Blue Mud Bay homelands in the south of the Laynhapuy homelands area as like the 'suburbs of a town' (pers. comm. 4 October 2007) . These factors--social fit, scale, and the property of being networked--allow Yolngu principles of leadership to survive and flourish.

The geographical positioning of homelands communities is not arbitrary. The building blocks of Yolngu social organization are the exogamous, patrilineal, estate-owning clans. The clan's members are wanga-watangu (place-owner) with respect to their 'country' (the clan's land and sea estate). Each homeland is situated on a particular clan estate and is usually close to a permanent ceremonial ground and important sacred sites, so that the wanga-watangu can 'look after' them.

Figure 1 shows how, at the 2001 Census at a particular Laynhapuy homeland ('community A') of around 150 people, the 'person 1s' for each of the dwellings in the settlement were related to each other. The dwelling heads are the numbered triangles (male) and circles (female). The Figure shows both the people who are currently dwelling heads, and the deceased ancestors through whom they are related.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Lineage 1 and lineage 2 are the two lineages of the clan on whose estate the settlement is located. The two lineages are descended from two classificatory brothers, X and Y. X, who was much the older of the two, died in the 1950s. Y (9) is a man in his 80s--the oldest living male clan member. The community is structured around adult male wanga-watangu. The majority of dwelling heads are male wanga-watangu. Of the female dwelling heads, two (10 and 12) are the senior wives of wanga-watangu living apart from but adjacent to their husbands, one (5) is the widow of a wanga-watangu, and one (7) is the daughter of a male wanga-watangu. One dwelling is headed by 13, the son of Y's sister. In Yolngu society a man calls his sister's son waku. Senior waku have an important caretaker role in the affairs of their mother's clan (for a fuller analysis of the 2001 Census at this outstation and of Yolngu kinship relations see F. Morphy 2002, 2004a, 2004b, 2007, in press).

Since the 2001 Census there have been some deaths in the community, notably of Y, the man who had led the move back to the homeland in the 1970s, and who was the universally acknowledged leader of the clan and the community. In Yolngu society, primogeniture is an important principle of recruitment to leadership within the clan. Because Y was a very old man and something of an invalid, his eldest son, 11, was the effective leader of the community in 2001, with 13 as his right-hand man. After the death of Y there have been some adjustments to the pattern of leadership. 11, because of his personal qualities and the support of 13, is still the acknowledged leader of the community, but others have increasingly important roles also. For example 8, the youngest son of X, who is better educated (in a western sense) than 11 and computer-literate, has an increasingly significant administrative role. Thus in this community, where everyone is kin to everyone else, there is an orderly system of leadership and succession, according to Yolngu principles of governance.

There are five other similarly constituted communities within two hours' drive or a 30-minute plane or boat trip. People are related by ties of kinship and marriage to these other communities (see Fig. 2, which gives only a few examples of the links between the people in these communities; see Morphy 2005, in press, for further details). Some of these surrounding communities are much smaller that A. However, from the Yolngu perspective, they are part of a regional system of gurrutu (kinship) and estate ownership. This regional system has considerable time-depth and stability. The genealogical research for the Blue Mud Bay native title claim established that the kinship configurations between the clans of the region had retained the same pattern since at least 1788 (H. Morphy 2004: 158-9).

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

In the past the Yolngu leadership system functioned in the context of complex seasonal movements. There were times of the year when people were scattered across the country in small groups, and other times when they congregated in large numbers to exploit the seasonal abundance of certain resources at particular places. Leadership existed at several levels: head of family group, clan leader, and regional leader. Ultimately a leader was someone to whom other people would listen, a person who could create consensus. Thus leadership was conferred conditionally and had to be constantly earned; it was a process rather than an ascribed position in a hierarchy. But it was, above all else, grounded in the sacred geography of country, through the system of clan estates with their origins in the ancestral past.

On the Laynhapuy homelands the Yolngu leadership system still operates according to these principles; it has adapted to the circumstances of small settlement life. Family heads are dwelling heads or (in the case for example of a man and his wives) heads of small clusters of contiguous dwellings, and homelands leaders are clan leaders. Leadership still depends on the same mix--genealogical seniority combined with an ability to lead through consensus. And it is still grounded. Communities cohere around the senior male members of the owning clan. Groups of related homelands are the modern equivalent of the large seasonal groupings, and regional leaders still emerge according to the same principles as before (Morphy 2005, in press). The key to such a system is nested spheres of influence, and in the sets of connected homelands the spheres of precolonial times are being reproduced in a new form.

Small Yolngu settlements with strong and effective leaders are functional communities. But the Yolngu system of leadership does not translate easily to the setting of the large hub settlement, which is not constituted along Yolngu lines of organization. Because they are an artefact of colonization and missionization, drawing their populations from a wide area, these 'communities' are inherently more fragmented; many of the people who live on them are displaced from their own regional system. The nested spheres of influence become, instead, a maelstrom of competing spheres of action. Whereas the homelands can genuinely be called communities in a socio-political sense, in most cases the larger hub settlements cannot.

It is much harder to maintain a system of leadership based on controlled consensus in the circumstances of a hub settlement. A leader whose influence depends on attention to process has to have his ear to the ground, and this, ultimately, is a matter of scale. Leaders appear less effective, and lose the respect of those who were once in their sphere of influence, particularly the young who are attracted to the trappings of modernity but ill-equipped in terms of their education or their values to move fully into the wider world. At hub communities, many young people are fast becoming a lost generation. They have rejected the world in which their elders find value, but they are not equipped to embrace the alternative. They are caught in a destructive--often self-destructive--limbo.

Any decision to cut funding to communities on the basis of some arbitrary population size--say to communities of under 100 people--would force some people off their own clan estates, leaving their country and its sacred places unprotected. Their movement to other places would recreate precisely the kinds of communities (like Yirrkala) that they had sought to move away from in the first place when the homelands movement began. At the very least governments should try to understand the social dynamics of regions such as this before making arbitrary decisions about funding based solely on the size of communities. In the Yolngu-speaking region, for example, on the basis of average clan size and patterns of residence, one could expect homeland communities to average around 50 residents.

Why homelands people want to stay where they are

In north-east Arnhem Land the homelands movement got off the ground in the early 1970s because people were tired of living away from their country. They felt disempowered because they were living in large settlements on other people's country. At Yirrkala they were also concerned about the social effects of the newly established mining town of Nhulunbuy on the young. The move back to the homelands strengthened, in people's minds, their connection to their country and their ability to protect it from exploitation by others, especially non-Yolngu. It restored their ability to regulate their own social affairs, and to hold on to their young people.

More than 30 years on, the people who want to stay on their homelands have many reasons for doing so. They have seen what is happening at Yirrkala--what they perceive as social breakdown, loss of culture, the loss of many in the younger generations to drugs and alcohol. On the homelands people are living on or near their own country, and for Yolngu this is a potent source of wellbeing, both spiritual and social. People feel that they have a degree of autonomy, of control over their own destiny. The more analytical among them also see the sociological aspects of the equation. They point to the problem of scale at the larger settlements, where Yolngu systems of leadership fare less well.

Some people spend most of their time at the hub settlement of Yirrkala, but look to their homeland as their true home--the place where they take their boys to undergo their initiation ceremonies and where they want to be buried when they die. Many of these people say they would choose to return to live on their homelands if there was a livelihood to be gained there, and all things being equal they would prefer their children to grow up there, away from the influences of the mining town, rather than at Yirrkala.

Some homelands have failed, and their leaders have not been able to stop the drift to Yirrkala and beyond. But in successful homeland settlements with effective leadership, and particularly in regions where there are several successful settlements in close proximity to one another, as in the Blue Mud Bay region, people inhabit a rich and satisfying social world. They are grounded, in the physical sense of being on their own country and in the social sense of being enmeshed in a complex web of kinship. Communication between the generations has not broken down--the young are still engaged in the same social project as their elders. Conflicts sometimes arise of course, but there are mechanisms for resolving them and recourse to the machinery of the encompassing state is rarely sought. In some socially defined sense of viability, homelands communities, in the view of those who live there, are rather more viable than hub communities such as Yirrkala.

Wellbeing and viability

Yet government persists with a narrowly economic definition of viability--at the level of community--and sees 'wellbeing' in terms of individual life courses. Salvation for some Aboriginal individuals, in this view, lies in their progressive integration into employment in the 'established' or 'emerging' economies. 'Limited' economies, for example on the homelands, are seen at best as reservoirs from which these individuals can be mobilized. Some individuals may indeed follow such a path, but the danger is that if homelands communities are viewed merely as holding places for those who are left behind (implicitly, those for whom it is too late, who cannot cope with life in the mainstream) they will be relegated to a space that is far more marginalized than they presently occupy. They will become less rather than more viable.

Wellbeing is difficult to measure statistically. We are forced to use proxies such as health status, morbidity and mortality, levels of involvement with the justice system, income levels and labour force status. It is well known that on all these kinds of measures, the Indigenous population lags behind the rest of the Australian population, and this is what impels governments to 'close the gap'. There is, however, a problem with using these proxies as the yardstick against which to measure policy at anything below the macro-level (Taylor 2008). The measurable becomes reified, and that which is not measurable becomes invisible. The proxies are treated as if they were the only reality--as if they were 'wellbeing'. Extended family formations, and the kin-based nature of homelands settlements are also rendered invisible by the categories that frame census questions on socio-demographic characteristics, which assume the nuclear family in its discretely bounded 'household' as the norm (Morphy 2004a, 2007).

In short, most of the factors which homelands Yolngu would consider as contributing to their wellbeing are not in the frame. The focus on indicators framed by the categories of the encompassing society, and on the individual (or at best the 'household') rather than on the community leads to very inadequate understanding of the factors that influence 'wellbeing' in different kinds of communities. The ethnographic evidence seems to suggest that if homelands populations as a category could be compared with their related populations on hub settlements there would be significant differences between them, and that the homelands would emerge as significantly better and healthier places to live (see McDermott et al. 1998; Rowley et al. 2008). In north-east Arnhem Land there is one proxy for wellbeing which indicates that this is undoubtedly the case--the comparative suicide rate among the young. No-one has ever tried to undertake this comparative exercise, however, and the differences between these kinds of settlements remain opaque to the policy-maker's eye.

The need for regional economic development

For 30 years homelands communities on Aboriginal land have been, in some sense, beyond the frontier of municipalized Australia, certainly of the municipalized Northern Territory which has been more than content to allow the Commonwealth to subsidize local resource agencies, incorporated as Associations under either Northern Territory or Commonwealth Acts, to attend to their infrastructure and housing. Partly as a result, the housing and infrastructure of homelands communities have been chronically underfunded, and their economic development has been neglected (Altman, Linkhorn and Clarke 2005).

The new Northern Territory 'super shires', established in 2008, are focused on municipalizing the major hub communities like Yirrkala. There is no plan yet in place for homelands communities, although most funding relating to homelands has now been shifted from the Commonwealth to the Northern Territory. For the moment the homelands are sitting in a policy vacuum. The people who live in these communities feel their relative deprivation--and are becoming increasingly aware of it--yet in their minds the solution is not to abandon their homelands in pursuit of some better life elsewhere. They want to create that better life where they are, and indeed to develop the homeland communities so that more people, not fewer, can live there (see Morphy 2008; Morphy and Morphy 2008).

The homelands settlements are not in some kind of time warp, 'protected' from the influence of the outside world--in an apartheid-like system--so that their inhabitants are forced to act out a museum-like existence. These are dynamic communities, responding to change, incorporating new technologies, and constantly negotiating their relationships with the outside world. The people who live there do not wish to be cut off from that world, nor indeed have they ever been. They want to continue to engage with it, but on their own terms and in a way that gives them some control over the purposes and outcomes of such engagements. Many homelands people, for example, are prominent, prize-winning artists, accustomed to travelling to Australia's capital cities and abroad to attend exhibition openings and cultural festivals. Others spend considerable periods of time away from the community, in Darwin, for example, or at Batchelor College.

Some of the homelands leaders are becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of employment for the working-age population--especially for the young adult males--on the homelands. Unlike governments they do not see this in purely economic terms--it is not so much about income levels and standards of living, although that does concern some. It is more about lack of purposeful activity, and the danger of boredom, that might see young people leaving the homelands.

Older people recall with nostalgia that when they first returned to the homelands in the 1970s they blazed the trails, they built the bush houses, and they cleared the airstrips by hand. They were working for themselves, towards goals that they had set for themselves. They see what has happened since as, essentially, disempowering and demotivating. The jobs once done by Yolngu themselves--building, carpentry, plumbing--are now largely tendered to outside contractors. There is no longer any well-organized local training system that might fit young Yolngu men for these trades. And if people want to pursue training or apprenticeships, more often than not they have to leave their homeland for the hub settlement.

So Yolngu leaders on the homelands and the present government see eye to eye about the need for 'real' jobs for Indigenous people. But whereas the government seems only to be able to imagine such jobs as existing in the 'established' and 'emerging' market economy, homelands Yolngu are trying to envisage a future for themselves in which there are 'real' jobs on the homelands.

The homelands economy: what it is and what it could be

Altman (2001) has described the kind of economy that already exists on the homelands as a 'hybrid' economy, consisting of three sectors--the customary, the state, and the private. Of these the first two are well-developed and the last almost non-existent. What governments want in respect to remote dwelling people, it seems, is the diminution of the state sector and the augmentation of the private sector. The latter is seem almost exclusively in terms of that which already exists in the 'established' economy of the mining industry and its associated townships, hence the emphasis on 'mobilising' Aboriginal individuals into these places. The customary sector, being inherently hard to measure, is largely ignored, or worse, considered to be of no importance--a hangover from the past. There is no space in the Census to measure the work that it entails (Morphy 2002: 70), even though the widely accepted ILO definition of 'work' encompasses much more than paid work (Smith 1991: 2).

Homelands Yolngu of all ages and both genders do a lot of hunting, fishing and gathering. Altman has measured the contribution of the products of hunting and gathering to the outstation economies of western Arnhem Land (Altman 1987; Altman and Taylor 1989), and Barber's recent PhD fieldwork on Blue Mud Bay (Barber 2005), although less quantitative in its methods, supports Altman's contention that people who live on these communities have diets with far more high-quality protein in them than their incomes would allow them to purchase (see also McDermott et al. 1998; Rowley et al. 2008).

To be a skilled hunter and gatherer requires an intimate and detailed knowledge of the local environment--its seasons, ecology, flora, and fauna. Rather than dismissing this knowledge and set of skills as obsolete, belonging to a past era, it should be possible to explore creative ways to build on that knowledge, using an assets-based approach to economic development (Mathie and Cunningham 2002) to begin to leverage an income stream for homelands people.

The Blue Mud Bay area is now part of the Laynhapuy Indigenous Protected Area, and the homelands people are getting a fully-fledged ranger program up and running (Morphy and Marika 2005). Rangers in these 'remote' areas can perform useful functions not just for their own communities but for Australia as a whole, through controlled burning, weed and feral species control, the clearing of marine debris from the beaches, and research into and conservation of both marine and terrestrial wildlife. Rangers could also, with appropriate training, participate in coastal surveillance. All of these are jobs that are considered valuable enough out in the 'mainstream' National Reserve System to be 'real' jobs. Why should they not also be real jobs on the homelands?

Over time, a successful ranger program could become the springboard for enterprises such as high-end, low-impact ecological and cultural tourism ventures. Tourism is something that has to be approached with extreme caution, but Yolngu are already thinking creatively about it on the Laynhapuy homelands. Other small businesses that could be built directly on the existing knowledge base are the harvesting, cultivation and marketing of bush foods and aquaculture ventures.

The arts and crafts industry is already a well-developed part of the local economy. Art too could serve as a springboard into other areas, most notably tourism, at the local level. Again, it resists measurement, particularly in terms of the income that people derive from it, and so it tends to be discounted as an economic enterprise and source of employment. But artists from this region, as from Indigenous Australia more generally, are part of a multi-million dollar industry, and one which, arguably, gives Australia a unique and distinctive profile on the world stage. Senator Vanstone was quoted as describing it as 'Australia's greatest cultural gift to the world' (Price 2005).

In the homelands context, until there is a more developed economic base, and until people have received the education and training required to manage sustainable small enterprises, CDEP will continue to be a crucial component of homelands economies. Realistically, some form of income subsidy may be necessary for a considerable time to come. The current Commonwealth government seems to acknowledge the need for CDEP in the short term, and indeed it re-instated the CDEP program in communities where it had been summarily abolished as part of the previous government's 'Emergency Response'. But in their recent discussion paper (CA 2008) CDEP is still being viewed primarily as a device for slotting 'individuals' into places on a job continuum in the 'established' and 'emerging' economies rather than as a platform for regional economic development that meshes with the aspirations and values of the Aboriginal people of a region.

The likely consequences of defunding the homelands

Because homelands communities are generally small, and in areas remote from municipal centres, they are somewhat invisible to the eye of the state. It is simply not known how many of them there are--estimates for the number of homelands in Yolngu-speaking north-east Arnhem Land vary from around 60 to 85, in different government documents. But even if the lower figure is taken as the more accurate, and the average size of such a community is conservatively assumed to be 30 people, this amounts to 1800 people in Yolngu-speaking north-east Arnhem Land alone (out of a total Yolngu-speaking population of just over 5000 people in 2001). If all the other people living on homelands communities in the rest of the Northern Territory are added, let alone other parts of 'remote' Australia, the total must add up to several thousand people.

If homelands were to become truly unviable through being starved of funding and resources, many people would, in the first instance, converge on their nearest hub settlement, creating severe strains on housing, health, education and infrastructure. Those hub settlements already experience housing shortages, and it would be impossible for them to absorb this extra population. It would place them and their infrastructure and facilities and services under still greater financial strain, unless new funds were poured in. Were the Laynhapuy homelands to be emptied into Yirrkala, for example, the population of Yirrkala would more than double. And it is totally unrealistic to hope or expect that 'real jobs' could be found quickly for so many people, even if they had the skills, education or training, let alone the motivation, to take them up.

The consequences of socially engineering the demise of the homelands are all too predictable, and the cost to the state ultimately much higher than if effort was put, instead, into helping homelands communities to lessen their dependence on the public purse. The heightened expenditure entailed in dislocation would be negative expenditure in the justice and health systems, reflecting the deteriorated social circumstances of the former homelands dwellers, rather than positive expenditure directed at their future economic and social wellbeing (see Taylor and Stanley 2005 for a relevant analysis of the situation at Wadeye).

Conclusion

Contrary to the picture currently being painted of them, many homelands communities are among the most functional small communities in the land, and the problems that their small scale and remoteness pose for 'economically sustainable' service delivery are government's problems, as much as theirs. Homelands people are citizens, and they are entitled to the same level of support from the state as anyone else who lives in remote Australia--be they Indigenous or non-Indigenous. They have a right, if they so wish, to stay on their country in their kin-based communities and develop their local economies, creating jobs for future generations on the homelands. Seeing their children socially engineered as individuals into the 'mainstream' should not be the only viable option available to them--that is not real choice. Rather, it is assimilation in a new guise.

In the long term, if the small business sector of the remote economy can grow, it will generate a genuine income stream for homelands communities, and their dependence on government monies will correspondingly decrease. At best, remote Australia can be home to networks of thriving, functional small communities, where thousands of people continue care for their country and to balance, in a creative way, their sense of being uniquely themselves with the demands of being part of the wider polity and economy. The alternative--at its worst--could be a true wilderness full of feral animals and weeds and subject to hot wildfires, and a significant swelling of the ranks of the alienated, dispossessed rural and urban poor. Neither of these alternatives will be cheap for governments, but one seems infinitely preferable to the other.

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Author:Morphy, Frances
Publication:Australian Journal of Social Issues
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Mar 22, 2008
Words:6532
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