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Rethinking aboriginal 'resistance': the Community Development Employment (CEPD) program.

Under the Community Development Employment Projects scheme (CDEP), Aboriginal communities which include a large proportion of people eligible to receive Unemployment Benefits (UB, now known as Jobsearch/Newstart or JSN) can choose to be given a lump sum. That amount is the equivalent of all the Unemployment Benefits that would have been received by eligible residents, plus an administrative loading. Through its Council or equivalent management body, each CDEP community pays its residents who would be eligible for UB to perform some kinds of actions which it has deemed to be 'work' for the project. As I will show, CDEP is not only a very popular program option for Aboriginal (and Islander) people, it has also been a neuralgic point within the administrative discourses of 'Aboriginal affairs'. CDEP: POPULAR SUCCESS AND POLICY ANXIETY There can be no doubt that CDEP has become a popular option since its inception in 1977. Recent data from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) show that from 1976/7 to 1991/2, the number of participating communities grew from 1 to 185, workers from 100 to 20,139 and expenditure from $86,700 to $204,522,170. By 1991/2, CDEP amounted to just under 40 per cent of ATSIC's program expenditure. I am told that eight to ten thousand indigenous Australians are waiting to join the scheme, pending its current review by Deloitte Ross Tohmatsu. Sanders' (Sanders 1988) summary of the policy and administrative history of CDEP shows that this review and political hesitation is far from unprecedented. In the late 1970s, he tells us, the Australian Audit Office was not satisfied that individual participants in the scheme were being identified as they would need to have been (by the Department of Social Security) had they chosen to remain UB recipients. (1988:38) Next, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA), reviewing the scheme in 1980 came to its own critical conclusions about what it saw as the policy's confusion of aims; it convened an Interdepartmental Working Party to reform CDEP. The Working Party recommendations, in turn, attracted the critical interest of the Department of Finance. Another Interdepartmental Committee was convened by DAA in 1982, and the scheme was eventually allowed the expansion sought by DAA. Sanders pays tribute to DAA's success in promoting CDEP to sceptical Departments in the early 1980s (1988:43-4); in 1985, he reminds us, the scheme was endorsed by the influential Miller Committee whose report laid the foundations for the Hawke government's major policy initiative, the Aboriginal Employment Development Policy (AEDP). In 1986, another DAA review praised the policy. 'From being a troublesome backwater of DAA's administration' comments Sanders, 'the CDEP scheme was, by 1986, rapidly being transformed into a pace-setter of departmental action' (1988:45). Yet, as Sanders and Altman (1991b:2-3) have recently pointed out, the unexpected growth of the scheme since the inception of the AEDP in 1987 has provoked further critical 'scrutiny': by the Australian National Audit Office in 1989 and again in 1989-90; and by an interdepartmental committee chaired by DAA in 1989-90. What explains this almost unceasing process of questioning on the part of the governments administering the policy? A number of papers circulated by the Australian National University's (ANU's) Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR) can be combed for an analytical statement of what, from the point of view of policy rationality, is troubling about CDEP. Altman and Sanders' (1991b:4-11) account of the 'unresolved administrative and policy issues' of CDEP mentions the following points. First, DAA, and now ATSIC, have never been administratively equipped to do what the Australian Audit Office says is necessary: check that all receiving CDEP are entitled to receive it (that is, they must be eligible for unemployment benefits) and, conversely, that all entitled to UB in a CDEP community are getting their UB equivalent through CDEP. Second, there have been problems working out the entitlements of CDEP recipients: some have had opportunities to 'double dip' -- to receive both Family Allowance Supplement and Additional Unemployment Benefit, normally mutually exclusive entitlements while there have also been possibilities of underpayment of certain concessions that normally go with UB. Third, the scheme seems to disallow the participation in CDEP of the spouses of CDEP participants, usually to women's disadvantage. Fourth, the scheme admits wide variation in the interpretation of what constitutes 'work' which can be paid for from CDEP funds. Fifth, CDEP funds, in some cases, are paying for services to which participating communities would be entitled anyway, allowing other government agencies (local and State/Territory) to evade their obligations. Sixth, participants have been relegated to a secondary, low-paid labour market. These issues are not of equal interest from the point of view I seek to develop in this paper. Rather, I would call attention to two features of CDEP. Altman and Sanders' remark that 'the root cause' of CDEP's problems 'is that it attempts to be both a welfare and a workforce program. It attempts to provide participants with income support roughly equivalent to their entitlements from the social security system, while at the same time promoting employment and community development objectives' (1991b:3-4). Second, what counts as 'work' and what is deemed to be a creditable performance of it are judged not by a central bureaucratic authority but by the local decision-makers who administer each scheme 'on the ground'. The combined effect of these two features is that each CDEP scheme is shaped largely by local political interests (Sanders 1988:38-40). Who gets paid how much for doing what is a question determined more by local decisions than by those senior public servants who must give annual accounts of their programs to the Commonwealth government's various scrutineers: the Senate Estimates Committees, the Department of Finance, the Australian Audit Office. It is therefore not surprising that the CDEP scheme has been both popular with Aboriginal communities and a focus of senior administrative anxiety. Perhaps Jon Altman reflected such anxiety when he recommended, after noting the multiplicity of objectives that have been imputed to or stated for CDEP, that 'the onus must be shifted back onto communities to prioritise their aims under CDEP scheme so that the success or failure of the scheme can be objectively assessed. The rewards for such prioritisation and internal assessment should be continuing or growing access to CDEP funds (Altman 1990a:8). CDEP'S WIDER CONTEXT This indeterminate (or locally and variously determined) quality of the CDEP policy must be understood in its wider political and economic context. First, there are important structural barriers to the absorption of much Aboriginal labour into the waged and salaried workforce. Here I am simply reiterating Altman's point that 'the economic outlook for most remote Aboriginal communities is bleak, although it must be stated that this would apply to any community of similar size located at similar places, irrespective of ethnicity' (1990b:50). Private non-Aboriginal investment is extremely meagre in much of remote Australia; where it is substantial, as in some mining centres, it creates few employment opportunities for local Aboriginal people. Public non-Aboriginal investment is insufficient to create a substantial demand for jobs to which Aboriginal skills could be matched. Remote Aboriginal people have poor physical access to Australia's labour markets. Their attachment to their land and their kin inhibits their migration to industrial and trading centres where demand for their (largely unskilled) labour is more buoyant (Taylor 1992). In such settings, a program which combines elements of job creation and of welfare sustenance makes sense. Second, notions of 'work' and 'employment' are culturally specific. It is part of the colonial situation of Aboriginal and Islander people that their activities of physical subsistence and cultural reproduction are not necessarily recognized or valued as 'work'. Hostile or ill-informed representations of the contemporary Aboriginal condition are of sufficient currency to be politically influential. Aborigines are sometimes portrayed as feckless, one group among the array of 'bludgers' supported by 'the tax- payer'. Even more important is the intrinsic slipperiness of terms such as 'employed' and 'unemployed'. John Weeks has given us a theoretical basis for reflecting on this, arguing that a person is not 'unemployed' or 'out of work' unless he or she has no access to the 'resources complementary to human labour which are necessary to enable the gaining of a livelihood'. If we are to use the term 'unemployed' as a sociological category, he argues, we must be able to specify the process which has deprived those said to be 'unemployed' of such resources (Weeks 1978:25). There is no straightforward answer to that question in respect of indigenous people in Central and Northern Australia. Were Aborigines dispossessed of the land on which they had long subsisted? Certainly they were dispossessed in a legal sense, under the doctrine of terra nullius, but the de facto situation was, and remains, more complex. While many specific places of value to non-Aborigines were alienated from Aborigines' use, their participation in the pastoral industry and their congregation at missions and settlements did not amount to a total practical separation from ancestral lands. Before they received cash welfare benefits, many Aboriginal people were able to develop a rationing relationship with non-Aborigines who had settled on their country (as cattle raisers, missionaries or welfare staff). Such relationships amounted to an alteration of the political economy of Aborigines' use and custody of their land, but they did not compel the extinction of bonds between land and people. Athol Chase has remarked some differences between Cape York and Territory Aborigines in the reproduction of such familiarity with 'country'. '[I]n the Northern Territory, where pastoralism formed the single major influence on the indigenous population, ... site and territorial information today is far more obscure and tends to be highly influenced by European property boundaries and European use sites' (Chase 1989:178). His point is not so much about the loss of knowledge as about the forms of its continuities. Being rationed -- as an all year round worker, as an occasional worker or as the recognised dependant relative of a worker -- became part of a new way to live off the subsistence possibilities of your country. The seasonal patterns of Aborigines' land use were altered, and the country became less and less important as a natural source of food, to be sure, but my impression is that Aboriginal people do not regard such changes as a severance of their relationships of ownership, custody and enjoyment of their ancestral lands. One does not have to agree on a value judgement about this new, rationed mode of existence -- was it harsh or benign? -- in order to assent to my basic point: that Aboriginal people's legal dispossession did not necessarily amount to a practical dispossession of their country. When cash benefits became available, they afforded a decentralisation of Aboriginal people, back to ancestral lands over which, in many fortunate cases, they now had title in non-Aboriginal law. Studies of outstations in Arnhem Land (Altman 1987), Central Australia (Devitt 1988) and the western desert (Walsh 1990) have documented the persistence of hunting and gathering as a way of obtaining valued foods not available through the cash economy. We should therefore attend with curiosity to the political and administrative processes by which some Aboriginal people have come to be categorised as the 'unemployed'. That it is a highly tendentious category is borne out persuasively by Diane Smith's recent review of attempts to quantify Aboriginal 'unemployment' (Smith 1991). She demonstrates the wide variation in definitions and enumerations, and concludes that 'Aboriginal labour force participation is characterised by fluctuations between periods of employment and unemployment and between participation in, and withdrawal from, the labour force' (1991:27). She warns us to distrust the available vocabulary by which we make sense of labour market status and worker motivation. 'Aboriginal withdrawal from, or low engagement in the labour force cannot always be easily accommodated under the heading of "discouraged worker" or "hidden unemployment". Rather, central to the experience of some Aboriginal people may in fact be "the partial irrelevance" to them of the formal labour market...' (1991:23). Smith's point seems to refer implicitly to Aborigines' culturally grounded choices; these may be especially persistent among Aboriginal people who are physically removed from labour markets offering continuous work of a satisfying nature. Smith suggests that CDEP is an 'artificial expansion' of the remote and rural labour markets (1991:24), a point similar to that of Altman and Sanders (1991a:13-14) when they comment on the evaluation of the AEDP. They warn that CDEP 'jobs' should perhaps be excluded, or bracketed off, in the tallying of jobs created for Aboriginal people under the AEDP. CDEP thus poses a problem to the state: in its public as well as its intragovernmental representations of its own programs, in what terms ('employment', or something other than 'employment'? ) should CDEP participation be presented and evaluated? THE SUBJECTS AND OBJECTS OF 'RESISTANCE' This brings me to my third and final point about the wider settings of CDEP as an administrative and policy 'problem': the possibility that CDEP is the site of indigenous resistance to a colonising administration. In discussing this possibility, I will first try to clarify what 'resistance' means by discussing a recent study organised around that theme. Barry Morris has attempted to characterise the Australian state's specifically post-assimilationist modes of state action towards the Dhan-Gadi (and other Aboriginal people). Aborigines, he argues, are no longer constructed as 'symbolic failures' through an official and academic discourse of biological or cultural racism. Nowadays, Aborigines' equality in citizenship is both the presupposition and object of government actions. However, this apparent fairness exacts its characteristic cost: 'the predominant: forms of state intervention also deny the cultural specificities of Aboriginal existence...'(Morris 1988:219). The verb 'deny' I understand to refer primarily to the ideological or discursive work of the state. The state's interventions are necessarily accompanied by statements about Aboriginal people, their dispositions and needs, and it is these propositions that 'deny the cultural specificities of Aboriginal existence'. Whether such denials have effects on the actual conditions of Aboriginal life is another matter. Morris does not wish us necessarily to infer such consequences from these denials; on the contrary, the thrust of his argument seems to be that the Dhan-Gadi have always maintained forms of life which are their own independent adaptations to material circumstances. They remain beyond the distorting and denying official representations of their life and their needs. If I have read Morris right, then his account of hegemony and resistance is substantially (though not exclusively) semiotic. Hegemony refers not only to the history of land dispossession and physical dispersal, but also to the dominance of certain accounts of Aboriginality -- accounts which crowd out, without extinguishing altogether, Aborigines' own representations of who they are and what they need. His discussion of 'hegemony' (the term is not indexed) implies a public sphere in which non-Aboriginal representations contend unequally with other ('Aboriginal'?) representations of the circumstances of certain people (known, in both dominant and subordinate representations, as 'the Aborigines'). This implication, in turn, has consequences for our understanding of Aborigines' 'resistance'. Resistance, he writes, involves 'limiting or frustrating the controls those in authority exercise over their lives' through the development of a 'way of life' which consists of collective activity and collective identity; that is, for the Dhan-Gadi, persistent collective action and identity has thwarted the imposition of forms of social life that would 'separate individuals, ... reconstitute their social relations, ... fragment communities and ... produce new forms of social individuality.' In this struggle Dhan-Gadi representations of themselves must persist despite dominant representations. Morris refers to the enduring efficacy of 'how the Dhan-Gadi conceptualise their relationships to each other' and 'to the significance they gain from the predominantly oppositional and antagonistic interpretations of relations with the dominant society'(Morris 1988:4, my emphasis). Two important points flow from this semiotic element in Morris's notion of 'resistance'. The first has to do with how we think about the subjects of resistance -- those who resist; the second, with what is being resisted -- the object of 'resistance'. Resistance has both transitive and intransitive dimensions. As I read Morris, Dhan-Gadi resistance has been intransitive in the sense that it consists of actions focused primarily among those doing the resisting; the Dhan-Gadi must talk to each other, symbolise together -- what they are and how they are different from others who encroach upon them. Their resistance may then enjoy moments of transitivity in the sense that Dhan-Gadi collective action and identity may at times have material effects on non-Dhan-Gadi encroaching powers -- blocking them, limiting them, forcing them to retreat and rethink, mocking in words and behavior the dominant representations of Dhan-Gadi dispositions and needs. The 'resistance' to which he draws our attention is not necessarily always transitive, that is, it is not always directed outwards and is not always materially effective against the encroaching actions of others. But the intransitive aspect of resistance must be constant; that is, the Dhan Gadi must not cease symbolizing to each other their collective existence and common identity, in conversation and in ritual (in the broader sense). Such intransitive activity is a necessary condition of their occasional transitive acts of resistance. Were the Dhan Gadi (or any Aboriginal community) to embrace the CDEP option, their intra-communal notions of work, obligation and entitlement would be brought to bear in the practical implementation of the project. Transitivity, let me repeat, implies an object against which resistance occurs, and that too is illuminated by what I understand to be Morris's concept. The practical fashioning of a CDEP program according to local notions of need and desert might be an instance of the state's initiatives being materially transformed and adapted. Making such an observation would require us to compare what the state was trying to do with what actually eventuated. As I have argued, it is not so easy to say what the state is 'trying to do' to/with/for an Aboriginal community on CDEP. Indeed, this might be the most important thing about CDEP. If colonial domination and resistance to it include a contention of representations then we can see the enigma of CDEP -- its opacity to policy rationality, its apparent multiplicity of alms and rationales and its 'unresolved administrative and policy problems' -- as an important political artefact in itself, an effect of an ongoing struggle. Let us be clear about what is at stake in this struggle. Not only may forms of life be at stake; what is most definitely at stake, in the discussions of CDEP, is the state's capacity to give an account of its own actions towards Aboriginal people and an account of Aboriginal needs and aspirations. Contemporary governments must account for their actions in terms of such values as equity and pluralism. They must demonstrate that no Australian 'citizens' are being left to languish in poverty, but they must also show that they are not succouring spongers and bludgers. The state must demonstrate zeal to uplift and improve, to develop in Aborigines (and other welfare recipients) the attributes of employability and self-sufficiency: skills, selfdiscipline, commitment to selfimprovement. And, nowadays, governments must be seen to honour pluralist, multicultural notions of their citizens' rights. Governments must therefore give either an explicit or implicit account of Aboriginal people which holds them to be independently receptive to such ministrations -- a people not only needy but also self- directed towards 'bettering themselves', not any more imposed upon but determining for themselves the course of their betterment by the lights of their own culture. CDEP s ambiguities are a mild embarrassment to a nation state with such ideological requirements. CDEP illustrates a tension between different themes of legitimising discourse between 'self-determination' by indigenous citizens and a political rationality which aspires to say what a program aims to do and why. To make CDEP less of an embarrassment would require the central organs of government to clarify what CDEP is, and perhaps even to limit what it can be, in practice. But that in itself would require a struggle over who is to shape CDEP's practices, who is to report those practices, to whom, and in what terms. Refractory to clear accounts of its aims, methods and success or failure, CDEP is a necessary and popular anomaly in the state's representation of its ad-ministration of welfare and work experience to an indigenous people. In the second half of this paper, I will draw on an unpublished historical study of the Central Australian transition from a rations-based to a cash- based welfare system (Rowse 1989), in order to sketch what may be the historical background, in that region, to such contemporary ambiguities within colonial statecraft. THE HINTERLAND ECONOMY OF CENTRAL AUSTRALIA The Central Australian apparatuses through which assimilation was to have been effected may be grouped into three categories: towns; missions/settlements; and pastoral properties. By mid century, when 'assimilation' became the government's official objective, each apparatus had developed its own set of arrangements for materially sustaining and acculturating Aboriginal people. Alice Springs and Tennant Creek, as apparatuses of assimilation, had to function by a process of exclusion. Aborigines who were not 'civilised' enough for town or who were not employed by towns folk were supposed to stay out bush. These towns, with their 'Prohibited Area' laws and their discouraging of town camps, by mid-century had become zones of highly regulated Aboriginal entry and participation. Therefore, the hinterland institutions -- cattle stations, missions and settlements -- had to be able to hold Aboriginal people in the bush, to look after them, train them and

give them jobs until they were deemed 'ready' for town life. In short, the assimilation program in Central Australia was predicated on the assumption that there was a hinterland economy strong and enduring enough to obviate what was usually referred to as Aborigines drift to town. Much of the story of the failures of assimilation in the Centre is about the unpredictably changing dynamics of this hinterland economy. The hinterland economy consisted of two kinds of institution. Cattle stations were privately owned usually, in the Centre, by small family-based companies. Missions were private, but looked increasingly to state subsidy and so were influenced by the state supervision that accompanied subsidy. We may therefore group Central Australia's two missions (Santa Teresa and Hermannsburg) with the nine settlements established between 1937 and 1968: Jay Creek, Haasts Bluff, Papunya, Yuendumu, Areyonga, Hooker Creek, Warrabri (formerly Phillip Creek), Docker River and Amoonguna (formerly 'the Bungalow'). In the years 1950 to 1970, the relationships between the cattle stations and the settlements showed three notable features. First, Aboriginal people were able to move between settlements and cattle stations. These places were not institutions of confinement; neither type of institution made comprehensive demands on the peoples' time. Aboriginal people were thus able to compare the 'deals' they got at various places: how much and how hard they were expected to work, how well they were fed and paid, how respectfully they were treated. If there were limits to people's movements, they were less institutional than cultural. That is, people tended to live within their ancestral country, close to kin and friends, but getting their rations from a number of different sources over the course of their life. Some people's country consisted mostly of cattle stations (particularly east of the Stuart Highway), while other people's country fell within the catchment areas of both settlements/missions and cattle stations. Some station owners in the latter situation could employ labour seasonally, knowing that their workers would be looked after by the State on settlements for the rest of the year. Some station owners made it known that they were wary of having their labour 'spoilt' by a too easy life on settlements and missions in such interludes. Second, the settlement/missions and the cattle stations showed contrasting economic dynamics. In the period under consideration, cattle stations in the Centre reduced their demand for labour, while the settlements increased theirs. For both the welfare industry and the cattle industry, the price of Aboriginal labour was rising. Why did one industry demand more Aboriginal labour and the other less? The cattle industry shed Aboriginal labour in this period for three reasons: public and private investment allowed capital to replace labour; a severe drought (1957-65) greatly reduced the region's cattle herd; and, from 1966, the price of Aboriginal labour rose because Aborigines were included within the relevant industrial award. The welfare industry, however, demanded more Aboriginal labour; despite its rising cost, for three reasons: first, it was part of assimilation policy to keep adults (mainly men) on settlements gainfully employed and to train them; second, the settlements themselves had to be constructed (buildings, yards, roads and airstrips); and third, Aboriginal labour was still cheaper than non- Aboriginal labour. The nine settlements' and two missions' combined demand for Aboriginal labour exceeded that of the total Central Australian pastoral industry by the early 1960s. It follows that, if assimilation policy aimed to make wage labourers of Aboriginal men, then administrators had increasingly to place their hopes in the employment potential of the welfare industry itself. However, it was difficult to make such hopes the basis of planning and policy, for assimilation policy held that missions and settlements should not be ends in themselves but should serve merely as temporary places of residence and training for future employees in the wider economy. The third feature of these hinterland institutions which must be understood is that, during the period under review, cattle stations became increasingly differentiated in their willingness to have Aboriginal people on their leases. Whereas many stations dispensed altogether with Aboriginal labour and others employed only a minimal number of seasonal stockmen, by 1965 about a dozen Central Australian cattle stations had allowed large Aboriginal camps to form. Most of the people in these camps were not stockmen, they were the wives (some employed domestically), the children and the relatives of stockmen. Pastoralists with large camps were subsidised to ration the scores of people who depended on them, and it is possible (though irrelevant to my argument in this paper) that some pastoralists profited from being subsidised rationers ('nigger farming'). Such cattle stations constituted a network of 'quasi-settlements', essential components of the hinterland economy that was intended to hold Aboriginal people to a life in the bush, but only loosely within the control of Welfare Branch officials. THE EMERGENCE OF THE 'UNEMPLOYED' How did the dynamics of this hinterland economy give rise to an Aboriginal 'unemployment' problem? To answer this question is primarily to tell a story not of 'the economy' but of policy reasoning and administrative practice. The Australian government tests for eligibility for unemployment benefits by determining whether an applicant is seeking a job. In 1959, Commonwealth officials debated whether any of the Aboriginal people in contact with settlements missions and pastoral properties could possibly be judged 'unemployed' in this sense. The view that prevailed was that the Northern Territory Administration should make that decision since their Welfare Branch officers were closest to the circumstances that were to be assessed. Welfare Branch policy was that it would be disastrous to classify any Aboriginal people 'unemployed'. As Director of Welfare Harry Giese argued, 'If it were found by the wards that they could claim [unemployment and sickness] benefits by working intermittently and then settling down on settlements, our problems of control on settlements would be well nigh impossible' (Giese 1959). However, the Giese view came under increasing pressure from critics who saw it as compromising the official commitment, under assimilation policy, to grant Aborigines the same rights as all Australians. Pensions were available to Aboriginal people on missions, settlements and cattle stations from 1960 - - why not Unemployment Benefits? The Welfare Ordinance was amended to remove most controls over Aboriginal people in 1964. The Conciliation and Arbitration Commission ruled that, by December 1968, Aboriginal stockmen must be paid according to the prevailing industrial award. Each of these decisions, especially the last, strengthened the argument that all Aboriginal people, including the welfare industry's Aboriginal workforce and their families, should be entitled to standard wages and welfare payments. In 1968 a Department of Social Security memo argued that Unemployment Benefits had so far been withheld from Territory Aborigines 'by keeping them ignorant of their rights and by the use of administrative discretions which cannot withstand informed criticism.' (Anon 1968) Over the next six years (1968-74), Aboriginal people were given access to award wages and to the full array of welfare benefits. The application of the notion of 'seeking employment' was, as a matter of policy, relaxed to take into account Aboriginal people's continuing semi-nomadism in regions largely undeveloped by Europeans' public or private enterprise. I will not describe these decisions nor discuss their rationales (but see Sanders 1985). Over the fifteen years 1959 to 1974, a new category of Aboriginal person -- 'the unemployed' -- was realised within government policy and practice. There were, by the mid 1970s, 'unemployed' throughout the institutions of the hinterland economy, realising the fears of officials such as Giese and prompting the development of the CDEP policy. DISCIPLINE AND UNDISCIPLINE IN THE HINTERLAND ECONOMY Mr. Giese's worries about a relaxation of 'control' were not based on prejudice but on his Branch's experience of administering the assimilation policy through the institutions of the hinterland economy. We can draw on statements by non-Aboriginal pastoralists and Welfare Branch officials to develop an understanding of three kinds of difficulties encountered when the Administration tried to turn Aboriginal people into wage and salary earners: work discipline and the management of Aboriginal people's time; the definition of work and workers (as opposed to non-work and non-workers); and the replacement of rations with monetary incentives. An examination of each of these themes will reveal two axes of political and cultural tension which are relevant to our understanding of CDEP: between different notions of work and reward, and between senior officers of the Administration and those local agents of the state who dealt with Aboriginal clients. The reorganisation of Aborigines' time, in order to make them suitable for work in the wider economy, addressed the divisions of the year, the divisions of the week and the divisions of the day. That the pastoral industry used labour intensively for certain times of the year and left people 'idle' for many months ill suited assimilation policy. Such a pattern was thought to be a poor preparation for working in any other occupation or region, and a poor basis for the emergence of other features of a 'normal' Australian life style. But in his discussions with pastoralists in 1957 about the draft regulations of the Wards Employment Ordinance (1959), welfare Branch Director Harry Giese was unable to persuade employers to restructure the black stockworkers' year by allocating them other skilled work (blacksmithing, mechanics) in the summer off-season, the time when Aboriginal stockmen and their families usually went for a 'walkabout' for two or three months. For a variety of reasons, pastoralists did not wish to break this custom, nor to formalise 'walkabout' in the ways Giese suggested (using the Public Service as his model): three weeks paid 'recreation leave' and some 'leave of absence without wages'. In the event, the 1959 Wards Employment Regulations left these matters in pastoralists' hands: they were not compelled to grant leave without pay, annual leave or sick leave. Pastoralists were allowed to continue working with their own ideologies of management. The attributed psychology of Aborigines' labour time was reported to have been summarised by the Murray Downs lessee in 1951: 'A happy native doing four hours work per day will stay and work much longer than an unhappy native doing eight hours a day. During the muster season the natives work hard, and are given ample time off when this is all finished, all natives being allowed to go "walkabout", whenever they desire' (Penhall 1951). According to Central Australian pastoralists called as witnesses in the 1965 'Equal Wages' case, the very low cost of Aboriginal labour had allowed management to continue to be flexible and tolerant in their negotiations with Aborigines about such apportioning of their time. Mr. Prior, the manager of Hamilton Downs claimed he could pick the moment when his workers were ready to stop. 'They slow down. They do not like to work for six months straight. After a couple of months they will slow down and say, "we would like a spell, Boss". I say, "Hang on for a couple of weeks and then go for a break."' (Counsel: -- They are agreeable to that?) 'Yes, I have not had a walk-off' (Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission 1965: 507, hereafter referenced as CCAC Transcript). Elsewhere in his testimony, Prior admitted that it was because he paid low wages that he could accept his employees' rhythms of work and leisure. Mr. Willock, his neighhour at Milton Park, made the same point. 'You have to take it pretty easy with them. You can get a lot of work done if you spread it over a time. Say, in the morning, if you do not start them off too early, you can go till dinner time; then in the cool of the evening you might get an hour or so. They go along happily with that and seem to enjoy their work -- and at the present rates we are paying them, you can afford to work that way' (CCAC Transcript:486). Willock went on to describe his Aboriginal employees' working year: a long break at Christmas (for which he rationed two weeks food and a weeks wages) and another during winter (six weeks, one of which was rationed). At Narwietooma, Mr Connellan worked his men from March/April to a few days before Christmas. In that time, for every five weeks worked, there were two or three weeks break. His Christmas Eve party marked the commencement of 'walkabout'. Other pastoralists' testimonies made similar claims about the cattle stations' working year. The records left by settlement superintendents tend to reflect on the working day and the working week rather than on the working year, but they too support this picture of a relatively relaxed culture of work. However Superintendents' reports also suggest that, unlike the cattle bosses, some Welfare Branch staff were at first less sensitive to established custom, less inclined to tolerate work routines which appeared to non-Aborigines to be too relaxed. Superintendents, unlike pastoralists, were recruited to their positions of authority with the express purpose of making assimilation policy work. They faced the question: given that the settlements had both to prevent peoples' starvation by feeding them and to attract to sedentarism a nomadic people in order to inculcate wider Australian norms (including the notion of reward for effort), how much work should be required before a person could be rationed? There seems to have been no standard answer to this question. Staff shortages at settlements made it difficult to supervise all rationed employees over a full working week: short weeks therefore suited staff interests at some places and times. In 1957, Jay Creek workers were on the job for two to three days per week; in 1958, they worked five half days. At Yuendumu in 1958 there had to be four hours work each morning before rations were distributed. However, a Superintendent at Hooker Creek boasted an eight hour working day in 1956. Not all staff could be persuaded to aim for such an ideal. Yuendumu's Superintendent Spencer, wishing to go beyond a morning's work, clashed with his Manager who claimed that 'it was useless to endeavour to get Wards to work after midday' (Spencer 1958a). A later Superintendent at Yuendumu, Ted Egan, drew attention to the variety of attractions he had instituted there to encourage a longer working day. 'In an effort to compete with the strong camp influence which lures the workers away from their employment, we now have several counter attractions. Football practice is held on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, canteen on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, and Ration day is Friday. We now find that all the workers are content to remain on the job in the afternoons' (Egan 1958). One zealot angered Aborigines at Haasts Bluff when he tried to institute a seven day working week. The offended workers shifted to nearby Papunya, where a five day week was the official standard, and the Haasts Bluff manager was urged by his superiors to go easy. Because the application of the 'no work -- no ration' rule required some discretion of settlement staff, it was necessary for Aborigines to establish its contextual meaning through negotiation. The resulting understandings could be undermined by the turnover of settlement staff. Branch files tend to record the discontinuities in such negotiated understandings; they were notable moments of tension and difficulty. When Mr. Bowden took charge of Jay Creek in 1954, he inaugurated a tougher version of the work/sustenance rule, and soon found workers on strike. There appear to have been more frequent changes of staff on settlements than on cattle stations and missions. In the late 1950s, Haasts Bluff residents saw four superintendents and ten stock managers in two and a half years. At Yuendumu, Spencer reported the consequences of a 'complete change of staff. 'The wards became unsettled and perplexed to know what to make of so many bosses. They have systematically tried out each one of us in turn and it is not until the present that they as a whole are showing due respect for authority' (Spencer 1958b). Directives from above could also undermine such understandings. Superintendent Drysdale complained in 1961 that, at Hooker Creek, agreements about rates of pay had been ruined by the sudden need to employ scores of Warlpiri trucked from Yuendumu by the Administration; Drysdale's wages budget had not been increased to accommodate the new arrivals. '[N]o amount of explanations can be appreciated by the wards concerned,' he lamented (Drysdale 1961). Workers and non-workers The Welfare settlements' principle of 'no work -- no rations/money' required staff not only to try to institutionalise a standard working day and week, but also to distinguish within the Aboriginal population according to who should be required to work and who should not. The language of Welfare reports became rich in categories such as 'able-bodied', 'pregnant or nursing woman', 'aged and infirm'. Such terms expressed non-Aboriginal notions of breadwinners and dependents, notions which bore no necessary correspondence to Aboriginal traditions of labour division and duties to share. It was therefore difficult to translate those categories into enforceable social relationships. Administration staff reported that those 'undeserving' of rations -- because they had done little or no work -- could obtain what they needed from those of whom little or no work was required. Health Inspector Rider was told by Papunya residents in 1963 that 'even if they do not work they and their wives and children will still be clothed, fed and looked after by the Settlement staff' (Rider 1963). Another officer argued that, to Papunya residents 'collection of pay is not seen to be earned by the performance of work, but by the mere fact of having one's name on the roll book' (DAA 1977:65). In 1968, Branch officer Cooke lamented that 'the loss of wages because of unauthorised absenteeism from work causes no hardship to the average Areyonga employee. Pooled financial resources in the camp from pensions and the wages of employees are considerable' (Cooke 1968). Two years later Cooke made similar observations about Jay Creek. His Director even suggested that a police presence at Areyonga would make residents think twice about refusing to work. Settlements were severely limited, from the Administration's point of view, in their ability to use rations and cash payments as inducements to work. There was a tendency, because of the manifold objectives of Settlements and because of Aborigines' circulation of goods and money, for everyone to get some support whatever their attitude to work. Some Settlement Superintendents dealt with this problem by diluting the notion of work. They tried to share work around and to invent as many jobs as possible, in order to legitimise their relatively undiscriminating issues of goods and money. The theoretical distinction between the deserving and the undeserving, crucial to the state's training strategy and to the later administration of unemployment benefits, was difficult to apply in practice. Was this also true of cattle stations? Under the 1949 Regulations governing the employment and sustenance of cattle station residents -- Regulations based on consultations with the pastoral lobby in 1947 -- pastoral lessees were to be subsidised for rationing all but their waged employees and those relatives who could be seen as the employee's immediate responsibility as a breadwinner, his 'nuclear' family. The comprehensive nature of this rationing policy was consistent with established cattle industry custom as the Administration understood it. In 1945, Deputy Administrator Carrington had reported from his survey of pastoralists' rationing practices that 'dependants might be regarded as the whole of those people who in tribal law (...) look to the young and strong of the tribe to support them' (Carrington 1945). Despite this understanding, and the resulting 1949 Regulations, the newly appointed Director of Welfare, Harry Giese, urged a more rigorous approach in a 1955 memo setting forth a number of categories of eligibility and ineligibility for government-subsidised pastoralists' rations. His Administrator soon pointed out that the Pastoral Regulations contained no requirement that pastoralists should heed such categories. Nor could pastoralists be obliged by the Administration to refuse rations to anyone. Because of the privileged position of the pastoral interest, the Administration's ration subsidy commitment was open-ended. The practical effects of this can be seen in the confident, unapologetic way in which some pastoralists, those with large camps on their leases, presented their 'ration everyone' policy to the 'Equal Wage' hearings in 1965. Mr Chisholm, formerly of Napperby and later of Anningie station, described an evolving practice of comprehensive rationing. 'This is the only way,' he claimed. 'If you ration some and not others, it is all shared up any way, so it is far simpler to give them all rations, then they are all happy'(CCAC Transcript 1965:464). The cattle industry's inconstant demands for labour tended to blur the distinction between working and non-working adult males: a lot of men worked some of the time, and a few were 'core' workers who worked more frequently than others. As well, subsidies and, after 1960, pensions and benefits for 'legitimately' non-working Aborigines (such as the aged, the sick and infirm, mothers and children) made it both affordable and expected that everyone would be looked after. It would have soured lessees' relations with residents to have tried to prevent goods and money from being redistributed into the hands of non-working able-bodied males, or to refuse requests for extra rations when families of reliable workers, obliged by custom to share with non-working adults, said they were running short. A few years before the Wages case, the Welfare Branch's internal inquiries had made it clear that, throughout Central Australia there were 150-200 'able-bodied males' who were living on redistributed rations. That is, they were neither employed nor officially recorded as in receipt of subsidised rations, but they were enumerated in the Branch's population records (Hunter 1961). I pointed out above, when discussing the difficulties faced by Settlement staff who were under pressure to ration everyone, that it was possible to define 'work' rather flexibly -- its duration, intensity and substance -- so as to conform outwardly to Branch policy. Although pastoral lessees were not under the same degree of Administration pressure to practice the distinctions of deservingness laid down by Mr. Giese, they too could be resourceful in the use of the notion of 'work'. In 1963, a Welfare Branch officer characterised employment on Narwietooma in the following terms. 'Employment is permanent on the basis of five weeks work then two weeks holiday if requested, then a further period of work and so on. At the time of the census, one worker was at Glen Helen and another at Papunya. Most of the other workers were on holiday dogging. If these return to Narwietooma to work they would be classed as permanent employees, otherwise they would be casuals. Employees are rationed when on holidays. The management has encouraged the unemployed to make artefacts which are purchased for resale and the others to hunt dingoes for the scalp bonus. In this way, very few, if any, are idle in the camps' (Anon 1963). The most important feature of this passage is that it shows what free use could be made of categorical terms which were, theoretically, central to assimilation policy: idle, employed, casual, permanent, unemployed, holiday, work. Yet it was through the practices of people such as the Narwietooma lessee and the visiting official, local agents of an assimilating authority, that assimilation policy was intended to be realised. There were tensions between upper and lower levels of administration in judging the pace at which rations -- the standard remuneration for Aboriginal workers in the hinterland economy c. 1950 - were gradually to be replaced by monetary incentives. Discussing the issue of remuneration for Aboriginal workers in 1956, Welfare Branch Director Giese told the Administrator that it was better to improve Aborigines' living and working conditions than to 'place more money in the hands of the natives and particularly sophisticated town natives' (Giese 1956). A number of Welfare Branch documents written by those public servants who actually engaged Aboriginal labour reveal that Aboriginal people were indeed keen to be paid cash. Such officers pressed successfully for cash floats at their Settlements in 1957, and at least one of them criticised the Welfare Ordinance's ceilings on the amount of cash that Aborigines could get and spend. They also sought and, by 1958 obtained, standard rates for like jobs across Settlements, for they perceived Aborigines to be comparing rates at rationed and moneyed places on their country and choosing the more generous. At the time when Settlement wage rates were being standardised, the Administration saw cash as no more than a supplement to the basic remuneration for work, that is, rations. Cash supplements were intended to be margins for skill and thus an incentive to train; they were also a chance for 'wards' to practise the handling of money, and Settlement canteens were set up to that end in the early 1960s. However, the Administration was put under pressure by private employers to rethink the notion of cash as a mere supplement to rations. From 1959, private employers were bound by the Wards Employment Regulations to pay cash wages at or above certain minimum rates. They thought it only fair that the Welfare Branch, the largest employer of Aboriginal labour in the Territory, should also be so bound. The Administration resisted this suggestion. Officials thought that having to pay the WEO minima would make it more expensive to build and run the Settlements, and they feared that it would unwisely accelerate the pace of the transition from rations to cash. However, pressure in the Legislative Assembly forced the Administration to concede WEO rates to working 'wards' on settlements. Not only were they to have their basic food and accommodation requirements met by the Administration, they would also have unprecedented amounts of money to spend, with too little training, some officials suggested, in the ways of wise consumption. The Administration responded to its new obligations as employer and provider by recommending to Minister Hasluck that it be allowed to class most Settlement workers as 'slow, aged or infirm', a category not entitled to the Wards Employment minima. Only a few essential and more skilled Settlement workers would be classed 'competent' enough to get the WEO minimum rates. Hasluck saw value in this proposal and soon Settlement Superintendents were asked to survey and to classify their workforces. While they were doing so, the Administrator predicted that only ten per cent of workers would be deemed eligible for the WEO minima; this proportion happily coincided with what the Administration saw as the necessary workforce in the delivery of each Settlement's essential services. Their wages would therefore continue to be a bearable line in the Welfare Branch budget. However, the results of the Superintendents' classifications, presented to the Administrator in 1963, confounded his expedient prediction: about forty per cent of Settlement workers were classed by Settlement staff as 'competent' and therefore as eligible for the WEO minima. This difference between senior and junior levels of the Administration was made all the more embarrassing by the fact that the Minister, Hasluck, ever willing to push the pace of assimilation, had recently suggested in correspondence that perhaps the Administrator's 'competent' ten per cent should get the Basic Wage, three times the WEO minimum rate. The embarrassed Administrator therefore had now to point out that his Minister's progressive policy would be financially and culturally ruinous. Obliged to accept the superintendents' figure of forty per cent 'competent', the Administrator sought to minimise its impact. His advice to Hasluck exploited the ambiguity of the term 'competent': Aboriginal people judged 'competent' to work on Settlements were not, he argued, 'competent' according to the standards of the wider Australian labour market. Their limited competence should therefore be recognised by payment of the WEO minimum not by the Basic Wage, he urged. This expedient argument became the basis of policy from 1963 until 1969. The manner in which this decision was taken reveals some important features of the Administration's approach to its Aboriginal workforce. First, there was tension between the Administration's wish to build and run the Settlements cheaply and its wish to create incentives approximating statutory awards, and to provide 'wards' -- in training to be citizens -- the opportunities to use cash. Second, different levels of the government employed different criteria in assessing Aborigines' entitlement to cash payment. The Minister had been open to giving the best workers the Basic Wage, but was apparently dissuaded from doing so when the cost was calculated. The Administration seemed to judge 'competence' according to its established notions of how many workers it could afford to pay to help run a Settlement, while Settlement staff seemed to have developed their own relatively generous and accommodating criteria of Aboriginal 'competence'. Unlike the Minister or the Administrator, these staff were not responsible for framing and justifying Administration budgets. But they were living with Aboriginal people and had daily to negotiate with them the conditions under which they and their families could receive rations and cash. The policies governing the graduated transition from rations to cash were thus an expedient trade off between the diverse pressures and perspectives registered within the administration. CONCLUSION In Central Australia (and possibly elsewhere), assimilation policy was enacted through the institutions of a hinterland economy in which a certain industrial and economic culture was developed and sustained. This culture was a mixture of surviving Aboriginal traditions (such as attachment to specific countries and customs of distribution), new Aboriginal desires (for commodities and the money to purchase them), the perspectives of non- Aboriginal political elites committed to 'assimilation' (the Minister, senior Administration officials), and the perspectives of non-Aborigines 'on the ground' (Welfare Branch staff, mission workers, and pastoralists) through whose institutional practices the assimilation policy was realised within the hinterland economy. I have illustrated three characteristics of the resulting culture of work: the blurred boundary between work and non-work (the administration of time); the blurred boundary between workers and non-workers (the administration of a population conceived in terms of certain policy categories); and the tensions between upper and lower levels of the Administration in their perspectives on 'competence' and on the methods and pace of Aborigines gradual 'acculturation'. I suggest that this industrial culture and its administrative tensions is an enduring reality of the Central Australian frontiers (and, perhaps, of other frontiers). I have no ethnographies of Central Australian CDEP schemes, but let me make the following conjecture. The 'success' of the CDEP is that it recognises and accommodates the many ambiguities and indeterminacies of the historically emergent industrial culture which I have just sketched. That is, under CDEP, power is devolved to local political elites (variable combinations of Aboriginal councillors and Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal staff) to define what kinds of 'work' CDEP embraces, to administer criteria of eligibility for inclusion, to determine the hours and intensity of labour necessary to earn a certain income. Such discretions being in local hands, CDEP is a relatively problematic program for those in the commanding heights of policy and administration to define and evaluate. And, as both a welfare and employment program, CDEP seems to pose a challenge to those who must now evaluate the major Aboriginal affairs initiative of the Commonwealth government, the Aboriginal Employment Development Policy. What the government has on its hands, in some regions, is a persisting variant of the mainstream Australian economy -- a frontier economy made up of public sector initiatives and adapted Aboriginal traditions, the product of the traceable alchemy of assimilation's inherited methods and unintended consequences, now persisting, it would seem, into the future. To call CDEPs to account for themselves in terms of singular or clearly ranked objectives is to reassert the claims of a centrally-located, rationally-ordering administrative intelligence. Such intelligences do not necessarily have a sense of the longue duree of the cultures over which they attempt to hold their panoptic sway. I am not referring to 'Aboriginal culture' -- that which we might conceive to lie on the other side of some contemporary cultural frontier -- but rather to local cultures of service provision in which Aboriginal people, under self-determination policy, are now not only the clients but also, increasingly, the de jure and de facto local agents of the state, working with non-Aboriginal agents in a ceaseless mediation between the central imperatives of policy and locally defined needs. I will conclude by pointing out the implications of this 'central'/'local' framework for our notions of 'resistance'. Is it wise to persist in trying to see 'resistance' as an activity or attribute of 'Aboriginality'? Now that Aboriginal people occupy positions of power at all levels of the administration of 'Aboriginal affairs', the structural 'frontier' that divides the central apparatuses of the state from its local capillaries may be a more significant topic for our study than the (increasingly abstract) 'frontier' which is said to divide Aboriginal from non-Aboriginal people. If we are to make sense of the political heterogeneity of Aboriginal people and of non-Aboriginal people, we must develop our accounts of the modes of state action and be less concerned to identify in cultural or ethnic terms the subjects of the verbs 'dominate' and 'resist'. I have recently been critical of what I understand to be Gillian Cowlishaw's discussion of the problem of the structural political heterogeneity of Aboriginal people (Rowse 1990). I read her Black White or Brindle (Cowlishaw 1989) as an attempt to valorise, as most essentially 'Aboriginal' those ideas and behaviours which she judges to be most 'resistant' or refractory to the governing of Aboriginal people. An ideological cost of this unwarranted essentialism, I argued, was its elevation of much pathological and self-destructive behaviour above actions more conducive to Aborigines' physical and emotional survival. Its theoretical cost is that it obscures the way that the structures of politics and administration themselves help to generate a differentiated array of Aboriginalities. In another notable attempt to conceptualise 'Aboriginality' and 'resistance', that of Kevin Keeffe (Keeffe 1988), I think we see the mirror inversion of this problem. That is, Keeffe's refusal of any essential political character in Aboriginality seems to me to raise the issue of whether 'Aboriginal' is a term of any analytic value at all. Keeffe distinguishes two available versions of 'Aboriginality', one stressing 'persistence', the other 'resistance'. Their combination makes 'the concept' of 'Aboriginality' 'ambiguous and paradoxical ... an inherently contradictory ideology' (1988:79). 'Aboriginality-as-persistence' is an ideology owing much to essentialist, ahistorical concepts of culture, he argues; it is especially suited to contemporary government efforts to 'Aboriginalise' their dealings with indigenous people. 'Resistant' or 'oppositional' Aboriginality, by contrast, cannot be construed in such essential terms. 'Those inspired by [Aboriginality as resistance] are engaged in the conscious production of new cultural forms, drawing creatively from the resources of the dominant society, and from Aboriginal traditions, but not setting out to discover lost objects from the past. It speaks of resistance to white authority, political struggle and collective solidarity, but is constrained by the structures (material, ideological and cultural) of the dominant society' (1988:80). If 'Aboriginality' has such various and contradictory possibilities as 'ideology', then I suggest we cease trying to make it work as a 'concept'. At least, we should be prepared to specify in what respects a structure of domination and resistance is explicable as an effect of some practice of 'Aboriginality'; our vocabulary for describing that practice need not include such cultural categories as 'Aboriginal', even if that is an important ideological category for those engaged in the practice. If we are to conceptualise those whom we call 'Aborigines' as 'resisting', then we should certainly attend to the ideological terms in which they project their forms of life and, equally, to the ideological terms in which the state defines and responds to 'Aboriginal' needs. But if we are to refer to 'resistance' then we need to be clear about who is resisting what. Unless we attempt to specify its subjects and its objects, the verb 'resistance' loses its descriptive power. The circumstances which I have described above illustrate the benefits of being more cautious in making 'Aborigines' the subject of the verb 'resist'. In the case of the CDEP and its antecedent industrial culture, the 'resisting' subjects are to be specified not in cultural terms (Aboriginal, non-Aboriginal) but in structural terms -- the peripheral agents of the colonial state and their indigenous clients. These peripheral people have included both Aborigines and non-Aborigines. 'Aboriginality' may or may not be among the ideologies integral to their practices of resistance. The object which their collective practice has resisted and continues to resist is the ensemble of state efforts, first, to form Aboriginal citizens into wage and salary earners and, second, to inscribe and promote that transformation in the legitimising ideologies of the liberal nation state. That state is now staffed at its most senior levels by both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Both kinds of people are capable of deploying ideologies of 'Aboriginality' and of administrative rationality in order to give meaning and legitimacy to their administrative powers. In this reformulation of the concept of 'resistance', the 'subject' and the 'object' are not so easy to specify in ethnic terms. The language of ethnicity is notoriously loaded, tendentious and imprecise. Instead of giving ethnic personality to 'resistance', we can see it as a process of the enactment of structural tensions within a welfare state endeavouring to encompass an indigenous people and to give politically defensible representations of its actions. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS (I would like to thank Jon Altman for his comments on an earlier draft of this paper.) REFERENCES ALTMAN, J. C. 1987. Hunter gatherers and the state. Australian Institute for Aboriginal Studies, Canberra. --- 1990a. 'Comments prepared as a discussion paper on the draft report of the review of the community development employment projects (CDEP) Scheme (unpublished paper, 24 January 1990). --- 1990b. 'The economic future of remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities' Australian Aboriginal Studies, 1990, no. 2, pp. 48-52. --- and SANDERS, W. 1991a. Government initiatives for Aboriginal employment: equity, equality and policy realism in J. C. Altman (ed) Aboriginal Employment Equity by the Year 2000 ANU/CAEPR Research Monograph, no. 2, pp. 1-18. --- and SANDERS, W. 1991b. The CDEP scheme: administrative and policy issues, CAEPR Discussion Paper no. 5.
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Author:Rowse, Tim
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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