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Returned to sender: some predicaments of re-indigenisation.

In Australia, as elsewhere in the world's settler colonies, the peoples identified as indigenous have in recent years almost all enjoyed some kind of recognition as indigenes, internationally, nationally, and in varying degrees from individuals of settler descent. Often coming after a period in which authorities implemented policies such as assimilation as citizens (or perhaps apprentice citizens) this recognition has amounted to a re-indigenisation in which acceptable difference is incorporated into a notional multicultural nanon. (1) However, as Povinelli has argued, while Australians might recognise a certain common situation, 'an indigenous identity would not be considered the same as an ethnic identity because traditional indigenous culture has a different relationship to national time and space' (2002: 48)

Various kinds of difference have defined indigeneity since European settlement-historical, economic, and cultural--but in the contemporary ideological formation it is the cultural difference that has salience, both in defining indigenous people for themselves, and for the non-indigenous majority. This is not, however, the culture recorded in the old style ethnography, listing traditional customs once if not still practised in some locality before the intrusion of the outside world; it is rather one of Appadurai's 'dimensions of global cultural flow' and what--adapting his spatial metaphor ((1996: 48-65) (2)--I have inelegantly called the indigeno-scape, the distinctive feature of which is to appear differently according to the vantage point from which it is viewed. I need to add that while stable boundaries may give rise to fixed vantage points, fluid situations may require people to devise a vantage point so to speak on the run.

Vantage points tend to form around key group identifications. In this connection Li writes, 'a group's self-identification as tribal or indigenous is not natural or inevitable, but neither is it simply invented, adopted or imposed. It is rather a positioning that draws upon historically sedimented practices, landscapes and repertoires of meaning, and emerges through patterns of engagement and struggle.' (2000:151). We should note that she says 'draws upon', because it makes more historical sense to see indigenous groups claiming or reclaiming the past rather than as automatic heirs to it.

With the passing of time, not all 'practices, landscapes and meanings' may still be accessible, nor in the contemporary situation may they be practicable or desirable. Those that are accessible are likely to carry a different kind of baggage in the contemporary situation, becoming reified as they are deployed in the process of 'positioning'. Some practices marked as indigenous, at least when compared with the early accounts, prove to be modelled after prior practices rather than continuations of them. Indigenous self identification is thus selective in greater or lesser degree and may--as I shall suggest in a moment--include rejection. Such cultural capital tends to be decontextualised and readily represented in language, as part of a reflexive, conscious culture.

What we are discussing here comes close to Sider and Dombrowski's indigenism, notions of which 'are not seen as something emerging entirely from those communities who would claim it. Rather indigenism is something of a political middle ground' (2001 : 200). It emerges out of the congruence of vantage points, but with a penumbra of misconceptions and disengagements.

While the 'tribal' vantage point is privileged in the discourses of indigenism as a source of authenticity, the conditions under which indigenous people are actually able to reproduce their culture are likely to reflect and refract the ways it is seen from other vantage points. There are various non-indigenous vantage points on indigenous culture: as I noted earlier, governments may wish to demonstrate their good will by recognising indigenous places or practices, albeit with certain conditions; in more entrepreneurial mode, art dealers may promote interest in indigenous art; religious movements may seek communion with indigenous spirituality. All of these are likely to have implications for the culture and its carriers. There are also, of course, the anthropologists, who in comprehensive terms seek to understand indigenous culture, and to communicate this to their colleagues. If their accounts feed back to the community, these too will have implications, though not necessarily the ones intended.

As Johannes Fabian has pointed out, these are not simply accounts of the field work encounter, but refracted through the canons of the discipline: the anthropological vantage point. Franca Tamisari's discussion of the field work encounter reminds us of this disjunction (2006: 17-36). The situation gets a bit more complicated when as increasingly happens anthropologists are maintaining a long term relationship with their 'tribe' through frequent return visits. The scholarly and 'native' vantage points are more likely to intersect, and conflicts emerge and require solutions.

When information which has for one reason or another become critical, but which a community no longer remembers, they may have to turn to those--anthropologists or others--who either worked with their old people, or who know through archival searching where it is to be found. They may also be approached with offers of 'traditional' information which they were not seeking, and which they find they prefer to keep at arm's length, or simply to refuse. What follows is a case of this kind, in which one indigenous group declined to engage with versions of indigenism that were being offered them..


At the very beginning of my career in anthropology in the late 1950s, I worked with Aboriginal people in 'outback' New South Wales. My plan was to look at the contemporary situation of people who gained their livelihood by working in the pastoral industry. In the official racist terminology of the period, they were classified as Mixed Bloods, referring not only to their genetic descent, but to a supposed separation from the traditions of their Aboriginal forbears. In the event I was able to record quite a lot from the memories of seventy and eighty year old 'half castes', (3) but in later years there had been a break in the transmission of such knowledge, so that younger generations seemed either not to know much about the 'early days', or even to disclaim any connection with it. In the climate of the time, they did not have the opportunity to claim their past. Rather, they shared with their white neighbours the notion that the 'real Aborigines', who they occasionally saw featured in illustrated magazines such as Pix, lived 'up North'. There was as yet little sense of the Pan-Aboriginal ethno-genesis that was to overtake Australia nationwide in the 1970s. Nor was there anything in the way of positioning vis-a-vis the wider society; with the NSW Aborigines Welfare Board speaking for and about them, (4) they were scarcely articulated with the wider society, beyond the local employers who hired them and the police who gaoled them for petty offences such as consuming alcohol. (5)

They were in no doubt they were 'blackfellers', the term they seemed to prefer, and they mostly knew what their language group was, even if the younger ones didn't speak much of the 'lingo' any more. Otherwise, what passed for Aboriginality--not that I ever heard the term--was a notion, nicely articulated by a young lad whom I had asked, that white people were smarter when it came to making things, but blackfellers got on better in the bush. Beyond this there was an unarticulated resentment of exclusions and disabilities imposed by white authority. Their everyday life they experienced within an enclosed world of personal, primarily kinship, relations, focused on several matriarchs who had given birth to very large families in the early years of the century. People did not know the names of their ancestors beyond the grandparental generation, (6) but for most kin networks knowledge spread laterally to include a hundred or so 'relations' (Beckett 1988). (7) Inasmuch as this domain was not known to the outside world, one might speak in terms of a private Aboriginality.

Although my later research took me in other directions, I kept in touch with friends I made at that time, and had some sense of the changes they were experiencing in later years.


The children and grandchildren of the people I had got to know in 1957 were by the 1990s living rather differently. Few now worked in the pastoral industry, and despite a government relocation program to towns further east, many were dependent on welfare either as unemployed or seniors or invalids. Some however were employed, often in government agencies dealing with some branch of Aboriginal affairs, and following a suburban lifestyle. They lived for the most part as enclaves in predominantly white towns and regional centres, and for much of the time they were taken up with the typical pursuits of small town life: working if they had jobs, going to clubs and pubs, watching TV, following the football, and so on. However, although the 'mob'--the term they often used for clusters of kin--were now scattered over a wide area, they kept in touch by telephone; and there were enough automobiles for them to get to the funerals which provided the most frequent occasion for large gatherings--manifesting the 'dense sociality' which Cowlishaw regards as the distinguishing feature of Aborigines in New South Wales (2004:111). This remained a private Aboriginality unless, as sometimes happened, mobilised in the politics arising in government funded Aboriginal organizations (cf Cowlishaw 2004: 179).

Although communication with the state and federal capital was not difficult their contacts with metropolitan indigenous organisations were not all that important for their daily lives. One could scarcely speak of a trans-national indigeneity, except insofar as a sense of it filtered through the media--since indigenous items often appeared on their televsion screens-typically accompanied by the sound of the didgeridoo! There were the usual legal, health and housing agencies, and schools with significant numbers of Aboriginal students provided cultural programs of various kinds. For the most part, however, these were matters one could take or leave.

One cost of no longer working on stations was that people rarely got out of the towns in which they lived, although the idea I cited earlier that Aboriginal people 'belonged in the bush' persisted, with the difference that now the world also expected them to express their Aboriginality in this way. In the event there were few opportunities to practise this capacity or to pass it on to the children. Unlike Northern Australia, the region offered few opportunities for land claims, however State bodies such as the National Parks and Wildlife Service were empowered to register and protect sites of 'Aboriginal signficance', particularly where there was rock art. They were moved by the idea that if Aboriginal people could not be made owners of such places, they could at least have a say in their management, setting up advisory committees and from time to time convening meetings on site. It was mainly the older generation who attended, taking advantage of 'petrol money' and motel accommodation that the Service provided, to 'get together'. Now that the government is buying back from owners properties that are no longer economically viable to let the land 'recover', it is sometimes possible for Aboriginal people to go out for 'Cultural Camps', cooking 'bush tucker' the old way; a chance to show the children how it was and could be again.

The problem was that the government authorities needed some 'traditional' evidence linking the people to the place. By this time, the old people who knew such things were long dead, and when the fragments that their descendants remembered were insufficient, they needed what was in my notebooks, or in century old journals in metropolitan libraries. (8)

In the event I was not always able to help; some information just seemed to be lost. I was happy to pass on what I had learned, or could direct them to in the archives. However there was a certain item about which I had misgivings. Early in my original field study, I made the acquaintance of a sprightly 80 year old I shall call Henry Turner who had been through the initiation around 1890 and believed in the old ways. He started telling me the old stories, coming by each morning with some snippet he had remembered overnight. However, when I asked about the religion and the initiation, he peremptorily replied that this was 'secret', and changed the subject. Months later he did finally talk, in a highly emotional and dramatic late night session that ended with his assertion that he 'believed it all, and was very sorry' that it had ended. It certainly strengthened the relationship between us and when another of the few who had been 'through the rules' passed us in the street he half jokingly remarked that we were two 'men' sitting down. Although he attended a number of such ceremonies in later years, his account was from the point of view of a boy going through for the first time, with its terrors and excitements and wonder.

My supervisor had wanted me to publish his account, but I was not inclined to do so, certainly not while my informant was alive, but after he died I remained reluctant. His account tallied quite closely with that recorded by an amateur anthropologist around 1900, so I didn't feel I was depriving my colleagues of vital information. Meanwhile I had other things on my mind. The decades passed, but I heard that there was one initiate still alive, from the 'class of 1914', and I decided to let my old friend's testimony remain secret, though I find it difficult to explain why. Although Aboriginal traditions were not my main concern, I had published an account of rites from another part of the country. Was it a case of 'knowledge WITH the other' rather than 'ABOUT the other' (cf Tamisari 2006: 24)?

Eventually, with my notebooks being called upon for other matters, I remembered what Henry had told me, and with the years passing, I wondered what should happen to what I had written down; I could deposit it in some archive, but I recalled Aboriginal critics of anthropology complaining that we stole the old peoples culture and hid it away. (10) In fact a scholarly inclined Aboriginal could have gone to a major library and searched out the reports of turn-of-the-century amateurs. However, I figured that the dry objective and depersonalised accounts of those early days, would not have the appeal to ordinary Aboriginal people of a personal account from someone whose name they knew and whom they might dimly remember. My motivation was perhaps reminiscent of what Phillip Batty called 'redemption rituals', in which museums tried to return artefacts to the descendants of those from whom they had earlier been taken, except that mine was a personal impulse, and I had no 'ritual' in mind (Batty 2006).

I must have mentioned this concern to someone, though I don't now remember who, but some time later I was invited to talk to a 'Men's Camp' on a remote sheep station where many of my friends' fathers and grandfathers had been born and worked in the 19th and early 20th centuries.


To my surprise, the approach came not from an Aboriginal quarter, but from a white Australian who was working as a scientist in this part of the country. I shall call him Redlake. He and another man I shall call Barnes, it emerged were involved in revivals of Aboriginal rituals in other parts of the state, something that I had not been aware of and the import of which I did not immediately grasp. Barnes, who was deputed to drive me up to the camp, volunteered that he had been initiated somewhere on the coast; he said it had arisen out of an interest in rock art, including places that local Aborigines had told him were sacred and secret. Discovering I had not been initiated he declared in a brotherly tone that 'we'--whoever 'we' was-would put me through. All of a sudden I had been reduced from being the one with the occult knowledge to neophyte!

What Barnes and Redlake expected of the meeting I never learned, but my guess is that they hoped my revelation would provide them with a spring board for attracting more Aboriginal people to their ritual activities.

Apart from Barnes and Redlake, the gathering consisted of a dozen mature age Aboriginal men, many of them the grandchildren of my old informants and friends, and bearing names that I recognised. In fact all but two were members or affines of a large extended family, I shall call the Benetts. They lived in various parts of the state, but were in regular touch with one another. Some I had met at a meeting regarding a rock art site just recently, and I think most of them had heard of me. However the invitation circulated stated simply that I had talked to their old people, and mentioned the possibility of claiming a property where their ancestors had once lived. Some may have had some expectation of 'secret men's business' (although I never heard anyone use the phrase that is current up north). At all events the women had all absented themselves, although they knew the meeting was on.

Barnes and Redlake expected me to reveal the old man's secrets then and there, but I was in no hurry to do so, and as the situation crystallised became less so. When I was called upon to speak, I played a recording of the old man singing, and then explained how he had come to tell me about his initiation, and how he had insisted on its secrecy. I said I had respected this, but now I needed to think about what was to be done with the notebook in which I had recorded his account. It could go into an archive and be put on restricted access. But the old people were long dead so perhaps it was time to open up the secrets to a select group of older men. It was up to them. Proceedings came to an abrupt end when a high wind blew up.

It was the Aborigines present that I was addressing, and I think they were taken aback by my question. Since there was no immediate response, I suggested that they think the matter over. One man who was as he later told me, 'keen as mustard' to learn about initiation, didn't speak out, because, he told me later, he was younger than the rest. An older man remarked that now they only met for funerals, and perhaps something there needed to be something for the young boys, who no longer went bush with their fathers. Another man thought that the initiations would be difficult to revive, since there was no one who had experienced one. Yet another, who was speaking on behalf of his absent father, a highly respected head of the large family that made up most of the company, proposed that the papers should be burned. Finally, someone suggested that the decision should lie with Henry Turner's grandsons, two of whom were present. Henry had not been a member of the Benett family, but his son had married one of them. During the following day, most of the party went on a bushwalk, leaving the three of us to discuss the matter, but the outcome was inconclusive, partly because Barnes seemed to be hanging about, just within earshot.

The second night we reassembled. Redlake made it clear he expected me to reveal what I knew--implying that he knew some of it already, but I still got no lead from the Aboriginal members. I remember feeling the pressure: after all I had been instrumental in bringing people all this way, and I began to rehearse what I should and shouldn't reveal. At that moment there was a sudden downpour and we had to shift to the woolshed some distance off to avoid getting bogged. I have since had several discussions of this event with the Aboriginal participants: no one took it as mere weather, one suggested it was, 'a warning' presumably because of the touchy nature of our deliberations; others discovered after describing the event to a senior man who had not come to the camp, that they had walked up a forbidden hill on their bush walk. Whichever it was it gave me the space to reconsider. When we resumed, my resolve to stay silent had firmed, unless there was a go-ahead from the Aborigines. There wasn't. Barnes and Redlake, finally despairing of me, now began talking about various ceremonial activities that were happening around the state, and suggesting that the company join with one that they knew about not too far away. One of the Aboriginal men questioned whether the cult belonged to this part of the country and was not reassured when he heard it originated somewhere further east. No one else took up the offer.

Eventually the meeting broke up, but an obviously disappointed Barnes suddenly declared, "We can teach you the law." This provoked me to ask, 'What law?' I meant what country it had come from, but he took it as a request to reveal what was secret, and said he couldn't say more. He withdrew upset and I retired to bed, regretting that I had lost my temper.

The next morning I discovered that the Aboriginal participants agreed with me, and over night they had decided among themselves that one of the grandsons of my old informant should relieve me of my responsibility. I left the station in their company, and I've seen a lot of them since. I haven't seen Barnes and Redlake since then, but I am told they appear around this part of the country from time to time, occasionally active in some kind of inter-cultural rites, marked as Aboriginal. I did some months later meet an Aboriginal man who had not attended the Men's Camp but was reportedly a central figure in the revival of initiation ceremonies: we had a civil but guarded conversation.


Viewing this incident in terms of a boundary between black and white it might be seen as an unedifying contest between whites seeking to intrude on the affairs of indigenous people, with an anthropologist protecting his version of indigenous authenticity against a couple of New Agers. However, the Aboriginal people involved were not passive participants, once it became clear to them what was being offered. It is worth looking further at their responses, indeed to ask why they had come to the bush camp and with what expectations. Barnes and Redlake were unknown to them, as was the 'law' they were offering, which in the event they never got a chance to present. By contrast, the Aborigines present either knew me or knew who I was even if we'd never met, and they knew at least in general terms that I had talked to their 'old people' in years gone by. Nevertheless, they refused my offer as well as that of the strangers. I duly sent the grandson a package, and he confirmed that it had arrived, but although I've seen him since he's never mentioned it and I don't believe he has opened it. When we discussed the meeting some months later, he said that he had felt that it 'wasn't the time' to discuss the possibility of reviving initiation. He surprised me by saying that his grandfather had not wanted the initiation to be revived, since I had not heard the old man say such a thing, though he may indeed have done so. He also said that he feared any such revival would be 'opening a can of worms'.

This recalls Batty's 2006 article which I mentioned earlier, describing the response of Central Desert Aborigines to the Melbourne Museum's offer to return sacred boards collected several generations earlier. Glossing his account, it seems that some refused the offer because receiving the boards would cause conflict in the ritual and land rights politics of the area-their own 'can of worms', perhaps.

The 'can of worms' the grandson had in mind was not of this kind however: there was no ritual or native title politics at that time. From where I stand, I can however think of all kinds of practical problems such a revival would incur: this was a rite that revolved around 'Clever Men' who had gone through higher mysteries, and as far as I knew, no such 'Men of High Degree' existed now (cf Elkin 1977). But what seemed rather to be on his mind was the risk of getting into something he didn't understand and without guidance from those who had but who had now passed on. He recalled that when he was growing up, his parents warned the children to beware of 'smart fellers' (i.e Clever men) who might suddenly appear from nowhere. Several others had suggested that the sudden burst of wind on the first night and the sudden downpour on the second were not accidental events, but perhaps warnings from the 'old people'.

In taking custody of the papers, Henry's grandson put himself in the position of 'keeping a secret' the content of which he took care not to know. His choice is not so extraordinary, since there is a distinction in Aboriginal tradition--and no doubt others--between respecting the existence of secrets, and knowing what they are. One might say they know what they don't know. He was nevertheless 'keeping the secret' from others, which might have opened yet another 'can of worms'. I think quite a few of the men present at the meeting shared his apprehension. It is perhaps significant that the most senior man in the region had absented himself, though his son had been present; it was the father who proposed that the papers be burned. I met the father after the meeting, and spent the morning talking, but neither of us mentioned what had happened--although people said that he had heard all about it.

There's another way to look at all this. In his essay on 'The Sociology of Secrecy and Secret Societies', Georg Simmel (1912) remarked that 'what is withheld from the many appears to have a special value'. This is not just for those in the know, but for those who are not. Seen in a post-colonial context, we have a white person--me--who knows an Aboriginal secret that Aboriginal people do not. In the encounter I have described, the secret is regained, but the knowledge is rejected. Has it then lost its value? Perhaps not, for here are two white strangers who seem to want it, and the new Aboriginal custodian is now in a position to deny them. The presence of these strangers evidently worried two Aboriginal men who left after the first night, wondering who they were and what was their game.

To follow this line, however, may be to overstate the degree of calculation in the Aboriginal response. Although some may have had a rough idea what the meeting would be about, what actually transpired demanded the kind of response that I don't think they had had to consider before. In Li's terms, they had suddenly to 'position' themselves and articulate a vantage point.

To the people in question, however, the three white men seemed to be offering something outside their normal experience, even to teach them what Barnes called 'the law', whatever that might be. (11) My own proposition was both less threatening in that they knew me and the source of my 'knowledge'; my offer was on a take it or leave it basis. The slow process of reaching a decision, and the designation of an appropriate individual--Henry's grandson-to take responsibility, would not have been out of keeping in Central Australia, but I think it is clear that the situation placed an unusual demand on their capacity to improvise. What is remarkable is that it was the norms of relatedness that structured their contemporary relations with one another.


The subject matter of the events I have described in some sense involved 'spirituality', which is one of the master tropes of indigenism in its contemporary trans-national and national discourses. Povinelli has suggested that hegemonic domination in '(post)colonial multicultural societies' ...' works primarily by inspiring in the indigenous subject a desire to identify with a lost indeterminable object--indeed to be the melancholic subject of tradition' (2002: 39). Barnes and Redlake's message, however was that the 'object' was not after all lost; from their vantage point the Aborigines at the men's camp', being innately spiritual, could be expected to embrace it. My own intervention perhaps came closer to Povinelli's formulation (2002: 6) in that the 'object' I was offering remained 'lost' in the sense that for me the revival of the initiation ceremony was inconceivable. Here I have to confess to my own insensitivity to 'spirituality', Aboriginal or Anglo-Australian. In the event, my sceptical vantage point underestimated the significance of the secret knowledge, although it was as something better left alone.

New Age ideas had not caught on among the Aboriginal men at the camp: certainly I never heard anyone speak--as some revivalists now do--of the Earth as Mother! The importance that the people at the men's camp give to funerals and the emotions evidently felt at such occasions suggest spirituality of a more modest kind. I did also get a sense that 'the bush', or rather places in it might be identified with 'the old people'. Some saw the sudden wind and cloud--burst that overtook us at critical moments during the meeting in this way. However Barnes' announcement that he had been 'talking to the Great Spirit on his bush walk' had people laughing behind their hands; though for all I know he might have been wanting to show respect. There might have been an ancestral presence, but it was their 'old people', not his. Similarly, Barnes' announcement that he would be smoking himself on the drive back to Sydney was a subject of surprised comment, although it was well understood that there were times--particularly at deaths--when they needed to do such a thing. I think they saw it as mimicry rather than observance, something like the 'Playing Indian' that Philip Deloria has described among non-indigenous North Americans (1998).


My story might be read as an account of a failed coalescence among the three vantage points presented at the camp. It is not, however, intended to bring into question the indigeneity of the Aborigines present at the meeting. Rather, this was first and foremost about their membership of a closely knit family. In addition, the older among them attended meetings to do with various Aboriginal matters. As for the Aboriginal Past, now 150 years distant, I along with some of the younger ones enjoyed a trip around some rock art sites a few months after the camp, and had fun speculating on the paintings' significance, which none of us knew.

They were not however inclined to get involved in the re-enactments of Aboriginal rites that Barnes and Redlake were urging. They did not know these two, and I scarcely knew them either, so that we could only speculate about what exactly it was that the ritual re-enactments involved and who were the Aboriginal people participating in them. Closer to home, however, I am not sure what I thought I was offering them. Was it some kind of cold culture history, a glimpse of a 'tribal past' that was gone forever ? Or was it perhaps an attempt to relive the experience of sharing the knowedge that Henry and I had enjoyed those years ago? At all events, they did not want me to share those secrets, not because they regarded them--as I had heard some Aborigines say in earlier years--as 'rubbish'. They took them more seriously than I had anticipated, but as dangerous--a 'can of worms' as the grandson put it.


APPADURAI, A. 1996. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, University of Minnesota Press.

BECKETT, J. 1988. Kinship, mobility and community in rural New South Wales in Ian Keen (ed) Being Black: Aboriginal cultures in Settled Australia, Canberra Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.

BATTY, P. 2006. White Redemption Rituals: Reflections on the Repatriation of Aboriginal Sacred-Secret Objects in T. Lea, K. Kowal and G. Cowlishaw, (eds) Moving Anthropology: Critical Indigenous Studies. Darwin: Charles Darwin University Press, 55-64.

COWLISHAW, G. 2004. Blackfellas, Whitefellas, and the Hidden Injuries of Race. Oxford Blackwell.

DELORIA, P. 1998. Playing Indian. New Haven. Yale University Press.

DOMBROWSKI, K. 2001. Against Culture: Development, Politics and Religion in Indian Alaska. Lincoln University of Nebraska Press.

ELKIN, A.P. 1977. Aboriginal Men of High Degree. (2nd edition) St Lucia: Queensland University Press.

FABIAN, J. 1990. Power and Performance: Ethnographic Explorations Through Proverbial Wisdom and Theatre in Shaba, Zaire, Wisconsin, Wisconsin University Press.

LI, T. 2000. Articulating Indigenous Identity in Indonesia: Resource Politics and the Tribal Slot, Comparative Studies in Society and History 42(1): 149-179.

POVINELLI, E. 2002. The Cunning of Recognition: Indigenous Alterities and the Making of Australian Multiculturalism. Durham: Duke University Press.

SIMMEL, G. 1912. The Sociology of Secrecy and Secret Soceties', American Journal of Sociology 11: 441-498.

TAMISARI, F. 2006. 'Personal Acquaintance': Essential Individuality and the Possibilities of Encounters in T. Lea, K. Kowal and G. Cowlishaw, (eds). Moving Anthropology: Critical Indigenous Studies. Darwin: Charles Darwin University Press

THOMAS, M. 2011. The Many Worlds of R.H. Mathews. In search of an Australian Anthropologist. Allen and Unwin.


(1.) This has been variously seen as a consequence of post-colonialism, civil rights movements, and mass immigration. Some observers have seen it as an aspect of neo-liberalism.

(2.) More acceptably, Appadurai coined the term ethno-scape.

(3.) There was a common belief at that time that 'half castes', being rejected by the 'Full Blood elders' were denied initiation. My research revealed the falsity of this myth.

(4.) The Board published a monthly magazine, illustrated with photos that had been sent to them from the various settlements, but the written emphasis was on achievement in the wider community.

(5.) The political ferment of the 1930s did not seem to have reached through to this particular group. In any case it seemed to have subsided with the outbreak of war, or for some other reason.

(6.) This had also been the case with the old four section system, which merged the first and third generations.

(7.) In place of the old complex kin terminology, they used the English terms, or personal names.

(8.) I refer particularly to the numerous papers published by amateur anthropologist, R.H.Mathews during the early 20th century (see Thomas 2011), but also to occasional pieces by settlers who either lived in the bush or had occasion to visit there.

(9.) This and the other names in this article are pseudonyms.

(10.) Allegations of this kind were the subject of an editorial, 'Stolen Facts' the Sydney Morning Herald, 27.02.96.

(11.) The term 'law' seems to be current in Central Australia, but it is not much used in New South Wales, except perhaps among survival groups.

Jeremy Beckett

University of Sydney
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Date:Mar 1, 2012
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