A Different Inequality: The Politics of Debate about Remote Aboriginal Australia

A Different Inequality: The Politics of Debate about Remote Aboriginal Australia

A Different Inequality: The Politics of Debate about Remote Aboriginal Australia

A Different Inequality: The Politics of Debate about Remote Aboriginal Australia

Synopsis

An exploration of why both the right and left of politics have so failed remote Aboriginal Australians, and why until policymakers and researchers take into account both cultural difference and inequality, we will not come anywhere near closing the gap
Great beauty is juxtaposed with seemingly endless grief in remote Aboriginal Australia. Communities which produce magnificent art and maintain ancient ways also face extremes of social stress. Why does our society seem to get it so wrong for remote Aboriginal communities? Why, despite decades of consultation and policy shifts, can't governments introduce initiatives that will really close the gap? Why do critics and scholars alike struggle to make sense of the situation? Diane Austin-Broos looks beyond the dire living conditions, lack of employment opportunities, misspent funds, and wrangles over resources, to ask where the obstacles really lie. Drawing on her extensive experience as an anthropologist, she identifies a polarization in the debate about these communities which leads to either ineffective policies or paralysis. She argues that until we find ways to acknowledge both cultural difference and inequality, we will not overcome this impasse. The way forward can't be a trade-off between land rights and employment, but needs to encompass both. This is a unique insight which will reshape not only the debate about remote Aboriginal communities, but also what happens on the ground.

Excerpt

It should be no secret to any reader that there is a crisis in Australia’s remote Indigenous communities, a crisis of social suffering and failed expectations, and there is a crisis in thinking about these communities and their futures. When Diane Austin-Broos asked me to write a foreword for this book, I was hesitant—as an American living in the US—to step into the breach of the swirling controversies, unsure of my own position. I wish it were otherwise. in 1973, when I began my research in remote Australia, the great work of W.E.H. Stanner (1968) and C.D. Rowley (1972) seemed to promise a path to an exciting future for Indigenous communities.

The suffering in remote Australia is now, again, a national scandal. It is not new. What is newer is the fading of possibilities, the decline of expectations for the ‘not-yet’. This flows from an exhaustion of paradigms of hope. When I began professional life as an anthropologist, in the early 1970s, the paradigm of ‘assimilation’ as a solution for what was called then ‘the Aboriginal problem’ had faded. Charles Rowley’s famous study, The Destruction of Aboriginal Society (1972), had definitively illuminated the failure of ‘assimilation’ and the suffering of Aboriginal people on remote government settlements. He likened their depression and loss of hope—their ‘pathology’—to the experience of inmates of ‘total institutions’. Under the direction of the new Labor Government and Gough Whitlam, federal policy . . .

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