Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Perceptions of Reconciliation and Related Indigenous Issues among Young Residents of Shepparton

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Perceptions of Reconciliation and Related Indigenous Issues among Young Residents of Shepparton

Article excerpt


In the past 200 years, Australia's history has involved tensions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures (Gomersall et al. 2000). It is only in the past four decades that White Australia has attempted to resolve such tensions (Veracini 2003). Veracini (2003: 226) suggested that in recent decades Australia has "wrestled with questions of Aboriginal agency, White responsibility, destruction, and survival". The 1990s witnessed a range of activities and discussion surrounding Aboriginal Australians, including the Royal Commission into Indigenous Deaths in Custody in 1991, the Mabo decision in 1992, the 1993 Native Title Act, the High Court's Wik decision in 1996, the Bringing Them Home Report documenting the Stolen Generation in 1997, the Native Title Amendment Act in 1998, the march across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 2000, and the general Reconciliation Movement throughout this decade (Curthoys 2003; McCallum 2003).

While these actions may be considered as evidence of change, there has also been discussion and debate over what has not been achieved. Some have argued that "the absence of a treaty with Aboriginal peoples is causally associated with their poor health and social disadvantage" (Jackson & Ward 1999: 437; also see Ring & Firman 1998). There has been debate over the Commonwealth government providing a national apology for the forced removal of children. Indigenous people have also challenged statements and visions about Australia's national identity (Gomersall et al. 2000). While Indigenous communities have gained control over some services, White, mainstream Australia continues to control budgets, agendas and knowledge (McCallum 2003). Mainstream debates continue over the need for specialised Indigenous services and 'special privilege', sameness versus cultural diversity, and 'appropriate' behaviours of Aboriginal people (McCallum 2003). And despite all these discussions, debates and policy shifts, Aboriginal people are still dying, on average, 17 years earlier than non-Indigenous Australians (Anonymous 2000; Leigh 2002; Myers 2000; Thomson 2003).

Hence, views about Indigenous Australians are varied, both within Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. Some have found that younger people have more positive attitudes towards Indigenous people (Pedersen et al. 2004) which may reflect a shift in attitudes and perspectives. This paper explores the perceptions of young people living in a regional centre in Victoria in relation to reconciliation and related issues. Specifically, this paper identifies the ways in which young residents of Shepparton talk about Indigenous issues. The intention was not to study 'the other' but to identify 'mainstream' thinking, albeit still about 'the other'. Before addressing this central aim, it is important to understand the public debates, attitudes and perceptions surrounding reconciliation which young people may embrace, draw on, or reject. Before this literature is reviewed, a brief comment about the use of language in this paper is noted.

Following Saxton (2004: 16) "the term Indigenous has been used as a category marker of cultural identification for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in this study and is capitalised throughout the text." Like her, we "have used this term for convenience and brevity, but do not want to imply that such terms of cultural categorisation are meaningful or accepted as encompassing the diversity of cultural identification for Indigenous peoples in Australia" (Saxton 2004: 16). The term non-Indigenous has also been used to refer to all other participants but this is not intended to deny this groups cultural diversity either.

Public Debates, Attitudes and Perceptions surrounding Reconciliation and related Indigenous Issues in Australia

Public discourses surrounding meanings of reconciliation

The original use of the term reconciliation in relation to Aboriginal and other Australians is unclear, but one source states that the term reconciliation emerged from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991 (Anonymous 2000). …

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