Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

'We Don't Leave Our Identities at the City Limits': Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People Living in Urban Localities

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

'We Don't Leave Our Identities at the City Limits': Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People Living in Urban Localities

Article excerpt

Abstract: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who live in cities and towns are often thought of as 'less Indigenous' than those who live 'in the bush', as though they are 'fake' Aboriginal people--while 'real' Aboriginal people live 'on communities' and 'real' Torres Strait Islander people live 'on islands'. Yet more than 70 percent of Australia's Indigenous peoples live in urban locations (ABS 2007), and urban living is just as much part of a reality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as living in remote discrete communities. This paper examines the contradictions and struggles that Aboriginal and Tortes Strait Islander people experience when living in urban environments. It looks at the symbols of place and space on display in the Australian cities of Melbourne and Brisbane to demonstrate how prevailing social, political and economic values are displayed. Symbols of place and space are never neutral, and this paper argues that they can either marginalise and oppress urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, or demonstrate that they are included and engaged.

Do 'real' Aboriginal people live in cities?

We don't leave our identities at a petrol station, bus stop, jetty or airport when we enter the city limits. When we live in a city or town, we don't become any less or any more Indigenous. Some of us even belong to the Country where huge cityscapes and towns have been built. Yet Aboriginal and Tortes Strait Islander people living in urban areas are sometimes perceived as 'fake', 'not real' and 'not authentic' because 'real' Aboriginal people belong 'out back', 'on communities' and in the 'bush', and 'real' Tortes Strait Islanders really live 'on islands' in the Tortes Strait.

The lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who live in urban localities need to be understood within the context of the changing way of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. More than 70 percent of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people now live in urban areas (ABS 2007). Living in urban locales is as much a part of reality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as living in remote discrete communities. Despite this, limited research highlights the experiences of Australian Aboriginal and Tortes Strait Islander populations living in urban areas and the issues that impact on Indigenous achievements in education, health status, housing needs, rates of incarceration and the struggle for cultural recognition. There is, however, a growing body of work in health and housing and other specialised areas.

This paper highlights the contradictions and struggles that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face within urban environments.

It examines issues of place and space, and the political and economic assumptions that are embedded within them. Through a lens that recognises that place and space can never be neutral, this paper argues that symbols of place and space can either marginalise and oppress urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, or demonstrate that they are included and engaged.

There seems to be a widespread myth that, when Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people enter cities or regional centres, we somehow become less Indigenous. It is almost as if we have to leave our identities at the city limits, jetty or airport. But when Indigenous people live in a city or town, we don't become any less or any more Indigenous. Some Aboriginal people are descendants of the Aboriginal people who occupied the geographic localities where urban centres have now been built. These Aboriginal people, like their ancestors, belong to the Country on which urban centres have grown. For example, my family and many others lived and still live in the geographic areas where cities now stand. The blood of my ancestors still flows through me, as it does through other Aboriginal people, and we breathe, walk and live on Country that is occupied by cities. …

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