A Different Inequality

A Different Inequality

Diane Austin-Broos, Allen & Unwin, $29.99

From her experience of life among the Western Arrernte people inCentral Australiaand from the proposals of many anthropologists, ethnographers and economists, Professor Austin-Broos examines the twin issues of cultural difference and inequality facing people who choose to retain their links with their own traditional land.

These “remotes” as they are termed, face separate issues from those of people in urbanised areas. Government responses have varied but inequity and disadvantage remain.

The early establishment of “missions”, both government and church-sponsored, gathered different scattered communities into Aboriginal townships.

In the last 50 years there has been a significant movement away from these centres to “outstations”. Recommendations to help meet the needs of these people have become polarised.

On the one hand the economists tend to view the “problem” as a pathological one to be overcome by assimilation into the wider economic community.

Noel Pearson identifies current problems in theCape Yorkarea: “demoralisation, substance abuse, illness and violence … burgeon in remote communities”.

He is emphatic in his belief that Aboriginal people must be fully involved in the solution.

In large, anthropologists, captivated by the study of various communities and their ties of kinship and community obligations, have overlooked issues of social justice.

However Jon Altman sees a hybrid solution of customary income-producing activities, along with state patronage, towards ensuring national security in remoteAustralia, environmental protection, natural resource management and fire control.

We tend to see issues from our dualistic ideas of the sacred as distinct from the secular. Many societies see this as a false dichotomy.

The author goes close in her assessment: “ Moreover, remote elders often display knowledge, an aesthetic and a delicacy of spirit that shouts an ‘other’ history of human experience.”

Professor Stanner got it right years ago in the title for his series of essays, White Man Got No Dreaming.

You will recognise some of this “other” if you look on the internet for the comments of aUnitingChurchminister: “Statement from Dr Gawirrin Gumana AO”.

John Atkinson

 

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