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Experiments in self-determination

Experiments in self-determination: Histories of the outstation movement in Australia OPEN ACCESS

Nicolas Peterson
Fred Myers
Copyright Date: 2016
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Experiments in self-determination
    Book Description:

    Outstations, which dramatically increased in numbers in the 1970s, are small, decentralised and relatively permanent communities of kin established by Aboriginal people on land that has social, cultural or economic significance to them. In 2015 they yet again came under attack, this time as an expensive lifestyle choice that can no longer be supported by state governments. Yet outstations are the original, and most striking, manifestation of remote-area Aboriginal people’s aspirations for self-determination, and of the life projects by which they seek, and have sought, autonomy in deciding the meaning of their life independently of projects promoted by the state and market. They are not simply projects of isolation from outside influences, as they have sometimes been characterised, but attempts by people to take control of the course of their lives. In the sometimes acrimonious debates about outstations, the lived experiences, motivations and histories of existing communities are missing. For this reason, we invited a number of anthropological witnesses to the early period in which outstations gained a purchase in remote Australia to provide accounts of what these communities were like, and what their residents’ aspirations and experiences were. Our hope is that these closer-to-the-ground accounts provide insight into, and understanding of, what Indigenous aspirations were in the establishment and organisation of these communities. This volume will be a great addition not only to the origins and history of outstations, but in light of the closing of over 100 Aboriginal communities in Western Australia, it should be a required bedtime reading for all politicians across Australia. The contributors do not simply concentrate on the so-called outstations movement of the 1970s, but rather help the reader understand why in the 1930s, ‘40, ‘50s, and ‘60s, Aboriginal people moved away from cattle stations, missions and settlements to reconstruct their moral compass in settings which made more contemporaneous sense, not only to them but often to the whites who were there as well. —Professor Francoise Dussart, University of Connecticut.

    eISBN: 978-1-925022-90-2
    Subjects: Sociology, History, Anthropology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Fred Myers and Nicolas Peterson

    In recent years, there has been an acrimonious debate about the existence and significance of outstations or ‘homeland communities’ as they are sometimes called. These debates have cast various interpretations on the motivations for the establishment and support of these small and remote Indigenous residential formations. For example, outstations have sometimes been characterised by traditionalists as aretreatfrom modernisation, and from time to time they have been characterised in very negative terms. Indeed, one government minister called them ‘cultural museums’ (Eastley 2005; see Kowal 2010: 182). We hope to show, however, that such views give little hearing for an...

  2. History and memory
    • Bill Edwards

      In September 1957, nearing the end of my studies at the University of Melbourne, I met the Reverend Victor Coombes, general secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Missions, to discuss the possibility of serving on a north Queensland Gulf mission. What motivated my interest in Aboriginal missions in an era when the more exotic overseas missions such as in the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) and Korea received more attention? Growing up in a very small country town in the Wimmera region of Victoria in the 1930s, I had little knowledge of Aboriginal people and their history. Monuments on nearby roads bearing...

    • Jeremy Long

      A short account of the return to the Petermann Ranges might begin with the stirring of interest in the Welfare Branch of the Northern Territory Administration in Darwin in 1958 and end with the arrival of Max Cartwright, the first manager, at the nascent Docker River outstation in late December 1967. I thought it more interesting to start the story earlier to illustrate how ideas about the use of Aboriginal reserves changed over time. In 1920, when the large South West or Lake Amadeus Reserve was created, it was intended to rule out any alienation of the land as well...

    • Diane Austin-Broos

      Gustav Malbangka (Malbunka) and his family lived at the Hermannsburg Mission in central Australia. Like many other people, they wish to leave the social problems of the congested settlement behind them and return to their traditional land at Gilbert Springs … to carve out a more satisfactory life for themselves, drawing strength from being in the homeland again.

      … Encouraged by the ‘out-station movement’, many people like Gustav left the mission to return to their traditional country, leaving Hermannsburg looking ‘like a ghost town’.

      Life at Gilbert Springs is not easy: until bore water is provided, everyone has to live...

  3. Western Desert complexities
    • Fred Myers

      Looking back at the experience of the Pintupi outstation of Yayayi² over the initial period 1973–75, when I was a PhD student doing field research there, I am divided between nostalgia and ambivalence. One can hardly ignore the memory of Pintupi people’s excitement to be away from the tensions and density of the large government settlement of Papunya, or the distinctive embrace of the resurgent civil rights movement expressed at Yayayi in a language of ‘Black Power’. Yayayi was one of the very first ‘outstation communities’ in the Northern Territory under the umbrella of changes articulated by the Whitlam...

    • Sarah Holcombe

      Mount Liebig, known by Anangu as Amunturrngu and referred to by the regional shire as Watiyawanu, is part of the regional constellation of Pintupi-Luritja settlements that also includes Haasts Bluff, Papunya and at least 16 outstations, the majority of which are still inhabited.¹ The 2011 census recorded Mount Liebig with a population of 156 people,² while the Mount Liebig and OutstationsQuickstatsshowed a slightly higher population of 184 people.³ Note that both of these figures also include non-Indigenous people. Mount Liebig—though now regarded as a ‘state suburb’ for the purposes of the census—itself began as an outstation....

    • David Brooks and Vikki Plant

      This chapter discusses an exceptionally remote region of the Western Desert in which outstations have played a significant role. Outstations have not, however, necessarily or always been linked with self-determination here in the way suggested by the title of this volume, giving us one matter to disentangle from the start. But another question also immediately follows: was the arrival of self-determination necessarily such a watershed moment, as the premise of this volume’s title seems to suggest? That is, was there one basic trajectory that applied throughout remote Australia, within which at a certain point self-determination provided the compelling response? We...

    • Peter Thorley

      Australia in the 1970s saw sweeping changes in Indigenous policy. In its first year of what was to become a famously short term in office, the Whitlam Government began to undertake a range of initiatives to implement its new policy agenda, which became known as ‘self-determination’. The broad aim of the policy was to allow Indigenous Australians to exercise greater choice over their lives. One of the new measures was the decentralisation of government-run settlements in favour of smaller, less aggregated Indigenous-run communities or outstations. Under the previous policy of ‘assimilation’, living arrangements in government settlements in the Northern Territory...

  4. Policy visions and their realisation
    • Nicolas Peterson

      On 5 May 1972, I set out from Yuendumu with six older Warlpiri men on my first bush trip to visit the Waite Creek area on the southern portion of Mount Doreen Station, more than 400 km west of Alice Springs. We visited a number of sites, including the important sacred site of Warntungurru, belonging to people of the J/Nampijinpa-J/Nangala patricouple, marked by a metre-high vertical stone 100 m or so from the creek. We drove south alongside the creek on a station track, stopping off to see various soakages in the creek bed. One of these places was Nyirrpi,²...

    • Kingsley Palmer

      This chapter is about the rise and fall of outstations in Aboriginal Australia. In the 1970s, governments, both State and Federal, were at first enthusiastic about these settlements, encouraged by an ideology that promoted outstations as beneficial—in terms of health, social well-being, cultural maintenance and the preservation of links to country, which were generally recognised as being of singular importance for Aboriginal Australians. But funding outstations proved to be expensive, and progressively, funding responsibility was devolved to the States, which in turn showed a developing reluctance to spend money on often isolated and costly support services. Moreover, as ideologies...

    • David F. Martin and Bruce F. Martin

      This is a practitioners’ chapter, focusing on outstations in the Aurukun region of western Cape York Peninsula, and based on our experience spanning nearly four decades. We are father and son: David Martin, now an anthropologist, who established and coordinated an outstation support organisation in Aurukun for some eight years from the mid-1970s; and Bruce Martin, whose mother is a Wik woman from Aurukun, and who in 2011 worked with his community to establish a community-based organisation, Aak Puul Ngantam (APN), focused particularly on developing productive livelihoods on country. The key aims of this chapter are to outline and critically...

    • Peter Sutton

      Leaning on memoir, and extensive photographic and written records, this chapter presents an eyewitness account of just one of many Aboriginal outstations that broke away from population centres in remote Australia in the 1970s and later. The context is western Cape York Peninsula, Queensland. The event was the re-establishment in 1976 of Peret Outstation, named after the well Pooerreth near a cattle yard, as a homeland centre rather than the mission pastoral operation for which it had been created. It was, in part, a staged return to the countries of origin of Cape Keerweer people, who had in recent decades...

  5. Frustrated aspirations
    • Scott Cane

      I have called this contribution ‘people and policy in the development and destruction of Yagga Yagga outstation’ because it seems to me that the relationship between people was more significant than that between policy and people in the social experience of residents at Yagga Yagga. Yagga Yagga was an outstation of Balgo Mission in the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia (see Map 13.1). My exposure to the story of Yagga Yagga situates the primacy of the community’s experience in an amorphous middle ground, across the interstice of policy development and policy delivery that begs exemplification if the successes and...

    • Jon Altman

      Mumeka is the name of a place; it was once the location of a seasonal camp. Since the late 1960s it has been called an outstation or homeland. The name first appears in the archive in the late 1960s, but the immediate precursor to its establishment was the blazing of a vehicular track from Oenpelli to Maningrida in the Northern Territory in 1963 that crossed the Mann River adjacent to this wet season camp (see Figure 14.1). That place was inhabited by members of a community that speak what we now refer to as the Kuninjku dialect of the pan-dialectical...

    • Frances Morphy and Howard Morphy

      The outstation movement and the Aboriginal art movement have something in common: they are both often said to have originated, even to have been invented, at the beginning of the 1970s. Each is associated with myths of origin that privilege the agency of non-Indigenous actors. One is that the rise of contemporary Aboriginal art was initiated by a Papunya schoolteacher in 1971; another is that the outstations were an initiative of the Whitlam Government associated with land rights. Some have given H. C. (‘Nugget’) Coombs a primary role in influencing the direction of both: in the case of Papunya, the...

    • Neville White

      The first official exploration of Yolngu country was by David Lindsay, who, in 1883, travelled the western edge of Wagilak land, following the Goyder River into the Arafura Swamp, where he first encountered Yolngu people and in large numbers. Soon after, in 1885, the Florida cattle station was established when a herd of cattle driven from Queensland arrived (Berndt and Berndt 1954). This was a short-lived but violent frontier, with memories of conflict and atrocities persisting today. Soon after the closure of Florida, a Methodist Overseas Mission was founded, in 1923, on Milingimbi Island, off the north-western coast of north-east...