|Exploitation of Aboriginal Culture for Economic Purposes|
Table of Contents:
Prologue - They say that behind every great fortune is a crime
A survey published by Chicago University in March 2006 states that Australia is the third most patriotic nation in the world1. This statement was partly formed by a reflection on Australia’s economic development. Somewhat "founded" by British convicts in the late 18th and early 19th century, it has become a land of industrial growth and widespread prosperity. However, it is often left out that this legendary rise came about through systematic oppression, destruction, and exploitation of the culture of Indigenous Australians, commonly known as Aborigines.
The present situation of the 21st century, of which Indigenous people still have a life expectancy of approximately 20 years less than white Australians2 due to shocking disadvantages in all fields of social life, is similar to the leaves of a tall tree whose foulness can only be understood by examining it, beginning at the roots - its history - and finishing with the buds on the youngest twig - its current state and the possibilities for the future.
The first chapter of this report gives a brief history of Australia’s development and outlines events and consequences of the colonization by dissecting the two fundamentally different cultures of Indigenous Australians and the British. This period reaching up until the 1960s can be described as "the oppression of Aboriginal culture for economic purposes."
Chapter two follows the transition from oppression to exploitation of the Aboriginal culture. This section will also cover opportunities as well as problems of the so called "Aboriginal Industry"3 which will be outlined by means of analyzing statistical data. The core segment of this chapter consists of a detailed examination of the various different facets of the exploitation of Aboriginal culture for economic purposes. It will become apparent that this exploitation is not only a result of Australia’s unalterable history but is closely correlated with the current social status of Aborigines in today’s society. This interlinkage as well as the government’s policy towards Australia’s Indigenous people over the past decades will be examined in this context. The findings will serve to understand mistakes made in the past and to provide a realistic frame which allows a look at possible developments in the near future. This creates the basis on which practical solutions will be examined.
The third chapter will portray an Aboriginal-owned tourism company in order to find out if traditional culture and modern economy can potentially coexist, and if so, to what extent this is possible.
In chapter four a revision and final interpretation of all findings from the preceding chapters will be made in order to find ways to close the wounds of the historical abuse of Aboriginal culture in Australia at last.
As a round-off, an interview with Svargo FREITAG, the manager of the world’s largest online store for authentic Didgeridoos, will provide an insight into the trade with Aboriginal culture. As opposed to the rest of this essay, this section intentionally offers a less generalized view on the topic with the effect that the connections between roots, nature and consequences of exploitation become more plastic and easier to comprehend. It covers the most important aspects once again and supports the findings with various examples. This section can be read either as an introduction or a conclusion to this paper.
In 1770 an English captain by the name of James Cook was given a mission from the British government to find new, economically useful land.4 Later that year, the Endeavour landed at the Australian east coast in the current state of New South Wales.5 Due to 18th century European presumption, capitalistic greed, and racism, the dark-skinned Australian natives were subjugated by British colonization.
For a long time, however, exploitation of the cultural goods of Indigenous Australians was not regarded as a profitable business. In the era of colonization and the build up of an overseas industry, slave labour was the only "service" Aborigines had to offer. Thus, this first chapter outlines motives, justifications, causal correlations and consequences of this preceding stage dating from 1770 until the 1960s. This time frame was marked by endeavours to completely alter the indigenous culture. As mentioned before, they were always intertwined with an apathetic exploitation of Indigenous Australians’ work force which largely supported the economic ascent of "white" Australia.
The two fundamentally different concepts of the world of the British settlers and Indigenous Australians must first be outlined and compared in order to understand the damaging impact of colonization on Aboriginal culture and the different mentalities of the two peoples which some still see as the most important reason why Aborigines have remained on the fringes of Australia’s mainstream society.
Aboriginal societies were traditionally organized in very small, semi-nomadic communities. All of these tiny hamlets occupied their own land, and in most cases spoke their own language or dialect. Aborigines all over the continent believed in what the Aranda tribe in Central Australia calls "alcheringa", a term that was later translated as "Dreamtime".6 The Dreamtime is the story of how the universe came to be, how human beings were created, and how the "creating spirits" (comparable with "God(s)" in other religions) gave the land to the humans and intended them to function within this cosmos. Every shape of the land - every mountain, rock, riverbed, and waterhole - has its own story of creation which is secretly passed on within each community from one generation to the next, verbally as well as enciphered from paintings.7
The important thing to keep in mind is that the role of the land in Aboriginal culture is of major importance to understanding how severely its dispossession through the European settlers affected the culture of Indigenous Australians. It is probably the most important factor in a chain of events which caused the loss of identity. Apart from that, it has been holding back the economic ascent of Aboriginal Australians.
The Aboriginal economic system was dominated by the aspiration for preservation and care. This "mode of production"11 coined the Aboriginal mentality which still runs through today’s Aboriginal society, in rural as well as in urban Australia. For generation after generation they secured their survival with a strong emphasis on the community rather than on the individual, unconditional help for and sharing with their fellow people and concentrating on the requirements of the moment rather than making plans for the future. Experts are convinced that this mentality nowadays also applies for the handling of money; it seems that for Indigenous Australians concepts such as saving and accounting are very difficult to understand and adapt even if they receive education in these fields. A more thorough treatment of this topic takes place in the essay’s last section, the interview with Svargo FREITAG.
When British colonization began in 1788 a foreign culture largely shaped by three things invaded the Red Continent: a strong Europe-centred arrogance, modern pseudo-scientific concepts, such as Social-Darwinism (this term can only really be used after the publication of James Darwin’s "The Origin of the Species" in 1859.12 However, similar beliefs, maybe not as "scientifically" founded, existed prior to that), and the greed to exploit nature for industrial innovation. Evidence for this ubiquitous blindness can be found even a decade after the arrival of the First Fleet in the writings of a Jesuit missionary from 1892 who stated that not only in Australia but also overseas the opinion prevailed that it was in God’s planning that the natives in Australia, as well as elsewhere, had to vanish from the British nation.13
In this context the results appear dreadfully logical. Not observing any economic activity, not even the slightest sign of exploitation of the land and its raw materials, yet seeing Indigenous tribes using tools that were on the same technological level as those from the European middle-ages, the settlers concluded that Aboriginal culture was on the lowest level of evolution. Most saw them as a "primitive savages"14. For example, D. Collins, a British lawyer, stated in 1796 that Aborigines were neither reasonable nor would they understand concepts such as "good" and "evil".15 Legally, Aborigines were, for a long time, even looked upon as part of the Australian fauna, not as being humans.16 The Australian continent was regarded as "Terra Nullius", as land which was unoccupied by humans, and thus, could legitimately be included into the British Empire.17 It was commonly believed and accepted that the primal species of Indigenous Australians was destined to be displaced by British civilization - sometimes by any means necessary.
Experts estimate that Australia counted between 300,000 and 1,000,000 inhabitants prior to the European invasion.18 By the end of the 19th century approximately 150,000 Aborigines were still alive; in 1930 the number had decreased to only 70,000.19
Based on the Terra-Nullius-hypothesis the seemingly unoccupied land was naturally claimed and altered for the agricultural needs of the Europeans. Hunting grounds of Aboriginal communities were being progressively diminished the more settlers arrived on the coastlines and expanded the frontiers. Cattle and sheep were introduced as well as many plants from foreign floras which destabilized the fragile Australian eco-system that had been isolated for thousands of years.
This, on the side of the Aborigines, and of course the "divine" task to civilize the primitive natives on the side of the British colonizers, caused a more actively led fight between the two peoples. For that reason, a policy of segregation or "protection" was put into practice. So called Chief Protectors were appointed, whose job it was to set up special reservations for Aborigines. In South Australia this concept was expressed in the Waste Land Act in 1842. According to this law, land could be given to indigenous people, provided it was not usable for agriculture.22 The destructive aim of this policy is pointed out by Ian HUGHES:
In addition, more than 100,000 children of mixed-race were taken away from their Aboriginal communities and put into missions where they were forbidden to practice their customs or speak their language in order to assimilate them into white society.24 They received hardly any education and worked in the name of God for a loan that was promised but hardly ever paid-out. Many were married under duress to white Australians. The method was called "to breed out the black race" or "f---ing them white".25
As an effect of the resettlement and the events of the Stolen Generations, many Aborigines died of starvation, in the process of relocation or through acts of violence. Whole cultures and tales from the dreaming vanished with the extinction of communities, or were forgotten as all traditions, customs and skills were never written down but passed on orally. The only thing Aborigines ever possessed - their culture - was pushed to the fall line and often beyond it.
The mental and territorial control of Aborigines through the creation of reservations that were supervised by white Chief Protectors, and the education and assimilation into western society of mixed-race Aboriginal children in missions is the core reason for the extensive destruction of their culture. Gary Foley, a radical Aborigine, even compares the procedures to achieve extensive control over Indigenous Australians with Nazi concentration camps in World War II.27 The definition of genocide by the UN officially confirms his allegations28 and when looking at the following description of the practices carried out by white Australians the last doubts about Gary Foley’s drastic comparison should have departed:
What is certain is that the loss of culture created a situation where it was, and still is, extremely difficult for Aborigines to find a way of identifying themselves with the country and the society they grow up in and to have a perspective that makes a successful life within this new environment seem worthwhile or at least possible if they make the right effort.
Thus, the oppression, destruction and in many cases extinction of Aboriginal culture throughout more than the first century of British colonisation directly affect the developments during the 20th century and help to understand certain aspects of the situation today.
The examination of the exploitation of Aboriginal culture has now reached the trunk of the metaphorical tree that was depicted in the prologue. The following passages at first answer the introducing question "how did the transition from oppression to exploitation of Aboriginal culture occur?". They continue by putting the economic relevance of the Aboriginal Industry for the Australian economy into perspective and distinguishing the great opportunities as well as the far reaching problems borne within. This serves as the basis for the main part of this chapter, the evaluation of the various different facets of exploitation of Aboriginal culture mainly in the fields of art and tourism. In order to discuss practical solutions in chapter four the circumstances which nurture the fertile soil on which exploitation of indigenous culture can grow upon will be examined; in other words, the social status of Aboriginal Australians. At the same time, it is important to have a look at what measures the Australian government has taken to attack the problems and its roots in the past, what new issues have derived from these political and juridical approaches and how determined the exploitation of Aboriginal culture for economic purposes is counteracted.
Basically for the whole 19th century the reaction towards Aboriginal culture including their art was typically like Sir George Grey’s when he was the first to see Wandjina drawings at the Kimberley in 1837. He considered it impossible that they could come from Aborigines - their art was regarded as primitive, poor and pathetic.31 For that reason, there was hardly any intention to preserve Aboriginal culture because it did not fit into James Cook’s initial task: It wasn’t economically useful. Thus, the transition from oppression to exploitation of Aboriginal culture only occurred as Europeans gradually recognized the commercial value of its crafts, arts and customs. That was when more and more museums of ethnology were founded in Europe and Australia by the turn of the 19th century and a market for Indigenous art was created.32 Especially spears, boomerangs, ceremonial items
In order to provide a general overview of the weight of the industry associated with Indigenous tourism, arts and crafts within the Australian economy an analysis of statistical data published by Tourism Australia will find use here. For reasons of clarity, domestic tourists will be excluded from examination since they only account for a negligible share of participation in activities linked to Aboriginal culture. Thus, we will solely focus on international visitors.
"die Aborigines [gehören] zwar zu den bekanntesten, aber auch zu den am wenigsten verstandenen Menschen der Welt […]. [...] In den Prospekten der Tourismusbranche stehen sie an zentraler Stelle, als etwas, dass man gesehen haben muss"39. These are the words which Gerhard Leitner uses on the first pages of his book "Die Aborigines Australiens" to describe the often shallow and superficial character of Australia’s commercialized Aboriginal culture. There are several approaches to explaining why the fascinating culture of Indigenous Australians is often diminished for the purposes of mass tourism. Probably the most convincing one is based on a range of Indigenous tourism strategy surveys. Just like any other industry, the tourism industry too needs to adapt its offers to the demand of its customers. Thus, the surveys’ common aim was to identify interests and preferences of tourists in Australia, in particular respecting activities concerning Aboriginal culture. Although the overall summary points out that apparently, in general, "interaction and authenticity were important aspects of an Aboriginal tourism experience"40 one of the studies shows that tourists throughout all nationalities and age groups "wanted to have this experience within 2 hours of a city, for a half or full day and it should involve a tour guide that spoke the traveller’s own language"41. Generally, Aboriginal tourism experiences are regarded as "desirable but not essential"42. For 82% of international visitors questioned in an inquiry made by Tourism Australia in 2005, making an Indigenous experience was not a major factor in the decision to travel to Australia.43 This finding is supported by the outcomes of the China Strategy Study. Among the ten most popular activities one cannot find a single one associated with Aboriginal culture. Even "Attend an Australian style BBQ" (67% extremely / very interested) was ranked higher than the most popular Aboriginal activity ("Taste Aboriginal food", 60%). Further down the list one could even find "See Aboriginal people" (55%) listed as an "Activit[y] Tested".44 All this clearly confirms Gerhard Leitner’s thesis from the beginning.
One can identify a trend that tourists generally buy artworks and crafts which express Aboriginal culture as it is perceived by them (which due to their lack of knowledge about Aboriginal culture is often superficially) and most wanting to spend no more than $10 to $5047. Thus, many traders lowered the price for their products by either importing "Aboriginal" art from Indonesia where Didgeridoos are offered for about A$10 to A$20 (which is about one tenth of the price Aboriginal artists would receive from a fair business)48 or reducing the manufacturing process to a minimum of time and effort. On the bottom of the page a comparison of two Didge-ridoos is added to this section. Nowadays, Didgeridoos like the one shown in the lower row are predominantly sold to tourists. They are fabricated out of man-made, carved out trunks of eucalypt trees or bamboo rather than out of naturally hollowed out ones by termites.49 Alternatively, so called "cutters" industrially fell immense numbers of trees, use the hollow ones and do not care about the environmental consequences.
The issue of infringements of copyrights has been slightly touched by the previous paragraph. However, it is worth expanding on the topic of so called "spin-offs"56. This term describes the unauthorised reproduction of traditional Dreamtime designs, as explained on the homepage of one of the pioneer projects to fight this kind of exploitation of Indigenous culture, the House of Aboriginality. Dr. Vivien JOHNSON who is professor of Sociology at Sydney Macquarie University and the founder of this initiative has been gathering hundreds of items violating copyrights, and even more importantly, the ethics of Indigenous Australians. The House of Aboriginality was born when she realised that these pseudo-Aboriginal products, ranging from carpets over
For decades these acts of discrimination have been known. In the 1970s a case about the exhibition of the Rirratjingu people’s most sacred and secret paintings in a national gallery and the unauthorised printing of bark paintings on a variety of souvenirs caused great controversy. A member of the community went to speak to members of the Australian Council for the Arts. When he presented a towel and a tablecloth depicting images sacred to the Rirratjingu he said "All these are my tribe’s stories." "These things must not be seen. If they are my people will die."59
The stereotype of the poorly educated, drunk Aborigine is well-rooted in the minds of most Australians. For too long they have been blamed for solely being responsible for the shocking condition which, truly, many of them are in. But when speaking of the truth one should not miss to mention that there have been numerous cases where white traders were exploiting Aborigines not only damaging their self-esteem, but also putting their health at danger and deliberately forming helot-like workers. Private dealers go into communities where Indigenous Australians are in a disadvantaged financial and educational position, at best offering "very small amounts of money for work that would fetch much higher prices."63 At worst, however, Aboriginal artists who paint for these slick businessmen either receive no pay at all or - and that is even worse - they get alcohol, cigarettes or drugs in exchange for their work.64 The artists themselves agree on such deals for various reasons. They either put trust in the dealer’s promises which is later betrayed, they need fast cash to pay urgent bills, or drugs and alcohol to ease their pains or satisfy their addictions, or they are even forced through physical threats of violence.65 Hetti PERKINS, an Aboriginal artist who lives and works in rural Australia, calls these deceiving promises and intimidations "criminal" and she is appalled of the government having been hesitant to intervene, saying "it is long overdue for someone to really take a look at the industry." The need for governmental intervention is further amplified by her estimation about how widespread these foul practises are: "The market is so determined by the price of things that the moral and ethical issues really don’t get a look in. (…) unfortunately, it’s in 90% of the cases."66 (author’s emphasis)
The situation appears hopeless. Chronic poverty brings about desperation and alcohol or drug abuse; that again causes dependency on private dealers and vulnerability to their ill-treatment and finally leads to more precarious poverty and further increased depen-dency, through addiction for example. However, this essay will examine ways to escape this vicious circle in chapter four. Generally, the link between Indige-nous Australians’ social issues, their mentality and the exploitation of their cul-ture must be strongly emphasised. At this stage, one can already scarcely conclude that not only needs the Aboriginal Industry to be regulated through federal bodies but the government must also commit itself to the improvement of the social position of Australia’s Indigenous people and take their very different mentality into consideration when working out programs. This will become even more apparent in the following subchapters.
The final facet of the issue of exploitation of Aboriginal culture for economic purposes which shall be outlined in this essay is particularly interesting for two reasons. Firstly, not the culture itself is the target of exploitation but rather a means for the purpose of deception and economical exploitation. Secondly, it consists of only very few single cases which all together amount to a sneaking trend whose disastrous effects cannot only be interpreted from statistics but can rather be seen in each community befallen, every member being a victim of capitalistic greed and still existing discrimination. It might not appear to be a facet as crucial to the economic status of Aboriginal people if one uses the amount of money involved as a scale. However, it reveals the most ruthless, immoral and blatant form of conscious deceit which is presently taken out on Indigenous Australians.
"Every year brings a new wave of unscrupulous salesmen to the Outback" Mark CHIPPERFIELD wrote in a 2001 issue of The Daily Telegraph. Far away from any protecting or controlling body they "use alcohol, threats and various forms of chicanery to obtain signatures on hire purchase documents" from members of remote Aboriginal communities with which they oblige them to buy gourmet cooking utensils, mail-order cars or expensive vacuum cleaners. Members of an Aboriginal community located near Alice Spring, for instance, were driven into spending A$250,000 on the latter. This is even harder to believe when considering that most of them lived under such poor conditions that, for the majority, even electricity was not at their disposal. "Some of them don’t even have houses, they sleep in dry river beds with their dogs."
However, this case is even topped by the practices of an American insurance company which sent out their agents all over Australia. The result: policies taken out by 18 Indigenous communities "covering them against accidents involving travel by aircraft, monorail, bus, train, tram or in a lift." Since the 1990s there have been prosecutions against three more companies of that kind which proves that these practices are systematic and well-organised. Not only do they drive Aboriginal communities into complete bankruptcy but they are also an expression of racial discrimination like a spokesman of the former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) points out: "It is completely outrageous. In the old days they [whites] gave us beads and blankets for our land; 200 years later we’re still seen as a soft target."67
Again, it is very difficult to press charges against such practices because it is difficult to retrace how signatures were obtained. Representatives of large businesses with well-planned selling strategies stand against poorly-educated and confused members of a small, remote Aboriginal community. It is always easy to show that their methods are immoral. All the harder it is to prove that they are also illegal.
In his book "The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time" Jeffrey D. SACHS, "the world’s leading economic advisor"68, emphasises the interactions between a well-working education-, health- and law system and economic success. "Die relativ Armen in Ländern mit hohem Einkommen haben keinen Zugang zu Kulturgütern, (…) guter ärztlicher Versorgung, zu Bildung und anderen Voraussetzungen sozialen Aufstiegs."69 He comes to the conclusion that an economic ascent can only be achieved if a sound social basis is provided. For the issue of exploitation of Aboriginal culture for economic purposes that means that not only by securing copyrights and regulating the industry the problem can be solved but also the government must put great effort into providing a well-working educational system for young Aborigines, adequate housing for their families, a health network offering thorough treatment as well as information, for example about a balanced nutrition or the consequences of substance abuse, a law system considering the values of Indigenous Australians and the incompatibilities of native and western culture, and finally a strong and respected political voice for Aborigines. The government’s annual expenditure on Aborigines has risen massively from A$23 million to A$3.1 billion between 1971 and today.70 However, the past decade has shown that a lot of this budget was invested inefficiently due to missing concepts and thorough research considering the complex interaction between a variety of social, cultural, economic and many other factors. Thus, it must be strongly emphasized once again: neglecting any one of the issues mentioned at the beginning of this section means not thoroughly solving the socio-economic crisis of Indigenous Australians, and thus not bringing the exploitation of Aboriginal culture to an end.
More information to this particular cause of exploitation of Aboriginal culture can be taken from the presentation added on the CD-ROM in the appendix.
Over the past paragraphs the question about the role of the government in the issue of exploitation of Aboriginal culture for economic purposes has often been asked, but so far, it has not clearly been answered. The roots of the disadvantaged situation of Indigenous people in Australia including the era of assimilation up until the 1960s have been outlined in chapter one. At this place, an extremely brief and often generalizing overview of governmental intervention will be provided. This is essential in order to forecast the future tendencies of policy towards the rights of Indigenous artists and, building up from this, to find practical, effective and realistic solutions for the future.
In Australia there are two main political blocks. The Coalition is the centre-right block with the Liberal Party at its core. The other major party on the other side of the political spectrum is the Australian Labor Party (ALP). For ten years now, Australia has been governed by John Howard from the Liberal Party. Accordingly to his party’s major economic priority, free enterprise, he is opposing the policy of self-determination and the increase of Indigenous rights, in particular Aboriginal land rights which harm the interests of farmers and big mining companies. By contrast, the ALP initiated the turnaround from the policy of assimilation of Aborigines into mainstream Australia to self-determination in the early 1970s. The party dramatically increased the budget for Indigenous affairs and supported the legislation for Aboriginal land rights. Since the two major parties in Australia are such antipodes the development of Indigenous rights greatly depends on the respective party in power.
For Aboriginal artists protective and regulative laws are of great importance in fighting the exploitation of their culture. However, their economic status is also intertwined with their social situation, which can be altered through government funding, and their spiritual, or in a western sense psychological, wellbeing for which land rights play a major role. A short list of laws concerning these aspects will be presented in the following part:
The unauthorised inclusion of a bark painting by an Aboriginal artist on the back of the then Australian dollar note in 1966 caused great controversy and led to the recognition of Aboriginal art copyrights in 1968.72 Amongst others the law guarantees "the right to not have the work treated in a derogatory manner (this is a right to protect the honour and reputation of the author)"73. The immediate effects of the Copyright Act, however, are judged critically by Dr. Vivien JOHNSON: "it has taken another quarter of a century for the rights (…) to be taken seriously."74 Most of the time, Indigenous Australians’ poor education, the lack of knowledge about their rights and the feeble support from the government made the law ineffective.
Only now that the media has become increasingly aware of these issues politicians have finally, however hesitantly, shown willingness to support Aborigines in their struggle and to fight ongoing violation through the unregulated commerce of Aboriginal culture.
In 1976 the Aboriginal Land Rights Act opened the door for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory to officially restore sovereignty over their territory by presenting evidence of their traditional occupation.77 The handback of Uluru, formerly known as Ayers Rock, to the Anangu people in 1985 is seen as the most outstanding case where the so called "Native Title" was awarded through its tremendous media coverage, its spiritual meaning and, not to forget, its economic importance. In 1958 when the area’s potential for marketing of tourism was recognized the two sacred sites of Uluru and the closely located Katja Tjuta ("The Olgas") were excised from an Aboriginal reserve and declared as a tourist and wildlife resort.78 Motels and an airport were built, and consequently, more and more visitors streamed into the area. As a result, the integrity of Anangu culture was threatened as, for example, Aborigines in the area felt their laws and customs violated by visitors. Furthermore, on a materialistic basis, members of the Anangu community were forced into labour as lowly paid motel domestic staff or "mascots" for tours where their culture was often ignored or misinterpreted.79
Even though the Aboriginal Land Rights Act was passed in 1976 it took another nine years before the Anangu people were awarded with the official title deeds. The law was finally interpreted in favour of the area’s Indigenous population after the newly elected ALP Prime Minister had sided with Aborigines in their cause. This turning point demonstrates well the government’s power over Aboriginal Australians’ destiny. It was primarily brought about by the change of the reigning party. For Aboriginal artists the handback of their sacred land meant that on the one hand they were not burdened with paying a lease to the state government anymore for a shop they had established in the area in 1972 where they sold groceries to the Indigenous population and arts and crafts to tourists, but now they even received desperately needed money from a government lease.
Similar economically beneficial developments set in in communities where mining companies operated on land which was returned to the Aboriginal people through the changed legislation. However, it was only in 1996 that the conflict between Aboriginal land rights and existing leases of mining companies or farmers was solved in the so called "Wik"-case in favour of the Aborigines.80 Today, the leasing scheme is the solution which is commonly agreed on, even though there are obvious ethical concerns of many Aboriginal Australians.
Australian-wide the regulations of the Northern Territory Land Rights Act were not put into practice for another 16 years. After all instances were gone through, the Australian High Court made a groundbreaking decision in the famous "Mabo"-case in 1992: it officially declared that the Terra-Nullius-hypothesis was illegitimate.81 For Indigenous Australians the decision meant that they were now able to obtain the so called Native Title under similar provisions as were required in the Land Rights Act. However, it is ironic that 222 years after the arrival of James Cook this change had to be made by a court decision.
One reason that explains why all mentioned laws and court decision took decades to be carried out with determination and why many of them proved ineffective, is, of course, the marginality of Aboriginal Australians‘ political power. In 1990 aspirations to raise their political voice were supported by the Labor government by creating ATSIC as a "virtual parallel government to dispense welfare payments, create jobs and improve health, housing and education."82 For that cause, a yearly budget of A$600 million (less than one fifth of the government’s total budget) was at its disposal.83 After 15 years of existence the commission was abolished in 2005 by John Howard because it apparently "failed to improve the lives of ordinary aborigines."84 Many Aboriginal leaders, however, see in this move an attempt to win votes from farmers and miners who have become nervous due to recent court decision favouring the land claims of Aborigines, and furthermore, an act of racial discrimination which "would set back their cause by 50 years."85 In other words, this means that Aborigines are facing a policy of assimilation rather than of self-determination once again.86 This opinion is supported by the Prime Minister’s decision not to replace ATSIC by a democratically elected representative body but by a government-appointed advisory panel. Experts agree that a "hand-picked advisory body"87 of mainstreamed Aborigines who are neither legitimized nor respected by the majority of their people "can never be the voice for indigenous Australia over the long term."88
2.5.5. Forwards to the Past - the Political Course towards Aborigines in the 21st Century
As a reply to the allegations of the Indigenous population the so called "Shared Responsibility Agreements" (SRA) were introduced by the Howard Government under the banner of Aboriginal self-determination.89 The term describes the intended equal cooperation between Aboriginal communities and federal bodies to solve social and structural problems in these communities. However, critics have numerous concerns about the program and place it among the traditional Liberal policy of paternalism and assimilation. They are convinced that SRAs have actually "reduced Indigenous involvement in decision-making over Indigenous program funding (previously administered by ATSIC within an Indigenous-controlled and culturally appropriate framework)." The government is "pitting under-resourced and effectively powerless local communities against the Federal government via mainstream departments."90 Their critique peaks with the accusation of SRAs being "racially discriminatory"91 and the current policy towards Indigenous Australians being "a structured plan to kill off Indigenous self-determination."92
The situation at the end of 2006 is that Prime Minister John Howard’s policy towards an improvement of the socio-economic status of Aboriginal Australians is, to put it mildly, reluctant. Indigenous Australians are restlessly looking into an uncertain future when they hear their head of state proclaiming his position towards Aboriginal rights: "[…] the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of the Aboriginal community and what I seek to do is to bring the pendulum back to the centre."93
For the future one can only hope that the public opinion which has developed n favor of Indigenous Australians over recent years will also influence politicians in their agendas, indifferent which party they belong to. The huge success of the band Midnight Oil, for instance, demonstrates that the criticism towards white Australia in songs such as the world-famous "Beds Are Burning" is widely shared amongst many young and mid-age Australians:
"The time has come
The preceding chapter drew a dark and disillusioning picture of the general situation of Australia’s native people. In this chapter, however, it will be shown how the improvement of a community’s social status and the development towards a sustainable, self-determinated life style can be achieved. The initial impulse for the advancement in the following case was set off through the granting of land rights to the Anangu people in 1985 whose struggle for the Native Title was already outlined in section 2.5. Their community was provided with a sound foundation through the return of their land from which several community members were able to set up independent businesses in a variety of economic branches in the consecutive years. These included cafeterias, art galleries, cultural centres or even a truck company which collects art from more than 20 communities in order to sell them at the touristic junction of Uluru - Katja Tjuta National Park.96 Thus, many were able to successfully gain hold on the first rung of the social ladder which now they are able to climb further up.
Anangu Tours, a booming tourism company is a prime example representing all the other businesses founded since the day of handback. It is completely owned by the Indigenous population which assures that the profits flow into local projects. Aboriginal guides offer trips around Uluru in particular paying great attention to their native culture. Visitors are educated about the Indigenous people’s original way of life, including their natural food sources, hunting techniques and religious cults, as well as about the spiritual and historical meaning of the site and the age-old art that can be found all around the rock’s walls.97 Gerhard SIMON points out the great opportunities of business strategies like these when he supposes:
There is one fact, however, which completely disrupts the positive picture of the apparently so self-determinated Anangu people: "there are still tourists walking up on top of Uluru every single day," as Svargo FREITAG remarks with a tone of disbelief and resentment. "That is totally…absolutely against Aboriginal culture. Aboriginal people don’t want tourists to go up there but because of the massive pressure by all the tourist companies and the government they still allow it." This, of course, puts Anangu Tours and the power of the Indigenous community over their own land into a very different perspective. Compared to all the other tourism enterprises heading for the sacred site the share of visitors participating in tours of the Indigenous business is tiny. And to make it even worse, the logics of tourism are to prevent the visitors from having a bad conscience about their holidays. For that reason, information about the ethical concerns is kept to the minimum. Each company does have to hand out an information booklet to all their visitors about the National Park which mentions these concerns but in many cases they distribute them shortly before the tourists are shoved off the bus so that no-one actually has the time to read the information. The "explicit" advice that Aborigines oppose "the climb" is hurriedly mumbled half annoyed and half with indifference.
"I didn’t know about the impact of my behaviour at the time because our tour guide avoided it to inform us about the site’s meaning to Aboriginal people and how tourists like us were violating their spirituality."(Thomas Scheele, right)
Clearly, the overall situation of the Anangu people has improved since 1985. However, influential tourism lobbies and the government seem to have deliberately created, what Ian HUGHES calls one of his essays, a "dependant autonomy." Obviously, real, unrestricted self-determination which, not only in this particular case, is the same as the end of exploitation of Aboriginal culture is not compatible with the economic agenda which companies and politics are pursuing.
In each chapter new roots and correlations of the exploitation of Aboriginal culture for economic purposes were being presented. These can be roughly separated into three groups:
How can one attack all these issues effectively? First of all, one needs to divide this heap of interdependent problems into for categories; three of which allow to develop programs based on experience from other western societies and one which gives the problem a totally new dimension: the first three are psychological, social and economic issues; the fourth is the apparent incompatibility of Aboriginal mentality with western capitalistic society.
Despite the numerous findings of this research paper, the "silver bullet" - a universal solution for all problems of Aboriginal people in Australia -- could unfortunately not be found. The fundamental question "Is it at all possible for Aboriginal culture to healthily coexist with capitalism?" is left like so many others with no definite answer, however accompanied with discomforting doubt. What is certain is that the exploitation of Aboriginal culture for economic purposes will have to be eradicated before there is even a chance of replying with "yes". Just as certain is that today’s governmental response is deficient in protective legislation to restore the sovereignty of the Indigenous population over their cultural heritage and willingness to cooperate with Aboriginal people which causes an inconsiderate position towards the unique mentality of Aborigines. One can assume that rather than one ultimate scheme, well-researched and for each case individual strategies containing a composition of correlated approaches will hopefully lead to the desired advancement.
Svargo Freitag has been wholesaling Didgeridoos since 1991 and founded the Didjshop in 1999, the world’s largest online Didgeridoo store which apart from selling Indigenous arts and crafts also provides information on Aboriginal culture, political developments in Aboriginal affairs or the exploitation of their work. In his argumentation he particularly emphasises the need for a firmer regulation of the Indus-try by the government and the consideration of Aboriginal mentality in the planning of concepts to improve the socio-economic situation of Australia’s Indigenous population.
The interview was made at a very late hour. Thus, the grammar and the precision in my questions suffered. Furthermore, the telephone connection to Australia was of changing quality which led to acoustic difficulties. Since this interview is essential to understand certain aspects of the essay’s topic I chose to edit the questions and slightly rearrange Svargo Freitag’s answers in order to present his argumentation as clearly structured and comprehensible as possible to the reader. However, it must be pointed out that the context was left totally unchanged.
Thomas Scheele: T
T: How big is the share of Indigenous Australians working your business?
T: Because they are not qualified for theses jobs?
T: So how many Indigenous people are supplying your business?
T: How many Aborigines live from arts, crafts and tourism in your region? Is the majority of them employed in that sector or are they also strongly represented in other parts of the Australian economy, for example as truck drivers or on farms?
T: In my essay, this is what I call "the exploitation of Aboriginal culture" which I divided into three categories: (1) the production of unauthentic ware by non-Aborigines, (2) the infringements of copyrights and (3) Aborigines working under poor conditions for little pay or in exchange for alcohol or other things of that kind. Which of these is the most common form of exploitation?
T: How can this exploitation be counteracted and by who?
T: I read on your homepage that there was the proposition that dealers should have to label all arts and crafts by law informing about what is authentic Aboriginal art and what is not.
T: Now back to the different kinds of exploitation. There are cases known of Aborigines working under poor conditions for unfair compensations. What do you believe are the most crucial factors which brought about the present situation of widespread exploitation? Do social issues play major role in this context?
T: So does that mean that you couldn’t stop exploitation by providing Aboriginal people with a sounder social basis? Let’s say they received better education, would those things still occur?
T: That sounds like Aborigines were accepting their situation. Do they actually desire an economic ascent?
T: So how could one prevent this sort of thing to happen?
T: There is the policy of self-determination on the one side and there is a more paternalist policy on the other. I understand that the Howard government is rather going towards the latter which, for example, became apparent with the abolition of ATSIC. What kind of policy would work best, especially now that you have pointed out the issues of Aboriginal mentality? Can Aboriginal people represent themselves in politics and distribute welfare money, for example via bodies such as ATSIC, or is that just impossible?
T: Has the social status of Aboriginal Australians improved over recent years?
T: During my research I often experienced the two-sidedness of an improvement of the economic situation of Aboriginal Australians, for instance, when mining companies pay leases to Aboriginal communities. The exploitation of the land is contradictory to the traditional aspiration for preservation and care of nature, yet it serves as a regular income for these communities. Are Indigenous communities forced into such agreements through their poor socio-economic situation or do they fully agree with such contracts for financial reasons?
T: How should one see Aboriginal culture? Has it adapted certain western values or is it still very original and traditional?
T: Does that mean they are fully adapting to white Australian society? Is that the case?
T: But there has to be some way to counteract, for example, the lack of reliability?
T: Is that the case all over Australia or particularly with people from remote Australia?
T: So would I be right to believe that the situation is utterly hopeless and that whatever is going to be done in Aboriginal affairs is doomed to fail?
Power Point Presentation:
The presentation deals with the incompatibilities of Aboriginal mentality and western society as well as with psychological, social and economic issues as the basis of exploitation of Aboriginal culture for economic purposes.
Literature: (in alphabetical order)
Internet: (in alphabetical order)
Online News / Newspaper Articles / TV Programmes:
Essays / Researches / Other Publications:
Photos: (in order of first appearance, all homepages last called up on 25.01.07)
1 Chicago University: http://www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/06/060627.pride.shtml (from 27.06.06, 08.01.07)
Author: Thomas Scheele from Germany, 2007
Disclaimer: The Didjshop is not responsible for the accuracy of the above material and the opinions expressed in the above text are the views and opinions of the author.
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