Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Introducing New England Aboriginal life

This post is the start of a new series I am calling simply New England Aboriginal Life, the story of the Aboriginal people of Northern NSW, my broader New England.

I am not Aboriginal, but I do research and write a lot on Aboriginal history and culture.

I have been fortunate in that I became interested long before the Aboriginal story became so conflicted. I was part of Isabel McBryde's pioneering Australian prehistory group at the University of New England, the first of its type in Australia. My 1966 honours thesis was an ethnohistorical study of the economic structure of traditional Aboriginal life in Northern NSW looking at issue such as population distribution, trade and the pattern of seasonal movement.

Life took me away from my the Aborigines and my original idea of being becoming an Australian prehistorian. I became involved again because I couldn't work out why something that I had thought of as a success, the advancement of Aboriginal people from a poor base, had apparently turned into such a reported disaster.

I started writing on public policy issues as they affected Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This wasn't always pleasant. Then I decide to write a history of New England, drawing me back into the history of my own country. This added a historical flavour to my writing.

In 2009 I had the pleasure of working with Aboriginal people at the NSW Aboriginal Housing Office. The Office shared a building with the NSW Aboriginal land Council. In the office, over smokes outside, at drinks, I was introduced to the complexities of Aboriginal life and politics in NSW. I found a deep hunger among many Aboriginal people for history as it related to their own particular lives and groups. A natural enthusiast, I fear I became a bit of a bore in sharing knowledge.

Most recently, I wrote a series of posts triggered by what I saw as confusions about Aboriginal life and culture. The posts were:  
Before going on, would you mind watching a video? 

This video introduces the Through our Eyes series, nineteen short documentaries feature Aboriginal Elders and knowledge-holders from the Ngemba, Kamilaroi and Euahlayi language groups in north-western NSW describing the land management practices and social, spiritual and cultural knowledge that enabled their people to care for the country for tens of thousands of years. It is an example of the material that I want to make available.

The thing I found striking in the discussions that triggered the posts I referred to earlier was the way that people talked about the Aborigines in an abstract sense. There was also a tendency to deny the validity of modern Aboriginal cultures in NSW, to downplay their identity and historical continuity.

I am a story teller. in this series I want to tell you a little about New England's Aboriginal peoples drawing from my own work as well as other material.

I don't have the time to write huge posts. Rather, I just want to give you a taste from time to time so that you can see New England's Aboriginal peoples as people, part of the canvas of the land.

The series is dedicated to the people I met at AHO and especially Jen, my Aboriginal mentoree, through whom I learned some of the practical pressures facing Aboriginal people.

Posts in this series:

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