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Submissions .. arts and government

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts (ATSIA) .. May 2007

Thank you for your time and assistance with my submission on the ‘keeping culture strong’ project


I would like to submit these few ideas on a personal basis; I’m coming from a very local level with regards to Indigenous culture business .. whilst I don’t have many grand ‘strategic arts proposals’ for you, I do have a (growing) list of community based ‘possibles’ that do address the ‘problem’ of maintaining local interest in traditional culture


Australian indigenous culture is one of the world’s oldest living cultures and is quite possibly the last to be still practicing some of its age old rituals and ceremonies with any degree of integrity

The knowledge bases have become isolated and have largely disappeared - with the losses of language and community structure


Traditional culture is difficult (for white fellas); it is relationship based (rather than object based), has most complex kinship and language structures, and is inclusive (of everything - people, the earth and the cosmos)

Its world view is comprehensive and complete; it does not lend itself well to fragmentation into classifications of ‘jobs’, work, ‘time’, function

Its historical and living stories were (and are) transmitted orally


Its artifacts have become fashionable - dance, painting, some story; the living base that supported and maintained the artifact, however, has not

We will most likely end up with ‘earthless art’; painting based on existing example and style - rather than on direct living experience


Perhaps some of this is exaggerated and incorrect - I hope so


I would like to offer a few thoughts and possible approaches for the ATSIA ‘culture’ program; these may assist with addressing the longer term ‘health’ of traditional culture, they have come about through long talk and (trying to) share/find common thoughts with friends in the Raminginng community, central arnhemland


3 main areas:

Schooling - develop new ways of teaching children in community

maintain and develop local culture and language home base whilst adding supportive (world) stories and ideas 


Culture as resource - imbue australian life with those celebrations and knowledges that do really sustain us all; that they are truly needed in the context of a nation’s (sense of) well being that australian contemporary heritage is based on

australian traditional heritage

Re-empower the elders (who might then pass on the confidence) that trad song and wisdom is ‘ok’, that the whole country needs a strong earth knowledge presence at its heart


Performance - presenting indigenous concepts (of people, land and ceremony) in ‘contextual performance’; (move away from touring didj bands) to scaled up ‘serious’ ceremonial performance for specific and special occasions 

- new local schemes that develop and showcase various works/projects/bands as 'serious’ - intentional, produced as ‘business’ projects with white fellas and have the imprimatur of the elders

maintain the integrity of the ‘song’ 


Darwin May 2007

New intervention needed


It is seen as beneficial for busyness, governments, conventions and delegates to be able to converse (as least partly) in the language(s) of the peoples within their interest areas


I suggest that we apply the same idea here - in Australia - to Government and busyness matters that involve Indigenous 'education, health, land use, ownership, jobs, work - and especially expediency'

These are all white fella constructs and may well have little meaning - to anyone - beyond those making them up


Let's try communication in the language(s) of those who will be affected as being a mandatory prerequisite for all such discussion and plans

There are many ways of viewing and living life in the world


We may settle for shopping and acquisition, for seeking individual paths, accept a literal 'world view' only, or reduce everything to 'work' or 'jobs' or 'entertainment' - or we may not care to think about anything much


We have several wonderful world philosophies offering 'alternatives' to the venal and banal that seems to have overtaken most of contemporary society; we have an age old Indigenous culture  here in Australia too, one that is comprehensive and all encompassing - and is surely worthy of consideration and (at least) preservation

It is relationship based; everything is related to everything else; time is not understood as being a list of 'past, present and  future' events but cyclical; people belong to earth, from whence we  come and return

Life and living are not divided into separated areas or experiences; 'work', 'acquisition', 'ownership', are imported constructs - not truths.


Traditional culture is complex, seemingly impossible to explain in western constructs of sequential event causation - but it does exist, and does present a complete picture of how life - and country - 'is', the interdependent relationships with its inhabitants, and how it ought be cared for and maintained


Language is a/the key; traditional story is related orally 

Local languages - languages that are dependent on and have been formed by untold years of living, celebrating, listening and experience, with the earth

The languages - and therefore the clans (language groups) that speak them - are 'local', related to neighbouring clans (and their language)

Considered overall and together, the sum total of all clans and their languages produces a unified and integral 'whole', everything being 'named', 'positioned' and in relationship with everything else


Our long time development as a species depends more on our stories than it does on our short term expedient obscurations 

Losing any local group/language diminishes the whole, the connections and subtlety being broken and this, from (my) point of view is a disaster - and avoidable


We have (had) all kinds of exploitative pressures being exerted on our Indigenous communities, the most serious probably being that of decision making by 'removed authority' who decide - in alien terminologies and process - on actions equally alien to the supposed beneficiary 


Pressure takes many forms; it may be physical force, it may be lollipops, it may be 'god', it may be 'good'; but all are only pressures exerted by something or someone wanting to get their own way - for whatever rationale


Pressuring people into towns - away from 'home' - is fraught if the pressuring authority does not have the local cultural imprimatur to undertake such a momentous act

Previous experiences (resulting from such undertakings) just have to be recognized 



May 2009

Cooinda wetlands

Australian Human Rights Commission


I've been thinking for a while about ways in which we might better utilize and include Australian Indigenous wisdom and culture into Australian mainstream life


There seem to me, after years of living and working with Yolngu (Arnhemland) 'family', to be vast unacknowledged aspects of this countries 'consciousness' that remain hidden from us - the white settlers - not because they are invisible, but because we (whites) cannot 'see' them.  This being due to our inexperience of country - of not knowing its 'language'


May I submit the following ideas to your commission ?


Some new negotiation procedures for and between:

Native title holders, indigenous 'land owners', elders, and all businesses, governments and agencies wanting (access to) land, votes, interventions, medical, education, 'services' and businesses imposition.


1 All negotiations to be conducted in the (local) language(s); to follow the (meeting/discussion) protocols of those to be affected; and be conducted 'in situ'

There would be no advisors, bureaucrats nor translators; all negotiations would be between those proposing and those affected

The timing (notice to all involved/affected) and 'outcomes' determined by the traditional 'owners'


2 The term of address: 'traditional land owners' be altered to the '(name of) lands and the (trad names of) people belonging to them



May 2009

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