Saturday, January 03, 2009

2008 in review - Belshaw posts on Australian indigenous issues and history: April to December

This post continues the review of my 2008 posts on Australian indigenous issues and history that I began with 2008 in review - Belshaw posts on Australian indigenous issues and history: January to March.


Over April I took an almost complete break from indigenous issues beyond some historical posts.There were in fact just two posts.

As the name says, New England's Aborigines - Reference Page established an entry point for my historical posts, while the Kamilaroi Entry Page was a first step in establishing an entry point for future posts on this powerful tribal group from New England's western slopes and plains.

May marked a total break without a single post on indigenous issues. This continued through June and July. Perhaps I was just burnt out. But there were also a lot of other issues around.  


There were three indigenous posts in August.

August began with Andrew Forrest's 50,000 indigenous jobs, the plan by Mr Forrest to organise the big end of town to create 50,000 new jobs for indigenous people. This was officially launched several months later. By then, Mr Forrest could show considerable progress. I have not followed up. I do wonder how the economic downturn has affected things. 

The next two posts trod familiar ground.

New England's Kamilaroi people - web search August 08 was, as the name says, simply a post recording the results of a new web search on the Kamilaroi people. The follow up post, The vanished Kamilaroi and the need for a new approach, repeats familiar themes: the way debate gets twisted to fit preconceptions; the need to recognise indigenous diversity; the policy failures that flow from failure to recognise diversity; the need to make historical information on specific peoples available.


September was another quiet month with just one post dealing with indigenous issues, Sunday Snippets - Indigenous languages, problems with the language of neo-colonialism, latest Australian Aboriginal numbers, a simple report on the latest ABS statistics.

October saw rather more indigenous posts, including one episode that left me feeling quite depressed.

At the start of the month there was a very short post, L J Hill's great Namoi Mud album. This one is really about the music of New England; my family has promised me a copy of the CD. A little later in Helping the Kamilaroi (and others) find their family history I referred to the work of Noelene Briggs-Smith in helping Kamilaroi people in particular find out details of their family history.

I think that this is very important and not just from an individual family perspective. Family stories help us write broader history.

I also gave another plug to Will Owen's blog in Will Owen's blog - an education in Australian Aboriginal art.

On 12 October The World of the First Australians began on SBS. I commented in The First Australians - a message for SBS re their web site. I found the first episode very interesting, although it left me a little up in the air given my specific interests.

Three days later in Depression about indigenous policy - and a challenge to North Coast Voices I issued a challenge on my New England, Australia blog to another New England political blog, North Coast Voices.

At the time I wrote I was depressed about media reporting on the report into the Northern Territory intervention because it seemed that nothing had changed. The same lines were simply being repeated just as they had been before. The post challenged North Coast Voices to join with NEA in campaigning for New England indigenous advancement.

I completely mishandled the challenge - it was a genuine one - and received a very dusty response concluding with the words:          

North Coast Voices is always conscious that the various groups within the Bunjalung nation have their own voice and that they speak out strongly on issues that concern them and, we are careful not to speak to local issues where we have no permission from these groups or the elders.

We do not apologise for this, nor do we intend to rise to a spurious "challenge".

No further comment will be entered into concerning your post.

I duly corrected the record on the main post where I had made factual errors. I was angry with myself for having mishandled the matter, and it all added to my sense of depression.

I referred to the episode a little later in Personal Reflections - Anne of Green Gables, depression about indigenous issues, positives about India and Indonesia. Referring to all the posts that I had written over the last two years, I said in part:    

My knowledge has certainly improved, and that has sometimes been useful in a policy environment and to at least some readers measured by comments. However, I don't think that I have much additional that I can add at least at a policy or analytical level - the position I have developed is too far outside the often polarised main streams to be helpful at this point.

At some point I will try to consolidate all the posts I have written over the last two years into a single document to see if there is in fact anything more that I might usefully say. In the meantime, I will limit myself to continuing to build my understanding of Aboriginal history within New England.


On 13 November I re-entered the policy debate in Bridging the gap between indigenous Australia and the broader community - a methodological note. This was a purely methodological post, pointing to problems involved in the use of social indicators. 

The following day in Rugby League's confusions over Green I discussed the confusions that had arisen over the life of George Green, the player after whom Rugby League had named the George Green medal. This was a purely historical piece, one linked to the distribution of Aboriginal peoples in New England. 

On 20 November in Thursday Pot Pouri - problems with refugees, individual freedom, indigenous policy, council funding and NSW's collapse I discussed in part a review by Will Owen, Engagement not Intervention, of a new book by Michael C. Dillon and Neil D. Westbury, Beyond Humbug: transforming government engagement with Indigenous Australia (Seaview Press). This led me back into a brief discussion of my own views and the Northern Territory Intervention.


It doesn't take a lot to get me going again!

A week after my Pot Pouri post, Joe Lane emailed me. Joe's wife Maria was an indigenous woman who had worked to advance Aboriginal education. Noting my depression, Joe pointed to the huge successes that had in fact occurred in indigenous education. A quite lengthy email exchange followed.

I referred to this in a post on 1 December,  Advance Notice - failures in Aboriginal policy, foreshadowing a series of posts focused especially on education and the work of Maria Lane, but also picking up other issues.

In a sense, the use of the word "failure" was a misnomer because the posts would also point to the often forgotten positives in the remarkable story of indigenous advancement since the 1950s. The word failure refers to the way that policy and presentation has become twisted by constant negative reporting, as well as false assumptions.

As it happened, almost immediately after this post I accepted a short term assignment to do some work within a NSW agency concerned with one aspect of indigenous policy in the state. To avoid conflict of interest and with Joe's agreement, we put the series on hold until the new year.

As an aside, my new boss was surprised at just how quickly I came up to speed on the issues and at how much I seemed to be enjoying myself. But how could it be otherwise?

I know regional NSW very well. I know the broad history and distribution of Aboriginal peoples within NSW and the relationship to geography. I know the demography. I may not agree with them on all aspects, but I certainly know the official policy positions. And I even know something about the tensions and relationships in individual communities.

On top of all this, I am being paid to undertake demographic analysis, to do work that requires me to look at discrete communities, to prepare policy material that might make sense within the limits set by the COAG processes. Talk about a pig in mud!

I will talk about posts in a moment. First I want to add another building block.

Partially inspired by Joe, I went back through all my posts on the distribution of Aboriginal peoples in New England and turned them into a word document. I added to this all the email exchanges on local issues and relationships.

In doing all this, my thought was that I might actually have the base of a proper academic paper. In fact, the process showed up the gaps in my thinking and writing, leading to action to try to fill them.

I write often about the importance of geography in history. Over a two month period I did a series of short posts consisting of no more than a series of maps on major New England catchment areas.  I reported on this in Sunday Essay - geography, history and our perceptions of our own past, using New England and the distribution of Aboriginal peoples as an example.

In other historical posts, Traditional tribal structures in New England recorded my own confusions about traditional Aboriginal social and language structures in New England, setting out some of my original understandings. This was followed by a simple aide memoir, New England's Aborigines and the importance of calories - a note, dealing with the importance of calorie availability in population density.

Investigation of the distribution of the Kamilaroi led me to New England's Aborigines - The work of Professor Peter Austin on linguistics.

While my original interest lay in the Kamilaroi, Professor Austin's work raised broader issues and coincided with debate about teaching in indigenous languages.

On 9 December in Teaching in indigenous languages I reflected Bob Gosford's concerns about the position being adopted in the Northern Territory.I followed this a little later with Kim Beazley Sr and the teaching of Australian indigenous languages, drawing from a comment by Dennis Sligar on Mr Beazley Sr's role, and then a little later still with The importance of teaching in Australian indigenous languages.

My post Sunday Essay - academic research and indigenous ownership combined comments about language with comments about the interaction between academic research and current perceptions and events.  I followed this with Cultural change and indigenous Australia, extending the discussion.

Looking back through December posts made me realise (again) how often I use indigenous examples to illustrate broader issues.

In Saturday Morning Musings - Byzantium, ARIA and Australian public policy I used the Kamilaroi to illustrate the the way in which broad geographic classifications adopted for public policy purposes can disrupt on-ground geographic realities. In similar vein, in The writing of history I used my own experience in Aboriginal research to illustrate some of the issues involved in the historical craft.    

Finishing, my last historical post of the year, Ngarabal Entry Page, was simply intended to fill another gap in my knowledge base.

And so the year ended as it had begun, with a burst of posts on issues and history linked to Australia's indigenous people.  

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