• working/reading

    I am reading through 'both ways' literature of Yolngu and non-Yolngu working their knowledge systems together. Alongside I am reading Lorraine Code's 2006 book Ecological Thinking. I am also browsing through blogs and discussions on knowledge work and community development.
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    Here I post some of my work and thinking. It is a much harder task than I thought! It is an extension of my research on knowledge and difference connecting my experiences, reflections, formal written pieces, and hopefully friends and colleagues. As work and self cannot be separate this blog is both personal and intellectual. Comments are moderated because, while it is a site for collective work, it is not anonymous.
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This blog is not longer being used: it has been moved to www.christianclark.net


Nothing there? Think Again. Yolngu Homelands in Arnhem Land

Last Friday I went to hear Banduk Marika speak with John von Sturmer at the Institute for Postcolonial Studies (IPCS). Amongst many other things talked about was the question of Australia’s endless forgetting about Indigenous Australians, their presence and achievements. As Banduk said, ‘we are always asked and required to prove who we are, over and over again.’ She told a story about her efforts to care for her own country and environment over the past 20 years. Banduk and her family started a Landcare program near Yirrkala. It grew as family business and ran on family money. In early 2007, there were 36 people working in the program, only 5 of whom were non-Indigenous. When the Northern Territory created mega-Shires for local governance the legislation enabled the new Shires to acquire all public and community used assets )the Intervention had the same powers). The North East Arnhem Shire took all the resources form the local Landcare group and shut it down. In the last three months Banduk and her family have begun again. A family run, family funded nursery.

Hearing this reminded of a recent story that came out around the recent, but not new, threat to Homelands. The 1967 referendum, at which 90% of then eligible Australians voted to include Indigenous Australians in the census and make the Commonwealth government responsible for their welfare. This included the beginning of social security payments, at first to elderly pensioners. Much of this money, as John explained in the IPCS event above, went towards paying wages for people to begin their own Homelands in clearing airstrips, making buildings and other infrastructure. In 1982, the Homeland of Mirrngatja in Arnhem Land paid for its own school building. I am not sure if the money came from 1967-born pension payments, but knowing some of the elders there, they certainly would have given money if it was there. In any case, that it was paid for is testament to the willingness and resourceful of Yolngu in maintaining living on their country while engaging with mainstream institutions in paying wages and providing schooling. The school at Mirrngatja has been given a measly $200 in maintenance funding in its 27 years of operation by the Department of Education who runs it and provides a teaching one day a week – the full case study and shocking comparison to a non-Indigenous school of similar size is to be found here (from the Institute of Cultural Survival).

Two researchers at ANU have recently written a great post in what they call ‘cultura nullius’ – this inability to see anything in Homelands (social networks, environmental care, social economies, willingness to work with outside groups and ways of living) and its related quite astounding ability to keep forgetting this history. They also point out, and I should too, that we are both writing about our experiences in Yolngu Homelands in North East Arnhem Land – and here are two good videos from this area, one from Mata Mata and one from more recent GetUp campaign.

A closing statement at the IPCS event went something like this: ‘Indigenous movements are good in their own right, but also are valuable in that they reveal things about the state of society. In the academy we need to get outside the box which it has inherited from Government departments and their compartmentalisation of knowledge.’ Even when Indigenous people are listened to, they are still only allowed to talk about themselves and their ‘issues’. Thinking that Indigenous Australians have nothing valuable to contribute to debates on the environment, immigration, social policy, philosophy and much more is an even more insidious part of cultural nullius.

[From Nothing there? Think Again. Yolngu Homelands in Arnhem Land]

Mother Tongue

One of my first experiences at Gapuwiyak was sitting in the Yellow House. It is painted green, but once upon a time it was yellow and its name, through its continual use and connection people, continues to be the Yellow House.

I was sitting in the Yellow House with the man who had adopted me as brother, his wife and his mother. They were talking. We were talking; every now and then in English but mostly Yolngu Matha. It was explained to me that my brother was speaking Djambarrpuyŋu, his mother Ritharrŋu and his wife Kunwinjku. They were speaking their own languages. My brother spoke Djambarrpuyŋu and Ritharrŋu (his mother’s language) but would not speak Kunwinku, although he understood it. His mother could not speak English nor understand it very well, nor kunwinjku, and his wife could converse in all but Ritaharrŋu. I have held onto this conversation across languages and the patience it required translating back and forth. It brings with it a feeling of awe toward something that is as complex as it is simple.

It was shock to see on the United Nations Atlas of Endangered Languages that both Kunwinjku and Ritharrŋu both feature. Kunwinjku is ‘unsafe’ and Ritharrŋu is ‘definitely endangered’. One hundred and eight Australian Languages feature on the Atlas, I think almost two in every hundred (2%) of languages in the Atlas are Australian. Soon we might be calling Australia the ‘wide brown land’, forgetting all other names for country and colours that have painted it.

For more on the Atlas go to: http://www.un.org.ua/en/news/2009-02-18-2/

and if you want to read more on Australian Languages go to: http://www.aiatsis.gov.au/, or perhaps

Google Groups: http://groups.google.com/group/foblmail

FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=35768410977

Snapshot 2009-02-23 20-06-23.tiff

[From Mother Tongue]

Yiŋiya’s Statement

In 2004 I met Yiŋiya. He was filming a ceremony working to used digital technology to maintain his and his peoples’ way of live. Since then I have been adopted by his younger brother and have come to know bits of this way of life, and the threat posed to it by the Intervention. Here is a statement made by him outlining a often not heard response to the current situation.

[From Yiŋiya’s Statement ]