The local road to recovery

Aboriginal Art Directory | 18.07.09

Author: Nicholas Rothwell

Various paradoxes flow from the strange configuration of divergent interests in the Territory. Traditional community leaders and those close to the cultural heart of remote Aboriginal societies tend to have quite strong biases in favour of a degree of modernisation and integration into market economic structures, while preferring a sharp boundary between their own realm of law, language and culture and the Western world. But the leaders of old representative bodies and their advisers, whose influence is tied to the preservation of the status quo, often hold opposite positions.

Thus many traditional leaders welcome the breaking of the welfare trap and yearn for large projects that offer prospects of sustainable employment, even as they oppose excess commercial development of the Aboriginal art sector and, secure in their own languages, oppose plans to deliver bilingual education. In the long-dominant "progressive" establishment that comments on indigenous affairs, the view is almost the reverse.

How, though, for the federal government, still very much the post-colonial power in the north, to oversee the successful transformation of a broken system? The intervention, in its first two years, has been a one-size-fits-all affair; its natural evolution would be into a range of local regimes, with calibrated degrees of social control and specifically tailored economic projects for different areas.

Traditional Aboriginal power structures and local indigenous councils, rather than old regional bodies dominated by partisan networks, are the way ahead for a Prime Minister who understands the powerlessness of today's remote Aboriginal world, and who is on record as saying that "everything we've tried in the past hasn't worked".


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