Housing Aboriginal culture in North-East Arnhem Land

Fantin, Shaneen Rae. (2003). Housing Aboriginal culture in North-East Arnhem Land PhD Thesis, School of Geography, Planning and Architecture, The University of Queensland.

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Author Fantin, Shaneen Rae.
Thesis Title Housing Aboriginal culture in North-East Arnhem Land
School, Centre or Institute School of Geography, Planning and Architecture
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2003
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Memmott, Paul C.
Williams, Nichola
Bamford, Gregory S.
Total pages 284
Collection year 2003
Language eng
Subjects L
379902 Aboriginal Studies
680101 Housing
Formatted abstract
This thesis argues that by understanding the customary belief systems, social organisation, architecture and learned experiences of an Aboriginal group one can aim to design living environments, with Aboriginal participation and direction, which respond to and support preferred Aboriginal living practices. A set of analyses is undertaken of a selection of cultural imperatives, of the Yolηu people at the settlements of Ramingining and Galiwin'ku in northeast Arnhem Land, including kinship and avoidance relationships, beliefs in sorcery, and mortuary practices. The analyses combine techniques from architecture, anthropology and environmental psychology (see methodology in chapter 2) and result in an understanding of the architectural design implications of each cultural imperative. The final chapter demonstrates the layers, parallels and contradictions involved in considering Yolηu cultural imperatives in architectural design and proposes an approach to designing in cross-cultural environments.

In north-east Arnhem Land, the socialisation and learned experiences, or culture, of Yolηu is very different from that of east-coast urban dwelling Euro-Australians. YOIQU have belief systems, living patterns, social institutions and architectural histories that reflect their relationship with the land, but which co-exist with non-indigenous influences. With some exceptions, the built environments in which YOIQU live and work on an everyday basis do not acknowledge their culture, and have largely been designed and constructed without their input or control.

In chapter 1, it is argued that the provision of public housing to Aboriginal settlements has contributed to the rapid social change of Yolηu environments, and that housing has been used as a vehicle for the assimilation and integration of Aboriginal Australians into mainstream non-indigenous society. The chapter demonstrates how housing can create stress for Yolηu by inhibiting the practice of particular cultural imperatives. To cope in imposed and unfamiliar environments Yolηu adjust and alter their behaviour according to the needs of each context and situation; however, some situations are difficult to adjust to and create anxiety in people.

Chapters 3 and 4 contain descriptions of Yolηu social institutions, cosmology, traditional and contemporary living patterns, and vernacular architecture. Chapter 5 contains post-colonial histories of settlement and housing development at Ramingining and Galiwin'ku and includes analyses on household compositions, crowding and privacy in contemporary Yolηu houses. Chapters three through five create a picture of Yolηu life that focuses on understanding the relationships between Yolηu social identity, customary living practices and architecture.

A detailed analysis of Yolηu avoidance behaviour is made in chapter 6. Yolηu avoidance behaviour is comprised of a set of culturally prescribed behaviours governing relations among a variety of kin that manifest in physical and oral restraint. Avoidance law is of prime importance to YOIQU in the control of living environments. When housing and other buildings are not designed to consider avoidance relationships they can unintentionally contribute to shame, aggression and violence between Yolηu. Findings from environmental psychology, anthropology and architecture are integrated into a set of descriptive parameters for considering avoidance behaviour in the design of living environments. This chapter demonstrates the importance of understanding those aspects of culture which seem implicit in people's actions and are best understood through participation rather than observation. The findings of chapter 6 extend the anthropological knowledge of Aboriginal avoidance behaviour in Arnhem Land.

Avoidance law is only one aspect of Yolηu culture that requires understanding if built environments are to be developed, in partnership with Yolηu people, which respond to their needs and desires. However, any attempt to analyse YOIQU avoidance behaviour in isolation would be limited without a broader undertaking of its social context and function. Avoidance law is inherent in Yolηu kinship and the maintenance of personal and spatial privacy.

Outlined in chapter 7 are other Yolηu cultural imperatives which have implications in housing design and settlement planning, such as YOIQU beliefs in sorcery and malevolent spirits, the ramifications of Yolηu land ownership for community settlement planning, and YOIQU mortuary practices and their relationship to the use of contemporary housing. Together, the findings of chapters 6 and 7 demonstrate the complex and often contradictory design requirements of different cultural beliefs and practices.

The concluding chapter of the thesis argues that if architects are to develop appropriate strategies for designing with YOIQU, or with other Aboriginal Australians, they need to use a cross-cultural design model to transform remote-area Aboriginal housing provision from inappropriate and unresponsive to supportive and considerate of Aboriginal living practices. Such a model would promote Aboriginal participation and control of the design process, understanding of the spatial implications of Aboriginal beliefs, practices and living patterns, and facilitate the inclusion of Aboriginal social identity into design outcomes.

Keyword Aboriginal Australians -- Northern Territory -- Arnhem Land -- Dwellings
Aboriginal Australians -- Northern Territory -- Arnhem Land -- Housing
Aboriginal Australians -- Northern Territory -- Arnhem Land -- Social life and customs
Housing -- Cross-cultural studies

Document type: Thesis
Collection: UQ Theses (RHD) - UQ staff and students only
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Created: Fri, 24 Aug 2007, 18:08:46 EST