Freedom to choose: responding to change in a mobile environment among Aboriginal People of Lockhart River, Cape York Peninsula, Australia

Thompson, David (2013). Freedom to choose: responding to change in a mobile environment among Aboriginal People of Lockhart River, Cape York Peninsula, Australia PhD Thesis, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland.

       
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Author Thompson, David
Thesis Title Freedom to choose: responding to change in a mobile environment among Aboriginal People of Lockhart River, Cape York Peninsula, Australia
School, Centre or Institute School of Social Science
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2013
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor David Trigger
Athol Chase
Bruce Rigsby
Total pages 287
Total colour pages 5
Total black and white pages 282
Language eng
Subjects 1601 Anthropology
Formatted abstract
In this thesis I focus on the change and continuity occurring in the cultural life of the Aboriginal people of Lockhart River, Cape York Peninsula (CYP), including the diaspora of family members in the city of Cairns. This wide geographic network of people is enabled by increased mobility through access to modern technologies such as vehicles and mobile phones, and improved roads and air access. In examining the enduring features of Aboriginal cultural life, and the ready adoption of technological conveniences and other mainstream influences, I conclude that a dual pattern of change exists, i.e. people are open to change in the area of goods and services that ‘make life easy’ or interesting, and people are resistant to change in the area of social structure and customary behaviours and obligations.

I take a dynamic view of ‘culture’ and outline the historical background of the Lockhart River region in order to demonstrate that modernising change has been an ongoing experience of the Aboriginal people as the new has intruded upon them in a variety of ways. Acceptance, accommodations and resistance to change are noted in my research and case studies. This is followed by a review of researches, both international and Australian, which reveal commonalities of Indigenous life experience. The review includes some Australian research that has focused previously on the study region and the policies that are impacting on the Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal communities.

I detail case studies of people who live in the bush township of Lockhart River and who frequently transit to the city of Cairns for a variety of short-term reasons and then return, as well as those have moved to live in Cairns in a variety of social and economic conditions. The case studies include the experience of several people who have orbited away from home for educational and employment purposes and returned to contribute to life in their hometown. They are developing or have developed the skills of objectifying the dual cultural patterns impacting upon them and this has the potential to enhance their leadership. Verbatim extracts from interviews allow their voices to be heard. I review the modernising impact of Government programs and the consideration in Queensland Government policy for respect of Aboriginal culture. The ethnographic research reveals the strength of cultural values and habits in both rural and urban settings and also that modernising influences are appropriated primarily in ways that are adaptive to Aboriginal cultural interests. The thesis is thus a contribution to the literature in anthropology and related disciplines dealing with the complexities and outcomes of colonialism in the lives of an Indigenous group in a post-settler society.

I conclude that the most productive responses for Aboriginal people are through policies that support a bicultural approach to change and enable the choice of a variety of life styles within the bicultural range. The bicultural approach is subtly different to integration as it respects the resistance to change at the cultural core of family solidarity and customary behaviours while being open to adopting mainstream changes in other ways. This bicultural approach needs to be supported by providing the means for Aboriginal people to take advantage of a wide range of choices in their lives through improved education that develops both mainstream and Indigenous knowledge and life skills, and through training and employment that minimise welfare dependency.
Keyword Australia
Aboriginal people
Cape York Peninsula
Lockhart River
Cultural change and continuity
Mobility
Bicultural living
Indigenous modernities

 
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Created: Tue, 18 Feb 2014, 15:39:08 EST by David Thompson on behalf of Scholarly Communication and Digitisation Service