Indigenous Cultures in Contemporary Australia: A Wiradjuri Case Study

Yalmambirra

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Abstract

Any understanding of Indigenous history, and by association, Wiradjuri history, must take into account that this history dates back some 120,000 years, making them part of the oldest living cultures in the world. Wiradjuri country covers two thirds of New South Wales and parts of the state of Victoria. Prior to invasion, Wiradjuri had control over their lives, but this control was to come to an abrupt end with the genocide that followed.

Invasion was declared on the basis of unilateral possession with the land being defined as terra nullius, or land belonging to no-one. Although Britain had taken over the land on the basis of 'first discovery and settlement', violence ensued because the Wiradjuri peoples resisted invasion of their lands. Different legislation and policies were drafted in order to subjugate and control the everyday lives of Wiradjuri peoples, and these Acts and policies dictated who Wiradjuri peoples were, what they could and could not do, where they could go
and how they were to exist alongside the dominant society.

From the very first point of contact, ‘others’ have looked at and given opinions on Wiradjuri peoples, cultures and country. Social scientists examined Wiradjuri peoples and cultures, with an enormous amount of published material here in Australia and abroad. In the majority of instances these opinions have not been kind. Classed as either non-human or sub-human, Wiradjuri peoples and their respective cultures, under the guise of ‘settlement’, have had their lives completely turned upside down. This published material, collectively forms a narrative reflecting the authors’ perspectives or cultural viewpoint on Wiradjuri people. This thesis will explore that narrative and how it relates to other narratives utilised in the research; contemporary reactionary narrative and the contemporary decolonising narrative.

The historical published narratives had repeatedly stated that Wiradjuri cultures were either lost or dead. These narratives have been detrimental to Wiradjuri peoples and cultures and in the minds of many in the broader Australian public, these narratives are taken as the ‘truth’ with no thought given to what Wiradjuri peoples have to say about themselves. The mentality of some implies that those Wiradjuri peoples that live in more urban areas are not ‘true’ Wiradjuri peoples, that their cultures have long since been forgotten or lost, therefore Wiradjuri peoples have no cultural identity, no connection to country, and therefore are not the ‘real’ thing.

In contemporary Australia, Indigenous peoples and by association, Wiradjuri, are still controlled by colonial legislation and policies that in turn control their identity, their right to self-determination and their right to social justice, and in contemporary Australia, there are those that still cling to a colonial mentality and question the authenticity and identity of Wiradjuri. The public discourses that emanate from so-called historians and reactionaries through public forums such as the popular media for example, still try to undermine the continuity of Wiradjuri peoples and cultures.

This thesis provides a platform from where the research participants can give ‘voice’ to their thoughts, ideas and concerns on the issues of identity and authenticity. In giving this voice, the research participants are actively participating in a process of decolonisation whereby the contemporary decolonisation narrative provides alternative viewpoints of history. The data
from this thesis highlights that the battles for recognition and authenticity as Wiradjuri will be hard fought battles with the victors on one side and the vanquished on the other, with various ‘others’ choosing which side to support. This thesis also highlights how pathways to real selfdetermination and social justice will be very hard pathways to tread, but in the minds of the research participants, they are pathways that must be taken by all Wiradjuri peoples, for there is a deep-rooted belief among them, that in time, the unwanted elements that exist in their lives in contemporary Australia (reactionaries and racists for example), will be long gone, whilst Wiradjuri peoples and cultures will still be here; alive and well.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Thwaites, Rik, Principal Supervisor
Award date01 Jan 2013
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publisher
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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