Australian Indigenous Studies

Research and Practice

by Terry Moore (Author) Carol Pybus (Author) Mitchell Rolls (Author) David Moltow (Author)
©2017 Textbook VI, 286 Pages


This book provides a guide to research and teaching in an Australian Indigenous Studies that is oriented toward the diverse, contemporary world. Central to this perspective is a sensibility to the intercultural complexity of that world – particularly its Indigenous component – and an awareness of the interactional capabilities that the Indigenous (and others) need to successfully negotiate it. These capabilities are important for facilitating Indigenous peoples’ goal of equality as citizens and recognition as Indigenous, a goal which this book seeks to address.
The Indigenous Studies presented in this book rejects as unproductive the orientation of orthodox Indigenous Studies, which promulgates the retention of old cultures, positive stereotypes, binary oppositions and false certainties. It adopts a more dialogical and process-oriented approach that highlights interactions and relationships and leads to the recognition of cultural and identity multiplicity, intersection and ambiguous difference.
The book covers key topics such as ancestral cultures, colonisation and its impacts, identity politics, interculturality, intersectionality, structural marginalisation, unit development and teaching complexity. The focus of the book is the development of a sensibility that can shape readers’ perceptions, decisions and actions in the future and guide teachers in their negotiation of intercultural classroom relationships.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Emerging critique of orthodox Indigenous Studies
  • An intercultural Indigenous Studies: Key principles
  • Intercultural Indigenous Studies: Aims
  • The structure of the book
  • Concluding remarks
  • References
  • Chapter 1: Orthodox Indigenous Studies
  • Introduction
  • Education to the mid-twentieth century
  • The self-determination era (1970s–2000s)
  • Accommodation of Indigenous needs in education
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  • The culture of ‘the culture way’
  • Contemporary Indigenous Studies
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Part I: Layered Aboriginalities
  • Chapter 2: Ancestral Aboriginalities
  • Introduction
  • Precolonial cultures, societies and identities
  • The people of the deserts
  • Economy/Technology
  • Social and political organisation
  • Spirituality/the Dreaming/the Law
  • The riverine people of the south-east
  • Spirituality/the Dreaming
  • The saltwater people of the north
  • Spirituality/the Dreaming/the Law
  • Social and political structure
  • Resource management and technology
  • Macrozamia nut preparation
  • Dugong hunting
  • Commonalities and differences
  • The Tasmanians
  • Human universals
  • References
  • Chapter 3: Colonial Aboriginality
  • Introduction
  • The revisionist interpretation of colonial and early national history
  • The moving frontier (1800s–1930s)
  • The protection era (c.1860s–1890s)
  • Coercive segregation (late 1890s into the twentieth century)
  • Assimilation (1930s–1960s)
  • A more nuanced account of the history, Aboriginal agency and its impacts
  • Implications of this interpretation
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 4: Postcolonial Aboriginalities
  • Introduction
  • The rights and self-determination period (1970s–2000s)
  • The dialogic construction of hyperreal Aboriginality
  • The dissonant everyday
  • The overlay of the ancestral and colonial, and contemporary lived realities
  • Contemporary layered Aboriginality
  • Problematic consequences of the hyperreal/everyday disjuncture
  • Conclusion: Implications for Indigenous Studies
  • References
  • Chapter 5: Local Aboriginality
  • Introduction
  • The Tasmanians
  • Ancestral Aboriginality in Tasmania
  • Colonial Aboriginality
  • Postcolonial Aboriginality
  • The more complex lived reality
  • Remote Aboriginalities
  • Critical cultural literacy: Distinguishing local Indigeneity
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Part II: A culturally informed Indigenous Studies
  • Chapter 6: The national Indigenous Studies curriculum and pedagogy
  • Introduction
  • The national curriculum
  • National teaching standards
  • Teaching Indigenous Studies
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 7: Indigenous Studies learning sequences
  • Introduction
  • Sample units
  • Developing Indigenous Studies units
  • The generative topic
  • Orienting to the community and class context
  • Intended learning outcomes and key understandings
  • Links to curriculum areas
  • Performances of understanding
  • Formative assessment
  • Lesson plans and pedagogy
  • Critical evaluation and refinement of popular resources
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Part III: An intercultural Indigenous Studies
  • Chapter 8: Indigenous bothness or rooted cosmopolitanism
  • Introduction
  • Culture and selfhood as emergent from intercultural interaction
  • Individual intersectionality and bothness
  • Implications of Indigenous bothness
  • An intercultural Indigenous Studies
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 9: Negotiating interculturality and intersectionality
  • Introduction
  • Summary: Indigenous bothness
  • Indigenous peoples’ negotiation of bothness
  • The relationship between teacher and student, family and community
  • Studies of Indigenous interculturality
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 10: Marginalising and privileging structures
  • Introduction
  • Normative Whiteness: The first structured marginalisation
  • Normative Aboriginality: The second structured marginalisation
  • Other marginalisations
  • An anti-oppressive Indigenous Studies
  • Critical studies of Whiteness
  • Critical studies of Indigeneity
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 11: An intercultural Indigenous Studies
  • Introduction
  • A dialectical or relational Indigenous Studies
  • Education for the Other
  • Education about the Other
  • Education critical of privileging and Othering
  • Learning from the Other
  • Seeing opportunities for dialectical/intercultural Indigenous Studies
  • Meeting the challenges of intercultural Indigenous Studies
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 12: Ethics and the contentions of Indigenous Studies
  • Introduction
  • The general context: What does it mean to be ‘ethical?’
  • Ethical questions and moral agents
  • Ethics as reasonableness: Intellectual attributes
  • References
  • Chapter 13: Tertiary Indigenous Studies: Disciplinary integrity versus the ‘feel good’ factor
  • References
  • Index

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Programs of Australian Indigenous Studies have existed since the 1960s, when they were known as ‘Aboriginal Studies’ and provided for government officers preparing to work in remote Aboriginal communities. They have been institutionalised in the self-determination era and more recently in the mandated national school curriculum (as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and teaching standards). They are accompanied by many programs of cultural awareness, safety and/or competence known by names such as ‘Come Walk With Us’ and ‘Once Were Warriors’, delivered across the spectrum of health, education, welfare, justice and policing.

With few exceptions, orthodox programs of Indigenous Studies (and cultural competence) in schools, colleges and universities and elsewhere aim to build participants’ knowledge of pre-contact culture and colonial violence and its intergenerational legacy, and equip participants to practice in ways that are more culturally sensitive, appropriate and/or safe for their Indigenous students. This is expected to mean that the services they provide are more amenable and thus effective for those clients. In schooling, Indigenous Studies is part of wider attempts to better engage Indigenous students through refinements to administration, staffing, curriculum and teaching methods that reduce their ethnocentric and class-based biases, and make education more accommodating of different social and cultural backgrounds. It is expected that Indigenous students will as a result be more successful in gaining standard outcomes.

Underpinning these programs have been ‘capital C’ notions of culture1 that mythicise pre-contact culture as a distinct, internally coherent entity handed down unchanged over thousands of years, including over ← 1 | 2 → the long cultural ‘interface’ with non-Indigenous people in the Torres Strait2 and elsewhere. As well, precontact life is romanticised as ordered, self-determined, peaceable, in tune with the land and spiritually rich. The valorisation extends to a certain learning style, often compared favourably with modern schooling insofar as it is holistic, experiential and relationship-based. As with respect to other aspects of their ‘generalised Indigeneity’3 programs represent this as characteristic of all Aboriginal and Islander people and students.

This representation of Aboriginality (or Indigeneity)4 is realised in part by its juxtaposition to an equally stereotypical and largely negative representation of the colonisers and colonial period and, indeed, Whiteness more broadly and the postcolonial period. The colonial era is characterised as one of invasion, violent dispossession, and domination and degradation of the indigenes. The relationships of the cattle industry, for instance, are simply exploitative, with the indigenes abject victims. This partial representation is the same as contemporary mainstream culture, glossed as ‘Whiteness’. Postcolonial White Australia has, for instance, failed to acknowledge that history and ameliorate its intergenerational impacts, which manifest in poor health, education, employment and imprisonment. ← 2 | 3 →

This constitutes the bare bones of what is in governmental terms a hegemonic Aboriginality,5 which is developed further in Chapter 1. It has been thus in the postcolonial attempt to deconstruct the long Anglo hegemony and contribute to Indigenous recovery and advancement. Commonly, Indigenous Studies programs have sought to develop students’ positive attitudes towards Indigenous people and culture as a counter to the inferiorisation of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and continuing negative popular representations. It has sought to enhance Indigenous peoples’ self-esteem and thus their capacity to engage with the rest of Australia. On both counts – curriculum for non-Indigenous students, and pedagogy for Indigenous students – the goal of Indigenous Studies programs has been to contribute to the development of a society inclusive of Aboriginal and Islander people as equal citizens without, as was the case into the mid-twentieth century, the requirement that they abandon their cultural heritage as the price of that inclusion.

Emerging critique of orthodox Indigenous Studies

On the face of it, the general attempt to counter discrimination is reasonable. It has been important to open up the masculinist White history of Australia to other interpretations, as it has been to acknowledge and work to reduce ethnocentric structural marginalisation. It has also been important to better accommodate minority groups within a cohesive national society without demanding that they assimilate. The attempt to develop among teachers receptive attitudes towards Indigenous people, and their ability to teach in culturally sensitive ways, has had some educational success. Now, for instance, greater numbers of Indigenous students attend pre-school ← 3 | 4 → and go on to tertiary education, and in some sectors and places outcomes are improving. But the attempt in orthodox programs is conceptually limited, far too blunt an instrument to succeed in its aims. It is generic and in that mis-directed with respect to many Indigenous groups and people. It is now part of the problem, insofar as it misleads practitioners, as it did the ‘so-called expert’ who suggested to Sydney-based Torres Strait Islander Martin Nakata, that because his children have mostly grown up in urban Sydney, their self-esteem might be helped if they were to ‘undertake a bush skills course’.6 Moreover, where the Aboriginalist discourse was once refreshingly counter-hegemonic, it has now itself become hegemonic, and resistant to critique and refinement, even where evidence is clearly pointing to the need for the latter.

The culture on which such studies are predicated does not accurately represent any particular group’s lived culture. It is too neatly bounded and radically different from an equally reified White Australian culture. The depiction of Indigenous people as victims of colonisation and racism is at best partial. And each Indigenous person is assumed to be a clone of that monolithic culture, in both cultural and victim senses. As we develop over the course of early chapters, Aboriginal and Islander cultures have always been, and are now, locally diverse and changing. Now, they range from the very remote communities where much ancestral language, culture and social structure remains (though there too, no community is a closed social system), to urban cultures that are so different from those of the very remote that the latter do not recognise the former as Aborigines. Indigenous cultures around the country are constantly changing through contact with each other, the national community and the wider world.

The culture portrayed routinely ignores the structured violence of a male gerontocracy that maintained a very strict social order.7 Aborigines ← 4 | 5 → and Islanders were agentic in colonial times and have been in postcolonial times. They negotiated their colonial situations as best they could, often with great creativity, taking what advantage they could of the opportunities provided by the colonisers’ presence. On the other side, many settlers themselves had little agency, and many others were deeply troubled by the colonising process. Moreover, culture is not laid down in tablets of stone. Among other drivers, it is symbolically produced or constructed in the present for diverse reasons. Thus, for instance, where ancestral traditions have died out in Tasmania and Victoria, Aborigines have looked inter-state for inspiration, such as by embracing the digeridoo, which is not a traditional instrument. These critiques are bolstered by the evident reality that Indigenous individuals are immersed in, and affiliate with, multiple cultures that intersect with the Indigenous, and move fluidly between the identities or subject positions associated with them. Their difference from other Australians is ambiguous, not radical. They are human, as culturally, socially and subjectively complex and contradictory as every other.

As a result of their long institutionalisation however, orthodox understandings have come to be taken for granted, including by many Indigenous people, and they contribute to the growth among sectors of the Indigenous population (some more than others) of a fragile and disabling sense of superiority, victimhood and expectation of support. Unintentionally, the orthodox understandings now contribute to the marginalising effects of structural and individual racism and the like.8 Moreover, orthodox programs of Indigenous Studies are based on the not well-founded assumption that greater knowledge will lead to greater sensitivity and capacity to communicate with Indigenous people. The assumption is little supported by research. In the authors’ experience, many students enjoy orthodox programs, but they are even then counter-productive, in part because they deal in myth, unitary power and simple binaries that, along with the mandatory nature of the new national Indigenous Studies curriculum, alienates many students. In fact, insofar as they deal in myth, the influence of better knowledge is simply not known. ← 5 | 6 →

An intercultural Indigenous Studies: Key principles

The Indigenous Studies developed in this book retains the orthodox concern to build settler-Australians’ appreciation of Indigenous culture, history, people and perspectives, and to prepare practitioners – particularly teachers – for their dealings with Indigenous people. It accepts the partial truth of the accounts of pre-contact culture and colonial dispossession and its ongoing impacts, and the continuing reality of racial discrimination. Identity-based and abstracted structuralist accounts are important to an understanding of Indigenous circumstances, but limited. This Indigenous Studies offers a more textured vision of Indigenous ‘culture’, including some of what W. E. B. Du Bois9 called ‘the thousand and one little actions which go to make up life … [that] are most essential to any clear conception of the group life taken as a whole’.

The incorporation of everyday realities makes this Indigenous Studies different from most programs. We understand Aboriginality and Islanderness to be neither singular, fixed nor internally homogeneous but as emergent from interaction with other Indigenous groups, settler Australia and now the world. We see cultural multiplicity, heterogeneity, change and ambiguous difference from mainstream Australian culture(s). Though now become a reality in its own right, the generic Aboriginality has been imagined into being, and overlays the ancestral and lived in a thoroughly complex amalgam. The cultural make-up of each regional Indigenous group is knowable in advance only in a very generalised sense. Colonial history includes Indigenous resistance, accommodation, negotiation and opportunism in different measure around the country, and this adds to today’s socio-cultural complexity. And Indigenous people have been successfully agentic in the postcolonial era, powerfully leveraging discursive power vis-à-vis the state in a politics of identity.

We also understand Indigenous people as not solely Aborigines or Islanders, but as individuals who are also classed, gendered, sexed and more. ← 6 | 7 → They are as deeply intersected as all others, and enjoy multiple affiliations alongside and beyond the Aboriginal or Islander. Their several component ‘selves’ vary in salience according to context, but they are always ‘both’: simultaneously the same as and different from other Aborigines or Islanders, and the same as and different from other Australians. This ‘bothness’ is true in varying degree around the country. It is something that cannot be known in advance but must be determined by the practitioner in situ.

The recognition of relationality, diversity, change and individuality leads us to regard cultural knowledge as a base only. Accordingly, we focus on the dialogical processes by which insiders and outsiders together constitute local cultures and nuance. In addition, we recognise the fact of Australia’s national superdiversity, and Indigenous Australians’ part in it. They are one cultural minority among many, and are integrating into and diversifying within the wider community, even as they seek to distinguish themselves from that community. As all others, they negotiate the everyday condition of multiplicity, fluidity and simultaneous bothness. By virtue of this, the recognition of Indigenous peoples’ interculturality and intersected individuality is a recognition of that of all Australians. Notwithstanding difference and particularity, there is much we all share. This makes intercultural Indigenous Studies relevant to all Australians: important for all citizens and critical for the Indigenous, since (other than via structural change) their capacity to live equal and different lives is utterly dependent on their own ability to negotiate their intercultural bothness vis-à-vis other Australians. In this, Indigenous Studies is truly Australian Studies.

Intercultural Indigenous Studies: Aims

The aims of the Indigenous Studies developed here accord with those of the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority’s (ACARA) national curriculum10 and the professional standards for teachers developed by ← 7 | 8 → the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL).11 Respectively, these documents oblige teachers to include Indigenous content in their teaching and to teach in ways that enhance the effectiveness of schooling for Indigenous students. AITSL Standard 1.4 expects that teachers will have ‘strategies for teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students’, and 2.4 that teachers will ‘understand and respect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to promote [in their teaching] reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians’. Thus, this Indigenous Studies aims firstly to equip school teachers and university lecturers with the knowledge, understandings and skills to integrate Indigenous cultures, histories and perspectives in their teaching. It aims, too, to equip trainee teachers with the knowledge, understandings and skills to teach Indigenous students in ways that best meet their learning needs and make the most of their learning strengths.12 The aim from both directions is to help them to learn effectively.

Intercultural Indigenous Studies is shaped by the principles outlined above, and its aims complement and extend those of the national curriculum. It aims to contribute to the development of a teaching workforce, and through their work a citizenry that has a highly developed intercultural sensibility and set of competencies. It wants to contribute to the national multicultural project of including all cultural minorities (including the Indigenous) within the nation as equals, as normal, with their cultural heritage recognised and accommodated. It wants to contribute to the capacity of those in the wider community to accept and include different others as equals, and the capacity of those others to include themselves in wider social life to the extent they wish. That is, the end goal of intercultural Indigenous Studies is to contribute to the development of an interculturally inclusive Australian citizenry. ← 8 | 9 →

This aim is, as mentioned, increasingly relevant to settler-Australian students and critical to Indigenous students. Martin Nakata has commented13 to this effect about his children, who he says most need

an understanding of the political nature of their position [which] requires both the language and the knowledge of how that positioning is effected in the mainstream world. They also need a way of maintaining themselves in the face of it. They also need to work against the knowledge system that continues to hold them in the invidious position that it has produced for them.

Though we argue that the Indigenous world also contributes to their difficult positioning, the critical capacities to which Nakata alludes14 are precisely what Indigenous Studies must contribute to. The same envisaged end point is illustrated in Osborne and Guenter’s description15 of the Yankunytjatjara leader Yami Lester’s successes, which include ‘achieving land rights for the APY (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara) lands in 1981 and the Uluru Kata Tjuta handback in 1985’, among others. Osborne and Guenter say that these successes were ‘borne out of an ability to broker the two worlds of apparent ontological and epistemological impasse’. He had the intercultural or ‘both ways’ brokering capabilities that are fundamental – in the city and the bush – to Indigenous advancement, and that we promote through intercultural Indigenous Studies.

Finally, in a context in which inadequate knowledge, contested history and ideological certainty prevail, intercultural Indigenous Studies aims to develop a certain sensibility or disposition. Attitude is primary. What teachers think is more important than what they do, in the sense that ‘what they think is what drives, broadly, their decision making as well ← 9 | 10 → as their everyday behaviour towards [their] students’.16 The sensibility we seek is an openness to complexity, ambiguity, paradox and nuance, and a cultural humility. It is to recognise that power is fluid and multi-directional, to reject thinking in ‘either/or’ dichotomous terms in favour of ‘not only but also’ terms. It is a disposition to acknowledge one’s cultural novice status, and commitment to search for mutually respectful relationships and interactions. The sensibility demands that teachers know but look past category and stereotype to see the individual. It implies a critical awareness of their own cultural conditioning, that of others (as far as possible), and a readiness to learn from the commonalities, differences and indeterminacies that arise. For those familiar with the term, it is to be disposed to a ‘both ways’ approach and more, since it is to resist the finiteness of that term in favour of infinite multi-directionality of influence, communication and meaning. It is a disposition to intersectionality. The concept here will become clearer over the course of the book, and we return to it more specifically in Chapter 11.

We aim to sensitise teachers – and through them their students into the future – to this sensibility. As citizens of a superdiverse society, this is what non-Indigenous Australians need, along with the ability to assist Indigenous people in their negotiation of multiple worlds as citizens. On the basis of this sensibility and its associated competencies, we look to ‘build bridges and find syntheses’ by, as Curchin17 says of Noel Pearson, ‘employ[ing] a calming register, taking a long-term view and emphasising the complexity of both problems and solutions’. This building of sensibility and bridges, and teachers’ similar attitude and abilities, and thence their students’ approaches into the future, is the intent of the book. ← 10 | 11 →

The structure of the book

We recognise that an intercultural Indigenous Studies is complex and difficult to realise, but think that it is unavoidably so, if it is to contribute to a sustainably superdiverse Australia via an interculturally aware citizenry and a critically empowered Indigenous component of that citizenry. We develop this conception of Indigenous Studies carefully, via two levels of refinement of orthodox Indigenous Studies, organised into three parts. We describe orthodox Indigenous Studies in Chapter 1.


VI, 286
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (February)
Australian Indigenous Studies intercultural sensibility and capability negotiation of difference
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2017. VI, 286 pp.

Biographical notes

Terry Moore (Author) Carol Pybus (Author) Mitchell Rolls (Author) David Moltow (Author)

Terry Moore has had a long involvement in remote Indigenous education as a teacher, curriculum developer, teacher trainer and principal. He has taught tertiary Aboriginal Studies and Indigenous cultural awareness at the University of Tasmania (UTAS) and Monash University and is currently researching remote Indigenous higher education pathways at Charles Darwin University. Carol Pybus has coordinated and taught the UTAS first-year Aboriginal Studies program for eighteen years. Mitchell Rolls is a cultural anthropologist, senior lecturer and Head of the Discipline of Aboriginal Studies at UTAS. David Moltow is a moral philosopher, specialising in political philosophy. He teaches philosophy and ethics in the UTAS Faculty of Education.


Title: Australian Indigenous Studies
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294 pages