J. S Mill’s self enhancing individual ‘who saves for himself and herself and their direct biological family members’ is everywhere today in 2010, quite the contrary to the Aboriginal family tradition ‘based on a sharing and collective decision making structure’.
The draft suggests a body that examines ‘what collective structures within mainstream Australian society lend themselves to the development and enhancement of Aboriginal families ie Rumbalara Football and Netball Club’ (Shepparton, Vic).
Don’t we need something that allows interaction between mainstream Australia and Aboriginal Australia so as preserve the best of the two worlds (and keeps politics at bay)?
“In addition to the governance of Indigenous lands it needs to be recognized that in many spheres of Australian law and society, the way Aboriginal people do business, work in organizations, organize themselves and their families, interact socially and develop their culture is unique and different to mainstream Australian structures. However there are common goals between the mainstream Australian civilization and Aboriginal civilization: prosperity, well being, harmony between people and the environment, good health and safety to name a few.
The problem over much of the history of Australia is that European and other mainstream Australian cultures have confused goals with making Aboriginal people follow the same norms, structures and patterns of living that the mainstream sees as normal or common. Following the terrible effects of the incursion of Europeans on to Aboriginal lands after 1770, an equally devastating series of paternalistic regimes began:
• Aboriginal civilization was assumed to be more primitive than European civilization;
• Aboriginal people and civilization would die out and that dominant European cultural forms would take over;
• Aboriginal people of mixed race were thought to be assimilable into the mainstream society and this resulted in the devastating stolen generation period
• Even after the resilience of Aboriginal culture, languages and structures continue to be discouraged or are thought to be redundant and this regimen has continued on until this day.
Australian contemporary society needs to understand that Aboriginal Australians have many of the same aspirations as mainstream Australians but that there are many dimensions of Aboriginal economy, social life and family that are very different from the mainstream. It is about time that Australia celebrated the difference and understood the strengths of all aspects of Aboriginal cultural life.
In traditional society Aboriginal people do not have one mum and dad. It took a village to raise a child and in many Aboriginal communities that continues to be the case.
One of the reasons why the Rumbalara Football Club is so important to the Yorta Yorta and historical Aboriginal peoples of Shepparton is that it is a mainstream forum in which the young and the old can get together collectively. Too often governments, welfare departments and schools do not understand the nature of Aboriginal family and make rash judgements about what is good for the welfare of a child based upon the European model of a nuclear family.
In contemporary society the Aboriginal family structure has advantages and disadvantages. However one of the fundamental disappointments of the last two hundred years of European civilization is the way in which the monumental amount of anthropological study of Aboriginal families has not informed either policy, understanding or recognition of the nature of Aboriginal families.
For example, in world anthropology the Yolngu family structure is one of the best studied and known kinship systems in the world. Yet if you ask a government welfare organization or a legal representative or a school official dealing with Yolngu people the only thing that matters is the European nuclear family. There needs to be a massive re-adjustment in our thinking and understanding of Aboriginal family beginning with a fundamental re-assessment of the nature of anthropological knowledge. This knowledge should not be used for rarified theoretical debates between academics it needs to inform policy, thinking and our contemporary understanding of Aboriginal society.
The Australian Democrats would like to see a fund established that is run by Aboriginal elders to transform the great corpus of anthropological knowledge into a living breathing knowledge base of Aboriginal traditional culture and family structures. When this is done Australian society will have strong foundation to move forward on a multiplicity of Indigenous policy fronts.
While the country attempts this rethinking it needs to be understood that the Aboriginal family is a three dimensional structure that involves a template of five generations with a series of layers that cut through vertically and horizontally. The advantage of the Aboriginal family structure is it builds a network of harmony and relationships across regions, states and the nation. When Preston Campbell told the cameras at the recent rugby league Indigenous All Stars versus the NRL game that the Indigenous members of the 20,000 strong crowd were his family, he was not speaking symbolically and he was not exaggerating by much. If any two Indigenous people meet for the first time they can usually trace their family links and common ancestry. There are many dimensions of Aboriginal family that Europeans should be envious of. However there are also major disadvantages of the Aboriginal family structure which put Aboriginal into poor and unequal positions in contemporary society. Most work, social structures and government structures are oriented to J. S Mill’s ‘self enhancing individual’ who saves for himself and herself and their direct biological family members. This anathema to Aboriginal family which is based on a sharing and collective decision making structure. All of the advantages of the large extended family in a bush subsistence economy evaporate in contemporary capitalism. So at minimum new structures and means of interaction between mainstream Australia and Aboriginal Australia need to be created that preserve the best of the two worlds.
This is not something that can be done by government decree. It will be a community by community, interaction by interaction process. The Australian Democrats will establish a national fund to support public, private and cultural institutions interaction with Aboriginal families. This fund will be devoted to ensuring that public, private and social institutions devote the time and resources to understanding and interacting with Aboriginal family structures. The fund will also examine what collective structures within mainstream Australian society lend themselves to the development and enhancement of Aboriginal families ie Rumbalara Football and Netball Club. When these structures are identified the Australian Democrats will work for their funding and replication nationwide.”