Critical intervention: an archaeology of modern material culture, graffiti, and government policy in a remote Aboriginal community, Northern Territory, Australia

Critical intervention: an archaeology of modern material culture, graffiti, and government policy in a remote Aboriginal community, Northern Territory, Australia Thesis

College of Humanities, Arts and Social Science

  • Author(s): Ralph, Jordan
  • Published: 2020
  • Publisher: Flinders University
  • Volume: PhD

Abstract: Barunga is an Aboriginal community in Jawoyn Country, in the Northern Territory of Australia. It is home to around 350 people, the vast majority of whom are Aboriginal. The Traditional Owners of the Barunga region have a rich cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible. Despite this resilient connection to country and culture, the community at Barunga is one of many Aboriginal communities subjected to the race-based and punitive government policy known as the Intervention. Designed to bring about change in remote Aboriginal communities, the Intervention has had a number of impacts upon Aboriginal lives. While the political situation in the Northern Territory, and beyond, has been interrogated from other points of view, little research has been conducted from an archaeological point-of-view. In fact, very little research has been conducted with respect to the contemporary entanglement between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians in regard to material culture. While material culture was used as a tool of cultural assimilation during early colonisation, it follows that it still plays a central role in reinforcing colonial attitudes in remote Aboriginal communities. Recent thinking in archaeology speaks to the deeply complex relationship between humans and things, and as such this thesis set out to investigate the situation in Barunga. This thesis explores material culture and graffiti in Barunga, in order to gain nuanced understandings of the ways in which material culture is used in remote communities. A theoretical model developed for this thesis is used in the interpretation of the material culture of Barunga. It can be used to explore the material culture of other communities as well. The model draws upon recent theoretical developments in the area of agency theory, entanglement, materiality and ‘assemblage thought’ to provide the intellectual tools with which material culture in Barunga can be understood as a cultural practice. The model consists of the themes, time and space; resistance and persistence, and memory and affect. The major result of this research is that the use of modern material culture by Aboriginal people in the Barunga community is informed by Aboriginal social and cultural practices, rather than reflecting some kind of assimilation with the dominant external society. Moreover, because the material culture itself is familiar, its use by Aboriginal people is interpreted by the mainstream society within a primarily European epistemology. This has led to government policy which is viewed by Aboriginal people as punitive and which is certainly ineffective, as demonstrated by the successive failure of the Federal government to ‘Close the Gap’ between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal health, education, employment and lifespans.

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Suggested Citation
Ralph, Jordan, 2020, Critical intervention: an archaeology of modern material culture, graffiti, and government policy in a remote Aboriginal community, Northern Territory, Australia, Volume:PhD, Thesis, viewed 02 July 2022, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=26513.

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