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Aboriginal History Volume 34, 2010


Edited by Shino Konishi and Maria Nugent

  1. Download this book
  2. First page
  3. Preface
  4. Why didn’t you listen: white noise and black history
  5. Controlling marriages: Friedrich Hagenauer and the betrothal of Indigenous Western Australian women in colonial Victoria
  6. Shamrock Aborigines: the Irish, the Aboriginal Australians and their children
  7. Defining disease, segregating race:Sir Raphael Cilento, Aboriginal health and leprosy management in twentieth century Queensland
  8. Their Darkest Hour: the films and photographs of William Grayden and the history of the ‘Warburton Range controversy’ of 1957
  9. Pamela Faye McGrath and David Brooks
  10. A short history of the 1948 Arnhem Land Expedition
  11. Aboriginal Enterprises: negotiating an urban Aboriginality[1]
  12. ‘It will enlarge the ideas of the natives’: Indigenous Australians and the tour of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh
  13. The etymology of Coober Pedy, South Australia
  14. Book Reviews
  15. Tripping over Feathers: Scenes in the Life of Joy Jananka Wiradjuri Williams, by Peter Read, UWA Publishing, Crawley WA, 2009, ISBN 9781921401350 (pbk), $32.95.
  16. Daisy Bates, Grand Dame of the Desert by Bob Reece, 204 pp, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 2007, ISBN 9780642276544 (pbk), $24.95.
  17. Donald Thomson, the Man and Scholar, edited by Bruce Rigsby and Nicolas Peterson, 269 pp, The Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia with support from Museum Victoria, Canberra, 2005, ISBN 0908290217 (pbk).
  18. Between Indigenous Australia and Europe: John Mawurndjul: Art Histories in Context edited by Claus Volkenandt and Christian Kauffman, 256 pages, 16 colour reproductions, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra and Reimer, Berlin, 2009, ISBN 9780855756666 (pbk), $87.95.
  19. Pemulwuy: The Rainbow Warrior by Eric Willmot, 429 pp, Second Edition, Weldon International, 2010 (first published 1987), ISBN 9780646530796 (pbk).
  20. Arrernte Present, Arrernte Past: Invasion, Violence, and Imagination in Indigenous Central Australia by Diane Austin-Broos, xv + 336 pp, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2009, ISBN 97802260326304 (cloth) $US70.00 ISBN 9780226032641 (paper) $US35.00.
  21. Palm Island: Through a Long Lens by Joanna Watson, xx + 212 pp, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 2010, ISBN 9780855757038, $34.95.
  22. Aboriginal Business: Alliances in a Remote Australian Town, by Kimberly Christen, 304 pp, School for Advanced Research Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico and Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 2009, ISBN 9780855757021 (pbk), $39.95.
  23. Yuendumu Everyday: Contemporary Life in Remote Aboriginal Australia by Yasmine Musharbash, xii + 199 pp, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 2009, ISBN 9780855756611, $39.95.
  24. Dog Ear Cafe: How the Mt Theo Program Beat the Curse of Petrol Sniffing by Andrew Stojanovski, 316 pp, Hybrid Publishers, Melbourne, 2010, ISBN 9781921665066, $34.95.
  25. Murray River Country: an Ecological Dialogue with the Traditional Owners by Jessica K Weir, xvi + 175 pp, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 2010, ISBN 9780855756789, $34.95.
  26. Histories of Kanatha, Seen and Told, Essays and Discourses, 1991–2008 by Georges Sioui, xxviii + 372 pp, University of Ottawa Press, Ottawa, Ontario, 2008, ISBN 9782760306820 (cloth), CAD$48.00.
  27. Fantastic Dreaming: the Archaeology of an Aboriginal Mission by Jane Lydon, 320 pp, AltaMira Press, Maryland USA, 2009, ISBN 9780759111042 (cloth), $49.95.
  28. Inauthentic Archaeologies: Public Uses and Abuses of the Past by Troy Lovata, 168 pp, Left Coast Press, California, 2007, ISBN 9781598740103 (hbk), US$89.00 (hbk), and ISBN 9781598740110 (pbk), US$24.95 (pbk).
  29. Oral History and Public Memories edited by Paula Hamilton and Linda Shopes, xvii + 302 pp, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 2008, illus, ISBNŠ1592131417 (paper), ISBNŠ1592131409 (cloth), US$30.95 (paper), US$81.50 (cloth).
  30. Unlearning the Colonial Cultures of Planning by Libby Porter, 180pp, Ashgate, UK and USA, 2010, ISBN 9780754649885, £55.00.
  31. Taking Assimilation to Heart: Marriages of White Women & Indigenous Men in the United States & Australia, 1887-1937, by Katherine Ellinghaus, 276 pp, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 2006, ISBN 9780803218291 (hbk), US$49.95.
  32. The Last Protector: The Illegal Removal of Aboriginal Children from their Parents in South Australia by Cameron Raynes, xvi + 102 pp incl index, Wakefield Press, Adelaide, SA, 2009, ISBN 9781862548046, $22.95.
  33. Creating White Australia edited by Jane Carey and Claire McLisky, xiii + 229 pp, Sydney University Press, Sydney, 2009, ISBN 9781920899424 (pbk), $35.00.
  34. The Native Title Market by David Ritter, 120 pp, University of Western Australia Press, Crawley, WA, 2009, ISBN 9781921401169 (pbk), $19.95.
  35. Contesting Native Title: From Controversy to Consensus in the Struggle over Indigenous Land Rights by David Ritter, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2009, xxii + 250pp, ISBN 9781742370200 (hbk), $45.00.
  36. Strangers on the Shore: Early Coastal Contacts in Australia edited by Peter Veth, Peter Sutton and Margo Neale, 236 pp, National Museum of Australia Press, Canberra, 2008, ISBN 9781876944636 (pbk), $29.95.
  37. Captain Cook Was Here, by Maria Nugent, 164 pp, Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne, 2009, ISBN 9780521762403 (hbk), $39.95.
  38. Pelletier: the Forgotten Castaway of Cape York by Stephanie Anderson, 370 pp, Melbourne Books, Melbourne, 2009, ISBN 9781877096679 (pbk), $39.95.
  39. Dying Words: Endangered Languages and What They Have to Tell Us by Nicholas Evans, xxii + 287 pp, Wiley-Blackwell, Malden, MA, 2010, ISBN 9780631233060, $37.95.
  40. Contributors
  41. Information for authors
  42. Aboriginal History Monograph Series

Aboriginal Business: Alliances in a Remote Australian Town, by Kimberly Christen, 304 pp, School for Advanced Research Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico and Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 2009, ISBN 9780855757021 (pbk), $39.95.

Anyone who has spent time in an Aboriginal community cannot but notice the great amount of time and energy that Aboriginal people devote to whitefella ‘meeting business’. What is not always apparent, however, is why Aboriginal people are willing to do so. Kimberley Christen’s book provides considerable insight into the significance of such meetings to Warumungu people as part of a broader field of business they conduct in and around the town of Tennant Creek. According to the author, ‘Aboriginal business’, which encompasses a wide range of practices including ceremony, paid work and claims to land and resources, ‘is concerned with continually creating possibilities for the future of one’s kin and the extended networks from which one draws strength and community’ (p. viii). She notes that what sustains much Aboriginal business in the town of Tennant Creek are ‘strategic, meaningful and conditional alliances’ forged among Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal parties within structures of unequal power relations (pp. viii, 28). These alliances are rarely straightforward, and the negotiations surrounding them often involve misunderstandings, contestation and compromise (p. 43). In examining how alliances are made, Christen seeks to throw into relief the ‘politics of indigeneity’ operating in Australia and to illuminate ‘the intricacies of these relations, the rerouting of power, and the agency culled by those who may seem to be firmly in the grip of hegemonic power’ (p. viii). In doing so she tracks alliances involving Warumungu and a range of non-Aboriginal actors including white settlers, Aboriginal organisations, local councils, mining and railroad companies, the Australian Navy and tourists.

This book is based on the author’s doctoral research and collaborative work undertaken with Warumungu at Tennant Creek since 1995. During this period the author helped construct Mukurtu Archive, a digital archive of Warumungu history and culture, and contributed to the development of the Nyinkka Nyunyu Art and Culture Centre. In addition to her work with Warumungu, the author also draws on interviews with staff (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) of organisations and businesses associated with the Tennant Creek region as well as media reports and relevant academic and archival sources.

The body of the book has three major sections, entitled ‘Community Control’, ‘Uneasy Alliances’ and ‘Proper Productions’. Each major section comprises two chapters and an introduction. The sections are preceded by a preliminary chapter which outlines the book’s theoretical framework and central concerns. This chapter has a brief but incisive discussion about the self-determination and reconciliation ‘policies, discourses and practices’ which have shaped Indigenous politics over the past 30 years. This is not a seamless account. Rather, by ranging over different scales and debates the author seeks to capture something of the complex and entangled terrain in which Warumungu alliance-making occurs (p. 6). While some readers may disagree with her position, I found the author’s discussion refreshing in that it is neither negative critique nor its opposite. For example, she notes that while there were inherent problems with self-determination – including that it was ambiguous, was often undermined by governments (particularly in the Northern Territory) and clearly did not overcome Aboriginal disadvantage and suffering – it also resulted in ‘productive versions/visions of Aboriginal communities and political power’ as well as goals yet to be realised (p. 12). Her call to mend former Australian prime minister Howard’s separation of the ‘symbolic’ and ‘practical’ by ‘reorienting practicality around the work of Aboriginal communities, without divisions among social, economic, cultural and political motives and meaning’ (pp. 18–19) underpins the approach taken in the book.

In Section 1 of the book the author focuses on how Warumungu engagement with Aboriginal organisations and the land rights process ‘redefined the political, social, and territorial landscape of relationships in Tennant Creek’ (p. 28). As with other sections, this part of the book is framed by a brief discussion of recent political events – in this case the Howard Government’s ‘intervention’. Against a backdrop of what the author refers to as the latter’s denial ‘of history’s place in current community dynamics’ (p. 35), she asks what community control means in a space characterised as much by interdependent relationships as structural inequalities.

Chapter 2, ‘Country Claims’, discusses significant historical events following white settlement of Warumungu country, culminating in the rise of Aboriginal organisations and land rights. As noted over many years by a range of scholars including Stanner in the mid 1930s, Nash, and Edmunds, the town of Tennant Creek has a troubled history involving settler conflict with the Warumungu traditional owners of the country that led to their dispossession.[1] However, as Edmunds observed, the town is also unusual in the way that its Warumungu and non-Aboriginal residents tried to accommodate their differing interests. While Christen presents little new material on the early settler period and there is overlap with Edmunds, there are also differences. Edmunds’ study is concerned with competing forms of representation and discourse in the late 1980s.[2] In contrast Christen focuses on Warumungu ‘histories of engagement’ and partnerships in order to illuminate new arrangements with and claims to people and country amid shifting national and local agendas.

Given the broad sweep of history Christen covers, the selection of topics she treats in detail is necessarily partial. What surprises me, however, is her lack of discussion here of the forced removal of children of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal descent from Phillip Creek Mission. The latter was the subject of Cubillo v Commonwealth, a case brought before the Federal Court of Australia which involved sisters Kathleen Nappanangka and Eileen Nappanangka, close relatives of Lorna Cubillo who also feature heavily in Christen’s account. I should add that I wrote an anthropological report for the Cubillo case and appeared as an expert witness. In my view the subject warranted Christen’s examination for what it could reveal about conditions of historical ‘intracultural’ engagement and issues of concern which continue not only to resonate but explode in the present. Here I am not just referring to the protection of children, which was an official rationale given for the Howard intervention, but also what happens when people are disempowered. The omission is all the more puzzling considering that the coda to Aboriginal Business addresses Howard’s refusal to apologise to the Stolen Generation and Prime Minister Rudd’s apology to the nation, in which he describes how Lorna Fejo, an age-mate of Lorna Cubillo, was taken from Phillip Creek. However, my comments are not meant to detract from what I otherwise consider to be an insightful and well researched book.

Chapter 3, ‘Managing Mobs’, provides a timely discussion of the rise and roles of the diverse Aboriginal organisations in Tennant Creek ‘as part of a local articulation of Aboriginal power vested in the creation of new nodes of community formation’ (p. 79). The author interweaves academic commentary concerning their genesis and limitations with her own observations of their significance in the daily lives of Aboriginal people. She points out, for example, that not only do Aboriginal organisations seek to fulfil their own mandates, they also provide community development services and the majority of Aboriginal employment in the town (pp. 85, 101). In the light of this discussion she ponders what changes that the Howard Government introduced might mean, including ‘mainstreaming’ and legislation which enables the government to seize organisational property (pp. 105–15). Although there is now a new government in power, the fact that the intervention continues to be implemented renders her considerations highly pertinent.

Section 2, Uneasy Alliances, discusses the signing and significance of an Indigenous Land Use Agreement involving Warumungu Native Title holders in the face of a history of bitter opposition from the Northern Territory government. Chapters 4, ‘Constrained Collaborations’, and 5, ‘Practical Partnerships’, are particularly absorbing in their nuanced coverage of the negotiations and background surrounding post-land claim partnerships. The examples treated involve Warumungu, the mining industry, the Central Land Council, the Australian Navy and railway companies.

The third section of the book is explicitly concerned with the materiality of culture. Comprising chapters 6 and 7, it discusses ‘how Warumungu people are simultaneously preserving, producing and repackaging traditional practices in conjunction with national tourist markets, the regional economy, and local desires to maintain proper productions’ (p. 200). ‘Properness’, observes Christen, is a ‘type of continuity’ in which actions are aligned with ‘but don’t necessarily reproduce – an ideal version of the past’ (p. 203). Chapter 6, ‘Negotiating Networks’, tracks how Warumungu women negotiate concerns about both the ‘properness’ of the cultural production of a CD of Yawalyu Mungamunga dreaming songs and control over what is circulated. Chapter 7, ‘Culture Work’, examines the coming into being of the Nyinkka Nyunyu Art and Culture Centre. As Christen describes, the centre is a collaborative project involving Warumungu as authors of their own cultural representations in a space of intercultural exchange.

Aboriginal Business is an impressive achievement. Although the subject matter is complex and wide-ranging, the volume is well constructed and engagingly written. In analysing practices of alliance-making in Tennant Creek, Christen has succeeded in moving beyond binary representations of Warumungu as either victims or agents, assimilated or autonomous, and of the self-determination era as success or failure. She presents us with a valuable, though not uncritical, snapshot of a range of outcomes and possibilities that can emerge when Aboriginal people are active participants in negotiations concerning their futures. The book is especially relevant at a time when, as Nicholas Rothwell recently noted, a ‘dreadful disconnect between the administered and the administrators is palpable’ in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. This is a legacy of the Commonwealth intervention and changes in Northern Territory local governance structures which have resulted in some positive changes but at the cost of Aboriginal people feeling deeply marginalised and controlled by a burgeoning bureaucracy.[3] Christen’s book Aboriginal Business will be of value to a wide readership, including those interested in Aboriginal politics, applied anthropology, cultural studies, museum studies and Australian history.


Edmunds, Mary 1995, Frontiers: Discourses of Development in Tennant Creek, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra.

Nash, David 1984, ‘The Warumungu’s Reserves, 1892–1962: a case study in dispossession’, Australian Aboriginal Studies 1: 2–16.

Petronella Vaarzon-Morel

Alice Springs

[1] Nash 1984; Edmunds 1995.

[2] Edmunds 1995.

[3] Nicholas Rothwell, ‘Landscape of despondency as bureaucrats rebuild the bush’, The Australian, 30 January 2010.

Aboriginal History Volume 34, 2010

   by Edited by Shino Konishi and Maria Nugent