Frances Morphy

Frances Morphy is a Fellow at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR) at The Australian National University. Frances Morphy’s research interests include the anthropological demography of Australian Aboriginal populations, population structure and dynamics in remote Aboriginal Australia, and the representation of Aboriginal people in the national census. Frances Morphy is also interested in anthropology and linguistics of the Yolngu-speaking peoples of north east Arnhem Land, and social, cultural and economic aspects of the encapsulation of Aboriginal Australians within the Australian state, in particular the homelands movement, land rights and native title, the governance of Aboriginal community organisations, the impact of colonisation on Indigenous social systems and languages, and problems of cross-cultural ‘translation’.

Agency, Contingency and Census Process »

Observations of the 2006 Indigenous Enumeration Strategy in remote Aboriginal Australia

Edited by: Frances Morphy
The Indigenous Enumeration Strategy (IES) of the Australian National Census of Population and Housing has evolved over the years in response to the perceived ‘difference’ of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations. Its defining characteristics are the use of locally recruited, mostly Indigenous collector interviewers, and the administration of a modified collection instrument in discrete Indigenous communities, mostly in remote Australia. The research reported here is unique. The authors, with the assistance of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, were able to follow the workings of the IES in the 2006 Census from the design of the collection instrument to the training of temporary census field staff at the Northern Territory’s Census Management Unit in Darwin, to the enumeration in four remote locations, through to the processing stage at the Data Processing Centre in Melbourne. This allowed the tracking of data from collection to processing, and an assessment of the effects of information flows on the quality of the data, both as input and output. This study of the enumeration involved four very different locations: a group of small outstation communities (Arnhem Land), a large Aboriginal township (Wadeye), an ‘open’ town with a majority Aboriginal population (Fitzroy Crossing), and the minority Aboriginal population of a major regional centre (Alice Springs). A comparison between these contexts reveals differences that reflect the diversity of remote Aboriginal Australia, but also commonalities that exert a powerful influence on the effectiveness of the IES, in particular very high levels of short-term mobility. The selection of sites also allowed a comparison between the enumeration process in the Northern Territory, where a time-extended rolling count was explicitly planned for, and Western Australia, where a modified form of the standard count had been envisaged. The findings suggest that the IES has reached a point in its development where the injection of ever-increasing resources into essentially the same generic set and structure of activities may be producing diminishing returns. There is a need for a new kind of engagement between the Australian Bureau of Statistics and local government and Indigenous community-sector organisations in remote Australia. The agency and local knowledge of Indigenous people could be harnessed more effectively through an ongoing relationship with such organisations, to better address the complex contingencies confronting the census process in remote Indigenous Australia.

The Social Effects of Native Title »

Recognition, Translation, Coexistence

Edited by: Benjamin R. Smith, Frances Morphy
The papers in this collection reflect on the various social effects of native title. In particular, the authors consider the ways in which the implementation of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cwlth), and the native title process for which this Act legislates, allow for the recognition and translation of Aboriginal law and custom, and facilitate particular kinds of coexistence between Aboriginal title holders and other Australians. In so doing, the authors seek to extend the debate on native title beyond questions of practice and towards an improved understanding of the effects of native title on the social lives of Indigenous Australians and on Australian society more generally. These attempts to grapple with the effects of native title have, in part, been impelled by Indigenous people’s complaints about the Act and the native title process. Since the Act was passed, many Indigenous Australians have become increasingly unhappy with both the strength and forms of recognition afforded to traditional law and custom under the Act, as well as the with socially disruptive effects of the native title process. In particular, as several of the papers in this collection demonstrate, there is widespread discomfort with the transformative effects of recognition within the native title process, effects which can then affect other aspects of Indigenous lives.

The Indigenous Welfare Economy and the CDEP Scheme »

In recent debates about the Indigenous welfare economy, the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme has not been given the attention it deserves. It represents a major adaptation of the Australian welfare system to the particular social and economic circumstances of Indigenous people. Part I of this volume contains overview papers which place the CDEP program in its wider cultural, sociopolitical, and economic contexts. The contributions in Part II address policy and policy-related issues which impact directly, or indirectly, on the structure and function of the CDEP scheme as a whole and of individual CDEP projects. Part III presents research based case-studies of particular CDEP projects in their regional contexts, drawn from the Northern Territory, South Australia, and Victoria. Part IV consists of short case studies, from the perspective of the participants themselves, of a number of CDEP organisations. These case studies provide an important perspective, taking up and providing a grass-roots view of many of the broader policy themes and concerns that are discussed elsewhere in the monograph. The crucial issue, addressed by many of the contributions, is how Indigenous self determination and the rights agenda, which argues for the unique and inherent rights of Indigenous Australians, will sit with (or in opposition to) the ‘mutual obligation’ of the Howard government’s welfare reform. The volume thus represents a contribution to an ongoing and important debate in current Australian social policy.

Making Sense of the Census »

Observations of the 2001 Enumeration in Remote Aboriginal Australia

Special enumeration procedures for Indigenous Australians were introduced in the 1971 Census, and have been a feature of the Australian national census ever since. In 2001, as in previous years, the Indigenous Enumeration Strategy (IES) involved the use of locally recruited, mostly Indigenous, interviewers and the administration of modified forms. This monograph presents the results of the first detailed comparative appraisal of the IES. Three CAEPR researchers observed the 2001 Census enumeration, each in a different remote-area context: Martin at Aurukun, a major Aboriginal township on Cape York Peninsula, Morphy at a small outstation community in the Northern Territory, and Sanders in the town camps of Alice Springs. The Australian Bureau of Statistics facilitated the research by granting the researchers status as official observers. The introductory chapter by John Taylor gives a brief history of the IES and sets the context for the research. The three case-studies form the central chapters, and are followed by a concluding chapter that summarises the findings and recommendations. While each locality had its unique characteristics, the authors found some common problems across the board which lead to general recommendations about the future design of the IES. They advocate a simplification of the enumeration procedure, the abandonment of the ‘two-form’ structure, the focusing of the IES more narrowly on people in ‘traditionally-oriented’ discrete Indigenous communities, and substantial changes in the design and content of any new ‘special Indigenous’ census form.