Experiments in self-determination

Experiments in self-determination

Histories of the outstation movement in Australia

Edited by: Nicolas Peterson orcid, Fred Myers

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Outstations, which dramatically increased in numbers in the 1970s, are small, decentralised and relatively permanent communities of kin established by Aboriginal people on land that has social, cultural or economic significance to them. In 2015 they yet again came under attack, this time as an expensive lifestyle choice that can no longer be supported by state governments. Yet outstations are the original, and most striking, manifestation of remote-area Aboriginal people’s aspirations for self-determination, and of the life projects by which they seek, and have sought, autonomy in deciding the meaning of their life independently of projects promoted by the state and market. They are not simply projects of isolation from outside influences, as they have sometimes been characterised, but attempts by people to take control of the course of their lives. In the sometimes acrimonious debates about outstations, the lived experiences, motivations and histories of existing communities are missing. For this reason, we invited a number of anthropological witnesses to the early period in which outstations gained a purchase in remote Australia to provide accounts of what these communities were like, and what their residents’ aspirations and experiences were. Our hope is that these closer-to-the-ground accounts provide insight into, and understanding of, what Indigenous aspirations were in the establishment and organisation of these communities.

This volume will be a great addition not only to the origins and history of outstations, but in light of the closing of over 100 Aboriginal communities in Western Australia, it should be a required bedtime reading for all politicians across Australia. The contributors do not simply concentrate on the so-called outstations movement of the 1970s, but rather help the reader understand why in the 1930s, ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s, Aboriginal people moved away from cattle stations, missions and settlements to reconstruct their moral compass in settings which made more contemporaneous sense, not only to them but often to the whites who were there as well.

—Professor Francoise Dussart, University of Connecticut.


ISBN (print):
ISBN (online):
Publication date:
Jan 2016
ANU Press
Monographs in Anthropology
Arts & Humanities: History; Social Sciences: Anthropology, Indigenous Studies, Social Policy & Administration

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Experiments in self-determination »

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  1. The origins and history of outstations as Aboriginal life projects (PDF, 180KB) – Fred Myers and Nicolas Peterson doi

History and memory

  1. From Coombes to Coombs: Reflections on the Pitjantjatjara outstation movement (PDF, 555KB) – Bill Edwards doi
  2. Returning to country: The Docker River project (PDF, 1.7MB) – Jeremy Long doi
  3. ‘Shifting’: The Western Arrernte’s outstation movement (PDF, 306KB) – Diane Austin-Broos doi

Western Desert complexities

  1. History, memory and the politics of self-determination at an early outstation (PDF, 588KB) – Fred Myers doi
  2. The interwoven histories of Mount Liebig and Papunya-Luritja (PDF, 281KB) – Sarah Holcombe doi
  3. Out of sight, out of mind, but making the best of it: How outstations have worked in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands (PDF, 253KB) – David Brooks and Vikki Plant doi
  4. Outstations through art: Acrylic painting, self‑determination and the history of the homelands movement in the Pintupi‑Ngaanyatjarra Lands (PDF, 1.8MB) – Peter Thorley doi

Policy visions and their realisation

  1. What was Dr Coombs thinking? Nyirrpi, policy and the future (PDF, 427KB) – Nicolas Peterson doi
  2. Homelands as outstations of public policy (PDF, 576KB) – Kingsley Palmer doi
  3. Challenging simplistic notions of outstations as manifestations of Aboriginal self-determination: Wik strategic engagement and disengagement over the past four decades (PDF, 576KB) – David F. Martin and Bruce F. Martin doi
  4. Peret: A Cape York Peninsula outstation, 1976–1978 (PDF, 714KB) – Peter Sutton doi

Frustrated aspirations

  1. People and policy in the development and destruction of Yagga Yagga outstation, Western Australia (PDF, 623KB) – Scott Cane doi
  2. Imagining Mumeka: Bureaucratic and Kuninjku perspectives (PDF, 670KB) – Jon Altman doi
  3. Thwarted aspirations: The political economy of a Yolngu outstation, 1972 to the present (PDF, 463KB) – Frances Morphy and Howard Morphy doi
  4. A history of Donydji outstation, north-east Arnhem Land (PDF, 738KB) – Neville White doi


‘This book of 16 chapters historicises the outstation movement as the moment when two histories intersected: the history of remote and very remote Aborigines’ ambivalent response to the opportunities and pressures of their colonised condition, and the history of the settler colonists’ ideologies and practices of guardianship.’
—Tim Rowse, Aboriginal History, Volume 40, 2016.

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