I would like to learn more about the Australian Aborigines
August 18, 2012 4:23 AM   Subscribe

I would like to learn more about the Australian Aborigines

I have been living in the Northern Territory for just over a year now after moving here from New Zealand and I know next to nothing about Australian Aboriginal history and culture.

I would like recommendations for books, documentaries or any other resources to help expand my knowledge. Any recommendations to help me understand the current attitude of white Australians towards the Aborigines would be great too.
posted by poxandplague to Human Relations (11 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Here is a general and fairly superficial overview of Indigenous Australians to get you started.

And a couple of Wikipedia links regarding specific issues arising from the relationship between White Australia and Australian Aborigines:

On native title

On the Stolen Generations
posted by Defying Gravity at 4:47 AM on August 18, 2012

Oh, and this SBS documentary is supposed to be fairly well balanced, though I haven't seen it myself.
posted by Defying Gravity at 4:51 AM on August 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just reread The Fatal Shore and that reminded me of Pemulwuy - who lead the Aboriginal resistance against Phillip and the first fleet.

Pemulwuy The Rainbow Warrior by Eric Wilmot is a really good read
posted by mattoxic at 5:31 AM on August 18, 2012

Yes, watch the First Australians documentary listed above.
posted by MT at 5:33 AM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing First Australians.
posted by smoke at 5:52 AM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some books I have found helpful (none are particularly new, and some contain attitudes or ideas that would now not be considered "correct"):

James Cowan, The Elements of the Aborigine Tradition

A. P. Elkin, The Australian Aborigines (From that ADB link: "His detailed and careful description of a unique way of life in The Australian Aborigines: How to Understand Them (1938) moved hundreds of students some way towards a sympathetic appreciation of Aborigines as fellow human beings. This book, with Aboriginal Men of High Degree (1946), in which his respect for the tribal elders is evident, and the numerous field-work reports in Oceania highlighted Elkin's academic contribution." I have the Doubleday Anchor paperback of the 1954 third edition.)

Bill Harney, Life Among the Aborigines (Harney was no scientist and led a hard, poverty-stricken life, but he knew the aborigines well and cared about them)

Art: Wally Caruana, Aboriginal Art (I may not know much about art, but I know a superb book when I see one)

Language: R.M.W. Dixon, Searching for Aboriginal Languages: Memoirs of a Field Worker (Dixon was one of the founders of Australian linguistics, and his memoir of how he came to appreciate the aborigines and their languages is fascinating and often moving)

A warning: people often recommend Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines, which popularized the term "songlines" among many people (like me) who hadn't been familiar with it. It's wonderfully written, but it's about Chatwin and his fantasies and (often wild) ideas more than it is about the actual aborigines, and it will fill you with misinformation if you read it before you have some prior grasp of the subject.
posted by languagehat at 7:39 AM on August 18, 2012

Sally Morgan's "My Place" re the stolen generation/Aboriginal identity
posted by lifethatihavenotlivedyet at 7:46 AM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fred Myers' *Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self* is a beautiful ethnography that explains without essentializing.

Bruce Chatwin is fiction, plain and simple. Avoid.
posted by spitbull at 2:25 PM on August 18, 2012

I found Tall Man: the death of Doomadgee to be incredibly enlightening, though also incredibly depressing. Especially useful for the 'white people's current views of Aborigines' element you were interested in.

Here's the book's description:

In 2004 on Palm Island, an Aboriginal settlement in the "Deep North" of Australia, a thirty-six-year-old man named Cameron Doomadgee was arrested for swearing at a white police officer. Forty minutes later he was dead in the jailhouse. The police claimed he'd tripped on a step, but his liver was ruptured. The main suspect was Senior Sergeant Christopher Hurley, a charismatic cop with long experience in Aboriginal communities and decorations for his work.

Chloe Hooper was asked to write about the case by the pro bono lawyer who represented Cameron Doomadgee's family. He told her it would take a couple of weeks. She spent three years following Hurley's trail to some of the wildest and most remote parts of Australia, exploring Aboriginal myths and history and the roots of brutal chaos in the Palm Island community. Her stunning account goes to the heart of a struggle for power, revenge, and justice. Told in luminous detail, Tall Man is as urgent as Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and The Executioner's Song. It is the story of two worlds clashing -- and a haunting moral puzzle that no reader will forget.

posted by librarylis at 7:35 PM on August 18, 2012

The movie Rabbit Proof Fence is a fantastic true story of three girls who were apart of the Stolen Generation in Australia. Very very sad but a worthwhile movie that got me interested in exploring more about the Australian Aborigines.
posted by ruhroh at 8:48 PM on August 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

There's also specific Aboriginal media.
Not sure what is specifically available in NT but there is:
National Indigenous Television .
The Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association.
Some radio stations, and the ABC has some specific shows on both Radio and TV (Being Black is one).

There was also a fabulous show called Bush Mechanics that you will probably enjoy. Everyone does.

I have been living in the Northern Territory for just over a year now after moving here from New Zealand ... Any recommendations to help me understand the current attitude of white Australians towards the Aborigines would be great too.

Exactly where you are is probably going to influence what you will see and hear.
For example, some of the 'larger' towns on dole day prior to the Intervention could have exposed you to some of the worst sides of humanity (as happens with excess drinking everywhere). I have no idea what it's like now.

FWIW, my experiences in .AU and .NZ is that, broadly speaking, you're not going to find anywhere near the respect Maori get in NZ from the white population. Here it generally seems to range from disdain to outright hatred, depending on past experiences. Sometimes there are good relationships, mind.

But the Palm Island and Rabbit Proof Fence are probably some good touchstones.
posted by Mezentian at 3:19 AM on August 19, 2012

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