Image and identity

Image and identity

In Australia Aboriginal people are hostage, in the main, to images created by non-Aboriginal Australians. The power of a people to say who they are, to define their own identity and to relate their history
is fundamental to their existence. To deny a people their law, languages and the use of their land is a denial of basic human rights (Skutnabb-Kangas and Phillipson, 1995). These fundamentals of civilisation were systematically stripped away from most of the indigenous people of Australia by colonisation. p1

From 1788, which Aboriginal people call the invasion and non- Aboriginal people call British settlement, most representations of Aboriginal people have been produced and controlled by others. This representation has been biased, culturally prescriptive and judged against non-Aboriginal values.

The bias came about because those new arrivals to this continent did not see any positive attributes among the Aboriginal people and believed in their own superiority. There was little, if any, communication between the Indigenous peoples and the newcomers about culture, language and beliefs. Very few people communicated directly with Indigenous Australians using Indigenous languages in the early years. p1

Most Australians have had limited personal exposure to Aboriginal people or to studies which show Aboriginal people in a favourable light. Consequently, attitudes towards Aboriginal people are based on very little knowledge, or are inaccurate because of over- generalisation; The Australian education system contributed to misconceptions by the use of ill-informed text books, the Victorian Education Department's series of readers, dating from 1927 and used until the 1960s are an example. p4

Many books on Australian history referred to Aborigines only in passing or briefly in the first chapter. In 1977 Professor Noel Loos wrote that "the history of frontier contact between white settlers and Aboriginals in Australia had been glossed over" (Loos, 1977:508). He noted the tendency to treat Aboriginal Australia as an episode in early Australian history. Aboriginal oral history draws attention to a universal awareness of illegal dispossession. p4

Aboriginal people want to retain their languages, culture, social organisation and the management of their lands and their lives. There is a constant struggle to retain identity, practice values and maintain beliefs. Indigenous Australians desire representation which depicts them accurately as they see themselves. Indeed it is necessary to be vigilant and to avoid continuing misrepresentation as in the film Crocodile Dundee where Pitjantjatjara people from Central Australia, are referred to as being in Arnhem Land. p10

Source: Images and Realities by Eleanor Bourke

Further Reading

Images and Realities by Eleanor Bourke in Aboriginal Australia, An Introductory Reader in Aboriginal Studies, Second Edition (Edited by Colin Bourke, Eleanor Bourke and Bill Edwards). University of Queensland Press. 1998, 2004.

 

 

Readings

Images and Realities by Eleanor Bourke in Aboriginal Australia, An Introductory Reader in Aboriginal Studies, Second Edition (Edited by Colin Bourke, Eleanor Bourke and Bill Edwards). University of Queensland Press. 1998, 2004.