​As always with writing about a culture that I did not grow up immersed in I may be misinformed about some of the cultural elements in this essay. I have aimed to research as best I could with the resources available to me with my looming deadlines. I am always open to corrections and notices of omission so just leave a comment if you have a deeper insight into these things than I do… It wouldn’t be hard.

Thanks

♡ Morgan

Map of the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail. Cartography by Steve Bennett, map data by OpenStreetMap contributors.

How does the Australian state exclude ‘othered’ subjects from the official body of the nation? http://wangarattachronicle.com.au/2013/03/25/fight-for-our-land/

The article that this essay will attempt to examine through the lens of the exclusion of ‘othered’ subjects from the Australian state concerns the recent spotlight on the contested Registered party status of the Yorta Yorta people of Warby Ovens National Park near Wangaratta Victoria. The Pangerang or Bangerang people are of a firm belief that they have the right to registered party status in this area and their representative in this article is elder Freddie Dowling who is voice the community’s disappointment and anger in reaction to the signs erected by Parks Victoria, claiming the site to be Yorta Yorta land. This article shows a distinct lack of understanding of the registered party process and displays problematic disconnects between the understanding of traditional custodianship and the formal government  measures in place for indigenous recognition.

The significance of the contested land is manifold but the key point of significance is a ceremonial and burial location located in the ranges and held by the Pangerang people as being of immense spiritual, cultural and historical value. The Yorta Yorta people do not appear to be contesting its significance to the people they refer to as the Bangerang, but rather have petitioned to represent them as part of their incorporated body, but as of this date this arrangement is not agreeable to the Pangerang people. The main issue at the heart of this is that in order to achieve recognition as a Registered Party for an area it is almost a necessity to have the backing of an incorporated body and legal expertise, meaning that smaller groups are unable to achieve the recognition of their historical entitlements without learning to work within a system of bureaucracy, a system that is borne out of the same government construct that robbed them of that entitlement in the first place. 

This article, in an effort to sensationalise the story by creating a sense of conflict between tangible people rather than people against an abstract concept such as a system has the effect of pitting people against people instead of holding the system to account:

“A FIGHT is heating up between the Pangerang and Yorta Yorta Aboriginal people over who are the rightful traditional owners of the Warby Ovens National Park.” (Morgan, 2013)

This statement puts the blame squarely at the feet of the Yorta Yorta people rather than questioning how a system of recognition could be so out of touch with indigenous concerns that it could allow this to happen.

Perhaps one of the most telling passages in the article is this: “Pangerang elder, Sandy Atkinson, said he contacted Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Jeanette Powell, last week to request a meeting so she would explain why Yorta Yorta has status as a Registered Aboriginal Party” (Morgan, 2013) in which an Aboriginal elder is having to ask why his people’s heritage is not recognised. This act by Sandy Atkinson of circumventing the mediation process with  the Yorta Yorta and going to the decision makers in the process is yet another indicator that the problem lies with the broken Registered Party system rather than  disagreements between Aboriginal groups. The argument for a policy of self determination of territory recognition is not raised in this, or any other article on the matter, despite the fact that self determination could go some way to unpicking some of the problems that the misguided Registered Party system has created (Huggins, 1998). The balance of power lies with those able to work within the government system and depicting the conflict as internal, when it is the imposition of laws by the state which has created the problem of incorrect recognition. This  creates an absence of cultural continuity, resulting in a living culture being treated as a dead culture or a culture existing purely in the past, thus robbing the issue of its immediacy and urgency. This problematic idea of indigenous identity as merely a matter of history undermines the genuine ties the Aboriginal people have to their traditional and cultural lands (Anderson, 1993). This dampening of the issue in the media and the public allows for the government to continue the oversimplification of  traditional indigenous custodianship, settling for systems of recognition that seem to be addressing the issue of Aboriginal land claims and rights without adequately reflecting the reality of those claims and rights or affording any power to the Aboriginal people themselves.

The claims to geographic and cartographic recognition is particularly important as it is one of the few avenues for recognition Aboriginal groups can access. Since colonization the culture and history of these communities has been systematically erased barring contemporary attempts to preserve a tiny fragment of what has been lost in the process of colonisation. The desire of the colonial powers and later the federated state powers to organise the vast landmass of Australia into a nation without a treaty or understanding of the original inhabitants meant that Aboriginal people have only a negligible voice in determining issues of legislation and law in determining place names, or preserving indigenous heritage. The impact of this is immeasurable, and the Pangerang people’s claim may come down to a map made in the 1860s (Douthie, 2016). 

This misnaming of important spaces is “symptomatic of forced colonization” (Anderson,1993) and is perpetuated by lost information and an unwillingness to change misinformation, which only serves as a continuation of power imbalance in Australia. This lack of emphasis on the correct recognition of pre-existing cultural and territorial history is a reflection of the racially biased way that legislative law works. Australia as a nation state is a potent symbolic force which carries with it ideas of stability and a kind of immovable structure that is resistant to change, particularly regarding issues surrounding reconciliation and power imbalances (Bhaba, 1991).

References
:

Anderson, Ian 1993, “Reclaiming Tru-ger-nan-ner: De-colonising the symbol” in Art Matters Monthly

Bhabha, H.K. 1991, “Introduction: Narrating the Nation” in Nation and Narration

Douthie, S. (2016). All in the name of the Pangerang tribe. Wangaratta Chronicle. Retrieved 22 June 2016, from http://wangarattachronicle.com.au/2016/04/11/all-in-the-name-of-the-pangerang-tribe/

Dowling, F. (2016). Pangerang Country with Freddie Dowling – Culture Victoria.Culture Victoria. Retrieved 22 June 2016, from http://www.cv.vic.gov.au/stories/aboriginal-culture/pangerang-country-with-freddie-dowling/

Huggins, Jackie, 1998, “Auntie Rita’s File”, in Sister Girl: The Writings of Aboriginal Activist and Historian (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press), 131-134.

Martin, E. (2016). Department of Premier and Cabinet – Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006. Dpc.vic.gov.au. Retrieved 22 June 2016, from http://www.dpc.vic.gov.au/index.php/aboriginal-affairs/aboriginal-cultural-heritage/aboriginal-heritage-act-2006

Morgan, S. (2013). Fight for our land. Wangaratta Chronicle. Retrieved 22 June 2016, from http://wangarattachronicle.com.au/2013/03/25/fight-for-our-land/

The Shepparton Adviser – No recognition for traditional land owners. (2016). Sheppadviser.com.au. Retrieved 22 June 2016, from http://www.sheppadviser.com.au/no-recognition-for-traditional-land-owners/

Yorta Yorta blow-ins, says elder. (2011). The Border Mail. Retrieved 22 June 2016, from http://www.bordermail.com.au/story/59951/yorta-yorta-blow-ins-says-elder/
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