: Beyond white guilt: The real challenge for Black‑White relations in Australia

Beyond white guilt: The real challenge for Black‑White relations in Australia

Catherine Koerner

Beyond white guilt: The real challenge for Black‑White relations in Australia, Sarah MaddisonBeyond white guilt: The real challenge for Black‑White relations in Australia
Sarah Maddison; Allen & Unwin; 2011;
240pp; $27.99 (paperback).

Unsettling the settler state: Creativity and resistance in Indigenous settler-state governance, Sarah Maddison and Morgan Brigg (eds)Unsettling the settler state: Creativity and resistance in Indigenous settler-state governance
Sarah Maddison and Morgan Brigg (eds); The Federation Press; 2011;
256pp; $49.95 (paperback).

I had a mixed response to reading Sarah Maddison’s recent work Beyond White Guilt. Maddison, I believe, is accurate to depict the issue of Indigenous – non-Indigenous relations as crucial for Australia. Indeed, the nation and state are intimately tied to a colonial history embedded in whiteness and the denial of Indigenous sovereignty. Personally, I am not sure that white guilt is the biggest challenge. However, I do agree that this is an important issue worthy of Maddison’s keen analysis and she successfully hinges her argument around an examination of this issue. At times, I did feel that I was reading with a sense of de je vu, in that many of the issues covered have been written about and debated widely in Australia. Indeed, Henry Reynolds and others have written extensively in the area of colonial history and past policies leading to contemporary implications for Indigenous people and all who reside in the country called Australia. In this sense, the book is not difficult to read, because the arguments are familiar, thereby allowing the author to provide an appraisal of their contemporary form and to give a unique twist.

In the introduction and first chapter, Maddison gives an overview of colonial history; in the second chapter she covers the broad debates on national identity. The author introduces the notion of white guilt and its implications, arguing that they block white Australians from engaging successfully with the continuity of Indigenous sovereignty. I agree that the debates should not end here and that there is much work to be done. Maddison is able to do this in the third chapter, by critically engaging with the continuing Northern Territory Emergency Response (‘NTER’), The Intervention. She focuses on the insistence of policy makers to make Indigenous people responsible for accumulating disadvantage, but not Indigenous rights (along with Indigenous peoples in settler societies worldwide), as if this were disconnected to all previous policy, and without mentioning the ‘s’ word — Indigenous sovereignty that is.

Maddison’s fourth chapter, insightfully entitled ‘Not Just Empty Vessels’, addresses the issue of non-Indigenous Australians’ ambivalence toward the Intervention and the waiving of the Racial Discrimination Act which allowed the race-based NTER legislation and policy framework to be enacted. The next chapter moves from the 1967 referendum to the decade of reconciliation in the 1990s and the 2008 Apology to the Stolen Generation made by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Here she argues a case for compensation, an argument that is too often stifled in the public arena. The final chapters present the challenge to ‘unsettle the settlers’. I would have liked more discussion about the usefulness of the concept of ‘nations’ and whether there are other forms of political and social organisation that may render the settlers’ claim to the nation and territory into an altogether different space.

A useful distinction that Maddison threads throughout her argument is that between ‘high identifiers’ and ‘low identifiers’ with the nation. Those with ‘high identification’, such as former Prime Minister John Howard, constantly defend the ideology of the Australian nation. Low identifiers, on the other hand, are more in discussion with and of Indigenous sovereignty.

This book is well worth a read for those who want a summary of previous and contemporary debates concerning Indigenous–non-Indigenous relations in Australia — debates that must continue to unsettle the settler state.

Speaking of which, Unsettling the Settler State: Creativity and Resistance in Indigenous Settler-State Governance, edited by Sarah Maddison and Morgan Brigg, seeks to do just that. This collection is essential reading for those in politics and policy development who are concerned about the impact of colonial policy and its contemporary descendents on Indigenous peoples living on the continent referred to as Australia. The twelve chapters presented combine a vast array of Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge about contesting settler-state governance.

Part 1 consists of three chapters that combine to frame contemporary governance. Morgan Brigg and Lyndon Murphy, Patsy Cameron and Linn Miller, and Kirstie Parker collectively provide an articulate and considered argument to extend contemporary dialogue concerning Indigenous– non-Indigenous relations and issues of governance. The authors insist on a critical engagement with issues of Indigenous ways of participating in and doing governance.

Part 2 moves the focus to Aboriginal law and contemporary political practice. The three chapters presented by Zohl de Ishtar, June Oscar and Howard Pedersen, Steve Hemming, Daryle Rigney and Shaun Berg, from vastly diverse Indigenous contexts in Australia, are united as they witness the strength of Aboriginal law and the fact that Aboriginal law governs contemporary Indigenous communities. Aboriginal law remains strongly held and allows for the possibility of twoway (or more) dialogue with Western forms of governance. On the basis of the chapters in this section, I am convinced that these example show that ‘two-way’ governance is already in place in many parts of Australia, because Indigenous peoples insist on doing governance in this way. Two-way governance leads to the possibilities of future governing in Australia and reveals the biggest challenge to settler forms of governing.

Part 4 turns to the horizons of ‘future governing’. It emerges from some of the key thinkers in this area with Tom Calma and Darren Dick, Patrick Dodson and Darryl Cronin, Lester-Irabinna Rigney providing visions of current projects that lead to a different space in the future of Indigenous– state governance. Indigenous peoples in Australia insist on governing out of this space that has always been and continues to be. The examples given throughout this collection are evidence that two or more ways of governing can hold dialogue in that space.

CATHERINE KOERNER is a Research Fellow at the Northern Institute, Charles Darwin University.

(2011) 36(4) AltLJ 290
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