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Sovereign voices

Rijavec, Frank (2010) Sovereign voices. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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What are the pivotal factors underlying the development and viability of regional Indigenous organisations committed to preserving and promulgating the cultural knowledge of their people? This question is investigated in the experience of Roebourne-based Juluwarlu Group Aboriginal Corporation from 2002-08 as it grew from a small scale, subsistence-funded, cultural recording organisation, into an archiving, publishing, digital media, television broadcasting, media training, cultural consultancy, advocacy and Native Title management enterprise.

This study pays careful attention to post-World War II Pilbara history which featured the creation of the Roebourne Aboriginal ghetto and the mining boom that overwhelmed the region in the 1960s and 70s, and more recently was marked by Native Title, the conservative Howard Government, post-ATSIC administrative/ political climate, and the resurgence in iron ore and gas stocks. Also examined are the effects, both on cultural practice in Roebourne and Juluwarlu’s development, of the documentary Exile and The Kingdom, which was produced with the community by the author and Noelene Harrison between 1987 and 1993.1 These histories inform both the reasons for Juluwarlu’s emergence and the meaning of its achievements.

Key findings converge on the character and consequence of leadership and the generative efficacy of the Yindjibarndi cultural, social and ethical system; the advantage obtained via considered partnerships with collaborators; and the adaptive engagement of Indigenous tradition with management principles and communications and media technology – on Indigenous terms, rather than the labour-market-driven schemes that, for example, seek to match Indigenous disadvantage or development with labour shortages in the Pilbara resources industries.

This thesis diverges from other studies that have typically researched Indigenous disadvantage within the context of broader public policy/legislation and political economy, albeit these contexts inevitably inform it. Instead, primary attention is given to the experimental and generative capacity that Juluwarlu brought to negotiating advantage from public and private institutions, challenging their recalcitrance, and sometimes moving beyond them. Finally, Sovereign Voices records how Juluwarlu’s responsibility for country and culture, and insistence on respect and equitable acknowledgement for their custodianship, was charged by media and communications technologies, and how these in turn ramified its organisational wherewithal for the benefit of their community – both practically and a symbolically. Juluwarlu’s mediation and giving of voice, I contend, militated against the ‘silencing’ shroud of the corporate-state-media hegemony.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Media, Communication and Culture
Supervisor(s): Ginsburg, Faye, Mickler, Steve and Tafler, David
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