Of Acts and axes: an ethnography of socio-cultural change in an Aboriginal community, Cape York Peninsula

Taylor, John Charles (1984) Of Acts and axes: an ethnography of socio-cultural change in an Aboriginal community, Cape York Peninsula. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Abstract

This thesis is concerned with the processes of sociocultural change set in motion when the Aboriginal people of the Edward River reserve gave up their hunter-gatherer lifestyle and joined with Anglican missionaries to form the Edward River settlement in 1938. In opting for a sedentary life, the Aborigines of the reserve were consciously adopting the role of culture recipients who were dependent on change agents (missionaries, and later government officials) from the mainstream Australian society to provide the sources for socio-cultural change as well as the direction in which it should proceed.

The cultural patterns characterising reserve life prior to the establishment of the settlement are reconstructed from informants' memories and the observations of anthropologists who conducted studies among the reserve's peoples between 1925 and 1935. The pre-settlement patterns are then compared with those which characterised settlement life in the period 1968-75 when the author undertook his fieldwork. Two independently formulated hypotheses concerning the degree, direction and sources of socio-cultural change are tested against the actual course of events. The first hypothesis was developed by an anthropologist, Lauriston Sharp, who on the basis of his investigations into the totemic ideology of the Yir Yoront, came to the conclusion that sustained contact between the people of the reserve and European Australians would lead to the collapse of the indigenous cultural system. The second hypothesis was implicit in Queensland state Government policy and legislation. It stated that the Aboriginal people of the Edward River settlement could be transformed over time from a welfare-dependent, managed community to one that was just like a normal country town in Queensland by providing physical amenities similar to those of country towns, and by imposing routines and social structure: similar to those found in the economic systems and formal processes of social control in the dominant society.

Neither hypothesis has accurately anticipated the real outcome. Aboriginal belief systems have not collapsed nor have the people of Edward River achieved that level of cultural competence that would permit them to manage their community without help. It is argued in this thesis that the first hypothesis failed because of an anthropological interpretation that over-emphasized the comprehensiveness of the indigenous totemic ideology and thus understated the resilience of Edward River belief systems. It is argued that the second hypothesis concerning the appropriate techniques for inducing change is also failing despite the commitment of the Edward River people to the development of their community. Edward River people have adapted to their institutional environment in such a way as to preserve some fundamental Aboriginal values, and to create a permanent niche for outside managers. There seems little prospect for change in this situation unless certain prerequisites to fruitful socio-cultural change are incorporated in basic planning strategies.

Item ID: 15001
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Edward River, Queensland, sociocultural change, Aboriginal communities, multicultural contact, government policies, Indigenous peoples, Indigenous beliefs, Indigenous, cultures, kinship, families, marriage, race relations, mission reserves
Additional Information:

The image in the 4th file (04map.pdf) is a map of the Edward River Aboriginal Tracts overlaid by a transparency of the Edward River Place Names.

Date Deposited: 13 Dec 2010 03:09
FoR Codes: 20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2002 Cultural Studies > 200201 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Studies @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9503 Heritage > 950304 Conserving Intangible Cultural Heritage @ 33%
95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9503 Heritage > 950302 Conserving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage @ 34%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970121 Expanding Knowledge in History and Archaeology @ 33%
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