First steps, making footprints: intergenerational Palm Island families' Indigenous stories (narratives) of childrearing practice strengths

Geia, Lynore Karen (2012) First steps, making footprints: intergenerational Palm Island families' Indigenous stories (narratives) of childrearing practice strengths. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Introduction: I am a Bwgcolman woman, and this thesis tells a story about the people and the country where I belong and this country is Palm Island, 65 kilometers north east of the Queensland city of Townsville. Palm Island was established by the Queensland Government close to 100 years ago as a Penal Reserve for 'problem' Australian Aboriginals; this history continues to challenge the orthodoxy of both Australian and Queensland governments' policies and sectors of the wider Australian society. Six generations of Palm Island (Bwgcolman) families have survived, yet now the Bwgcolman people face new challenges; one, amongst others, is maintaining the integrity and strength of Bwgcolman childrearing practices as an essential pillar of survival and resilience for their families.

Background: Families are at the core of Aboriginal society, and are challenged daily with complex and multifaceted problems. Australian Indigenous families are one of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable family groups in Australia, facing an amalgam of issues resulting in family fragmentation. Palm Island families, along with other Australian Indigenous families, are still coming to grips with the legacy of colonial oppression in Australia, struggling to reconcile the transgenerational injury of the colonial past, and the cumulative layers of oppression. Long-term oppression from racism, poverty, addictions, family violence, abuse, and unemployment has resulted in an individuals and families internalizing the effects of oppression. This internalization of oppression results in individuals and families' significantly diminished their ability to cope and protect themselves against continuing oppression. The daily struggle of coping with these internal oppressive forces effect individuals and families' self-image and self-worth.

Coping with such afflictions sometimes becomes an overwhelming burden. Assisting families to recover and reclaim their family strength and resilience requires more than political rhetoric and a matching budget. Addiction and violence emerge when families are unable to recover and reclaim their family strength and resilience. The current Australian Government intervention strategies to 'fix' the 'Aboriginal problem' are at best band-aid programs, which may provide short-term relief from current family hardships for some communities. Lasting and effective change can only come from intense work with families, long-term partnerships that go beyond child rescue. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island families do not need more policy and practices done upon them, they need policy and practice done with them, valuing and empowering them as key components to their recovery. A strengths-based approach to parenting shifts the focus away from problems and focuses instead on building upon inherent family assets, thereby enabling the family to reclaim and develop their strength and resilience to successfully meet the challenges of today.

Study Purpose: The aim of this study is to employ an Indigenous research framework to record the stories of three living generations of Bwgcolman (Palm Island) families in relation to childrearing. In particular, the aim is to reveal the intergenerational strengths of childrearing practices of the Bwgcolman people of Palm Island from a Bwgcolman perspective (Appendices A-H).

A paucity of literature on the strengths of Australian Indigenous parenting and childrearing exists side-by-side with a glut of literature on the deficits of Australian Indigenous parenting and childrearing. This situation makes it difficult, if not impossible, for non-Indigenous Australians to understand Aboriginal approaches to childrearing. Eurocentric methods of research have been instrumental in shaping the history and service provision for the Palm Island community since 1918, resulting in child welfare policy development that continuously dismisses the integrity of Aboriginal childrearing practices.

Indigenous Epistemology and Ontology – Methods in our Madness: I employed a bricolage of Indigenous research throughout the study processes. The novel approach of using Rigney's Indigenist Research Principles, Critical Murri Consciousness and Dadirri builds on liberation epistemologies to uncover deeper understandings of the effects of colonialism. These approaches depend on 'counter-story': counter-story counteracts western ways of understanding and allows for an Aboriginal reclamation of research processes and outcomes. Thus the counter-story reverses decades of enduring systematic "governmentality" (Kidd, 1997, p. xx) that problematised and pathologised Aboriginal people.

Study Originality: This is a study for the Bwgcolman people of Palm Island undertaken for the first time by a Bwgcolman woman focusing on the intergenerational strengths and knowledge of the community. Five Bwgcolman families share their intergenerational stories of parenting and childrearing in this study which highlight the differences and strengths of Bwgcolman childrearing practices. The findings of the study acknowledge the continuing struggle of Bwgcolman families with the day-to-day issues of childrearing in contemporary society. However, the Bwgcolman storytellers demonstrate an inner strength of survival, resilience, and agency as they explore other paradigms of childrearing. This enables them to reconstruct their lives in new ways through dialogue among themselves as community, and with government officials as one people. It is a difficult quest, but a necessary one in these times of socio-political instability.

Findings: Two major outcomes emerge from this research: (1) the study has the potential to be an agent of change to influence, guide and develop better government policies to deliver effective family services on Palm Island; (2) the study also makes space in western academia where the voices of Bwgcolman people, themselves, will be privileged. It is time for the voices of Bwgcolman families to be heard; to have the genuine engagement of government and non-government agencies, to build from Aboriginal strength toward significant Aboriginal child and family health.

Item ID: 25465
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Indigenous Australians, Murri Bwgcolman, child rearing strengths, intergenerational stories, Palm Island, Australian aborigines, Torres Strait Islanders, Indigenous peoples, Aboriginal history, North Queensland, Bwgcolman peoples, children, childrearing, cultural heritage, Indigenous Australians, Parenthood, Aboriginal child care, Aboriginal children, Aboriginal culture, Aboriginal customs
Copyright Information: Copyright © 2012 Lynore Karen Geia.
Additional Information:

This thesis contains life stories and images of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people. In particular they are family stories, and images of adults and children from the community of Palm Island, Queensland, Australia. All the images are part of a private collection of the families and author which were provided for this PhD study. The images are culturally and contextually relevant to Palm Island families and community childrearing practices. These images may not be reproduced without the permission of the author.

Date Deposited: 19 Mar 2013 23:06
FoR Codes: 11 MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES > 1110 Nursing > 111099 Nursing not elsewhere classified @ 33%
11 MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES > 1117 Public Health and Health Services > 111701 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health @ 34%
11 MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES > 1117 Public Health and Health Services > 111707 Family Care @ 33%
SEO Codes: 92 HEALTH > 9203 Indigenous Health > 920302 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health - Health Status and Outcomes @ 34%
95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9599 Other Cultural Understanding > 959999 Cultural Understanding not elsewhere classified @ 33%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970111 Expanding Knowledge in the Medical and Health Sciences @ 33%
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