Assimilationists contest assimilation: T G H Strehlow and A P Elkin on Aboriginal policy

Mcgregor, Russell (2002) Assimilationists contest assimilation: T G H Strehlow and A P Elkin on Aboriginal policy. Journal of Australian Studies, 26 (75). pp. 43-50.

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To point out that assimilationists contested assimilation might, at first glance, seem banal. There is never complete unanimity over policy, and still less over practice; there is always disagreement over tactics, pace and procedure. Did contention over assimilation, however, extend beyond mere squabbling over strategy? On the face of it, there is a case to answer. When the linguist T G H Strehlow urged assimilation through strengthening the authority structures of Indigenous societies, he would seem to have envisaged outcomes, as well as processes, different to those entailed by assimilation through the dismantling of Aboriginal groups. When the anthropologist A P Elkin celebrated cultural syncretism - the 'blending' of European with Aboriginal elements - the outcomes of the assimilation he promoted would seem significantly different to those of assimilationist programs premised on the dissolution of Indigenous cultures.

In this article I will focus on the writings of these two prominent advocates of assimilation, comparing their arguments with those of another notable assimilationist, Paul Hasluck, who, as Commonwealth Minister for Territories from 195 I to 1963, was enormously influential in shaping assimilation policy and practice, not only in his own jurisdiction of the Northern Territory but throughout Australia. By revisiting the arguments of these three protagonists, I want to problematise the concept of assimilation as the dominant paradigm within which discussion of Aboriginal affairs took place in the two decades after the second world war. Assimilation sought national cohesion, but the route to, and the entailments of, national cohesion were matters of contention. Assimilation was a dispersed and conflicted discourse, and only by appreciating this fact, rather than reducing it to a singular, unified strategy, can we comprehend its potency and credibility.

Item ID: 4394
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1444-3058
Keywords: Aboriginal studies; assimilation
Date Deposited: 01 Jul 2009 01:56
FoR Codes: 21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2103 Historical Studies @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950503 Understanding Australias Past @ 100%
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