1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Guest lecture by Jon Altman, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University, 26 Sep 2005, Geneva, Switzerland.

17 Oct 2005



On 26 September 2005, UNRISD received a guest lecture by Jon Altman, Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the Australian National University, entitled “Nomads Triumphing Today? How some hunters in Arnhem Land, North Australia, engage with the state, the market, and globalization.”

The lecture reported on ongoing research with the Kuninjku community of western Arnhem Land, North Australia. Historically, these hunter-gatherers were among the last to be colonized, primarily because of their geographic isolation in western Arnhem Land distant from colonial and mission outposts.

After a desperately unsuccessful early engagement with the state and the market in the 1960s while living at the newly established township of Maningrida in the early 1970s, Kuninjku moved back to live on their lands and revived many elements of their customary practices.

Since then, Kuninjku have incrementally expanded their interactions with the market, Australian society, and the global arena with increasing confidence and success. Much of the vehicle for this has been the arts, which draws its inspiration from the customary sector.

The lecture reflected on 26 years work with Kuninjku and focused on three issues. First, it explored changes in the Kuninjku hybrid (community) economy that includes customary, state and market sectors, between 1979–2005. Second, some of the ambiguities and tensions in Kuninjku relations with the Australian state and the official Indigenous affairs policy framework were considered. Finally, the future direction in which the Kuninjku economy and community might be heading was contemplated.