Submission to Ideas Summit

TOPIC 7: Options for the future of Indigenous Australia


To restore balance to Australian life, non-indigenous people need to change the categories of our thinking in order to accommodate indigenous realities. Many failings of European colonisation are projected onto the imaginary personality defects of indigenous men.

Recognising and affirming the special place life has reserved for senior indigenous men in Australia has been the last item on every non-indigenous agenda. We must make it the first.

It is increasingly being realised that without tackling this challenge – affirming and recognising the worth and value of indigenous men in culturally valid terms – resources directed to dealing with indigenous social and health problems will not be fully effective.


A properly designed policy dealing with this issue must have an Elder Centred Approach. The design must incorporate senior indigenous men at its core.

A particularly important area for culturally valid affirmation is to pay senior indigenous men for the social and ecological services they provide when they do life management business.


In “Caring for Country” (in the 2007 book ‘Coercive Reconciliation’) Joe Morrison hits the nail right in the head in finding a solution to part of the problem of affirming the role of indigenous men:

“The problem is not so much the current and future availability of work, but the definition of work. Many customary activities associated with country, such as ceremonies, hunting, burning, the production of arts and crafts, and wildlife use account for considerable work effort. The problem is that the free market fails to recognise the contributions of such efforts.” (2007: 258)

The ‘free market’ is dominated by non-indigenous thinking which originates overseas and has no understanding of ‘Dreaming’. Australia has particular problems which we must address in new and creative ways if we are to find healing solutions to our specific problems.

Elevating senior indigenous men into paid positions as cultural mentors will provide a genuine means of affirming the place of indigenous men in Australian life, and will enable them to play their full roles as mentors for younger indigenous men (in the first instance) and non-indigenous men (in the second instance).


These senior mens’mentoring services could be part of male based indigenous land management collegeswhere younger men are taught a wide range of skills needed to look after country and to carry out contemporary business enterprises (cattle, ecotourism). These skills should also include numeracy and literacy, and use of modern technologies (internet).

Support services, coordinators, vehicle and much else would be required – which would create local employment and, perhaps, a small market for non-indigenous men seeking to learn indigenous ways (and willing to pay for it).


With the consent of the relevant senior men, a pilot study might be conduced in Tennant Creek (NT) as it has a rich combination of the necessary factors. Properly resourced discussions would be required to further develop the concept.