Tribes have always been an integral part of Australian culture and history,” says Dr Helen Slingerland, associate professor in the School of Human Geography and Environmental Studies at Adelaide University.
“It’s clear, though, that the cultural evolution of Australia’s indigenous people has been guided and promoted by a significant degree of cultural assimilation and cultural homogenisation .The idea that their cultures are more ‘local’ than other cultures has been a persistent myth,” she says.
This myth can be traced back to colonial times and the use of indigenous peoples as the subject of exotic exoticism projects.
“When I was a baby my dad took me to the museum and he went inside a kangaroo and he showed how the kangaroo became a part of Western culture and they took all the kangaroo bits and stuff out of the kangaroo.
“He went into a museum in England and he went into a museum of what they took out and put back into our history.”
Dr Slingerland says the appropriation of the kangaroo by Western visitors did not occur until the 20th century.
She says native cultures do not require the same levels of homogenisation and cultural appropriation as other societies.
“In Australia we are a multicultural society and the vast majority of Australia’s cultures are not European or Australian. If you go into one of our native tribes you’ll see indigenous tattoo art and you’ll hear Indigenous people talking about the different cultures of our people.”
‘A lot of this idea of cultural homogenisation has grown up at the expense of Indigenous peoples’
But this has fuelled the cultural homogenisation of indigenous cultures, says Dr Slingerland.
“To some extent they’ve been very successful,” she says, “but then again these people have a long way to go before the concept can be justified.”
As a result, she argues the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is not being represented as it really is, and has no history, no roots or culture beyond their current existence.
“A lot of this idea of cultural homogenisation has grown up at the expense of Indigenous peoples. They have been portrayed as the ‘other’. It’s done in a way that does not properly represent them,” Dr Slingerland says.
“You can see it in the tattoos, the way they’ve been photographed, and I’m sure it’s not a good way to represent the actual historical relationship
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