Chair: Siobhan McHugh
Panelists: Vicki Grieves, Lorena Allam

What’s so special about being Aboriginal?: history, family and identity in
Aboriginal Australia
Vicki Grieves

Aboriginal people are defacto defined by the dominant tropes of race, poverty, dislocation, loss and despair by settler colonial Australia. What do Aboriginal people really think of this? How do we see ourselves, our concept of ‘personhood’ and our position in Australia’s history? What is the guiding philosophy in Aboriginal lives? And how do we imagine Australia’s future? Research into Aboriginal knowledges reveals some surprising turnabouts from white, taken-for-granted, assumptions about Aboriginal people and how we wish to position ourselves in this country. While Aboriginal media are often on the cutting-edge and charting new territory in understanding cultural differences, the methodologies employed are not easily being incorporated into mainstream media. The reporting of debates such as the role of the NT Intervention, teaching of Aboriginal languages in schools and scholarships for Aboriginal children in boarding schools exemplifies the inability of the media to move beyond the binaries of ‘primitive’ versus ‘modern’ (immoral versus moral) that so define Aboriginal peoples’ relationship with the media and the broader Australian society. .

Vicki Grieves is an ARC IRDS Fellow at the University of Sydney, exploring Internecine Conflict and Violence in NSW Aboriginal Communities, historian Vicki Grieves BA (Hons1) UNSW is Worimi from the midnorth coast of NSW. Vicki has almost three decades experience in managing Aboriginal policy and program developments within Universities (where she has also lectured in Aboriginal history and public policy), the Commonwealth public service and in Aboriginal community organisations. She has recently had the opportunity to review major Indigenous education initiatives of the Commonwealth government as a consultant. Vicki’s completed PhD thesis Approaching Aboriginal History: Family, Wellbeing and Identity in Aboriginal Australia presents a case for a new Australian historiography based on Indigenous knowledges approaches and explores mixed-race marriages in Worimi from this theoretical base.

The media and the Intervention: talking about Aborigines

Lorena Allam

This paper is a personal perspective on covering the Intervention as a reporter for Radio National’s Background Briefing, and as a reporter for the BBC’s Crossing Continents. Those two media outlets had a very different understanding of the story and very different demands. The program involved weeks of travel, research, interviewing, scripting and editing. It gave me a chance to trawl through the mainstream coverage to this point. I found the Intervention is a very contested policy, yet there hadn’t been a comprehensive investigation of its various successes and failures by mainstream media outlets. Coverage was largely news-based, emotive, lacking detail and often driven by the government’s agenda and schedule of policy announcements. However, it was a story that was being played out in the media almost daily, where Aboriginal people were the topics and not the interviewees. The intervention seemed to belong to a handful of journalists, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal commentators and politicians. This paper is an attempt to wade through the coverage of the Intervention to highlight issues about editorial decision-making and the construction of a ‘story’ and Aboriginal representation, identity and storytelling.

Lorena Allam is a descendant of the Eulahayi (you-lar-aay) people of north western NSW. She’s been a journalist for almost 20 years. Lorena has worked for metropolitan, regional and community radio, Triple J, and for the past decade has been a Radio National broadcaster with the programs Awaye!, Radio Eye, Hindsight and Background Briefing. She’s also worked on the ‘other side’ of the media fence and was the media manager for the “Bringing Them Home” Inquiry into the Stolen Generations. One of her recent programs, “A question of trust – stolen wages in Queensland” was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s History Prize.


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