For some time now I have been critically analysing white accounts of a walk-off of Aboriginal workers and their families from Wave Hill station in Australia’s Northern Territory in August 1966 – with the participants eventually receiving inalienable freehold title to (part of) their ancestral lands at Daguragu. This event received national prominence and forced the hand of the government – and people more broadly – to address the situation in which Aboriginal peoples lived under and colonialist assumptions that mediate and shape perceptions of them (at east to some degree). The more I dig, the more inspiration I draw from the actions surrounding the walk-off – alongside a growing awareness of how inappropriate and clearly (yet unmarked) racist white interpretations were (and continue to be), even those penned by progressive thinkers and activists. The aim of my research is to help with current campaigns I am involved with – and others I am not – in support of Aboriginal peoples. The major question I am asking/looking for answers to is how can we improve the appropriateness of our actions in supporting such struggles?
In looking at the actions at Wave Hill, and the actions at other places today (including Sandon Point in Australia, the Red Hill Valley and Caledonia in Canada), I see many of the same inspirational actions. These are inspirational on many levels, not withstanding that they are direct challenges to capital and show how we can exist outside the system rather than being reactionary to it. In rejecting the relations of capital – unlike the actions of white supporters – these actions are consistent with their aims and end goals: the means reflect the ends.
Such actions, in drawing from Antonio Negri, create their own subjectivities (for example, and drawing from Aboriginal Australian scholar Aileen Moreton-Robinson, a rejection of patriarchal white sovereignty) and in doing so directly challenge capital and its colonialist base. I only wish the same can be said for the actions of the white support. I think this, in part, can be reflected on based on the power relations of the two ‘groups’. We have discourse of capital that white people benefit from, reify and perpetuate every day (to a large degree unconsciously) – and thus have a vested interest in; and we have Aboriginal peoples whose culture, in essence, exists outside – even though their lives are mediated via them – such relations. In creating their own subjectivities, they do not need to give up power as they are already located on the margins in the relations of capital – they do not have what many white people have to lose. Perhaps this is why compromise is often found in the actions of the white supporters. Choosing not to give up power in itself perpetuates the relations of capital.
We as white people, consent to the relations of capital, whereas aboriginal peoples do not. We need to take stock of the positions we have within the relations of power: be willing to step outside our comfort zone, to sacrifice our white privilege that we have gained from the exploitation of Aboriginal peoples. We can create our own subjectivities outside the relations of capital and thus reject them. Living a vegan lifestyle is one such example. It challenges speciesism, which is so engrained within capital and also undermines the notion of property (to some extent).
To refocus, the inspiration to write this came from two sources external to my analysis of white interpretations of the actions at Wave Hill. Firstly credit must be given to CK for sharing her thoughts on the survival of Indigenous languages and her goal to do what she can to support and promote this. There is hope that many languages will survive, and that their survival is outside of relations of capital and they are creating their own subjectivities – whilst at the same time rejecting relations of capital: an essential aspect of the multitude actions that will lead to social change and transformation beyond capital.
The perspectives CK shared provide myself with another angle to reconsider the actions at Wave Hill, and my mind was further blown away after hearing of a new film to debut very soon: Ten Canoes. This is ‘the first Australian feature shot entirely in an indigenous language’. In itself this indicates the difference of such a film. Hopefully it will be as groundbreaking as Jedda (released in 1955) – the first colour film shot in Australia and also centring on Aboriginal culture. That David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu (other films include Walkabout, Crocodile Dundee, The Tracker and Rabbit-Proof Fence) narrates the film in English is also exciting!
The film, shot in Australia’s Arnhem Land, was produced at the request of the Aboriginal peoples it depicts, further indicates many differences. That it does deal with any of the implications of colonialism, rather presenting culture and language in themselves – it creates its own subjectivities outside the relations of capital.
Actions like this, and CK’s goals to help support and promote the survival of indigenous language, for me are essential and effective ways that we, as white people, can challenge the hegemony and relations of capital via creating subjectivities outside of its relations. I owe my credit for my feelings of inspiration to all of the Gurindji people who took a stand at Wave Hill in 1966, other struggles, those involved in the making of Ten Canoes and CK for helping me draw the threads together in my had – thankyou…
More details about Ten Canoes can be found on the production companies website.