Reflection on Australia's Indigenous People, Communities and Culture in Canberra, Australia's Capital City.


January 2, 2019

Student Voice: Maurice Norman

HOME SCHOOL: Davidson College

Canberra Excursion

The Arcadia Study Abroad Program has provided me with numerous opportunities to engage with Indigenous peoples, and interact with the histories preserved in storytelling, sites, cuisines, and various cultural practices. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples navigate a complex connection to country complicated and further influenced by Australia’s historical foundation of colonialism and dispossession. Much similar to the colonial foundation of America, and its impact of my African-American community, the many conversations I entered with the Australian Indigenous communities have helped contextualize a global narrative of black resilience and overcoming. During my time in Australia I engaged in research focused on the formation and preservation of Afro-indigenous communities in the Australian settler colony. In New South Wales, Australia, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and those of African descent share a complex understanding and attachment to country influenced by centuries of colonial tactics. Unified by African slavery and the dispossession of land from Indigenous peoples, I wanted to further understand the unique methods in which both communities maintain their highly diversified cultural integrity.

During the Canberra excursion on the October 12th weekend, my peers and I visited Yurbay, the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, National Museum of Australia, Australian War Memorial, and various historical sites within Australia’s capital. Adam Shipp (as seen in photo), and his organization Yurbay, has a mission to preserve Aboriginal culture by providing a variety of educational workshops on Indigenous bush food and medicine. His 2 hour guided tour taught me about the native plants and the benefits of reapplying their traditional uses into everyday practice. Mr. Shipp emphasized a “hands-on experience”, the proper ways to 1) extract moisture from specific grasses, 2) grind tree fibers into soap in the palm of your hand, 3) concoct ointments from local herbs, alongside a wealth of knowledge on the bush tucker. Alongside these educational resources, Mr. Shipp sells bush food, medicine, and traditional tools. During his “talk and walk” Mr. Shipp comments on the importance of constructing a space for effective conversation and dialogue. While detailing the process of building his own economy, he raised awareness on social justice issues, and difficulties of Indigenous entrepreneurship. In response to these sentiments, Mr. Shipp designed several “specialized programs and projects” centered around the theme of “Caring for country and celebrating culture and people”. It warms my heart to see black-owned businesses uplifting their community while providing financial resources in an underrepresented market for Indigenous products.

In my research, Australia, a nation-state still dictated by settler mentalities, remains largely disillusioned to the voices of its Afro-indigenous community. Many regard Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as tokenized relics of a primitive past, even publicly declaring existing tribes extinct. Those of African descent occupy the already limited space for representation, seemingly overshadowed by the necessary and justified needs of its Indigenous kin. Historians including Lyndall Ryan and Henry Reynolds number a few actively engaging in the War on History to uncover Australia’s black roots. However, as historian Tony Birch raises in his article

I could feel it in my body’: War on a history war,

“The level of authority claimed by some historians to speak for and on behalf of others is indicative of the level of conceit displayed by some in the history profession. [Afro-indigenous peoples] do not need historians claiming the moral ground for indigenous people. We do not need them to take up a fight on our behalf. We do not need them at all unless they are willing to recognize the autonomy of our voice, unless they are willing to share their own platform with us, and, in addition, to listen, for a change …” (Birch, pg. 23).

Yurbay has created a platform for community uplifting and sharing knowledge with non-Indigenous peoples in such a way that creates effective dialogue. Mr. Shipp’s organization remains just one example of a larger community of peoples and entrepreneurs in a long, everyday process to be heard, understood, and appreciated. My Canberra excursion has been largely shaped by the messages shared in Yurbay. Moving forward I understand a bit more about the community efforts necessary to sustaining oneself in Australia’s current racial climate, and have heaps more respect to the folks on the ground enduring yet moving forward.


Maurice was given a subsidy for the Canberra excursion on the arrangement that he write a bog post for us to use, thanks for your great work!


Works Cited

Birch, T. (2006). ‘I could feel it in my body’: War on a history war. Transforming Cultures eJournal, 1(1), 12–32.

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