Issue 35

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Family Matters No. 35, 1993

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Indigenous Australians. Kinship, Family and Identity

This issue of Family Matters devotes a lot of space to articles about Australia's indigenous people. They are presented as a collection of indigenous voices about how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family life has been affected since white settlement. Doubtless there are other views about some of the issues raised, but they tell a powerful story of disruption, dislocation, deliberate social policies aimed at denying and destroying the value of indigenous forms of 'family' life. 

Articles in this issue of Family Matters are only available as PDF documents and do not meet the latest web accessibility standards. If you are unable to access any of the articles in this issue of Family Matters please contact us and we will endeavour to provide the article/s you need in a format that you can use.


Meredith Michie

Editorial Assistant

Sandra Marsden

Consultants for this issue

Christine Kilmartine and Yolanda Walker

Publications Committee

Helen Brownlee, Don Edgar, Peter McDonald, Robyn Hartley, Meredith Michie, Liz Sharman and Ilene Wolcott.

Publication details

Family Matters No. 35
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, August 1993, 68 pp.
1030-2646 (print) 1832-8318 (online)

Copyright information


The first Australians: Kinship, family and identity

Eleanor Bourke

This paper on Aboriginal families and kinship begins by briefly discussing what Aboriginal life was like before 'British invasion' in 1788. The author then examines current Aboriginal family life and how Aborigines have retained their Aboriginal identity. Issues addressed include: the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their Aboriginal mothers; the importance of the extended family in child rearing; and the centrality of Aboriginal family and kinship to the survival of Aboriginal culture.

Aboriginal children: Back to origins

Brian Butler

This article begins by looking at landmark events of 1993 for Aboriginal people. They include the United Nations International Year of the World's Indigenous People and the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the Melbourne office of the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC). The author then turns to the widespread practice which occurred between the 1930s and the 1970s of the wholesale removal of Aboriginal children from their families and their adoption into white families. The struggle for self-determination in the field of Aboriginal child welfare is next examined. The author looks at the development of Aboriginal children's services, mobile children's services and Aboriginal childhood education and identifies five themes for the further development of Aboriginal children's services - identity, extended family, caring for the environment, cultural transmission, and self-determination.

Aboriginal families and ATSIC

Lois O'Donoghue

This paper begins by presenting statistics on Aboriginal families derived from the 1986 Census. The author then discusses how the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) is developing a National Family Strategy. The author asserts that the future of Aboriginal society depends on the strength of the family. Her definition of the family is broad and it includes the extended family. The author asserts Aboriginal family life has not been destroyed; despite the policy of successive governments to destroy it under the banner of assimilation. The article also presents a brief account of the author's life and describes how she was taken away from her mother when she was two years old and how many years later they were reunited.

Torres Strait Islander family life

Paul Ban, Steve Mam, McRose Elu, Ivy Trevallion and Allan Reid

This article presents a collection of papers on family life amongst Torres Strait Islanders. It begins with a paper by Paul Ban, a consultant engaged by the Torres Strait community, reviewing the traditional adoption practice of the Islanders, followed by a discussion of the legal recognition of customary adoption. Adoption involves the permanent transfer of a child from one extended family member to another. The next paper briefly describes the history of Torres Strait Islanders since European contact, their traditional culture and languages and the geography of the Torres Strait Islands. The final paper by Steve Mam, McRose Elu, Ivy Trevallion, and Allan Reid, uses the coconut palm tree as a metaphor for Islander family life. Each part of the tree is used to describe a principle such as the roots of the tree signify the foundation and heritage of family life and the leaves of the tree depict the extended family.

Unemployment income support, the active society and AEDP

Barry Smith

The Australian government has endorsed the OECD Active Society policy framework. The purpose of the new active system of support to the unemployed aims to eliminate the development of a 'dual society composed of insiders who have economic and social status and outsiders who represent an underclass with no economic or social bargaining power'. Part of this Active Society policy is the Aboriginal Employment Development Policy (AEDP). Two major objectives of the AEDP are employment equity and income equity with other Australians for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by the year 2000. One strategy of AEDP is the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) whereby Aborigines in remote areas work in community activities for wages equivalent to unemployment benefits. The author analysed the labour market environment of two remote area CDEP communities in the Northern Territory - Daguragu and Papunya to see if, after five years of AEDP, more members of Aboriginal families had gained access to the conventional labour market and the Active Society. The author found that there is no clear evidence that AEDP has resulted in the development of additional conventional labour markets through particular enterprises.

Work-related child care: Four Melbourne localities

Peter McDonald

Child care cash rebates to be introduced by the Labor government for the first time, potentially extend eligibility for child care support to all families. Whether this potential is realised depends upon the form of child care used. If parents look after the child themselves or if they do not pay the carer, then no cash rebate would be forthcoming. This paper examines work related child care in four localities of Melbourne: Berwick, Werribee, Box Hill and inner Melbourne. The data is drawn from the Australian Institute of Family Studies survey of Australian Living Standards. The differences between the four areas are so great, argues the author, that they call into question policies which are based on national averages. It is clear that some families are much more likely than others to be able to access child care cash rebates simply because of differences in the provision of child care in their local areas. The article looks at the types of care provided - whether it is formal or informal care, who provides the care, and the costs to parents of child care.

Depending on parents

Peter McDonald

The author reports on the extent to which young people depend on their parents and the incidence of economic transfer between them. Data is drawn from a study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies of living standards. It looks at transfers between parents and young people - those in secondary school and those aged less than 20 who had left school. The young people live in the middle class suburb of Box Hill and the outer area of Berwick where people are employed in blue collar and lower white collar jobs. Both Box Hill and Berwick are Melbourne suburbs. The article covers young people paying board and other occasional payments to their parents, parents giving money to young people in the form of regular allowances or irregular payments and control of the money. Young people who had left school were also asked questions about their access to motor vehicles and the payment of related expenses.

Family services: Counting the cost

Robyn Hartley

In present economic times the capacity of many families to foster human development and growth is threatened by unemployment and a general move by governments to cut back on services and place more financial responsibility on families themselves.. In this economic environment of restructuring, cutbacks and public debt, the author asks some major questions concerning community expectations about services to families and raises concerns that some of the negative effects will be long and enduring. Issues addressed include: minimum adequate level of services to families, preventive services, the role of advocacy and support groups, and the longer term social costs of the loss of services.

Who needs neighbours?: Views from the outer and inner suburbs

Helen Brownlee

It is widely held that outer suburban life is one of isolation, cut off from family, friends and neighbours. In contrast, according to this view, neighbourliness is pervasive in the older middle suburbs and an inherent part of inner suburban and city living. This article challenges these views. The author draws on data from the Australian Institute of Family Studies survey of living standards. A survey of families living in different areas of Melbourne asked questions about expressions of neighbourliness. The areas covered were Berwick (an outer municipality), Box Hill (an older, middle municipality) and the City of Melbourne municipality (comprising some inner suburbs and the city proper). The findings run counter to the myth, states the author. Neighbourliness was very high in Berwick and Box Hill, but significantly lower in inner Melbourne.

Aboriginal child welfare: Framework for a national policy

Nigel D'Souza

The development of policies and strategies to tackle Aboriginal child welfare issues in Australia has taken time but is now gathering pace. Approaches to the problem have not been without difficulties especially when it has concerned minorities, or in the case of Australia and other western, so-called 'over-developed' (Gilroy 1987) countries like Canada and the United States, the children of indigenous peoples. This article outlines some thoughts on the matter of child welfare and indigenous children, taking a brief look at the context of indigenous children's needs in this area at the present time and then going on to propose some solutions in the form of policy frameworks that are suitable for Aboriginal people.

Aboriginal Australians and poverty: Issues of measurement

Janet Taylor

Income poverty has been the major focus of poverty measurement in Australia. It is widely used among Aboriginal communities, despite the difficulties in using this measurement. The author alerts readers to problems associated with measuring income poverty and argues that definitions used in measuring income amongst white Australians are not always appropriate when measuring income poverty amongst Aborigines. Data accuracy is also a problem. She argues that a much wider focus is needed that incorporates non-material aspects of poverty resulting from racism, oppression and dispossession.

Woorabinda Aboriginal Council

Ian McGregor-Dey

Woorabinda is a thriving Aboriginal community in Queensland's central highlands. In 1927, when the community was established, the people of Woorabinda had no prospects and no future; the majority of inhabitants collected social welfare. In the mid 1980s things began to change. In 1985 the town's population of 600 elected, for the first time, a five-member local Council. Woorabinda is emerging as a community with a reputation for development and self-management, much of which is due to its involvement in the Community Development Employment Projects Scheme (CDEP), a program provided by the Government for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living in remote, isolated, rural and urban areas. This article describes some of the CDEP work initiatives taking place in Woorabinda.

Aboriginal family issues

Yolanda Walker

This paper focuses on Aboriginal family life both prior to and following the European invasion, the effects of child removal, and the importance of the knowledge and wisdom of Aboriginal elders. The author also looks at the damaging effects of racial discrimination and stereotypes that present Aborigines as lazy, drunks, uneducated no hopers, involved in too much crime or perceptual stereotypes that demand that the only real Aborigines are fullbloods living a traditional tribal lifestyle.

Claiming our future

Barbara Cummings

The author begins by explaining that she is now considered an Olgaman or Qld Woman in her Aboriginal community. She, like many other Olgamans, is making important decisions that will effect future Aboriginal generations. She calls on young Aboriginal people to contribute to the making of these decisions. The author then talks about her own upbringing in a missionary institution and what the government policy of assimilation meant to her as a child. This is followed by a description of how she and other women from her institution wrote their own history titled 'Take This Child'. Research for this history is now contributing to the Link-Up program, delivered by the Aboriginal Child Care Agency (ACCA). ACCA has three major objectives to assist Aboriginal people. They are: land rights, access to archival material held by government and missions and legal investigations of displaced people.

Director's report

Don Edgar

The author argues that the government has failed to develop policies which improve the lot of families. Why is it, he asks, so difficult to achieve a family friendly policy framework? Three main reasons are proposed. First, there is a suspicion that family is a too conservative concept for policy-building. Second, the approach to social policy is piecemeal. The third reason lies in the nature of our government. It has too many levels, too many departmental policy contexts and an arrogant attitude towards letting people determine their own needs and how best they may be met.


Family facts: Divorce trends

This article presents current trends in divorce in Australia. It covers the number of divorces, the divorce rate, reasons for divorcing and numbers of children involved.