Aboriginal land and economic activity
The Aboriginal land estate in NSW: opportunities for economic activity
Professor Heidi Norman is investigating how NSW Aboriginal Land councils manage their land estate for the benefit and to create value for their community. Increasingly government views Indigenous engagement in the economy or Aboriginal economic activity, particularly leveraging communal land holdings for economic advancement, as a leading public policy objective. However, the land that comprises the Aboriginal estate has often suffered environmental degradation, the land recovery has been highly constrained and uneven across the state, is occasionally of high conservation value, in some circumstances where market economies are monopolized by established industry and subject to planning constraints. In other circumstances, Aboriginal conceptions of land use value comes into dramatic conflict with extraction industries.
From the late 1970s, the NSW Government commenced a process to recognise Aboriginal land rights. Laws were passed in 1983 and have seen the return of some land to the NSW Aboriginal Land Council network. As well as recognising land as bonded to Aboriginal spirituality and accounts of belonging and connection, these laws were formulated as a social justice package that included a place-based representative network and funding to support enterprises. Aboriginal land recovery and recognition of rights and interests in land is also possible, since 1994, under the Commonwealth Native Title laws and state laws that recognise rights and interests in the conservation estate.
In settler society, neoliberal globalization is dominated by the ‘financialisation’ of economic and social relationships. Socially and culturally embedded approaches to the Aboriginal economy challenge this (Altman 2001, 2004; Polanyi 2001, first published 1944; Polanyi Levitt 2013, Langton 2012, 2013, Anderson, Dana, & Dana, 2006; Anderson and Peredo 2006; Anderson et al 2004; Anderson 1999; Pearson 2000). An emerging body of research from New Zealand (Dana, & Anderson, 2007), North America (Anderson et al 2006; Dombrowski 2001; Blaser et al. 2004; Bunten, 2010) and Oceania (McCormack & Barclay, 2013) combine empirical data and critical theory to consider Aboriginal engagement with development. In Australia, economic anthropologist Jon Altman offers a critical body of work about the indigenous hybrid economy (Altman 2001, 2004; Collins et al 2016) with particular emphasis on the conditions of the traditional north. Literature on the social embeddedness of economies (Polanyi, 1944) and critical development theory emphasise how unique local engagements with capitalism are embedded within local communities and how these can be applied in development practice to better serve the needs of local communities and account for their activity (Curry et al in McCormack and Barclay 2013, 338). However, there is even less literature that considers Aboriginal worlds guided by attachment to peopled-places, responsibility to improve material conditions and confronted by environmental change.
Professor Heidi Norman and Professor Jock Collins
Australian Research Council (ARC Discovery Indigenous Researchers Development)