Accepted paper:

Desire and the life of labour in central Australia


Diana Young (University of Queensland)

Paper short abstract:

A paper about the different kinds of labour carried out by Indigenous artists living on what was once a Presbyterian Mission founded by a Scottish doctor in central Australia. Here the continuous precariousness of working life and bodily health intersects with the imperative for Western things.

Paper long abstract:

An enlightened Mission founded under the auspices of a Scottish medical doctor and the Presbyterian Church in 1937, Ernabella in the far north of South Australia provided many novel opportunities for Aboriginal people to labour for a reward. Today their descendants are repeatedly positioned by the mainstream media in Australia as economically marginal at best, and at worst, as failed citizens of modernity. The challenges for Aboriginal peoples in remote central Australia in enacting the habit of the Enlightenment idea of 'work' have been highlighted by Austin Broos and Peterson. Austin Broos distinguishes between 'working for' and working with' in cultures where reIatedness is paramount and things are seen as disposable in this service. In Ernabella, working life, in the sense that the Scottish doctor might have wished to impart, has always been precarious, but historically less so than in many other settlements of the region. Here I investigate different kinds of labour; the most widely successful recent mode of earning money, namely the hand making of art and craft for the market, and its interconnected with the desire for Western industrial goods as material and visual things. This paper will illuminate the ways Aboriginal people at Ernabella generate new social capital by transforming their bodies through both the labour of producing art works and of consuming goods, set against the constraints of income management and often, chronic ill health. The paper will also suggest how the particularity of different kinds of labour in contemporary central Australia might pre figure contemporary urban work worlds - rather than the other way around.

panel P30
The uncertain bodily relations of contemporary economic practice