Contact zones
: sport and race in the Northern Territory, 1869-1953

  • Matthew Stephen

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    Sport and sports fields the world over are contested ground, a form of public theatre. In the Northern Territory sport is a hotly contested social and political terrain where issues of race and identity continually collide. Palmerston (Darwin after 1911), the Northern Territory’s first permanent White settlement, established in February 1869, rather precariously marked colonial Australia’s northern frontier. Its enervating tropical climate, diverse but deeply divided cultures, frontier attitude and proximity to Asia gave it a distinctive character. A social hierarchy developed dominated by a tight-knit White minority that simplistically delineated and distanced a White ‘us’ from an alien, non-White ‘them’. Sport had a privileged and prominent place in this society because it was one of the few sites where its diverse communities could come together, albeit conditionally. Sport was, and remains, an active and powerful social agent and an important barometer of changing values. 

    From 1869, to the end of the South Australian administration in 1911, sport was an essential means of constructing and sustaining White society. It did so by excluding or strictly segregating Aborigines, Chinese and other non-Whites. Then, from World War I to 1953, under the administration of the Commonwealth, sport, particularly Australian football, played an equally important role in transforming the Northern Territory into a more representative and inclusive society. For the non-White community, sport was a means of challenging the status quo and asserting its rights in the face of continuous institutional racism. Success in sport was a potent counter-narrative, a declaration of resistance and developed a strong sense of community identity. The evolution from sporting exclusion and segregation to integration and liberation for the Territory’s non-White sportsmen and women is an extraordinary story that until now has been largely overlooked by researchers. At the heart of this history is the struggle for human rights and recognition.
    Date of Award2009
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorDavid Carment (Supervisor)

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