Kakadu as an Aboriginal place
: tourism and the construction of Kakadu National Park

  • Lisa Rebecca Palmer

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    In this thesis I ask 'What kind of place is tourism creating in Kakadu National Park?' For the non-Aboriginal public, tourism is an activity that constructs a particular reading of the region, one that is predicated on access to the National Park. In tourism discourse, Kakadu is portrayed largely as an unspoilt wilderness with an Aboriginal past, rather than a present. This discourse imposes non-Aboriginal readings of the landscape as the dominant interpretation of Kakadu National Park. From the perspective of its Aboriginal traditional owners, Kakadu is an Aboriginal place. This assertion challenges the dominant discourse of nature-based tourism, as it means that all land, resources, and intellectual property in the region are owned and interacted with according to an ontological perspective which is completely different to Western ideas about the self and about human relationships with nature.

    In this thesis I examine the 'commonsense' ideas that non-Aboriginal Park users express about nature and Aborigines, and the historical power of these ideas to marginalise Aboriginal standpoints. I also examine local Aboriginal understandings of Kakadu, wherein place is constructed through a broad range of social relationships set within an Aboriginal system of authority. The thesis concludes that, through various processes, this Aboriginal understanding of place becomes submerged beneath an understanding of Kakadu as a discrete tract of land to be used and managed according to Western principles of conservation and resource use.

    Nevertheless, I find that by continuing to assert that Kakadu is an Aboriginal place, Aboriginal people in the Park are contesting the domination of non-Aboriginal readings of their homelands. Aboriginal traditional owners are initiating their own style of tourism and are slowly working with the potential that tourism offers to change the relationships of power and tell their own stories, in their own way, about Kakadu as an Aboriginal place.
    Date of AwardJun 2001
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorNancy Williams (Supervisor)

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