The development of the culture of non-Aboriginal government workers in remote Aboriginal settlements in Central Australia

  • Penelope Joan Bergen

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    The successes and failures of interventions to close the disadvantage gap for remote Aboriginal communities have been well documented but the role of the non-Indigenous advisers tasked with carrying out those interventions has remained obscure. This study explores the development of the culture of non-Indigenous government staff living and working in remote Aboriginal settlements in Central Australia in the 1960s and early 1970s. Elements of Constructivist Grounded Theory Methodology and its methods were used to analyse interviews of a representative group of workers. Three core themes were identified: Confronting disconnectedness, Finding our own space within the institution, and We formed a new social framework. Further analysis led to a descriptive narrative that incorporated personal characteristics, social processes, reactions to ambiguous governance structures, and the creation of a new social structure. From this analysis, three propositions can be drawn: (1) Remote communities with an absence of governance structures attracted workers characterised by a preference for autonomy and self-organisation, workers who sought difference, meaning and adventure. (2) Remote Aboriginal settlements with inadequate governance structures resulted, paradoxically, in social connectedness being contingent on the ability to maintain and navigate distance from other people. (3) The stronger the governance structures, the more cohesive the group. This led to less need for external networking, which, in turn, lessened the likelihood that remote workers would be influenced by other external factors. The relationship between the strength of governance structures and the workers’ personal characteristics determined how, and with whom, non-Indigenous workers formed meaningful connections. Conclusions: The ongoing heterarchical network – an unranked collective of absent, unclear or frequently changing hierarchies - that is identified in this thesis, would likely benefit from the development of a national peak body which could aggregate and maintain an organisational structure, and formalise training and the maintenance of professional standards of workers in remote settlements.
    Date of Award2019
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorHeather Gibb (Supervisor)

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