Understanding 'work' in Ngukurr
: a remote Australian Aboriginal community

  • Eva Mcrae-Williams

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    This thesis is an ethnographic study of the ‘work’ ideologies inherent in a remote Australian Aboriginal community; Ngukurr in South East Arnhem Land of the Northern Territory. Formerly known as the Roper River Mission and established in 1908, it is today home to approximately 1000 Aboriginal inhabitants. Fieldwork for this project was conducted in three phases between 2006 and 2007 totalling seven months.

    The aim of this research was to gain an insight into the meaning and value of ‘work’ for Aboriginal people in Ngukurr. First, this involved acknowledging the centrality of paid employment to mainstream western ‘work’ ideology and its influence on my own, and other non-Aboriginal peoples, understandings and ways of being in the world. Through this recognition the historical and contemporary relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in the northern part of Australia, specifically the Roper River region, was found to be fundamentally shaped by labour relations and dominant western ‘work’ ideology.

    The influence of this ‘work’ ideology on Aboriginal people, expressed through the policies and practices of both Governments and Missions, is explored through an analysis of Aboriginal memories of ‘work’. Ambiguity in the meaning and value of ‘work’ is emphasised and elements of Aboriginal ‘work’ ideology, as distinct from dominant western work ideology, are explored. The influence of contemporary employment arrangements on Aboriginal understandings of ‘work’ is investigated and the sometimes problematic relationship between Aboriginal cultural beliefs and practices and those espoused by dominant western work ideology illustrated.

    In conclusion this research found that Aboriginal people in Ngukurr have a ‘work’ ideology that is distinct from its western counterpart. Shaped by unique historical, social and cultural phenomena it is not confined to the sphere of paid or formal employment. The multidimensional nature of contemporary Aboriginal ‘work’ ideology in Ngukurr suggests that overcoming high levels of unemployment in remote communities may not simply be about providing more ‘jobs’, training or education.
    Date of AwardSep 2008
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorRolf Gerritsen (Supervisor) & Kate Senior (Supervisor)

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