'Sacred or Profane?' Panel Discussion Considers the Australian Government's Intervention in Aboriginal Communities

November 29, 2007

Nov. 29, 2007 — A panel discussion on recent events concerning Aboriginal communities in Australia will be held at the University of Virginia on Sunday, Dec. 2, at 3 p.m. in the Newcomb Hall South Meeting Room.

Aboriginal people, who have been living in Australia for more than 40,000 years, have fought long and hard to win rights from the white Australian leadership. Indigenous Australians, who won citizenship in 1967, struggle to maintain their rich, culture and way of life that encompasses an oral tradition and spiritual values based on a reverence for the land and their ancestors. Their communities suffer many ills associated with poverty — overcrowding, poor health, alcohol abuse, domestic violence and lack of education. These ills are not limited to Aboriginal communities but can be found in communities throughout Australia. Yet, recent action by the government has singled them out for reform.

On June 21, Australian Prime Minister John Howard declared a national emergency regarding Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. Citing a report on violence and child abuse in some Aboriginal communities, Howard announced the federal government was seizing control and instituting sweeping changes, from bans on alcohol and pornography to the elimination of the Community Development Employment Program. 

The announcement came about in response to a report commissioned by the Northern Territory government titled "Little Children Are Sacred." However, Howard's intervention strategy followed none of the report's recommendations. Instead, he ordered measures that also include cutting welfare payments and work programs to exert control over the ways Aboriginal people spend their money, eliminating the permit system which regulates access to Aboriginal land and deploying police and army personnel into Aboriginal communities. 
A panel of Aboriginal experts will discuss various aspects of the intervention and the changes already felt in Aboriginal communities on Sunday, Dec. 2, at 3 p.m., in Newcomb Hall's South Meeting Room. Members of the audience will be invited to participate in a question-and-answer session following the panel presentations.

Panelists include:

•    Dr. Howard Morphy, director of the Centre for Cross-Cultural Research at Australian National University
•    Frances Morphy, fellow at the Center for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research
•    Josh Wheeler, associate director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression
•    Will Owen, author of the blog Aboriginal Art - An American Eye
•    Margo Smith, director and curator, Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection, University of Virginia

The event is free and open to the public and is sponsored by the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia.

For information, contact Margo Smith, director and curator, Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection, at (434) 924-0234 or mws2d@virginia.edu.