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Caging the Rainbow

Caging the Rainbow: Places Politics, and Aborigines in a North Australian Town

Francesca Merlan
Copyright Date: 1998
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  • Book Info
    Caging the Rainbow
    Book Description:

    Caging the Rainbow explores the lives of Aborigines in the small regional town of Katherine, Northern Territory, Australia. Francesca Merlan combines ethnography and theory to grapple with issues surrounding the debate about the authenticity of contemporary cultural activity. Throughout, the vulnerability of Fourth World peoples to others' representations of them and the ethical problems this poses are kept in view.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6174-2
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
    (pp. vi-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  5. One Places and People of Katherine Town
    (pp. 1-47)

    Many writers have observed that, in the ways in which Aborigines position themselves around settler locations—missions, pastoral stations (ranches), and towns—they have tended to reproduce, within a small space, differentiated orientations to “country,” the lands to which they regard themselves as having primary ties. This chapter gives an account of the diversity of spatial orientation among Aboriginal people to the town of Katherine. It also begins to explore how this diversity relates to their differentiated and changing ties to hinterlands outside the town.

    No doubt, such spatially relative orientation reflects continuity in practice from precolonial times. Thus, Bell...

  6. Two From Place to Town
    (pp. 48-75)

    Julie williams, whom I call “mother” in the Aboriginal way, and I were standing on a street corner in Katherine on a hot, wet-season day in November 1991. At my request, she was showing me where something had happened that she and a number of other Aboriginal people in the town had mentioned several times over the years I had known them: the removal of a rainbow serpent from its former lair underneath the pavement where Julie and I were standing. We were at the intersection in the town (photo 1) of the Stuart Highway, the main north-south highway through...

  7. Three We Useta Walk Around, All the People
    (pp. 76-113)

    In this chapter, I explore ways in which Katherine-area Aboriginal people’s relations to hinterlands have tended to become specialized and rarefied, increasingly particular to individuals and small groupings of especially older people, as the relevant places cease to be a part of everyday living space. Although processes of this kind are occurring with respect to all the hinterlands from which Katherine’s Aboriginal people have come in to town, here I focus in particular on those who have come to town and outlying settlements from the north and east. These are regions in which what has become known in Australianist anthropological...

  8. Four Tribes and Town
    (pp. 114-148)

    This chapter is concerned with shifts in socio-spatial identities in relation to the town area of Katherine. Processes of change can be shown to have occurred over a period of decades as Aboriginal people converged upon the town from different hinterlands, building and intensifying social relationships with others already there.

    In the last chapter, I focused on relationships to hinterlands north and east of the town at the level of “clan.” While such relatively small-scale identities as “clan” are one important level of Aboriginal relationship to country, they are not the only one, as the omnipresence in the last chapter...

  9. Five Imposition and Imitation: Changing Directions in Aboriginal Affairs
    (pp. 149-181)

    This chapter, like the last, considers what can be meant by change and continuity. But it differs from the last in looking at the issue from the perspective of the external management of Aboriginal affairs, rather than beginning from an Aboriginal perspective. At the end of the last chapter, I suggested that it is important to do this because the survival of “tribal” identities cannot be understood as pure continuity of Aboriginal culture. In recent times, the “tribal” level and other forms of organization have been elicited from Aborigines, and given greater concreteness and fixity than they previously had, as...

  10. Six Struggles in Town Space
    (pp. 182-208)

    Chapter 1 presented a sectoral picture of Katherine, relating the distribution of the various Aboriginal camps to the orientations of their residents to hinterlands and particular regional “mobs” of countrymen. This chapter is concerned with further exploration of these and other aspects of socio-spatiality with respect to the town area. Although Aborigines’ use of town spaces is, to an extent, shaped by wider social and territorial orientation in Aboriginal terms, the town is a complex space also strongly shaped by the co-presence of Aborigines with others. The town area is not neutral in relation to Aboriginal presence. As I showed...

  11. Seven Do Places Appear? Further Struggle in Space
    (pp. 209-228)

    Chapter 2 explored loss of a place formerly differentiated in Aboriginal terms from its surroundings, through the evanescence of the rainbow’s cave. This chapter is concerned with another aspect of change and continuity with respect to places in the recent period. It tells, as far I was able to follow events over a number of years, of the emergence of a place near one of the Katherine camps. The way in which the place came to be known was simple: as a finding in daily camp life. But from simple beginnings, the place came to play a role in complex...

  12. Eight Conclusions
    (pp. 229-240)

    In this book I have attempted to give ethnographic substance to notions of change and continuity through the Katherine material. Having described the Katherine Aboriginal scene in terms of sociohistorical and socio-spatial differentiation among its camps and people (chapter 1), I examined ways in which a place, originally differentiated in Aboriginal terms of country as storied, has became submerged within the town context. But I also gave an experience-near account of ways in which town spaces continue to be differentiated in other terms arising from Aboriginal people’s particular sociohistorical experiences of the town, involving elements of continuity and change (chapter...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 241-262)
    (pp. 263-276)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 277-285)