Australian Aboriginal Tourism: Still an Opportunity, but keep the culture intact Author: Dr Dennis Foley



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Title:


Australian Aboriginal Tourism: Still an Opportunity, but keep the culture intact
Author:
Dr Dennis Foley
Email:

Dennis.Foley@Newcastle.edu.au
Address:
School of Humanities & Social Sciences

Faculty Education & Arts

The University of Newcastle

Callaghan NSW 2309

AUSTRALIA
T. +61 2 4921 6811


Australian Aboriginal Tourism: Myth or Invented Culture, but keep the culture intact
Abstract:

In Sydney, Circular Quay or the Rocks where the international tourist mingles; a blackfella in a red nappy with the mandatory white handprints will be playing a didgeridoo begging for coins. Is this the image we want to portray of a tourism industry with an overcommercialised instrument that suffocates geographic specific traditional music such as the possum skin drum, or complex percussion instruments? The ‘Didgeridoo’ in Sydney as an example is culturally alien. It does not belong, and just like the Native American Dream Catcher it has been trivialised; diluting cultural significance. Arguably it was once an iconic attribute to an industry, now one questions the manufacturer’s authenticity. The justification seems to revolve around the establishment of Aboriginal Tourism; portrayed by government as the economic alternative to welfare. Or a means to make a quick dollar without respect for cultural heritage as the operators (black & white) invent stories, dances or songs or just pure ignorance by the performer who thinks they know what the tourist is looking for. This paper looks at the shortcomings in cultural heritage, supported by a small qualitative case study of international visitors and discusses the overuse of the symbolic hollowed out stick, iconic or monotonous?


Introduction

Several years ago whilst undertaking a research trip to Tasmania I had the fortune to visit the Tiagarra Aboriginal Culture Centre and Museum in Devonport located on the Mersey Bluff at the mouth of the Mersey River, an important cultural heritage site on Tasmania’s north coast. This is also an excellent repository and educational centre of Palawa history that should be on any tourist’s or student of Aboriginal Studies agenda however I was taken back at the practice of Didgeridoo demonstrations at the Centre which could not be further from Northern Australia, or those areas that I had been taught were the cultural home of this instrument. Shortly after I participated in a ‘welcome to country’ ceremony in Hobart where once again the Didgeridoo was played and to dances that seem to have been choreographed by the same person at the Margaret River, Freemantle and Perth (Southern Western Australia); Victor Harbour, Mount Gambier and Adelaide (Southern South Australia); the Grampians, Warrnambool, Melbourne and Healesville (Southern Victoria); Jindabyne, Eden and Sydney (Southern and Coastal NSW). It seems this hollowed out log is played to authenticate an Aboriginal experience and I have overheard international visitors at Healesville, Devonport and Freemantle explain in frustration, ‘not again, another fellow in a nappy doing a kangaroo dance’. So why has this instrument that was once geographically isolated to Northern Australia, and deemed sacred by many, now become the commercialised image of Aboriginal entertainment or tourist authenticity? Indeed has the Australian Aboriginal tourism industry ‘McDonalised’ an icon creating an invented culture for the Didgeridoo which has no known cultural capital or cultural heritage connection in the author’s knowledge to Tasmania let alone Jindabyne or Sydney.

Indeed, in Sydney, busking the Didgeredoo at Circular Quay or using it as a medium for office activities or non-indigenous lunch-time entertainment (as there is a company who markets themselves in this area), or on the tourist boat that takes you to a NSW National Park managed island that was used pre-colonial in Boregal gender specific knowledge and training. Now it is polluted by a non-Boregal Aboriginal money making venture where the sanctity of Boregal cultural heritage has been diluted by the intoxicating lure of the dollar. Aboriginal Australian culture is compromised for short-sighted income by non-traditional owners. This paper hopes to expose the dilemma facing Aboriginal people as they swim in a sea called progress drowning in neoliberalism and managerialism policy.

The commercialisation of the Aboriginal icon, the Yidaki or didgeredoo will be discussed as well as an overview of current government policy that impacts on the economic development and cultural heritage practices of the Australian Aboriginal tourism industry. To highlight the impact of current cultural heritage practices, twenty qualitative case study interviews randomly selected predominantly from northern hemisphere international visitors were undertaken. The comments of the international visitors to Australia in the winter of 2012 will be analysed giving their collective opinions of their impressions of the portrayal of Aboriginal participants within the tourism industry. An interpretation and conclusion will follow by the Indigenous author outlining a possible decline in Indigenous cultural heritage ethics within Australia.


The Australian Federal Government and the Australian Tourism Industry

To provide a background for this paper there has been a decline in Australia’s share of the global tourism market for more than a decade (Commonwealth of Australia 2009). The government acknowledges that; “… the future of tourism will depend on ensuring the industry provides compelling and sustainable experiences to consumers” (Commonwealth of Australia 2009: 11). The promotion of Aboriginal tourism however “without a better understanding of the true nature of tourist demand is irresponsible, socially dangerous and obscene” (Ryan & Huyton 2010:54). Aboriginal Tourism sustainability would appear to be based on theorized tourist academic literature rather than fact, an issue raised by the now defunct Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission in the late 1990’s. Many Aboriginal tourism products and strategies developed by over-optimistic feasibility studies and false expectations have led to disappointment and expected results not realized (Ryan & Huyton 2010). The federal government continues to acknowledge the continuing development and contribution of Indigenous tourism is key in helping achieve economic and social outcomes however within the same directive the federal government also accepts that Indigenous tourism offerings need further development for in the past their supported tourism-specific Indigenous programs have been too focused in enhancing employment over the social and economic status of Indigenous people (Commonwealth of Australia 2009). The federal government however fails to acknowledge within their reports any recognition of Indigenous cultural capital and/or cultural heritage and its preservation.

To achieve Australia’s tourism potential a strategy of working with industry in a ‘whole of government’ approach was introduced in 2013 under the banner of Tourism 2020 (another strategy, sigh) which is a national strategy to enhance growth and competitiveness within the tourism industry focusing on six strategic areas of growing demand in Asia; building competitive digital capability; encourage investment and implement regulatory reform agenda; ensure tourism transport environment supports growth; build industry resilience, productivity and quality and; increase supply of labour, skills and Indigenous participation (Tourism Australia 2013). The question I then raise is Indigenous participation again viewed only in economic/employment terms? The basis for this question is that in three key policy documents; the Indigenous Economic Development Strategy 2011-2018, Closing the Gap Prime Ministers Report 2013 and the National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Economic Participation 2008-2013 are clearly are focused on Aboriginal people being employees. The former Labor Federal Government incorrectly viewed Indigenous economic development as being limited to waged tax payers. Which is the view expressed by the advising public service advisors so this attitude realistically is unlikely to change under the current government. Little to no significance in these three key policy documents looks at Indigenous economic development in terms of self-employment through small to medium enterprises let alone active economic involvement within the Tourism industry. The former government rhetoric and key social platforms were based on jobs, not self-empowered employment. Government policy shackles economic development for Indigenous people so that they are employed without control of their future. History repeats itself for once again Indigenous people become the passive collateral damage from colonization (Norris 2010) and once again with no mention or consideration of Indigenous cultural heritage or capital. Dr Peter Shergold, former head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has publically lamented over how little things have progressed in his two decades as a senior public servant and how little control Aboriginal people have over their lives confirming my criticism of government policy based on jobs (Karvelas 2013).
Aboriginal Tourism

Reflecting this lack of achievement, Aboriginal Tourism research indicates that the economic returns from tourism in comparison to Aboriginal investment can be comparatively small or the Aboriginal traditional owner can even be treated commercially unfairly by other operators (Foley 2008; Haynes 2010; Ryan 1997). The small returns from Indigenous tourism lead to many Aboriginal tourism ventures ceasing to operate once the government seed funding expires (Birdsall-Jones, Wood & Jones 2007; Russel-Mundine 2007). Tourism for Aboriginal small business creation has been promoted by a mix of State and Federal Governments for over a decade who speaks of sustainability. The reality in many cases has been a lack of knowledge of the industry, poor networking with airlines and bus companies, a misunderstanding of the tourism product, the consumer needs or the needs of the Aboriginal service provider resulting in failure of the overall Aboriginal Tourism product (Russel-Mundine 2007; Whitford & Ruhane 2010).

It is not uncommon in some geographic areas to see Aboriginal copycat businesses very similar in nature and service (or identical) of another Aboriginal enterprise contesting or vying for a small tourist marketplace. Traditionally, one business starts and another person thinks the first person is successful and they can do that without doing a market evaluation and then within a short period you have two identical businesses competing for a market that may not be able to support one business let alone two. Previous research on copycat businesses on Pacific Islander entrepreneurs has been expanded upon with a more recent Australian study which indicates too many Aboriginal small businesses start-ups should never have progressed past the initial planning stage (Cheshire 2001; Foley 2005; 2011).

In Kakadu, as an example “cultural tourism has created significant disadvantage for the Aboriginal people of the area” (Haynes 2010: 165). Hayes research highlights how visitors become; “exasperated …[when] most traditional owners refuse to act out the role of ‘traditional’ Aborigines, in a game many white people claim would certainly enhance Kakadu’s unrealised tourism potential” (2010: 171). The tourist wants to see the exotic, red nappy painted savage caught in a time bubble pre European contact, yet the results of this paper indicate that the ‘educated’ visitor is looking for more than an ancient savage actor. Francesca Merlan noted; “representations of Aboriginality as made most powerfully by others to affect who and what Aborigines consider themselves to be” (1998:150). Others in the Tourism sector determine what the Aborigine should be!

Haynes’s research over three decades in Kakadu has highlighted few Aboriginal people own their own tourist ventures, those that are employed in the region, many are not traditional owners and the majority within the industry are from Darwin and are non-indigenous. Those few local people employed are in waged positions, few if any in positions reinforcing their cultural integrity. Darwin based commercial tour guides spread exotic tales of misinformation that involve stories of tribal murders, pay back killings and bizarre sexual behaviour. This has led to mimicry, to “telling Aboriginal people what their ‘authentic’ culture is, implying that themselves are unauthentic” (Haynes 2010 177). “Aboriginal reticence about becoming seriously involved in tour guiding … other than more bullying of traditional owners by the state, in order to expand tourism and create more jobs for Darwin based whites” (Haynes 2010:179) has resulted in an industry commodified in content and control.

One must remember however, that there is a considerable demand from international visitors for ‘authentic’ Indigenous tourism experiences (DIST 1997). What the tourist interprets as an authentic product can differ however with that which is offered or evolved through technological advancement or what the traditional owner is prepared to do (Haynes 2010). The Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park in Cairns when they first used advanced technology in laser and acoustics caused negative reactions from some patrons, overtime their product has moulded to consumer demand fusing modernity with ancient story lines producing a quality product in entertainment combined with food and beveridge service. This paper questions the authentic content and subjectivity of the possible overuse of the Didgeridoo by other actors across the nation.



The Didgeridoo (Didjeridu) in Australian Tourism

The Didjeridu or Didgeridoo (both popular spelling versions will be used in the text) or Yidaki as others call it, has not been a national instrument in Australia until around the late 1960’s and 1970’s which coincided with its use during the land rights movement and Aboriginal activism (Moyle 1981). Previously its range was accepted as limited to the northern parameters of Australia. To illustrate its limited use, during the winter of 1972 in the author’s involvement at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra, there were only one or two players of the instrument around the campfire and they were from the Northern Territory. The mastery of the instrument was minimal in the author’s observations at one of the largest gatherings of Aboriginal people of the era.

Norman Tindale and Charles Mountford from the South Australian Museum together with a distinguished team undertook several research expeditions in Arnhem Land in the 1930’s whereby the Didgeridoo appeared to be used in ceremony in the northern extremities of the continent. By the 1980’s however it seems every tribal group within Australia had adopted the Didgeridoo as their own musical instrument (Specht 2012) illustrating the dramatic increase in usage from the 1930’s to the 1980’s.

It has since become an iconic aspect of New Age discourse suffused at times to different cultural perspectives and practices from musical adaptation to healing. New Age followers have demanded the right to appropriate and expropriate its restricted use including connotations of any sacred or secret knowledge and practices as has the Sweat Lodge in Native America (Neuenfeldt 1998; Welch 2002)). Some see this as a new wave of colonization or ‘colonial theft’ (Welch 2002: 33) whilst other non-indigenous claim that by them adapting and playing the Didjeridu is reconciliation (Priest 1996). Reconciliation however does not involve cultural appropriation as witnessed at the Woodford Folk Festivals with women playing it and the instrument being adapted for New Age non-indigenous healing contexts (Barwick 1997). Aboriginal scholars have deemed it exotic tourism and traditional cultural voyeurism (Huggins 1996). However it is not all one way as Indigenous communities and individuals partially manage and purposely shape Aboriginal alliances and interventions, coterminous in the ideological interface that these players share (Grossman & Cuthbert 1998).

From exotic tourism and cultural voyeurism we move onto the 2000 Sydney Olympics where the Didgeridoo playing was beamed into the living rooms of millions of viewers internationally, becoming the dominant artifact of Aboriginal culture in the opening ceremony. Bradford (a New Aged non-indigenous person who performs, makes and retails Didgeridoos) believes that the inclusion of the instrument in the opening ceremony would harmonize and integrate the knowing wisdom of the Indigenous and those of the non-indigenous harnessing and harmonizing the forces of male and female and the forces of creation being brought about by organic rather than the mechanized processes (1996). This is a questionable opinion as it was possibly more a strategic inclusion by Tourism Australia on the Australian Olympic Committee with the inclusion of Djakapurra Munyarryan, an Aboriginal songman and extraordinary performer leading the Aboriginal segment, which was not the usual token showpiece put on for official functions. Choreographed by Stephen Page (of Bangarra Dance fame), it involved 1,150 Aboriginal people from clans and tribes in New South Wales and Arnhem Land in far northern Australia, as well as Torres Strait Islanders, in a moving contemporary interpretation of a traditional welcoming ceremony. The then Premier for NSW Bob Carr, told ABC radio the event was perhaps the most important artistic achievement in Australia's history, for the NSW premier the Games was an advertising coup for tourism (Tenenbaum 2000). However, to the authors knowledge not one traditional owner of that or surrounding areas was consulted or involved.

Undeniably the Didjeridu has accumulated considerable symbolic capital in the last two decades and is an icon of Aboriginality and ritual significance embedded firmly within the Australian national imagination (Magowan 2005).


Methodology

Aboriginal researchers should continually re-evaluate ourselfs to ensure we adhere to and negotiate the cultural interface to maintain our Indigenous standpoint and Indigenous methodological approach while traversing the cross-cultural ‘tightrope’, complying with ethical standards set and managed by the non-indigenous such as within the Academy (Foley 2006; Nakata 2007). Otherwise you run the risk of forfeiting your Indigenous epistemological view and becoming yet another mainstream researcher. As stated many times, Karen Martin’s text Please Knock before You Enter: Aboriginal regulation of Outsiders and the implications for researchers (2008) is a sobering reminder that Indigenous scholars must maintain their respect not only to the accuracy of their own writing, they must also maintain Aboriginal protocol when writing on other Aboriginal groups. I accordingly acknowledge the Elders past and present and the living members of the traditional owners and associated clans and other Aboriginal residents within these lands that I write on, especially those who possess the cultural knowledge of the iconic didgeridoo.

The research underlying this paper uses a multiple case study approach applied within independent studies (Yin 2002; Eisenhardt 1989) along with a systematic literature review (Tranfield, Denver and Smart 2003; Pittaway, Robertson, Munir, Denver and Neeley 2004) . From the empirical evidence a thematic approach has then been applied to provide focus and unity (Thorpe, Holt, Pittaway and Macpherson 2006). The names of the 20 international respondents (apart from geographic identitiy) will remain anonymous and every attempt will be made to protect their identity. Their selection was random, taking place over a three month window of opportunity during July to September 2012. All participants were introduced to the author.
Research Outcomes

Twenty international visitors were asked a series of open ended questions regarding their Aboriginal tourism experience consisting of how many times they witnessed a performance, was it a voluntary performance or a part of their agenda, did they feel it was an authentic representation of culture and did they enjoy it and what were their feelings regarding the experience. Their personal backgrounds included:



  • Professor of Small Business - Ireland

  • Professor of Cultural Studies (Maori) - Aotearoa (F)

  • Dr Business – Aotearoa (Maori) (F)

  • Assoc. Professor Gender Studies (Fijian Indian) – Aotearoa (F)

  • Two medical doctors (General Practitioners) – Denmark (1 x F)

  • Marketing Manager International Cosmetic Company - Denmark (F)

  • Two Dentists – Finland (1 x F)

  • Professor Cultural and Women’s Studies – England (F)

  • Professor Entrepreneurship – Denmark

  • Professor History – Holland

  • Three Dr’s Native American Studies - Canada (2 Indigenous)(M)

  • Business couple – France (1 x F)

  • Assoc Professor Medical Studies – Sth Africa(M)

  • High School Teacher – Sth Africa (F)

  • PhD. Student Marine Biology – Sth Africa (F)

The research group are all highly intelligent, qualified professionals, 50% are women and fourteen of the group had been to Australia at least twice before, three had been five times or more. The purpose of their visit was almost even to attend conferences, professional development, wedding and/or family reunions, and or simple pleasure. Key visitation areas were as follows;
Key points no. visited no. Didj presentations

Sydney 20 5

Circular Quay Buskers 16 16

Harbour Aboriginal Cruise 7 7

Melbourne 12 3

Darwin 18 4

Alice Springs & Uluru 14 28

Kakadu 18 18

Perth 5 3

Adelaide 2 2

Hobart 2 0

Brisbane 12 8

Gold Coast 7 7

Cairns 16 14

Great Barrier Reef 16 2

Canberra 9 2


The distribution patterns of visitation were interesting with Kakadu, the Great Barrier Reef and the Circular Quay area (incorporating the Opera House and the Rocks area) being the most visited tourist destinations. As the interviews took place in Sydney this was seen as the gateway for the northern hemisphere participants travel, Perth for the South African visitors who were passing through Sydney. Based on 15 key visitation sites, the number of didgeridoo and dance presentations was 119 times in 174 destinations. Each person experienced approximately 6 Aboriginal experiences in their trip involving the didgeridoo and dance that were in their words ‘surprisingly similar’. The Professor of Anthropology who visited 9 key locations was very interested the first two times of the experience however after the 12th presentation they believed they were witnessing a sanitised tourist product lacking Aboriginal authenticity in the dialogue, lacking theatrical imagination at one scale or at the other end of the spectrum they lacked representation or interpretation of individualistic Aboriginal culture. They appeared in this scholars interpretation as almost ‘a paradoxical rip off’ (Hayward 1998; Neuenfeldt 1998) and raised the dichotomy of Langton’s (1993) criticism of non-indigenous New Age people stereotyping Aboriginal practice when in fact it would appear that Aboriginal people were guilty of the same practice in their repetitive presentation of what the actor interpreted as Aboriginal culture. Several of the participants questioned were the Aboriginal actors portraying their culture or were they in fact playing out a stagnant choreographed interpretation of what they thought the tourist wanted to see? ‘But not 12 times’ stated the Professor of Anthropology. He asked me were all Aboriginal people so blatantly boring in their dance or was this a product of colonial commodification?

The Maori and Native Canadian scholars agreed that by the third presentation they were also concerned at the cultural integrity of the performance as they all knew that the Didgeridoo was not a traditional instrument of the Sydney basin in particular however the actors themselves lacked that information when they questioned the performers at Circular Quay. The Native Canadians also experienced a presentation at the Healesville Sanctuary in the upper Yarra Valley which they found not only poorly choreographed they felt it was disrespectful to the people of Kakadu and other regions in the Northern Territory where they had previously shared song and dance with traditional owners in an ad-hoc ceremony during their visit to Yellow Waters in Kakadu. They felt the Kakadu peoples knew the cultural heritage of the instrument and of dance whereas the Healesville and the Circular Quay people did not. The Healesville and Circular Quay presentations in their words were ‘Wal-Mart cultural experiences’ (Wal-Mart being a large chain of department stores in the USA). They felt cheated for the non-indigenous people present and questioned me at length that there should be some form of Tribal certification to stop such poor transmission of culture to an obviously gullible audience for what was in their experience ‘a rip-off of cultural heritage’.

The Dutch Professor of History who is well versed in current tourism literature also quoted Marcia Langton’s (1993) rebuttable of New Age adaptation of Aboriginal song, dance and the perceived healing qualities of the didgeridoo as it raised similar parodies to the Indigenous performer commodifying the ‘Didjeridu’ in an attempt to mystify it (Magowan 2005; Neuenfeldt 1988). The Professor noted the Australian criticism of a ‘Dreamtime’ event in Switzerland in 1996 where hundreds of New Aged devotees met for a time of healing under the power of the didgeridoo (Fruhwacht 1996).

Sixteen participants had visited the Rocks area and walked around Circular Quay to the Opera House and were exposed to the licensed Aboriginal Buskers of varying skill and ability. Collectively the opinion was they felt compelled to donate to some of them in a charitable sense as they felt sad that a noble race was now begging, several were drinking alcohol between performances or other Aboriginal people with them were either stoned or under the influence. This abhorred them as it reinforced negative stereotypes. One medical Doctor suggested that the true singers and dancers should not be begging for coins, rather they should be a permanent act at the Opera House available for visitors to appreciate in a cultured environment. When I suggested that Aboriginal song and dance is best in the open several replied but not in the gutter with refuse or seagull droppings on asphalt under a noisy train and car overpass disrupting commuters or people trying to enjoy their day without beggars.

Seven experienced the Aboriginal cruise and visit to Shark Island where they all met the ‘last of his tribe’, interestingly for one couple it was a different ‘actor’ nullifying the shallowness of authenticity of this award winning tourist venture that appears to sacrifice fact for a Hollywood style interpretation of genealogy, culture and historiography. When I enquired as to the interaction on the island they had mixed feelings as to the sensitivity of the performance as the script was generalist with no content about creation stories of the local area. The actors advised them that the local knowledge was gone as the local people were extinct, which dismisses texts such as ‘Repossession: of our Spirit’ (Foley 2001), a research monograph published by Aboriginal History at the Australian National University based on the traditional creation stories and ethnography of the local Aboriginal clans, written by living descendants. Thus the commodification and the mystification of Aboriginal culture illustrate the lack of contact in tourism between operators/actors and the traditional owners as illustrated previously in Kakadu in Haynes (2010) research.
Conclusion

In conclusion, within the historical context, the Australian Aboriginal was viewed initially as uncivilised, primitive and the exotic object of science. The New Age however, by their appropriation of Aboriginal knowledge, especially the Didjeridu have done so by arguably admiring the cultural practices. Within the observed conundrum that is the centre of this paper, Langton (1993), Huggins (1996) and others criticisms of New Age appropriation falls short as it does not include the Indigenous Australian’s appropriation of a cultural icon that has now become the benchmark of what it is to be Aboriginal, the Didjeridu performance it would appear has become this. It would appear from the Historical perspective the key issues are appropriation, a possible lack of respect, or acknowledgement from the traditional owners and the culturally sanctioned permission to either play it from those who maintain the intangible cultural heritage of the instrument to permission from those who maintained the land on which the instrument is played. However who police’s this? It is complex and difficult. No non-indigenous can determine who has the right as they do not have the cultural capital or cultural attainment, it must be determined by the Indigenous traditional owner and this creates further complexities as to who is the correct spokesperson especially when we consider that Aboriginal culture is not stagnant captured in a bubble nor do Aboriginal populations enjoy a history of unbroken connection to their homelands with forced removal, mission prisons, child removal practices and drifting populations during the Australian agrarian history as Aboriginal families eked out an existence following the crops and shearing. The colonisation process within Australia has ensured massive changes in Aboriginal population migration. Over the last six to ten decades a drift to capital cities in search of work, education, health facilities and housing has occurred, a movement many would say was a migration in search of basic human rights.

So the Didjeridu, the icon of Aboriginality is now ‘McDonalised’ in that it has been commodified losing its cultural heritage value to a degree as has the American Indian Dream catcher which can be found in any $2 dollar store or weekend flea market. The cultural value has been lost in its made in China manufacturers tag (Magowan 2005). It is said there are more Didgeridoo players in Germany than all of Australia (Bradford 1996).

The quandary for Aboriginal people and non-aboriginal people alike is how to use the artefact, the practices and knowledge appropriately without devaluing or destroying them by mystification, essentialisation and commodification. Above all who has the authentic skill and ability to determine decisions about the artefact, the practices and the knowledge appropriately? With respect to Sydney Harbour, Shark Island and Circular Quay it certainly is not the Local Aboriginal Land Council who in their thirty year history is best known as a quasi-land developer.

In November 2003 the NSW Heritage office co-hosted the Australian ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) Annual Conference at North Head, it is widely accepted that ICOMOS together with the Heritage office are the peak bodies in the area of sites and heritage. In the plenary, Barry Jones AO, FAA, FASSA, FAHA, FTSE, FACE (former politician – Federal Minister and of TV’s BP Pick A Box fame) concluded that; the key issue of the interpretation and presentation of Aboriginal cultural heritage is to know the right people to speak to. Jones raised the question in response to the poor protocols and management mistakes of that conference in respect to their snub of the traditional owners of Car-rang gel, for in Barry Jones’s own words, ‘if ICOMOS cannot get it right who can!’

So ask yourself is the Aboriginal tourism product, in particular when it is centred around the didgeridoo performance a real reflection of the local Aboriginal culture, is it mysticised or do you feel the cultural aspects are re-invented? The comments of the surveyed international tourists tended to agree that it was the latter whereas the Kakadu research wanted a stereotypical view (Haynes 2010).

In the authors opinion the Australian Aboriginal tourism product needs to review its cultural content to ensure it ceases the homogenous delivery of didgeridoo and dance. Incorporate into performance the cultural differences of regions and clans, for example in the Sydney region use the possum skin drum and other percussion instruments indigenous to that area. Give the international tourist a product that is aligned to the cultural heritage of the region in which it is performed following consultation and mutual agreement with those that hold the intangible knowledge of the local Aboriginal clans. Just because ICOMOS cannot get it right does not mean we cannot. Then the ‘McDonaldisation’ of Aboriginal culture will be curtailed, and the Aboriginal population take control of their regional heritage and its cultural uniqueness.

Regional cultural uniqueness in the maintenance of cultural heritage is in effect self-determination for the first peoples of Australia. Nothing more and nothing less, not determined by a ‘suit’ in a beaucracy, a ‘coconut’ in a land council rather it is determined by the traditional owners, decendants of the land managers to that area pre 1788.


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