What the National Museum of Australia, Canberra, says on Darwin and Indigenous Australians

“A legacy – Darwin and Indigenous Australians

Darwin’s work liberated the ways in which scientists interpreted the origins, dynamics and distribution of different species of plants and animals.

Close up of the spines of six books: The Last of the Tasmanians, James Bonwick; Wanderings in Wild Australia, Baldwin Spencer; On the Origin of Civilization and Primitive Condition of Man, Sir John Lubbock; Early History of Mankind, Tylor; Antiquity of Man, Lyell; and Native Tribes of the Northern Territory of Australia, Spencer.
Books from the collection of the National Museum of Australia Library.
Photo: Christine Hansen, National Museum of Australia.

However, his work was also applied to interpreting perceived racial and cultural differences among human populations. It contributed to a popular belief that these different populations could be classed according to a hierarchy of social and technological development. Such theories placed Australia’s Indigenous people at a lower stage of human evolution. Although such views have been shown to be ill-informed, Australia’s Indigenous people continue to confront the consequences of such inappropriate application of Darwin’s work.”

see – http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/darwin/darwin_and_australia/

Critical comment – with a note on Australian anthropology.

Little evidence (if any) here – at a core cultural institution of the modern Anglo-Australian nation-state – of the possibility of a high level cross-cultural dialogue between First Peoples and Western understanding.

“inappropriate application” continues in many forms, and those who gain key positions in the modern Australian state’s cultural apparatus consistently demonstrate forms of cultural blindness towards the core values and cosmologies of First Peoples.

In the case of modern Australian anthropology (in the state’s universities and institutions such as the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies) many anthropologists made good careers out of ‘descent based’ models of First Peoples lives. 

These  one-sided models attempted to force First Peoples Ways into western conceptual straight-jackets, and making non-sense of First Peoples lives in the process.

‘Descent’ was a main part of the conceptual architecture of a monocultural cult-house – complete with forms of ancestor worship based entirely on Western Masters such as Darwin.

This would have been a relatively harmless occupation were it not for the fact that, when it came for Anglo_Australian authorities to abandon the pretences of terra nullius, they required First Peoples to line up and dance to the bizarre tunes of Western descent-based thinking.

As a result, First Peoples with culturally valid rights in country can fail to gain the recognition they deserve.

Assuming for the moment that a post-modern form of anthropology may be possible, the time is long overdue for Australian anthropology to undergo a reworking which would enable the core values of First Peoples to equally inform its theories, practices and means of fashioning representations.

Life may have something else entirely in store.



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