Aboriginal People and Local Government: A Shepparton Story

By Gillian Nieman.

Published by The International Journal of Community Diversity

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As a privileged, white daughter of fourth generation Anglo-Celtic migrants, I was socialized into the peculiar Australian morality of a "fair go,” a code perhaps more recognizable in folklore than in reality. Nevertheless, it was this sense of a fair go that drove my outrage as I became aware of the whites' treatment of Australian Aborigines over the past two and a half centuries. I am a PhD student at Deakin University in Victoria Australia. My overarching research question is, "Can local government create conditions in which Aboriginal culture can flourish, and reconciliation blossom?" For the past fifteen months I have been living part time in Shepparton, a large regional city in northern Victoria, Australia, which has a larger than Victorian average Aboriginal population. Using Shepparton as a case study, I have balanced both researching and citizenship by joining in community life, observing, participating, data gathering, conversing and making friends with local people in both the Aboriginal community and City of Greater Shepparton Council, allowing my research methods to emerge from community life as I followed Action Research principles.

Shepparton is a proudly multicultural city, in which there is a strong Aboriginal/settler encounter. In trying to understand people’s vision for Aboriginal reconciliation, I began to notice a palpable pessimism/optimism. Although I found the divide is roughly down Aboriginal/settler lines, this is not necessarily consistent.

I want to explore whether this dichotomy, far from being a source of conflict, is actually a point of connection, a constructive balance between despair and hope, which may over time help to deliver a positive outcome for social inclusion and justice.

Keywords: Reconciliation, Australian Aboriginal, Local Government, Action Research, Aboriginal Justice, Aboriginal-Settler Alliance

The International Journal of Community Diversity, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp.39-53. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 478.899KB).

Gillian Nieman

PhD Candidate, School of International and Political Studies, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University, Deakin University, Victoria, Australia

I came to academic study late in life after my youngest child entered secondary school. I took nine years to complete my undergraduate degree at Deakin University, working through the Australian Studies strand. It was during this time I realized that Australian history was not as we had been taught in school. This stirred my sense of social justice. In 2002 I completed my BA (Hons) with a thesis entitled "Whatever happened to Reconciliation?" studying Reconciliation through the nineties in Australia. In preparation for doctoral study I entered a Masters in Public Policy and Governance degree by coursework, which I completed in 2008. I began my PhD studies in 2009 and I am now in my final phase.