Aboriginal Childhoods

Gaynor Macdonald

in Childhood Studies

ISBN: 9780199791231
Published online May 2015 | | DOI:
Aboriginal Childhoods

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Documentation of Aboriginal childhood and adolescence in Australia has never been systematic. Information about children has been buried within studies of family life or women as mothers. Given the paucity of material explicitly highlighting children’s experiences, past and present, texts that include good material about children are included as well. Two reviews of substance have been published, a century apart (Malinowski 1913, cited under Early 20th Century (to 1960s) and Eickelkamp 2010, cited under Overviews, General Themes, and Historicized Studies), with another two unpublished (von Sturmer 1980, cited under Ethnographic Studies in Remote Australia Young 2011, cited under Overviews, General Themes, and Historicized Studies). Only one monograph focuses on children (Hamilton 1981, cited under Ethnographic Studies in Remote Australia). Indigenous Australians include Torres Strait Islanders as well as Aboriginal peoples, but there is so little work about Torres Strait Islander children that they are not included. The descriptor “Aboriginal” encompasses different languages and ecological zones as well as different colonial histories. While there were remarkable consistencies in the way in which Aboriginal children grew into mature Aboriginal persons across the continent, there were also regionally distinctive practices. Literature concerned with the transitional rituals of initiation is not included. While a significant focus of research, it provides little insight into the pre-initiatory world of children or even the lived experience of initiates. Also excluded is the contentious virgin birth debate alleging that Aboriginal people were ignorant of human physiology (reviewed by L. R. Hiatt in Arguments about Aborigines: Australia and the Evolution of Social Anthropology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996) but which did not concern children themselves. Conception beliefs are included, as these convey the meaning of “a child” as an embodied, socially embedded, and spiritual being. Studies often distinguish between urban, rural, or remote regions, although such distinctions may mask similarities of value and practice as well as similar impacts of social distress. Much change has been experienced everywhere, not only in the urbanized coastal and southern regions. However, research remains heavily oriented to remote areas, especially Northern Territory and Western Australia. The literature is separated by period because understandings of Aboriginal children’s worlds and childrearing practices have been influenced by the moral attitudes of different eras: the history of scholarship about Aboriginal childhood should be understood within a history of racializing theory. Although the constitutional apartheid introduced at Federation in 1901 was removed in 1967, the legacies of colonial and racializing stigmata remain. As recent studies demonstrate, increasing economic and social stress takes a high toll on Aboriginal children’s well-being. They cannot be divorced from their paradigmatic position as postcolonial subjects: poverty and ill-health impact on children as well as on the capacities of parents and alloparents. This article has been compiled selectively, but there is little omitted. Despite a short burst of interest in 1980s, sustained interest in Australian Aboriginal children, their childhood experiences, and their parenting has come to the fore only since the turn of the 21st century.

Article.  13051 words. 

Subjects: Development Studies

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