Victory, disaster, or scapegoat? Aboriginal ‘self-determination’ policy in the Northern Territory during the 1970s

It is commonly understood that the federal policy of Aboriginal self-determination was responsible for significant changes that occurred in the Territory's remote Aboriginal Indigenous settlements in the 1970s. Rather than the administrative changes that self-determination policy entailed, broader policy shifts associated with 'equal rights' enabled remote Indigenous people to enact their own agendas of reform. This reformism brought deep and lasting changes to the Territory's Indigenous nations, and shaped the modus operandum of the "communities" and town camps created by self-determination policy. This paper sheds new light on a controversial period in Territory history that has had lasting effects.

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Charlie Ward lived and worked in the Gurindji communities of Kalkaringi and Daguragu between 2004-06. His first book, A Handful of Sand: the Gurindji Struggle after the Walk-off (Monash University Publishing) appeared in 2016. Formerly a researcher with the Stolen Generations of Central Australia, his work has been published in the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, the Journal of Australian Colonial History, Griffith Review, Meanjin, and Southerly. Charlie is a PhD candidate of Western Sydney University, based at the Australian National University's North Australian Research Unit. His doctoral research examines the effects of the federal policy of Aboriginal Self-determination in the Northern Territory during the 1970s-80s.