An Event to Honour Emeritus Professor Bob Tonkinson

Launch of Anthropological Forum - Special Issue

Dialectics and Dynamics

Event Flyer

Venue: Anthropology and Sociology Seminar Room (Soc Sci 2.29), UWA

Date: Thursday, 10th April 2014

Time: 6:30 pm

The Special Festschrift Issue of Anthropological Forum celebrates the influence of Professor Robert Tonkinson’s work.

This event is jointly sponsored by the Western Australian Anthropology and Sociology Students Association, the Anthropological Society of Western Australia and Anthropological Forum


David Trigger

Venue: Social Sciences LR 1, UWA

Date: April 16th

Time: 7.00pm


Since the advent of land rights legislation, and then native title laws, Aboriginal people in Australia have grappled with presenting tradition-based claims in light of cultural change to their lifestyles and customary relations with land and waters. While arguments are reasonably made that the legislative requirement to prove continuing customary law places unwarranted burdens on claimants (Strelein 2005; Pearson 2009: 100-132), it is also important to note that commitment to the idea of continuing cultural traditions retains a somewhat over-determining symbolic significance across Indigenous Australia. Anthropologists and other researchers are faced at times with forms of self-conscious traditionalism that encompass blunt opportunism, as well as continuing ‘law and custom’, to use the language of native title legal jurisprudence. If Aboriginal associations with land have been ‘pushed in a culturalist direction’ by essentialist assertions about Indigenous ‘consubstantiality’ with place (Merlan 2007: 129-136), this has arisen from core beliefs among Aboriginal people themselves as much as from romanticism across the wider Australian public. The emergence of ‘the economic Aborigine’ is rightfully recognized as key to contemporary Indigenous life (Langton 2013: 59-80), but a major challenge for the courts and those sectors of Australian society embroiled in the language of land and native title claims, is to understand how Indigenous cultural traditions underpinning assertions of rights both continue and change over time. The challenge for researchers is to resist a politics of indigenism that insists change has been entirely consistent with inherited pre-contact traditions while accommodating and modelling change and adaptation using a sophisticated social science perspective. The paper will concentrate particularly on ‘succession’ as one form of analysis relevant to these issues in the native title context.


Langton, M. 2013. The quiet revolution: Indigenous people and the resources boom. Boyer Lectures 2012. Harper Collins: Sydney.

Merlan, F. 2007. Indigeneity as relational identity: the construction of Australian land rights. In M. de la Cadena & O. Starn eds., Indigenous experience today pp.125-149. Berg: Oxford & New York.

Pearson, N. 2009. Land is susceptible to ownership. In N. Pearson Up from the mission: selected writings, pp.100-132. Black Inc: Melbourne.

Strelein, L.M. 2005. ‘From Mabo to Yorta Yorta: Native Title Law in Australia’, Washington University Journal of Law and Policy vol. 19, special edition entitled ‘International and Comparative Perspectives on Indigenous Rights’