Development, Environmental and Indigenous People’s Movements in Australia: Issues of Autonomy and Identity

Debal Singharoy


Indigenous movements in Australia are at a crossroad in their efforts to protect their intrinsic relations with land, nature and culture on the one hand and engaging with the reconciliatory and developmental dynamics of the state on the other. This paper examines the process of articulation and rejuvenation of indigenous identities that negotiate across culture, environment, sustainable livelihood and the developmental needs of the community. Locating these movements within wider socio-historical contexts it focuses on the tensions between a pro-conservation and a pro-development approach in grass roots indigenous movements. Three case studies are presented – drawn from the Sydney region. One indigenous group’s struggle against a housing development, defined as a threat to indigenous and environmental heritage, is contrasted with an indigenous group that is internally divided over an agreement with a mining developer, and a third group that has engaged in constructing housing and welfare projects, and in part has itself become a developer. The article thereby addresses the reformulation of indigenous identities in Australian society as indigenous peoples’ movements have renegotiated the contending pressures of environment and development.

Full Text:



Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006, Government of Australia, Canberra.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2010, Government of Australia, Canberra.

Behrendt, L. 1995, Aboriginal Dispute Resolution A Step towards Self Determination and Community Autonomy, Federation Press, Sydney.

Bennett, S. 1999, White Politics and Black Australian, Allen and Unwin, Sydney

Bertaux, S. 1990, 'Oral history approaches to an international social movement', in E. Oyen (ed.), Comparative Methodology: Theory and Practices in International Social Research, Sage, London.

Calma, T. 2007, Reflections on Social Justice; Forty Years On: What Does The Yes Vote mean For the Indigenous Australian? Social Action and Research Centre, Tasmania

Castells, M.1997. The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture: The Power of Identity Vol. II, Blackwell Publishers, Malden.

Cerutti, F. 2001. 'Political identity and conflict: a comparison of definition', in Cerutti, F. and Ragionieri, R. (eds.), Identities and Conflicts: The Mediterranean. Palgrave, New York.

Clark, J. 2008, Aborigines and Activism: Race, Aborigines and the coming of the Sixties to Australia, University of West Australia Press, Crawley.

Coombs, H.C. 1991, Aborigines Made Visible: From Humbug to Politics, Kenneth Myer Lecture I, Friends of the National Library of Australia, Canberra.

Eyerman, R. and Jamison, A. 1991, Social Movements: A Cognitive Approach, Polity Press, Cambridge.

Goodall, H. 1996, Invasion to Embassy: Land in Aboriginal Politics in New South Wales, 1770-1972, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.

Hall, S. 1996, 'Who needs identity?', in Hall, S. and P. du Gay (eds.), Questions of Cultural Identity, Sage, London.

Haebich, A. 2001, Broken Cycles: Fragmenting Indigenous Families, 1800-2000, Fremantle Art Centre Press, Fremantle.

Hegedus, Z. 1990, 'Social movements and social change in self-creative society: new initiatives in the international arena', in Albrow, M. and E. King (eds.), Globalization, Knowledge and Society, Sage, London.

Jones D. and Hill-Burnett, J. 1982, 'The political contexts of ethnogenesis: an Australian example', in Howard, M. (ed) Aboriginal Power in Australian Society, University of Queensland Press: St. Lucia.

Jopson, D. and Ryle, G. 2004, 'Millions lost from land grants', Sydney Morning Herald, July 31,

Maddison, S. 2009, Black Politics: Inside the complexity of Aboriginal Political Culture, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.

McDonald, K. 2002, 'From solidarity to fluidarity: social movements beyond collective identity: the case of globalization of conflict', Social Movements Studies, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 109-278.

McCarthy, J. and Zald, M. 1977, 'Resource mobilization and social movements', American Journal of Sociology, vol. 82, no.6, pp. 1212-41.

Melucci, A. 1996 Challenging Codes: Collective Action in the Information Age, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Merlan, F. 2005, 'Indigenous movements in Australia', The Annual Review of Anthropology vol. 34, pp. 473-94.

Munro, K. 2011, 'Stockland breach gets council fine', Sydney Morning Herald, 8 April,

Norman, Heidi 2009. 'Land Rights at Last!' Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Journal, vol. 1 no. 2, pp. 142-165.

Pearson, N. 2010, 'Noel Pearson leads the fight against the Wild Rivers Act', ABC Radio National Breakfast, 13 January 2010,

Pelizzon, A., Gough K. and Nicholson, B. 2010, A Story of Sandon Point, SPATE, Thirroul.

Pizzorno, A. 1978, 'Political exchange and collective identity in industrial conflict' in Crouch, C. and Pizzorno, A. (eds) Resurgence of Class Conflict in Western Europe since 1969, Macmillan, London

Ray, G. 2009, 'Against the grain', Newcastle Herald, 17 October 2009, p.4,;jsessionid=280B3F5135EC938EC48BDF7BF49093EF?sy=afr & pb=all_ffx & dt=selectRange & dr=1month & so=relevance & sf=text & sf=headline & rc=10 & rm=200 & sp=brs & cls=130 & clsPage=1 & docID=NCH0910171J2FU56U0SC

Reconciliation Australia 2010, Reconciliation Australia welcomes first Aboriginal MP to House of Representative,

Rowley, C.D. 1973, 'From humbug to politics: Aboriginal Affairs and the Academy Project', Oceania, vol. xliii, no.3, pp. 182-97.

Rudd, K. 2008, Apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples, House of Representatives Official Hansard, 2008, no.1, 13 February 2008

Sen, A. 1999, Reasons Behind Identity, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

Stryker, S. 1990, 'Identity theory', in Borgatha, E.F. and Borgatha, M. L. (eds.), Encyclopedia of Sociology, vol. 2. Macmillan, New York.

Tarrow, S. 1998, Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Tilly, C. 1985, 'Models and realities of popular collective action', Social Research, vol. 52, no.4, pp. 717-747.

Touraine, A. 1981. The Voice and the Eye. An Analysis of Social Movements, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

Urry, J. 2000, 'Mobile sociology', British Journal of Sociology, vol. 51, no. 1, pp. 185203.



Share this article: