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The term ‘Aborigine’ means ‘been there since the beginning of time.’ The term ‘indigenous’ was mainly used to describe plants and animals.  It means ‘native to the land.’ Rosalie Kunoth-Monks asserted, “I am not an Aboriginal, or indeed indigenous, I am … (a) first nation’s person. A sovereign person from this country.” (Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, 2014)

Celeste Liddle, an Arrernte woman from Central Australia, explained, “Why I prefer the term ‘black’:  “When referring to myself, and particularly talking with someone who I assume won’t understand what I mean by ‘Arrernte’, I tend to use the term ‘Black’ … Why? Because in this country, the term ‘Black’ carries a lot of political weight. It is (a) word that has power and a term that we’ve reclaimed. After years of removal policies and stolen generations based on the tone of one’s skin and their alleged blood quanta, to state that you are ‘Black’ regardless is defiant….  It proclaims resilience in the face of harsh assimilation policies proudly.”

Significantly, it depends who gives the name. It is one thing for first Australians to name themselves. It is another to be named by another. The orientalist, Edward Said is credited with giving this, and comparable processes, a name: ‘othering.’ (Said, 1979)  Sometimes othering is more pernicious, sometimes less. It is never benign.

Canadian, Katie Bresner, recently considered othering in relation to ethno-tourism, or what she terms ‘tourism as colonialism.’  Part-and-parcel of the image promoted by this industry is of ‘them,’ the colourful, primitive other, generally presented by white rather than black tourist guides or tourist operators. The consumerism inherent to ethno-tourism not only offends the name. It also seeks to mould it in its own image. White artists among the first visitors and colonisers in Australia painted the antipodes as an Arcadian idyll. The bush passed many of them by. They were only able to perceive an Occidentalised version of the people and their land. If things had stopped there, perhaps little harm would have been done. But the outsider sought to convert the insider to conform to his own cultural image. Naming was generally incidental to that process, often reduced to stereotypes. More importantly, naming became constitutive to victimisation, since a name can be used as a term of abuse by another, as an ethnophaulism.

There is a more sinister dimension to the othering of first Australians. It relates to the term, Terra Nullius. If Australia was null before the white man arrived, then the people of this continent must have been null too, and so nameless.  If second Australians had made it their business to discover the names that First Nations people used and preferred, then there might have been better blood between them. However, naming of first Australians often occurred as an insult.

Prior to colonisation First Nations people usually identified themselves by their dialect. A list is appended.  They would say “I’m a Dharawal man!” or “I’m a Wiradjuri woman.” Others, or at other times, they used a name that referred to the area within Australia where they dwelled. Yalmay Yunupiŋu, wife of Yothu Yindi band member Dr M Yunupiŋu, explained her late husband’s name, “The name Yunupingu means a Rock, the rock Yunupingu stands in the middle of the ocean. The rock was his strength, ‘A rock that stands against time.’ His formal identity is Maralitja, Dhukulul, Ngunbungunbu, Barrupa, Rarrkararrka. These are his very important names identifying who he was and where he comes from.”

Let Celeste Liddle have the last word: “It’s up to the individual, the family, the community to define what they are most comfortable with and for others to respect that… Don’t tell – ask!”




Bresner K. Othering, power relations, and indigenous tourism: experiences in Australia’s Northern Territory. PlatForum, Volume 11, 2010. file:///C:/Users/Paul/Downloads/2197-2194-1-PB.pdf

Georgatos G. Catching up with Rosalie Kunoth-Monks. The Stringer, June 11th, 2014.

Korff J.  How to name Aboriginal people? Last updated: 8 October 2014

Liddle C. Rantings of an Aboriginal feminist: why I prefer ‘black.’ Dec 14, 2013

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks inspires with her Q&A speech: ‘I am not the problem.’ June 10, 2014.

Said E. Orientalism. United States: Vintage Books Edition, 1979.

Yunupiŋu Y. Yalmay’s Speech on behalf of Dr M Yunupingu.