Mardudjara - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The total autonomy of the traditional hunting and gathering economy and the partial self-sufficiency of pastoral employment have been replaced by massive unemployment and a highly dependent, welfare-based existence. The Mardu region is ecologically extremely marginal, so the prospects of developing profitable local land-based industries are slim. Jigalong runs a cattle enterprise, and various other economic schemes have been tried, without success. All the settlements are heavily reliant on the importation of foodstuffs, despite the continuance of hunting and gathering activities. At Jigalong, the large settlement economy provides salaried work for Aboriginal office and store workers, teacher and health aides, Maintenance workers, and pastoral employees. Besides kinship, gambling with cards is an important medium for the redistribution of cash. The Aborigines have adopted a wide range of material items from the Whites, but they have strongly resisted changes in basic values relating to kinship and religion.

Trade. Formalized trading networks were absent in the Western Desert, but scarce and highly valued items, such as pearl shells and red ocher, diffused widely throughout the Region as a result of exchanges between individuals and groups, mostly within the context of ceremonial activities. Group Exchanges centered on religious lore, both material and nonmaterial, and the exchange of mundane material items, such as weapons or tools, was clearly subsidiary to religious concerns. Most individual transactions were gift exchanges conducted within the framework of kinship and affinal obligations.

Division of Labor. The gender-based division between women as gatherers (and hunters of small game) and men as hunters is still seen, but these activities are no longer fundamental to subsistence. Women are the main cooks, housekeepers, and office workers, whereas men prefer to work outdoors. Children stay at school into their mid-teens, so their economic impact is slight, but girls tend still to marry at a younger age than boys and to assume full parental responsibilities earlier.

Land Tenure. Traditionally, bands were the basic landoccupying, economic unit, while large territorially anchored entities, known as estate groups, were associated with land "ownership." Although they contained a core of patrilineally related males, these groups had multiple criteria for Membership, and it was possible for active adults to be involved Significantly in more than one such group. Since land was inalienable, property rights were more often conceptualized in terms of responsibility for, rather than control over, sites and resources. In both ethos and practice, Mardu society strongly favored inclusivity and the maximizing of rights and obligations. Today, the Jigalong area is an officially recognized Aboriginal Reserve, but the Mardu have yet to obtain firm tenure to the traditional homelands. An Aboriginal Land bill, introduced in the State Parliament in 1985, failed to become law. A long-term lease scheme has since been established but the Mardu are pessimistic that governments will recognize their claims to traditional land, as mining interests continue to take precedence over Aboriginal concerns.

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