Mardudjara - History and Cultural Relations

Shielded by their forbidding environment, the Mardu were left largely undisturbed until relatively recently. They were attracted from the desert to fringe settlements: mining camps, pastoral properties, small towns, and missions, initially for brief periods. However, inducements offered by Whites who desired their labor (and, in the case of women, sexual services) , plus a growing taste for European foodstuffs and other commodities, drew them increasingly into the ambit of the newcomers. Inevitably, they eventually abandoned their Nomadic, hunter-gatherer adaptation for a sedentary life close to Whites. Migration began around the turn of the century and ended as recently as the 1960s. The Mardu remain today among the more tradition-oriented Aborigines in Australia. Jigalong was founded as a maintenance camp on a rabbit-control fence, and it later became a ration depot for the indigent Aborigines who had begun congregating there in the 1930s. It was a Christian mission for twenty-four years from 1946, but race relations were often tense and the Aborigines resisted all efforts to undermine their traditions. Many Aboriginal men and women worked on pastoral leases as laborers and domestics, but there was a dramatic downturn in this form of employment following the advent, in the 1960s, of laws requiring parity of wage levels between Aboriginal and White workers in the pastoral industry. Jigalong became a legally incorporated Aboriginal community in 1974, assisted by White advisers and funded almost entirely from governmental sources. Government policy since the early 1970s has promoted self-reliance and the retention of a distinctive identity and traditions. For the Mardu, access to alcohol and increasing Westernization pressures have led to considerable social problems, which remain unresolved. A recent movement to establish permanent outstations on or near traditional Mardu lands is partly in response to these pressures, particularly the damaging effects of alcohol, but it also relates to the advent of large-scale mining exploration in the desert. The Mardu strongly oppose these activities, and since the formation of a regional land council in the mid-1980s, a major concern has been to protect their lands from desecration and alienation.

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