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Being Moved (On): The Biopolitics of Walking in Australia's Frontier Towns

Being Moved (On): The Biopolitics of Walking in Australia's Frontier Towns

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Lea, T., Young, M., Markham, F., Holmes, C., Doran, B. (2012). Being Moved (On): The Biopolitics of Walking in Australia's Frontier Towns. Radical History Review, Fall (114), 139-163.
Lea, T., Young, M., Markham, F., Holmes, C., Doran, B. (2012). Being Moved (On): The Biopolitics of Walking in Australia's Frontier Towns. Radical History Review, Fall (114), 139-163.

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Published by: Calamity_Coup_de_Wayne on Jan 11, 2014
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Being Moved (On)
The Biopolitics of Walking in Australia’s Frontier Towns
Tess Lea, Martin Young, Francis Markham, Catherine Holmes, and Bruce Doran
T
his article explores contemporary tactics of dispossession in the still- frontier towns of Alice Springs and Darwin in the Northern Territory (NT) of Australia, using the politics of walking to bring what was considered a past act of colonial incursion into conditions of the present. Much of the historical material on Australian race rela-tions deploys accounts of violent massacres, authorized dispossessions, and cruel imprisonments to depict the frontier politics of liberal settler occupation. Certainly the settlement histories of Darwin and Alice Springs lend themselves to such rendi-tions. Within the desert and tropical savannah hinterlands, settlers poisoned and destroyed food sources, cleared vegetation, subdivided land, brutally monopolized precious water supplies, and dragooned a lumpenproletariat of semitrained Aborigi-nal workers into pastoral and mission- led enterprises. Crude attempts at assimila-tion followed earlier attempts to “breed out the black.” The spatiality of coloniza-tion mimicked the demarcations of European imperialism elsewhere: an apartheid system of curfews and restricted movements prevailed until well after World War II. Only then were the legal rights of Aboriginal people to fair and equal treatment as citizens of Australia increasingly reflected in changing regulatory and resource- sharing agreements. With the constitutional referendum of 1967, when Australians  voted to confer greater legal status to Aboriginal people (essentially conferring the
Radical History Review
 Issue 114 (Fall 2012)
DOI
 10.1215/01636545- 1598042© 2012 by MARHO: The Radical Historians’ Organization, Inc.
139
 
140
 
Radical History Review
right to be counted during census collections and enabling the federal government to legislate on their behalf), the brutal frontier strategies of occupation could be considered in the past tense, aided by the temporal implications of the term “
 post-
colonial” now at large in contemporary Australian studies.
1
This essay seeks to disrupt this confident genealogy, or rather, to expose the contradiction at the heart of such archaizing maneuvers: namely, that the spatial management necessary for ongoing processes of “accumulation through disposses-sion” is as pernicious as ever.
2
 As eventful and confronting as the spatial realign-ments on Australia’s frontiers were, bracketing the story of racial bifurcation within the confines of history prevents closer analysis of present- day displacement. As this essay reveals, there are disturbing parallels in the racial and class demarcations of Darwin and Alice Springs. Just as the early settlers of Darwin had a “determined resolve . . . to rid the town . . . of nude, loud, unwashed, diseased Aborigines congre-gating in large groups and practicing noisy ceremonies”
3
 while protecting the poor indigenes from the vices of opium, alcohol, and prostitution, so too a similar concern to remediate visible social suffering while securing the interests of private capital underwrites the management of Indigenous mobility in the present day.In the following we take up the paradox that the structural and material  violence of ongoing occupation has become so omnipresent and integrated it is invis-ible, its invisibility driven through multiple techniques of spatial discipline and the tactics of the would- be disciplined.To begin with, the everyday forms of racialized spatial control involved are so universal that they seem inevitable methods for managing dense cohabitation. After all, municipalities the world over enforce ordinances against loitering, public drinking, urination, disturbing the peace, or sheltering unlawfully. To these taken- for- granted forms of function policing are added further characteristics that are arguably unique to settler- Aboriginal relations in urbanized neoliberal Australia, characteristics that can be clustered under the term “codependency.” The expansion of Australia’s economic growth in a time of global financial downturn is matched by an ongoing frenzy for what the remainders of the Indigenous estate may yet  yield; servicing Aboriginal pathology accounts for a generous financial loading to NT government coffers;
4
 while Indigenous creativity and physical presence attract consumers to other  wise isolated regions. In other words, the use of generic and therefore seemingly nonracialized antivagrancy laws that attempt to eliminate race as a public category masks an ongoing yet denied economic dependence of con-temporary settlers on Indigenous populations. Indigenous people are both loathed and desired: full erasure would contradict the promotion of (acceptable forms of) cultural distinction embedded within the political economy of the region. And aid-ing the invisibility of spatial control are multiple Aboriginal tactics for evasion and refuge in everyday life, where cultural adaptations to being “moved on” in urban spaces involve forms of contemporary nomadism in the city: from walking at a mea-
 
Lea, Young, Markham, Holmes, and Doran
 | Being Moved (On)
 
141
 
sured pace to avoid regulatory attention to gleaning resources from shopkeepers and mangroves alike. In sum, perambulation is a symptom both of dispossession and of ongoing Aboriginal spatial dominion and labor- action, in a locally unique configura-tion of an otherwise universal dynamic.To reveal these hidden relations, we present an archaeology of spatial tactics as necessarily expressed in pedestrian practice, showing how physical movements articulate what residents refuse to explicitly name. Our approach shares anthro-pologist Allen Feldman’s concern to move beyond the ideologies of “flexible citi-zenship and civic disability that pathologize the very populations most harmed by these economic transformations, and that fetishize their structural displacement as a form of pathologized space and pathologized embodiment.
5
 To this end, we explore the interplay of discursive practices that position the Indigenous “other” as a problematic subject, the regulatory structures that rationalize racial discrimina-tion; the practices of policing that displace the Indigenous pedestrians from “white” consumer space; the site- specific spatial configurations that discourage Indigenous inhabitation; and the ways in which Indigenous people adapt to and resist these pro-cesses. We invite the reader on a visual journey through two of Australia’s frontier towns, from the centers of commercial transactions to the suburban peripheries and beyond.
Contemporary Forms of Dispossession and Displacement
The early dispossession of Aboriginal people from the land now occupied by the towns of Darwin and Alice Springs is well documented. And it would be reasonable to assume that the period of state- sponsored exclusion, as reflected in the 1910 Act to Make Provision for the Better Protection and Control of the Aboriginal Inhabit-ants of the Northern Territory and for Other Purposes, ended in the 1960s and 1970s. For example, spatial and alcohol prohibitions ended in the Northern Territory  with the repeal of the Welfare Ordinance in 1964. The federal government granted  voting rights in 1962, an arbitration commission ruled in favor of equal wages in the cattle industry in 1968, and the 1967 referendum laid the legal foundation for the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act of 1976. Indeed, subsequent land rights litigation has returned substantial portions of the peripheries of Alice Springs and Darwin to their traditional owners, although not without much opposition and antagonism from both the NT government and sections of the public. In conse-quence, the assertion that “since the 1970s, in particular, we have seen a gradual trend away from legally sanctioned acts of genocide, kidnapping, dispossession and forced relocation to policies that increasingly invoke the values and language of rec-onciliation, rights recognition and compensation”
6
 is commonly rehearsed.
7
Such enclaving of Indigenous dispossession as a function of the past is not simply the result of sanitizing historiography but is a widespread discursive prac-tice. A key motivation in contemporary analyses has been to diagnose remedies for

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