Quentin Beresford and Gary Partington (Eds) (2003). Reform and Resistance in Aboriginal Education: The Australian Experience. UWA Press.
pp viii + 312, $38.95, ISBN 192069403-X
This is an important book: a simple statement that captures both the relevance of such a work as well as demonstrating the paucity of such work in the Australian context. In the introduction, Beresford, Partington and Gower discuss the possibility of further research that might compare similar situations in the Canadian, United States, and Aotearoa/New Zealand context. This is also an important prospect in terms of the study of Aboriginal/ Indigenous/ First Nations peoples as there has been little comparative work done and the less such work is done the further Australia seems to slip from global awareness. While the authors suggest that the Australian case might be the worst of the four nation states mentioned, I would go much further and claim that in terms of education, educational reform, and the capacity for Aboriginal people to resist colonial forces decimating their cultures, the Australian case is indeed the poorest measured in terms of the success of Aboriginal people creating their own life chances. Simple measures such as life expectancy, access to secondary and tertiary education, and health care remain in a state of dire neglect.
While the Maori in Aotearoa/New Zealand have achieved a bicultural status with the Pakeha, First Nations peoples in Canada have rights to control all of the resources [water, fishing, forestry] on their land enshrined in the Canadian constitution, Aboriginal Australians are still battling for the most basic of recognitions. This book takes a step in the direction to rectify this problem by making clear the obstacles faced by Aboriginal people and by demonstrating that the history of domination through the colonial process is difficult, but not impossible, to resist.
Some of the writing is quite disturbing. Beresford's discussion in Chapter Two leaves one wondering how anyone could possibly suggest that we can deny the complicity of the government and state institutions in the process of the destruction of Aboriginal society. The banality of evil thesis developed by Hannah Arendt comes to mind immediately when reading the statements of chief administrator Neville. On the other hand, Neville and others quoted in the text of the book, demonstrate the fact that Australian society at large was quite resistant to Aboriginal people integrating in any way. There is a very clear thread that runs throughout the book illustrating the rejection of Aboriginal people as a category of being: they are the 'other' to be cast out.
There is hope, however, and as is the case in other resistances to domination, there remains the capacity to demand freedom and autonomy. Some successes are outlined in the book and even though retention rates have dropped in the last several years, there are ways forward. One way is to read this book and at least try to inform ourselves beyond the simplistic rhetoric we are given by our governments and policy-makers.
Dr Robert Imre
University of Notre Dame Australia
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