Because of the blatant and deceitful intrusions of the colonies that established in their country beginning in 1788, the indigenous populations of Australia have experienced massive trauma (Wolfe 2006, p.387). According to my understanding, sovereignty refers to a controlling body’s whole authority and right to exercise self-government without any interference from other entities or sources. Balla defines sovereignty as an unalienable, personal, and natural right that is subtly expressed in artistic creations and either explicitly stated in newly developed forms of art. According to Reynolds (1987, p.7), in 1788, the British claimed the “sovereignty over the New South Wales” and owned the land that was contained therein. Today, the traumas continue to remain unhealed despite the fact that the present sociopolitical climate is fostering advocacy by indigenous and non-indigenous people to acknowledge the violent settlement of Australia. Reynolds (1987, p.8) notes that Australians are still so familiar with what happened in “January and February of 1788”, which made them lose the ability to realize how peculiar the claim was. Birch (2016, p.27) say that the Native Australian society was stuck in the mindset of the colonialists, which was constructed on the denial of its own actual existence, and sovereignty, is a concept they cannot comprehend. Balla (2017, p.11) says that today the sovereignty of indigenous Australians is asserted through indigenous action, voice and activism cultural revolution as depicted across South East Australia where treaty calls have been made as well as the role played by art and activism. Truly, these are actions that express sovereignty itself. For example, the aboriginal women speak back to white Australia using art as well as activism and say that “trauma is a disruption of artistic terra nullius” Balla (2017, p.11). As Edmunds (2010, p.12) puts it, I believe that currently, anthropologists should be interested in understanding the manner in which different human rights declaration are translated into the everyday lived experiences of people.
The Bunjilaka at Melbourne Museum is an excellent center for studying the different human aspects of Australian people in the past and present societies. Through the different exhibitions, the Bunjilaka allows the study of both social and cultural anthropology on the societal norms and values. It is worth noting that the word Bunjilaka originates from two Aboriginal languages, and refers to creation space that was given to the Melbourne Museum’s Aboriginal center. This is a wonderful place where people of indigenous communities of Victoria can express their history. The important Aboriginal cultural heritage items collection is complemented by performances, exhibitions as well as spaces for meeting that include native garden area. There is a desk for welcoming people that is called the Wominjeka desk whose main function is said to serve as a customary greeting ritual, especially in welcoming people that visit the country. It is thus clear that within the Aboriginal community, sovereignty reflects the reality of a link between the people, customs and the country despite the past impositions of colonialism. Despite the fact that different weapons of dispossessions were and go on being used against indigenous people including violence forms, cultural destruction as well as secrecy, the project of dispossession and lawful disenfranchisement by the colonialists has failed as depicted by the artistic works in Bunjilaka, which testify this failure (Moreton-Robinson 2003, p.24). I agree with Birch (p.18), who asserts that the history as well as the damage of colonialists in Australia led to the gaping wounds, in the cultural knowledge, tradition and practices of the people, but the tenacity and strength in the indigenous nations, communities and families have helped in regaining he freedom and the birthright to reclaim, revitalize, regenerate and remember where the Australian people come from and who they really are (Pugliese 2015, p.84). In general, the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural center is a place where Koorie people as well as the visitors that have interest in Aboriginal culture meet to learn the history of the Aboriginal as well as the current culture through stories, objects and images that irradiates connection to the land (Short 2003, p.491).
The Sovereignty presentation at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) can be said to be an overdue and a bold move. Together with artists like Wemba Wemba and Gunditjmara, and researchers like Paolla Balla, Max Delany, who is the new artistic director of ACCA curated Sovereignty to give a voice to the indigenous artists, thinkers and activists in Southeast. The exhibition starts with Untitled (Ceremony) by William Barak, which is a mixed media painting showing figures that are dressed in cloaks made of Possum skin in a dancing ceremony. This is a very significant painting because Barak is a main figure in setting examples of future indigenous activists as he had seen the John Batman treaty being signed as a trade deal where the indigenous Australian people were to surrender their lands. Generally, Sovereignty gives the public an opportunity to get involved with critical historical and current issues in the society of Australia. It is a very important exhibition that takes place against political, cultural and historical debates that relates to questions concerning colonialism, decolonization, recognition of the constitution, treaty and sovereignty (Nakata 2006, p.265).
Balla, P. (2017) Sovereignty: Inalienable and intimate
Birch, T. (2016). “our red sands dug and sifted”: Sovereignty and the act of being
Edmunds, M. (2010). The Northern Territory Intervention and Human Rights.
Moreton-Robinson, A. (2003). I still call Australia home: Indigenous belonging and place in a white postcolonizing society. Uprootings/regroundings: Questions of home and migration, pp.23-40.
Nakata, M. (2006). Australian Indigenous studies: A question of discipline. The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 17(3), pp.265-275.
Pugliese, J. (2015). Geopolitics of Aboriginal Sovereignty: Colonial Law as a Species of Excess of Its Own Authority, Aboriginal Passport Ceremonies and Asylum Seekers. Law Text Culture, 19, p.84.
Reynolds, H. (1987). The Law of the Land (Ringwood. Victoria: Penguin Books.
Short, D. (2003). Reconciliation, assimilation, and the indigenous peoples of Australia. International Political Science Review, 24(4), pp.491-513.
Wolfe, P. (2006). Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native. Journal of Genocide Research, 8(4), pp.387-409.