This week, I’m in Perth at the annual conference of the Australian Anthropological Society. There are 500 delegates this year from over 30 countries.
As is often the case at such events, this morning we were welcomed to country by a local Indigenous elder. Despite the recent controversy in Australian politics about this practice, most of the time I find it appropriate and helpful.
I was astounded by this morning’s performance, though. Not by Dr Richard Wally and his welcome, but by the anthropologists in the audience. Dr Wally was treated as an object of exoticism. While he stood at the dias, and while he played the didgeridoo, there was almost continuous flash photography as audience members recorded his performance. While (white) professor Alan Dench responded to his welcome in a local indigenous language, not a single flash went off. Even though in may respects his ‘performance’ was equally exotic. I can only imagine it’s because no one really wants a photo of a white man standing at a University dias.
For a discipline that had its origins in studying Australian indigenous peoples and which, I thought, had undergone a pretty massive post-colonial (if not post-modern) turn in direct response to such objectification of ‘natives’ this felt extremely inappropriate. I still feel like I’m learning to be an anthropologist, though…have I missed something?
[Sorry there’s no image with this post. I didn’t take any photos…]