Australia: State of the Environment Second Technical Paper Series (Human Settlements), Series 2
Dr Paul Memmott and Mark Moran
Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 642 54790 4
This paper gives a national context of the parallel settlement system that exists across Indigenous Australia. The methodology includes a national analysis of census data and existing literature which is supported with examples and anecdotal evidence from the authors' personal project experiences.
Culturally distinct properties of Indigenous settlements have been shown to include:-
- distinctive Indigenous social structures which underlie the imposed Western administrative structures (Councils, Co-ops).
- cultural differences in household sizes and structures
- residential mobility and migration patterns
- extent of preference for remote and rural living
- the tendency to maintain discrete settlements within wider urban settings
- the patterns of discrete and dispersed settlements and various regional manifestations of pattern types.
- long-standing attachments to place based on descent-base affiliation (to ancestors, to land/waters).
The paper has recommended a national settlement typology for Indigenous settlements based on five different types. This typology could potentially be useful for setting national policy frameworks, including future housing and infrastructure needs surveys.
A preliminary analysis was carried out to demonstrate how different types of settlement patterns have emerged in various Indigenous regions due to variable circumstances of contact history, regional economy and land tenure, and Indigenous policy management. These settlement patterns can be analyzed and described in terms of the settlement taxonomy. They in turn can be shown to influence the type and adequacy of housing, available economic modes and opportunities, environmental health status, and the extent and type of social problems. More vigorous research of this type is required to understand the causal connections between settlement types, regional settlement patterns and lifestyle problems and the consequent planning needs and priority services at the settlement and regional scales.
Given the high level of mobility within and between Indigenous settlements, it is instructive to take a regional perspective to settlement planning. Indigenous people typically live more in an area with bi- and multi- local residences. To view one Indigenous settlement in isolation may only reveal a part of the settlement pattern of a particular community group.
Indigenous settlement patterns are likely to undergo change in the coming decades due to a range of factors including (i) changing national and global economies and their impact on remote Australia; (ii) Indigenous population growth and the current failure by government to match annual program expenditure in housing, infrastructure and essential quality-of-life services with such; (iii) the increased legal rights of Indigenous people in environmental planning processes due to acquisition of Native Title benefits; and (iv) the gradually increasing autonomy of governance in a number of remote Indigenous regions.
There are many shortcomings in the existing research and data on Indigenous settlements. There are clear biases evident in the focus of research and policy towards particular Indigenous settlement categories. A dominant bias favours remote Indigenous settlements, popularly known as "communities", although these represent less than one third of national Indigenous population. There are also biases evident in the particular domains of the different Commonwealth and State Government programs. One such bias is evident in much of the published reports by ATSIC, which focus on areas where ATSIC directs funding; mostly to discrete communities and Indigenous Housing Organisations. In contrast, there is little research and information on Indigenous settlement in urban areas, although these accommodate about 50% of the Indigenous population.
The following recommendations are made for further urgent research. The need for research on urban Indigenous settlement in towns and cities has already been highlighted. In particular the dearth of research on the problems of Indigenous people accessing the private rental housing market in urban centres needs urgent addressing and is a current priority of a number of State housing authorities.
Physical improvements in Indigenous settlements have in the past focused on houses and infrastructure. There is a need for further research into the social, cultural and environmental health dimensions of settlements, which operate across a broader community level. Neighbourhood overcrowding may be proved to be an equally significant environmental health determinant as household overcrowding.
There is a need for further research into the social and economic costs of sustaining housing and infrastructure in remote communities. Although there have been many needs surveys which have assessed the backlog of new housing and infrastructure, few studies have examined the economic costs and social capital required to maintain and operate this introduced technology.
Settlement patterns and land use in the Torres Strait are poorly understood in comparison to Aboriginal Australia. Torres Strait Islanders have their own unique traditional settlement characteristics which are the foundations of contemporary settlements today. Further research is required to better understand these commonalities and differences.
There would be value in continuing empirical research on contemporary cultural (or mobility) regions across the continent and assessing how services delivered to the Indigenous settlements in such regions are enhanced or handicapped by an awareness of and structural planning for such regional networks. More detailed study of Indigenous residential mobility and migration versus intra-regional mobility and local stability is required to assist in the future planning of Australia's vast outback region and its relation to regional centres and capital cities.
Research is also required on Indigenous household forms and the extent of actual crowding versus free choice of residing in comparatively high residential densities. The relation of households to Indigenous organisations and informal support and social structures in the various types of settlements is another set of relations about which little is known at a regional or national scale.
A review is recommended of the types and processes of governance in Indigenous settlements, their relative effectiveness in improving the quality of lifestyle of residents and the constituent cultural attributes (Indigenous versus non-indigenous) in such governance methods and structures.
Government Departments are urged to make accessible their archived consultancy reports on Indigenous settlement planning for historical documentation and analysis. This process has already commenced at the Aboriginal Environments Research Centre, University of Queensland, where an Indigenous Architecture and Planning Database has been established.
- Some sections of this paper were originally prepared for the Australian State of the Environment Report 2001.
- The authors are indebted to the assistance received during 1999-2000 from Bob Stimson and Scott Baum of the University of Queensland AHURI Office;
- Thanks to Alex Davies of the Australian State of Environment Section, Environment Australia for provision of statistical information.
- Lee Sheppard and Karl Eckermann of the Aboriginal Environments Research Centre have provided research assistance, graphic and computing skills in preparing this paper.
- The suggestions and recommendations by reviewers of this work are appreciated.
Figure 1. Distribution and relative size of Indigenous population in Indigenous locations, rural towns and urban centres (based on "Urban Centre and Locality" classification of National Census) (ABS, CData 1996.)
Figure 2. Map of Australia showing geographic concentration of Indigenous people, by ATSIC region. ATSIC regions shaded in accordance with percentage of Indigenous population to total regional population. (ABS, CData 1996.)
Figure 3. The backyard of a conventional rented house on an urban block in the town of Dajarra, North-west Queensland. The tenant has added an external cooking, sleeping and socialising area, complete with iron windbreak in order to adapt the house design to the typically Indigenous outdoor lifestyle. (Photo by S. Long, AERC.)
Figure 4. A view of a remote discrete settlement in North Queensland, Doomadgee. It was originally a Mission run by the Plymouth Brethren. The Queensland Government took over the administration of a range of functions in the 1970s, and imposed a gridiron town plan with quarter-acre sub-division blocks, and three-bedroom houses. No consideration was allowed for any cultural issues in town planning at the time. (Photo by M. Moran.)
Figure 5. A house built in the Miwatj Region (Northern Territory) during 1998-99 and designed to accommodate a complex Indigenous household. The household genealogy and floor plan show the sleeping locations of household sub-units. (From Memmott, Long et al 2000.)
Figure 6. Distribution and relative size of discrete bounded settlements (ABS 2000)
Figure 7. Distribution of Indigenous housing organisations, indicating both dispersed settlements in urban / rural centres and the larger discrete settlements (ABS 2000)
Figure 8. A pattern of discrete urban Indigenous settlements - 19 Town Camps in Alice Springs (adapted from Memmott 1994.)
Figure 9. A series of photos of outstations in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria, showing progressive stages of outstation development. (Photos by M. Moran.)
Figure 10. Forms of remote outstation technology in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria, including wood-chip hot water system, hand-powered washing machine, solar powered telephone and water supply infrastructure. (Photos by M. Moran.)
Figure 11. An example of Indigenous-controlled design of housing and settlement. The 'Lolly House' at Yuendumu in Central Australia by Tangentyere Design, won an architectural award in 2000. ('Architecture Australia', September/October 2000.)
Figure 12. Map of Indigenous cultural regions in Queensland in the late 1980s (From Memmott 1991b.)
Figure 13. Indigenous Settlement pattern in Eastern Arnhem Land or Miwatj region, Northern Territory. (Map adapted from NT, Maps NT 1996.)
Figure 14. Indigenous Settlement pattern in Yapakurlangu region, Northern Territory. (Map adapted from NT, Maps NT 1996.)
Figure 15. Wider Brisbane metropolitan region showing percentage of distribution of Indigenous population to total population. (Map by Qld. AHURI Centre from ABS 1996b,c.)
Figure 16. Example of dispersed Indigenous settlement in Brisbane (Hill End). This development extends along two streets and comprises rental units for older Indigenous people. An Aboriginal hostel is located behind this complex. (Photo by K. Eckermann, AERC.)
Figure 17. Map of Murdi Paaki (or Bourke) ATSIC Region, New South Wales, showing Indigenous population centres. (Map adapted from Landinfo 1999.)
Figure 18. Part of a discrete urban settlement on the outskirts of a rural town in the Murdi Paaki region of western New South Wales, 1999. The 'humpy' survives from a Town Camp established on a Town Common Reserve in the 1950s. As part of an ATSIC programme, most humpies have been replaced by modern houses on elevated platforms to reduce flood risks from the nearby river. However the residents have retained a few humpies, partly for storage and visitor use, but also as symbols of a past lifestyle era. (Photo by P. Memmott.)
Figure 19. Photo of 'the Block' at Redfern in Sydney. This discrete, inner metropolitan, high density Indigenous settlement has been an important symbol of Aboriginal resistance and survival for many decades, and a regular place of visitation for rural and interstate Aboriginal visitors to Sydney. However it has also suffered a range of serious social problems and endured racial conflicts. (Image from 'The Australian'.)
Figure 20. An analysis of potential damage and failure to the infrastructure system in a remote discrete Indigenous desert settlement, which in turn would have an adverse impact on environmental health. (From Pholeros 1991:28.)