Exploring urban identities and histories


Aboriginal identity has been defined in myriad and diverse ways since colonisation. Today, through the bureaucratic concept of Aboriginality, Aboriginal people are generally perceived as having greater self-deterministic possibilities for identity construction. The legislative definition for Aboriginality is that an Aboriginal person:

  • is of Aboriginal descent
  • identifies as Aboriginal within their community
  • is accepted by their community as an Aboriginal person (Gardiner-Garden 2000).

Despite a codified means through which Aboriginal identity can be ‘proven’, mainstream discourses based on common sense understandings operate to objectify Aboriginal identities, which are scrutinised to maximise difference from the white Australian self. Skin colour, location, language, spirituality and the performance of these on demand to a white audience, be they tourist, judiciary or teacher, all act as markers of authenticity (Brady and Carey 2000). Those who fail to manifest an authentic appearance or performance according to these criteria are treated in mainstream education with varying levels of suspicion, scorn and dismissal. In particular, there are vehement discourses that construct the urban Indigenous population as experiencing less authentic forms of Aboriginality, disassociated from country, having ‘lost’ culture.

Peer reviewed: 
Last reviewed: 12 Sep 2016