Bob Gosford Speaks

Bob Gosford is a writer, lawyer and ethnoornithologist who lives and writes in the Northern Territory. He lived for three years in the small township of Yuendumu, 300 kilometres from Alice Springs, and has recently moved from Alice itself up to Darwin where he’s working for the Northern Land Council, an Aboriginal council responsible for the administration of Aboriginal lands in the Top End.

As part of our new interview series, Bob chats to Overland’s Clare Strahan about his article in the latest Overland, ‘They took our culture – now there is no law’.

Bob speaks here of the role of customary law as ‘being unexceptional and accepted rather than some sort of deviant or outlying behaviour’, of the ‘difficult balance’ of reporting and giving people a voice, the fundamental shift in the relationship between the federal and NT governments and between the government and the people, mandatory income management and class, and what he likes best about the ‘Babel of languages and cultures’ that is Australia’s Northern Territory.

What people are saying is that it’s not just the Intervention as a piece of legislation, it’s the relationship with government as a whole and a lot of people have said to me over the last few years that they no longer trust or look to government as being a service provider, of choice or otherwise. Government now, for many people, has become a punitive agent … they’ve taken over people’s lives … people are quite bereft at this notion, that governments are effectively withdrawing from providing them with services and basically just becoming agencies of control.

Read Bob at his Crikey blog The Northern Myth and at ABC’s Drum Unleashed.

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  1. The following comment is from a linguist friend of mine with far more experience and knowledge of these matters than I have – I hope it of value to readers.

    “I think that Bob needs to say something about what
    malamala is – it’s what used to be glossed as ‘sorry meeting’.

    It’s not primarily about ‘payback’, although it gives relatives of the deceased an opportunity to vent anger at people they hold responsible in some way for the death, in a highly conventionalized setting, with people organized according to kin relationships to the deceased and to each

    The main function is to express sorrow and solidarity with the deceased’s family.

    It is a very important way of dealing with the emotions that follow a death and is a very significant element in maintaining tribal solidarity based on strong family ties and identity.

    People get a lot of strength and support from malamala ritual.”

    • Hey, Bob. It seems the idea of ‘dealing with the emotions that follow a death’, especially if there is some kind of responsibility held, isn’t a strong-point of ‘western’ culture. It seems a little strengthening to even hear about malamala ritual, so thanks.

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