Caring for Country: History and Alchemy in the Making and Management of Indigenous Australian Land

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4 Scopus citations


This paper traces the history of ‘caring for country’ tropes in writing about indigenous Australian land and land management. While ‘caring for country’ initially referred to dynamic land use and ownership practices, it progressively became a less historical, more primordial, conception of indigenous land ownership, use, and management. In reviewing constructions of ‘land’ in scholarly literatures and policy debates, I seek to explain how they interact with local indigenous practices and idioms. Drawing on examples from the cultural and linguistic fields of Aṉangu, speakers of Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara, I examine a variety of concurrent uses of ‘country’, ‘caring’, or ‘nurturance’ and ‘caring for country’. A cross-linguistic perspective on these objectifications – in English, Aboriginal English, and central Australian indigenous languages – shows how they may attend selectively to the historical specificity of indigenous experience. But this, I argue, may be the key to their efficacy in intercultural projects. Coded messages in bilingual documents reflect a kind of agency whereby Aṉangu choose to leave equivocal histories unstated and thereby reconstitute government projects in terms that work for them. The referential flexibility around idioms of land and nurturance is a kind of alchemy in language and social life that is the condition of the success of actual land management activities. Terms including ‘country’ and ‘caring for country’ elide the socio-political dynamics that otherwise complicate actual rights and uses of land. That is why they can form the social basis of common activities, the production of ‘congeniality’ both within Aṉangu social life and at the interface with outsiders, in land management and other fields.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-201
Number of pages19
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • country
  • indigenous Australia
  • language
  • natural resource management
  • nurturance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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