by Malcolm J. C. Calley from Reference 27
Race relations as a subdivision of the general field of Culture Contact is concerned with the patterned behaviour of two or more groups towards one another. The groups involved may be whole societies, or sub-groups of the same society. Race Relations may shade imperceptibly into class structure, and may involve subordinate behaviour on the part of one group and superordinate behaviour on the part of the other.
There are two approaches to the problem. Firstly it may be regarded as a feature of the social structure of the society at large, the group which includes the two sub-groups. The sub-groups each have their place in the composite social life and the conflict between them must be regarded as a characteristic of the society as a whole. Secondly, race relations can be regarded as mechanisms making for the internal solidarity of the sub-groups a solidarity that is threatened by the presence of the other sub-group differing from it in culture and social structure.
On the North Coast of N.S.W. the groups we are concerned with are the Aboriginal mixed blood and the white Australian. There is evidence that in reality there are other groups in this complex, Kanaka (South Sea Melanesian) and European (non-British immigrant). Kanakas tend to be classed with the Aboriginal group and European immigrants with the white Australian. Recognition of the two is chiefly in terms of skin colour and other less frequently mentioned physical characteristics, but the mixed-blood group also evinces a dialectical peculiarity, a manner of speaking which is probably the unconscious translation of Bandjalang idiom into English. This distinction is made more obvious by the very limited vocabulary of most Aborigines. Though all are quite fluent in English, many of the older people are more at home in the Bandjalang native dialects.
The White Reaction to the Mixed Bloods
Throughout the North Coast, and this would be true also for most other areas, the Aborigine is assigned a place in the social hierarchy well below that of the lowest white man and is excluded from participation in many aspects of community life. The Europeans justify this exclusion by a series of generalizations about Aborigines, by racial stereotypes. The fact that many of these stereotypes are not a true description of mixed-blood society suggests that they function in the white group as rationalizations, as a system of justifications for behaviour which is frequently recognized as being 'undemocratic' and 'unjust.' The attitudes of most white informants to Aborigines are ambivalent ; they express indignation that they continue to be under-privileged and at the same time condemn them for failing to measure up to what are probably ideal standards of white behaviour. The following are the stereotypes of 'aborigines' most commonly heard in the white group. It will be seen that only some of these are an accurate picture of an actual state of affairs, and that frequently the behaviour of a few Aborigines is taken to characterize the whole group.
The Aborigines are considered to be dirty and foul smelling, possessing no conception of personal hygiene. This is true in part of station Aborigines, but is largely the result of inadequate bathing facilities and overcrowding in the houses. However, few Aborigines consider it necessary to install a bath in the house they occupy. I recorded one case on X station of an elderly father of a family who installed a bath for the use of the children but would not bath himself during winter, stating that he feared pneumonia. Scabies and other skin complaints are very common among children and less common among adults.
The second stereotype that Aborigines are diseased is closely associated with the first. By far the most common ailment is intestinal worm infestation ; hardly a child on these stations being free from either round or hookworm. Gastroenteritis is also common, particularly so among young children. The prevalence of these complaints is a clear indication of inadequate hygiene, but there are also social factors involved ; a child does not feed exclusively, or even mainly in the home of his parents, so that even children from the cleanest families on a station are constantly exposed to infection. Young children frequently and adults less frequently (e.g., when drunk) defecate in the yards of the houses and in the streets. It is difficult to determine how accurate is the stereotype that asserts that venereal disease is more common among Aborigines than it is in the white community. My data indicates that seven members of the X community have had either syphilis or gonorrhoea, and rumour indicates another nine cases. A recent medical survey at U revealed four or possibly five cases. This in populations of 140 and 130 respectively. Only the U figures can be considered at all reliable. At any rate, the stereotype of the 'pox-ridden' Aborigine seems to be an exaggeration, and is probably felt to be implied by the more general stereotype that all mixed-bloods are promiscuous.
There is no doubt that from the age of puberty to in some cases well into the seventies, the mixed-bloods do lead very active sex lives, pre-marital, marital and extra-marital. About eighty per cent, of women bear children out of wedlock, as contraception is seldom or never practised. There is no doubt that far more children are born out of wedlock in these communities than in the white community, but there is no possible way of comparing the degree of promiscuity in the two societies. Living on a station under the control of the Aborigines' Welfare Board, the Aborigine is liable to have questions asked about his private life that a white person would consider impertinent. The Aborigine is not nearly so secretive about his private life as is the average white man. The close proximity of relatives and neighbours in the tightly knit community precludes a great degree of privacy. Ultimately the difference lies in the different attitudes of the two communities to sex, not in overt behaviour.
The Aborigines' Welfare Act forbids the sale of alcohol to those of Aboriginal or part Aboriginal blood who are not specifically exempted from its provisions. This is the legal expression of another stereotype, that the Aborigine is unable to 'hold his grog' that he 'goes mad when he has had a few drinks'. In the north coast area this stereotype is made up of a complex of traditional attitudes and values.
The Aborigine is a 'plonk drinker', one who prefers cheap brands of sherry or muscat to beer. Italians also tend to be looked down on because they drink wine rather than beer, and as might be expected, Italian banana growers in the coastal belt, though accepting other stereotypes, never mentioned this one. The Aborigine is also a methylated spirit drinker, and is so assigned a place on a par with the 'lowest' element in the white community, down-and-out dypsomaniacs. This is usually taken to be a biologically determined mark of inferiority, 'proof' that an Aborigine cannot be treated in the same way as a white man, that he has no sense of 'decency ' or 'self respect'. A note of patronization is often struck, mostly implicit, but often explicit: 'It is the duty of the whites to save the Aborigine from himself by seeing that he does not obtain liquor'. It is often claimed that an Aborigine becomes 'cheeky' to whites when he is under the influence of alcohol and that he goes home and beats his womenfolk.
Of all the stereotypes of Aborigines held by Europeans, none are so universally accepted or at the same time so unjustified as those associated with the consumption of alcohol. In terms of actual quantities consumed, the Aborigine in this area is probably somewhat behind the white man, who is able to drink as much as he likes, whenever he likes, in the local hotel. Because the Aborigine is unable to buy alcohol in the usual way, he is forced to buy inferior brands at blackmarket prices. He is seldom able to obtain beer even if he prefers it. The fear of detection prompts him to drink his bottle as quickly as possible, often on an empty stomach before returning to the station after work. The regulation which makes it an offence to take liquor on to an Aboriginal station prevents him from drinking at home in a leisurely fashion, and precludes the social aspect of drinking that is so important in the white community.
Cheap wine is not only drunk because it can be obtained fairly easily : it contains a higher percentage of alcohol than beer. One can become drunk more quickly and for less money. The denial of other sources of alcohol to Aborigines means that many drink methylated spirit, known in the vernacular as 'metho' or 'goom'. Although its sale is technically forbidden to Aborigines, it is not difficult to buy in the large towns. The excuse is made that it is needed to light pressure lamps. Methylated spirit is usually mixed with some kind of flavouring, orange juice at X and raspberry essence at C. One can reach an advanced stage of intoxication for a few pence on methylated spirit.
The belief that drinking among Aborigines leads to fights or, more particularly, to wife beating, is only partly correct. I recorded only one case of a woman being seriously injured by an intoxicated husband. It could be argued that excessive drinking in any community tends to cause domestic upsets. In the white community domestic brawls usually remain a private affair, seldom being sufficiently serious to warrant police intervention. On an Aboriginal station, however, even the slightest disturbance is likely to prompt official intervention by manager, police or welfare officer. Cases involving Aborigines are recorded and remembered ; cases involving whites will almost always pass unnoticed. It is significant that a complaint by a wife often initiates intervention by the station manager, whereas in the white community such complaints would seldom be made, and even if made would not be the subject of legal action. Aboriginal women have learned to exploit these peculiar circumstances, and endeavour to enlist the support of the station manager in even the most trivial marital disputes. They are adept at manipulating the Act to their own advantage.
The stereotypes of the Aborigine as lazy, unpunctual and thriftless have been treated in an earlier paper (see Reference 26) It is only necessary to remark here that though there are many exceptions to the rule, these are roughly correct. The reasons do not concern us here.
On the north coast, it is generally agreed that the Aborigine is addicted to gambling. This would be true of a minority of the population on these stations and reserves only. Of those who do gamble, very few indeed gamble heavily. Perhaps the important thing is that gambling among Aborigines usually takes the form of card and dice games, different variations occurring on different stations and reserves. Hardly any interest is taken in horse and dog racing or the state lotteries. Generally these forms of gambling are more common among urban than among station Aborigines. In this area Aborigines gamble only with Aborigines, though I understand that on the stations of the central west a few whites, often professional card-sharpers, participate.
As playing cards or dice for money is illegal, the gambling schools are subject to raids by the police at the instigation of the station manager. Even the most innocuous game of cards held in a private house is subject to official interruption. As with sexual behaviour and drinking habits, the significant difference from the white community is not that the mixed-blood indulges to a greater degree, but that almost every aspect of his life is subject to official intervention. Much is known about a mixed-blood community, whereas little is known about a white community.
See also Educational Stereotypes
Such then are the stereotypes brought forward to justify the exclusion of Aborigines from the social life of the community. In some cases they are quite false ; in a few they are generally true, and in others they rest on a misrepresentation of the facts or on the Aborigines' particular vulnerability to scandal.
These stereotypes both govern the behaviour of the white group to the Aborigines and provide a rationale for it. They also have a direct effect on both the Aborigine's approach to whites and his attitude to his own culture.