This book challenges a number of widespread preconceptions about Aboriginal society and its interaction with the wider non-Aboriginal society. It builds on recent scholarship that has drastically changed the view of Aboriginal women propagated by nineteenth and early twentieth century reports. These reporters unconsciously based their assessments on their knowledge of their own society; they could not conceive of women undertaking autonomous economic activity. These observations were made by men, and some women, imposing their cultural values on Aboriginal society, and dealing primarily with Aboriginal men. They were influenced by the fact that in white society political and religious power was in the hands of men; they shared the common assumption that the female roles of wife and mother carried as little power and authority in Aboriginal society as they did in western society.
This collection of essays, which includes accounts ranging from traditional societies to societies reacting to decades of interaction with non-Aboriginal culture, explores the active role of women in Aboriginal cultural and religious life.
It demonstrates the cultural authority possessed by women; it records the pivotal role of women as repositories of cultural knowledge and in the struggle to maintain or rebuild the means of passing on that knowledge.
Women, Rites & Sites should be read by all people interested in Aboriginal-white relations, in Aboriginal culture and women's studies.
Table of Contents
Note on Spelling
Introduction - Peggy Brock
1 Retrospect, and prospect: Looking back after 50 years - Catherine H. Berndt
2 Antikirinja women's song knowledge 1963-72: Its significance in Antikirinja culture - Catherine J. Ellis and Linda Barwick
3 Rites for sites or sites for rites? The dynamics of women's cultural life in the Musgraves - Helen Payne
4 Digging deep: Aboriginal women in the Oodnadatta region of South Australia in the 1980s - Jen Gibson
5 'Women talking up big': Aboriginal women as cultural custodians, a South Australian example - Jane M. Jacobs
6 The status of women's cultural knowledge: Aboriginal society in north-east South Australia - Luise Hercus
7 Roles revisited: The women of southern South Australia - Fay Gayle
Peggy Brock is Historian with the Aboriginal Heritage Branch of the Department of Environment and Planning in South Australia. She has researched and written histories of various Aboriginal communities in South Australia including the Adnjamathanha of the north Flinders Ranges and Poonindie Mission on Eyre Peninsula. She is the author of two books and various articles on Aboriginal history.