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Caging the Rainbow

Places Politics, and Aborigines in a North Australian Town

Francesca Merlan

Publication Year: 1998

Caging the Rainbow explores the lives of Aborigines in the small regional town of Katherine, Northern Territory, Australia. Francesca Merlan combines ethnography and theory to grapple with issues surrounding the debate about the authenticity of contemporary cultural activity. Throughout, the vulnerability of Fourth World peoples to others' representations of them and the ethical problems this poses are kept in view.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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List of Illustrations

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pp. vi-vi

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pp. vii-x

This book is an ethnographic exploration of change and continuity in the lives and social orientations of Aborigines around the town of Katherine in the Northern Territory of Australia (map 1). Though the book’s focus on town life is somewhat unusual among Australian Aboriginal...

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One: Places and People of Katherine Town

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pp. 1-47

Many writers have observed that, in the ways in which Aborigines position themselves around settler locations—missions, pastoral stations (ranches), and towns—they have tended to reproduce, within a small space, differentiated orientations to “country,” the lands to which they regard...

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Two: From Place to Town

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pp. 48-75

Julie Williams, whom I call “mother” in the Aboriginal way, and I were standing on a street corner in Katherine on a hot, wet-season day in November 1991.At my request, she was showing me where something had happened that she and a number of other Aboriginal people in the town had...

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Three: We Useta Walk Around, All the People

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pp. 76-113

In this chapter, I explore ways in which Katherine-area Aboriginal people’s relations to hinterlands have tended to become specialized and rarefied, increasingly particular to individuals and small groupings of especially older people, as the relevant places cease to be a part of everyday living...

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Four: Tribes and Town

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pp. 114-148

This chapter is concerned with shifts in socio-spatial identities in relation to the town area of Katherine. Processes of change can be shown to have occurred over a period of decades as Aboriginal people converged upon the town from different hinterlands, building and intensifying social...

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Five: Imposition and Imitation: Changing Directions in Aboriginal Affairs

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pp. 149-181

This chapter, like the last, considers what can be meant by change and continuity. But it differs from the last in looking at the issue from the perspective of the external management of Aboriginal affairs, rather than beginning from an Aboriginal perspective. At the end of the last chapter, I suggested...

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Six: Struggles in Town Space

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pp. 182-208

Chapter 1 presented a sectoral picture of Katherine, relating the distribution of the various Aboriginal camps to the orientations of their residents to hinterlands and particular regional “mobs” of countrymen. This chapter is concerned with further exploration of these and other aspects...

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Seven: Do Places Appear? Further Struggle in Space

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pp. 209-228

Chapter 2 explored loss of a place formerly differentiated in Aboriginal terms from its surroundings, through the evanescence of the rainbow’s cave. This chapter is concerned with another aspect of change and continuity with respect to places in the recent period. It tells, as far I was able...

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Eight Conclusions

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pp. 229-240

In this book I have attempted to give ethnographic substance to notions of change and continuity through the Katherine material. Having described the Katherine Aboriginal scene in terms of sociohistorical and socio-spatial differentiation among its camps and people (chapter 1), I examined...


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pp. 241-262


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pp. 263-276


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pp. 277-285

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861742
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824820015

Publication Year: 1998

OCLC Number: 44955633
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Caging the Rainbow

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Geographical perception -- Australia -- Katherine (N.T.).
  • Katherine (N.T.) -- History.
  • Katherine (N.T.) -- Race relations.
  • Katherine (N.T.) -- Social conditions.
  • Aboriginal Australians -- Social conditions.
  • Aboriginal Australians -- Government relations.
  • Spatial behavior -- Australia -- Katherine (N.T.).
  • Aboriginal Australians -- History.
  • Human territoriality -- Australia -- Katherine (N.T.).
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