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2 The Politics of Place Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia When people say, “oh we lost this land or we lost that land,” we didn’t lose it anywhere. . . . The problem is that we haven’t been given the power in the non-Aboriginal legal system to fulfill the custodial right. . . . [U]ntil that consent is properly given, then we still live under bad laws. Dennis Walker (quoted in Watson 2009:27) According to Deborah Bird Rose, to understand Country “is to know the story of how it came into being” (1996:36). Country is the term Aboriginal peoples use to describe their ancestral and inherited places and the practices or laws that guide behavior. Country holds the knowledge of Law, and caring for Country is how people steward the land, including visiting sites, conducting ceremonies, and maintaining knowledge. Central to this philosophy is the Dreaming, or Law, creation stories that link ancestral beings with contemporary and future generations (D. B. Rose 1996). These stories also tell how these beings emerged from places on the land, the sea, and the sky and “assum[ed] the bodily forms of various humans, animals, birds and plants. . . . They were shape-changing beings with immense power, who travelled across the land and sea, performing great deeds of creation, and now lie quiet in focal points on the landscape” (Flood 2006:98). Dreaming, like Country, mediates Aboriginal peoples’ cultural and spiritual practices: Both are tied to places in the land. This chapter describes Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park, a sacred Aboriginal landscape managed in collaboration with the Traditional Owners, known collectively as Anangu, located in the southwest of Northern Territory in Central Australia (see Map 1). I anchor this chapter in Country. Anangu’s knowledge of Country can be traced to the “Dreaming” or “Dreamtime,” and their oral narratives of place-names, patterns in the landscapes, waterholes, and animal beings indicate that they originated from the Uluru monolith. Uluru is Country to Anangu and is the philosophy of Tjukurpa, or the Law, 18 / Critical Theory and the Anthropology of Heritage Landscapes and defines and governs all aspects of their lives, including religion, moral systems, law, creation stories, and relationships to ancestors, plants, animals, and people. Tjukurpa is a “living philosophy” (Kerle 1993:14) and includes reciting place-names, managing the landscape with fire, maintaining water sources, and singing the traditional inma song cycles. The Law restricts access to and knowledge of sacred sites to certain members. This knowledge guides relationships to land, to others, and to all forms of life. “People talk about Country in the same way they would talk about a person” (D. B. Rose 1996:7–8). People follow strict protocols when traveling and seek permission to enter other groups’ Country (Myers 1982). European colonizers ignored or misunderstood such obligations. They brought with them preconceived and largely inflexible ways of viewing the world, ways that were incompatible with these protocols and views (Kerwin 2006; D. B. Rose 1996). Heritage landscapes as Country are often sites of dispossession and loss. This Map 1. Australia with principal field sites, map by Bill Nelson. The Politics of Place: Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia / 19 chapter shows how the histories of land alienation, often occluded in heritage management contexts, have far-reaching impacts on a community’s claims to their traditional homelands, resources, and/or subsistence practices. I focus on the history of Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park, a sacred Aboriginal landscape managed in collaboration with the Traditional Owners. Designated a national park in 1977, it was listed as a natural World Heritage property in 1987 and as a World Heritage cultural landscape in 1994. This chapter presents the historical , cultural, and legal contexts of Uluru–Kata Tjuta’s nomination to the World Heritage list to demonstrate how the politics of the past informs the management of cultural landscapes in the present. I do not present an exhaustive overview of the history of events or a detailed description of ethnographic data, as those are described elsewhere (Baird 2009). Instead, I take as my central point of interest the largely apolitical and ahistorical narratives of the park that occlude the historical and social conditions of the park that I see as redefining the Traditional Owners’ relationship to Country. Locating Anangu’s relationship to Country within their historical experience of colonialism will bring into relief how the legacies of these early encounters are embedded in landmanagement practices today and how the struggle is rooted in the...


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