Ustinov Global Citizenship Programme

Artistic copyright and land rights in Aboriginal Australia

By Marianna Iliadou

Photo Credit: Pattaranun Chaisudhiphongskul

At first sight artistic copyright and land rights do not seem to be closely connected. However, this is not true in Aboriginal Australia, where the two are tied together with the general rights movement of indigenous Australians. The West has historically tried to impose its ideas, lifestyle, values and laws into other civilizations, which is of great significance to the Global Citizenship notion, as it clashes with the idea that different cultures should co-exist in harmony.
On Thursday 24th January, the Seminar Team invited Professor Robert Layton from the Anthropology Department of Durham University to give a talk on artistic copyright and land rights in Aboriginal Australia. The speaker started by explaining the traditional social organisation within the indigenous population and the differences in aboriginal imagery depending on the territory of each clan. Emphasis was placed on selling indigenous artistic artefacts in the 70s as a means for independence from the Australian government. To quote the speaker, ‘they were using money to buy their freedom’. Although there was an initial attempt to educate colonists about the significance and meaning of the symbols, there was a cost for this commercialisation. There was an exposure of secret ritual elements, which were quickly removed from the artefacts, and the imagery was used commercially without the payment of the artists, fact that led to many copyright court cases (e.g., David Malangi’s dollar case and the Bullen-Bullen case).

Professor Layton continued with the land rights movement. The connection between artistic imagery and land rights can be seen clearly through the Yirrkala bark petition. Known as the magna carta for aboriginal people, it was a petition presented to the Australian parliament calling for recognition of Aboriginal land rights. The peculiarity of the Yirrkala petition lies in the fact that the emblems of the affected clans were painted around the margin of the petition. This was an attempt again to find a common understanding between the aboriginals and the colonists. The attempt to translate the aboriginal culture has been a daunting task and Professor Layton kept coming back to the mismatch of perceptions between the colonists and aboriginals.

The fight for land rights was not an easy one. Before the colonists arrived, the clans used to let others enter their estates and hunt or fish, for instance, but they would give them a permission to do so. Additionally, if a clan died out, there was no perpetuity and someone else could settle in that estate. The significance of these elements is observed in the dispute between the Yolngu people and the Nabalco Mining Company wishing to mine on the Gove Peninsula. It led the Northern Territory Supreme Court to hold that the clans did not have an exclusive right in the disputed estate, as the exclusive element was demanded by English law for the recognition of ownership. Also, in general, the land claim process was multi-faceted. It required anthropologists to document the claim, lawyers to check the claimants’ case, a judge to hear the evidence and legal arguments for and against the claim, and only then could a recommendation be made to the Government. The most significant case is the Mabo case on Native Titles, which established the legal recognition of rights that existed before colonisation, if they were not extinguished. However, as you might suspect, it is particularly hard to prove continuous exercise of rights in a colonised country like Australia.

The talk ended with questions coming from the audience on the patriarchal and matriarchal characteristics of the aboriginal clans, the clans’ own way of resolving conflict regarding land rights and the comparison with other native rights movements, for example in Canada and USA. A last remark was made on the current policy regarding aboriginals in Australia and its downfall, as after the sympathetic government policies in the 70s-80s, there is a return to oppression with the 2007 Northern Territory ‘Intervention’ and the suspension of the Race Discrimination Act.

Special thanks to Professor Layton for this thought-provoking seminar, which calls us to reconsider our current stance on the concept of global citizenship.

Ustinov Intercultural Forum – Day of the Dead

By Sanjukta Nair 

Photo Credit: Matthew Roberts

Despite its morbid sounding name and proximity to Halloween, the Day of the Dead is a joyous celebration of family, love, life and death. It is a day dedicated to remembering the souls of the departed by focusing on everything that they loved, and to celebrate close familial relationships. Since we Ustinovians consider ourselves to be part of one big family, the Ustinov Intercultural Forum decided to bring this festival from Mexico and Latin America to Sheraton Park, with the help of some of our fellow students from the Mexican Society. They helped to set up a three-tiered ofrenda (altar) near the entrance of the Ustinov Cafe, initially illuminated with candles, decorated with yellow marigold flowers, and photographic remembrances of departed relatives in order to give it a more personal touch.

We began the event with an informative talk by Dr. Pérez Marín (Assistant Professor / Deputy Director of Postgraduate Studies in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures), explaining the history and significance of this festival, and how it has caught international attention and is developing itself accordingly. Students who attended had questions to ask once the talk was over. She also shared some personal items to give attendees a better understanding of the festival. Once the talk was over, Ustinovians (as well as parents and their children from the nearby community) were invited to decorate sugar skulls that had been prepared previously. While the kids were engrossed in decorating their skulls with colours and stars, some of the attendees chose to make their own papel picado (paper cutting) decorations with some helpful instructions from the Mexican society, all with upbeat and catchy Mexican songs playing in the background.

Since we wanted to reward the kids for their hard work, a piñata was set up outside Sheraton Park, and each were given turns to try and break it open. As expected, there was a mad rush for the fallen sweets! At the end, some of the decorated skulls were put on the ofrenda, while the rest were either taken home or given to the Mexican Society for their own Dia de Los Muertos event at the Durham Student Union! All in all, the Day of The Dead event at Ustinov was a successful beginning to our Intercultural Forum events for this year, one that was enjoyed by attendees of all ages.