Representatives in orbit: Livelihood options for Aboriginal people in the administration of the Australian desert

Elizabeth Ganter*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    4 Citations (Scopus)


    Aboriginal people comprise ∼30% of the Northern Territory population, but make up well under 10% of the government bureaucracy designed to serve that population. This paper is based on PhD research into Aboriginal experiences of participating in this bureaucracy. Interviews were conducted in 2007 with 76 people of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander background who had worked in the Northern Territory Government since self-government in 1978. The process of recruiting interviewees revealed a high degree of career mobility between government and the Indigenous sector of publicly funded organisations which operates at arm's length from government. This finding was quite pronounced in the desert centre of Alice Springs, at the periphery of the Northern Territory administration, where those who were encouraged as a livelihood option to build Aborigines' numeric representation in government were unable to represent their people in more substantive ways without coming into tension either with the terms of their employment or with their communities. The paper explores the ways in which Aboriginal public servants sought substantively to represent others and the phenomenon whereby many who sought representative roles in the government of the desert were in orbit and thus neither inside nor outside but somewhere at the edges of government. The paper concludes by observing that the knowledge and experience of Aboriginal people who orbit at the edges of government may be made more accessible through collaborations with the Indigenous sector than solely through government employment.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)385-393
    Number of pages9
    JournalRangeland Journal
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


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