Next 17 Group “Place and the Custodial Ethic –an Aboriginal metaphysic”.

The May meeting of the 17 Group – on Wednesday the 5th of May at 7pm in unit 6 at 20 Drury St, West End.

“Place and the Custodial Ethic – an Aboriginal metaphysic”. The speaker will be indigenous thinker Mary Graham.
Here are a summary of the themes to be addressed and a short biography of the speaker: Notes for Workshop

“In contemporary Australian society Aboriginal people lack both ideological and economic bases of power – they control neither things nor ideas. Whites control resources, productions and distribution.” (C. Howe, 1982)

To the extent that the Land is the Law, Aboriginal Australia seems to have said to the people: “co-operate, don’t compete; share, don’t hoard; extend your relationships and honour your sacred sites”. It was a Law, which requires an ahistorical view of time.

The world is immediate, not external, and we are all its custodians, as well as its observers. A culture that holds the immediate world at bay by objectifying it as the Observed System, thereby leaving it to the blinkered forces of the market place, will also be blind to the effects of doing so until those effects become quantifiable as, for example, acid rain, holes in the ozone layer and global economic recession. All the social forces, which have led to this planetary crisis, could have been anticipated in principle, but this would have required a richer metaphysics.

The voice(s) emerging from Place (community/locality) is the authentic one, not the ‘objective’, scientific description.

From the Indigenous point of view local innovation is the implicit basis of scientific knowledge. True science has to include the metaphysical aspects of knowledges. (5) Cajete, Gregory, “Native Science”, Clear Light Publishers, Santa Fe, NM 2000. p 69.

The inclusion of Place in a story provides an authentic explanation of how and why something comes into the world that in turn provides a balance between agency (human and spiritual) and point of origin or Place. Balance and re-balance is achieved when Place is used like an ontological compass. The story of alcohol (in Europe) is one such instance.

Example: An Indigenous group of people undergoing de-tox therapies requested information about the story of alcohol, not the official health dangers, not the historical account of how it is made, but the Dreaming Story of alcohol, that is, the Place from where it originated, the Ancestral Beings who brought it into the world and the meaning associated with it. The counselling staff were challenged by this request and had to research this aspect which led them to stories of the gods Bacchus, Dionysius, Pan and others and their role in bringing alcohol into being. This approach made a lot more sense to the Aboriginal clients and in turn impacted positively on their recovery. (6) San Roque, Craig, mid-1990’s, “Story of Alcohol-Sugarman Song Cycle” Documentary Video. Alice Springs.

Western contemporary techno-sciences, rather than being taken as definitional of knowledge, rationality, or objectivity, should be treated as varieties of knowledge systems. But even though knowledge systems may differ in their epistemologies, methodologies, logics, cognitive structures, or socioeconomic contexts, a characteristic they all share is localness.


Mary Graham was born in Brisbane and grew up on the Gold Coast, she is a Kombu-merri person on her father’s side and is also affiliated with the Waka Waka group through her mother.

She has lectured and tutored on subjects in Aboriginal history, politics, and comparative philosophy at the University of Queensland and at other educational institutions around the country.

She was the Administrator of the Aboriginal and Islander Child Care Agency (AICCA) during the 1970’s and has been on the Boards and Committees of several Aboriginal organisations in Brisbane for many years since.

Mary was a member of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation during its first term and was a member of the ATSIC Regional Council for South East Queensland for 6 years. She was also a Queensland Corrective Services Commissioner for 1 year. She then had her own successful consultancy in Aboriginal affairs – Mary Graham and Associates.

She has carried out research work for the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action (FAIRA), a Native Title Representative Body in Brisbane.

Other activities have included free-lance editing for UQP; publishing training guide manuals for various Government departments, Federal, State and Local Government levels; script development work for film and television with Murri-image Production.

She is currently working as a community development/research consultant for the Kummara Association in Brisbane – a Stronger Indigenous Families initiative.

Briefly adverting to the Trotsky question, an accredited spokesperson thought he might attend, to suggest, in an adroit and learned display, possible connections to the pre-class-struggle stage of the Marxist account of historical materialism, the so called ‘primitive communism’ of prehistoric fame, but then again he might, as usual, not. Be that as it may, come, as usual, yourself.

Dan O’Neill

Copy of Extract of AR Paper.docx

2 thoughts on “Next 17 Group “Place and the Custodial Ethic –an Aboriginal metaphysic”.

  1. Regarding the Trotsky question,

    If the accredited spokesperson should raise matters of primitive, prehistoric and pre-class-struggle conundrums, this may perhaps provide for an interesting conversation about archaeology and anthropology not unlike that between Comrade Marx and the anthropologist Morgan.

    However I fear the parameters of such discourse could not begin to touch on, what appears to be a key aspect of the above summary, matters of metaphysical consciousness as it relates to the hear and now.

    The class struggle has raged in this wide brown land for over 200 years, there is nothing pre-class-struggle in how a modern (or even post-modern) sophisticated Aboriginal person might tackle something like Alcohol addiction today.

    Meta-physics is not an anthropological relic of pre-historic ignorance but a real consciousness, born of material experience today here and now.

    We can of course make allowances for comrade Trotsky, especially in his continued absence from any significant contemporary debate.

    I suspect Trotsky has been out of touch for so long that he has not even considered Albert Einstein’s theory of time. In the first instance Einstein said that time was bent, (I thought it was just me). But then In his later considerations he insisted that time was an illusion.

    Now I do not dare to explore the metaphysical implications of Einstein’s theory that time is an illusion, but the historiological consequence might require a contemporary revision of the official categories of historical-material epochs of human consciousness.

    Anyway, thats all for now.

    Kropotkin has asked me to convey his apologies. He has a previous appointment but would have loved to discuss anthropology with the accredited spokesperson. He thinks Marx’s notion of the evolution to tribal communism might just have legs. (not sure what he meant by that, must be something about ants).

  2. Kropotkin has emailed me about my previous response. He admits his own ignorance of sub-atomic physics but has correctly asserted that it is not just the notion of time that constitutes historical materialism but also the notion of matter. He has been following the development of the CERN Large Hadron Collider with great interest.

    The main quest of the Large Hadron Collider is to prove the existence of the Higgs Boson particle, the “God particle” as some have called it. Like God, the Higgs Boson is just a theory and has not yet been proved, yet it is the underpinning of current scientific understandings of what all matter is. If matter is made of molecules, and molecules are made of atoms, and atoms are made of protons, electrons and neutrons, what are they made of? (A question a bit like what is on the other side of the universe?)

    And if protons, electrons and neutrons are energy, how do they manifest as matter?

    Well there must be an answer, so the scientists assume, so they have described the parameters of what that answer should look like and named that description the “Higgs Boson” – that thing that somehow transforms the nature of not just energy but also vacuous nothingness into a manifestation of matter. You can’t prove it but it must exist – a logic not unlike the arguments for god.

    Just as Moses turned a stick into a snake and Jesus turned water into wine to prove the existence of God, the six billion dollar Large Hadron Collider, so the prophets of science tell us, will prove the existence of the Higgs Boson particle.

    Now Kropotkin and I had a chat about this and reached no conclusions. But we raised the question – if time is an illusion and matter is a matter of faith, in the light of modern science, what does this mean for historical materialism as an explanation of consciousness?

    Kropotkin mumbled something about ants again, I don’t get it.

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