Abstract: Calls to imagine new ways of thinking about place, difference and belonging in the Australian context often pre-suppose extant crude binaries. Overlooked in such exhortations to think anew is the fact that life, as the saying goes, goes on, and its going on is in the context of entanglements which produce “the ever-changing conditions of possibility” (Bauman 334), and that “social and cultural structures are reproduced” (Weiner 218) within those changing conditions. This issue arises in the context of the new social fact of native title, or more specifically, in the legislation giving effect to recognition of native title. A distinction is increasingly drawn between so-called traditional owners of country, and those whose relationship to country is historically constituted, or in other words, those whose relationship to country is at least in part an artefact of dispossession and other post-contact ructions. Although this is familiar terrain to anthropologists, more broadly the relevant tensions remain largely unknown or unacknowledged where so. This article explores these tensions. It critiques the instrumentalities which with (mostly) good intentions seek to give due recognition to Indigenous interests and specificities, but in doing so harden borders and further reify binaries not only between Indigenous and non-Indigenous, but between Indigenous peoples too. The overarching concern of the article, however, is how new social facts which have their derivation in misunderstandings of cultural esotery sediment into culture and praxis and become the orthodox and authoritative understanding of culture. The challenge for us is to be aware of our role in this.
Keywords: belonging; history; anthropology; Native Title; culture; aborigines;