BARNEY, Katelyn

PhD University of Queensland 2006 Pages: 309 + CD

Playing Musical Hopscotch: How Indigenous Australian Women Perform Around, Within and Against Aboriginalism

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[Abstract reproduced with the permission of the author.] Indigenous Australian women who perform contemporary music are acutely aware that Aboriginalist discourse has created unrealistic expectations and public perceptions of Indigenous Australian performance. The theory of Aboriginalism is critiqued and interrogated in this thesis in relation to Indigenous Australian women, performance, and race. This thesis addresses the complex and contradictory ways that Aboriginalist discourse fixes non-Indigenous expectations of Indigenous Australian performance, gender, and race by exploring how the performers themselves work within and against these Aboriginalist constructions through their music. One of the immediate effects of Aboriginalism is that it silences Indigenous Australians. In academic discourse and popular media, the voices of Indigenous women who perform contemporary music are rarely heard and often overlooked or ignored. This thesis aims to redress and understand this gender imbalance by focusing on Indigenous women and their contemporary music and illustrate how Indigenous Australian women performers are enacting new types of agency to negotiate their way through, around, and over one-dimensional Aboriginalist constructions of themselves to self-define more positive and diverse identities as Indigenous Australian women. This thesis is divided into four parts. Part One (Chapters One, Two, and Three) provides necessary background to the study. Chapter One introduces the topic and poses research questions in relation to Aboriginalism, Indigenous women, and contemporary performance. Chapter Two examines a number of themes which emerge in the existing literature relating to Indigenous Australian musicians performing contemporary music. Chapter Three locates Indigenous Australian women in this academic discourse and explores some possible reasons for the increasing number of contemporary music recordings by Indigenous Australian women since the 1990s. Part Two (Chapters Four, Five, and Six) positions this study theoretically and methodologically. Chapter Four outlines the theoretical framework that informs this project while Chapter Five discusses the methodological issues and challenges I faced throughout the research process. Chapter Six introduces the Indigenous women performers who took part in this study. This chapter uses the literary convention of a “playlet” by weaving together comments of Indigenous Australian women performers from one-on-one interviews I conducted, media excerpts about the performers, as well as my own questions and comments into a conversation which tells a story about the performers’ backgrounds, experiences, albums, and achievements. Part Three (Chapters Seven, Eight, and Nine) comprises the analysis chapters and examines Aboriginalism in relation to race, gender, and performance. Each of these chapters utilise theoretical discussions of Aboriginalism, excerpts from interviews with Indigenous women performers, song texts, and media representations to examine how Indigenous women perform within and against Aboriginalism. Chapter Seven focuses on how Indigenous women performers resist Aboriginalist constructs of race through performance while Chapter Eight turns the gaze to gender and Aboriginalism to explore how the performers challenge Aboriginalist representations of Indigenous women by attempting bring Indigenous women’s experiences, history, and topics to the foreground through song. Chapter Nine examines the way in which Indigenous women performers steer their way through Aboriginalism in music performance by blurring musical boundaries and drawing on a diverse range of musical styles. Finally, Part Four (Chapter Ten) discusses the possibilities of moving beyond Aboriginalism and reflects on my own contribution to discourse concerning Indigenous women performers.

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