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Wilcannia is a small town in outback New South Wales. Settled in the mid-nineteenth century, this was a jewel of colonisation known as the ‘Queen of the Desert’. On the Darling River, it was the third largest shipping port in NSW. Large, monumental sandstone buildings are littered through the town, many crumbling, for Wilcannia has now been mostly abandoned by settler society. The town’s present population of around 600 people are mostly Barkindji. Aboriginal residents of Wilcannia are not thriving by many official measures, but have maintained continuous occupation of their land. Many are conscious that they have survived the ‘logic of elimination’ characteristic of settler colonialism. We went to Wilcannia to explore the political economics of this survival, especially the ways that Aboriginal people perceived and engaged with settler capitalism. Did capitalism fail in Wilcannia? Or were Aboriginal strategies of engagement and resistance effective? This paper draws on a rich oral history project and archive to offer a complex, Indigenous-centred account of settler capitalism in the region and of the structures that constitute a changing, flexible and distinctly Barkindji logic of survival. This, we argue, cannot be reduced to ‘agency’, as if Aboriginal responses to settler colonial structures were ad hoc – meaning interpretations of the ‘hybridity’ of Aboriginal and settler cultures are also not applicable. Rather, we suggest that the logic of survival represents an Indigenous structure with changing, flexible and heterogeneous sets of strategies.


School of Arts

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Journal Article

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