The Construction of Identity among Aboriginal People in Australia

In a post-colonial context, what does it mean to be aboriginal? When you watch Beneath Clouds, you understand quickly how difficult it is to build a new identity in a modern society for Aborigines. So, what are the difficulties they encounter daily in order to integrate?

       Identities are supposed to unite people and communities and yet people are committing crimes in the name of identity. Australia used to be a vast country of different tribes, and every tribe had its own identity and tradition. Furthermore, the word “identity” wasn’t a real issue among aborigines, they could recognize where any individual belongs through his language, land, skin or community. Without any contact with the outside world, they were considered as “full blood” aboriginal which means a total absence of white blood.

Aborigines’ diversity was initially questioned by the British colonialists. 1788 is the year when identity collapsed in Australia, and it is still a hostage that struggles to find a way between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.

The British Invasion

           26th January is considered as a National Day in Australia, in fact it celebrates the date of landing of first fleet in 1788, an event that can be compared to the US “Thanksgiving”. The Arrival of the British imperialists to Australia in the name of civilization as a new identity for the Australian aborigines, it marked the entrance to a new era. However, for some aborigines the word “arrival” isn’t compatible enough with the colonial past. Just like the “discovery” of America in the US. Colonization and invasion are the most appropriate words that can describe the crimes committed for their first contact.

This invasion gave a new shape for the Australian identity. In fact, every generation had endured different challenges after colonization. According to Jim Morrison[1], an aboriginal co-chair of the National Stolen Generations Alliance, the first generation endured genocides. The second one endured removal from their land and migration. The third one impacted mostly children who were removed from their families in order to civilize them. In consequence, a traumatic past, full of unforgettable memories is following every generation and it disintegrates them.

Beneath Clouds Movie 2002:

             Beneath clouds is an Australian movies that treats identity among aborigines. There are two main characters: Lena and Vaughn. They are both interesting regarding their behavior when it comes to identity. Their journey to Sydney teaches us a lot about identity.

Lena is a white and blue eyed girl, she has an Irish father who abandoned her and an aboriginal mother she finds disgusting– she only appeared in one scene with alcohol and drugs. Her double identity makes us question: what matters if we want to belong to any community. Apparently, she is too white to be Aboriginal but not white enough to be white. Besides, she is mostly ashamed of her half aboriginal identity; she identifies herself as an Irish rather than aboriginal. This feeling can be explained certainly by her mother’s behavior.

Vaughn is a black-skinned; Aboriginal man who’s just escaped from jail. What’s interesting about this character is his anger and frustration against white people. His disintegration among white people is remarkable during the movie.

The hitchhiking scene of Lena and Vaughn can sum up how shared-identities and cultures were created by humans to recognize each other as communities. When one of them hitchhikes, drivers who stop for help are white people for Lena and dark skinned for Vaughn. This explains that people are more likely to help each other when identities are shared.

@Lena and Vaughn hitchhiking in Beneath Clouds

Hybrid Identities: (Evolution of identity)

          Identity is relentlessly changing when it’s in contact with other cultures. Since white people mixed up with aboriginal people, “aboriginality” is questioned and struggles to find an appropriate definition.

Today, the urbanization of aborigines gave birth to several ambiguous identities. Taking them off their lands has become an intergenerational problem, they can’t go back anymore to their homeland. Thus, their authenticity is questioned, their integration to cities is a total mess. Alcohol and crimes are now part of their daily life.

However, Australian aborigines don’t want to be defined by non-aboriginal people anymore. They want to define themselves by themselves, and find their own identity. If aborigines’ identity struggles today, it is mostly because of non-aboriginal people’s failure to comprehend them, instead of learning from past lessons; non-aboriginal people are increasingly committing the same mistakes such as abondoning them, descrimination or stereotypes. We need to change this racial inequality and rather than opting for “imposition”, they should opt for reconciliation, self-management and self-definition.

The first solution to adopt for governments and non-aboriginal people is the improvement of policies and services for aboriginal people. It may help them integrate more easily. However, identity issues remain an aboriginal concern and the acceptance of diversity as a gate that leads straight to reconciliation.


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