Realities, simulacra, and the appropriation of Aboriginality in Kakadu’s tourism
Chris Haynes (University of Western Australia)
Paper short abstract:
The paper examines the way in which Kakadu is promoted as an Aboriginal place, and yet what is promoted bears little resemblance to either contemporary Aboriginal culture or economy.
Paper long abstract:
The tourism economy of the Northern Territory’s Top End is estimated to generate about $400 million annually, of which I estimate Kakadu National Park generates about $100 million. Yet my estimates also show that traditional owners and other employees of the park receive less than $3 million annually, about ninety percent of which is paid in park wages and rent to traditional owners, with the remainder being generated directly from tourism sources. In this paper I problematise how Kakadu’s Aboriginality has been appropriated as a means of promoting both the Park itself and the Top End generally, yet how representations of ‘Aboriginal culture’ are difficult to reproduce for park visitors. I argue that what passes for Aboriginal culture in the promotional material has very little to do with contemporary Aboriginal culture or contemporary Aboriginal economy in the Park region. The thin nexus that existed when Kakadu was declared nearly three decades ago has become even more tenuous – with the Park’s famous Seasonal Aboriginal Calendar, for example, being no more realistic as a signifier of contemporary culture than the park’s ancient rock art. I use this example to explore ways in which more realistic connections might be made between tourism and the Aboriginal economy.