The contrast between growing up in the Victorian Goldfields and frequent visits to see family in Central Australia played a key role in Professor Barry Judd’s ideas on identity in his formative years.
Professor, Indigenous Specialisation program, School of Global, Urban and Social Studies
Social impact of professional Australian Football on Indigenous Australia; explorations of Australian identity and the process of cultural interchange between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples; constructions of Australian citizenship and Australian nationalism; Aboriginal affairs policy and administration.
1980’s Ballarat was very Anglo-Australian. We went to Sovereign Hill to learn about Australian history and Aboriginal people weren’t mentioned. I got the idea that there had never been Aborigines in Ballarat.
Frequent trips to visit family in Central Australia gave Judd insight into a different way of Australian life, “I would see these relatives who were brown skinned, were speaking another language and were living in third would conditions.”
When Australian history was introduced at school Judd was told that Captain Cook discovered Australia two hundred years ago. “I argued the toss about that and said, ‘that can't be true because my mum just told me that her family were here for many generations before Captain Cook ever turned up’. I was sent out of the room for being a troublemaker - for having a point of view different to that of the teacher,” explains Judd.
In trying to make sense of those two worlds Judd became interested in Australian history and history of race relations between settlers and Indigenous peoples.
“My main research interest is in issues about identity – what kind of Australian identities have been formed out of the colonial contact between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in Australia. We still see these two identities as quite separate, opposed even. What I am interested in is how we can think of identities as being in-between these polar opposites.”
Judd’s research focuses on Aboriginal people in sport as a way of engaging the broader population in difficult questions around the place of indigenous people in Australian society.
“If you speak to people about land rights, aboriginal health or aboriginal education the shutters can come down on the conversation very quickly. Sport allows you to open up a discussion. People see it as something they can discuss so I use it as a vehicle to engage with issues of Australian history and race relations.”
Judd was recently awarded an ARC Discovery Indigenous Scheme grant to explore how participation in organised sport affects identity and everyday life in remote Indigenous communities, both positively and negatively. The project aims to provide an understanding of the role of organised sport in Indigenous identity construction in remote Australia, providing the basis for policy development and opportunities for more equitable and reconciliatory modes of participation.
“I will examine organisational engagement and it's effectiveness, but also the impact of that engagement on leadership development in Aboriginal communities. A popular notion is that if young Aboriginal men become elite footballers like Michael Long then everyone’s happy. But if the best young men are being dragged away to capital cities then potential leaders are gone from these remote communities.”
The project is a significant partnership between RMIT and the Australian Government. Judd hasn’t gone down the industry partnership road as he he is keen to provide an independent critical perspective on the industry.
“I see my research project as advocating on behalf of Indigenous communities to become more involved with the industry. I hope this project results in some reflection on how institutionalised football operates in respect to indigenous communities.”
Judd believes this Indigenous Discovery Grant will lay the foundations of RMIT’s research profile in this innovative area. “This project is unique in pairing together academics from an indigenous studies background with those from a management / logistics background.”
Another research project that spans this disciplinary divide is a feasibility study into linking the RMIT School of Management with Indigenous business entrepreneurs through a Cultural Business project.
“Most indigenous employment is in the public sector. I think we need more engagement with business. I hope a direct outcome from this study is an RMIT course in management and entrepreneurship around indigenous business.”
Ultimately Judd hopes to change how indigenous participation is framed in Australian higher education.
“There has been an emphasis on providing Aboriginal support centres and student support services to increase Indigenous participation. Consequently indigenous participation has been seen within a welfare framework and indigenous people, issues and agendas perceived as a cost to institutions. My aim is to move indigenous education beyond the welfare paradigm.”
Judd wants to see indigenous focused research incorporated into the broader research strategy, taking it out of the welfare paradigm and placing it in the core business activity of a university.
“It has parallels with gender equality, which was seen as a compliance issue by business, when in fact moving women into management and senior leadership roles has benefitted institutions and society, both financially and culturally.”