Ben Silverstein
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Reporting on the northern contradiction
Conflict and crisis, 1918–45
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This chapter examines the contradictions inherent in the pastoralism that was so critical to the Northern Territory. Pastoral production was, in its interwar iteration, heavily dependent on cheap Aboriginal labour. At the same time, it depended for its profitability on a rate of exploitation that eroded the capacity of Aboriginal workers to stay alive. This was a material contradiction in which the relations of production mitigated against the reproduction of labour and, therefore, the reproduction of pastoral production itself. Pastoralism was destroying its condition of possibility, a contradiction registered in the Payne–Fletcher Inquiry, which reported in 1937 on the failing production of the Northern Territory. This crisis demanded a reconsideration of the relationship between settler societies and Aboriginal peoples, a new mode of managing the articulation of communities and of modes of production, a reconfigured colonial social formation in the north. And this revision was effected through a turn to understand the Northern Territory differently, to contextualise it within the British Empire as much as it was situated within a White Australia, and therefore to bring Australia into that transcolonial discussion on native administration and frame its governing practice within that conversation.

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Governing natives

Indirect rule and settler colonialism in Australia’s north


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