​Where the Rivers Meet (WTRM) Website


The Role of Aboriginal Humour in Cultural Survival and Resistance

​This thesis examines Aboriginal humour in Australia, its distinct specificities, and how it has adapted to changing circumstances during recent centuries. In this Introduction, I consider the historical context in which Aboriginal humour developed and the oppression of Aborigines in colonial and postcolonial Australia; I then provide a discussion of humour per se; before embarking on an explanation of the nature of Aboriginal humour. My position as an Aboriginal person enables me to engage uniquely with Aboriginal humour from an insider position. This approach brings a unique perspective to this study of Aboriginal 2 humour that differs from studies from outside by (White) sociologists and anthropologists, or even insider texts published or produced by Aboriginal writers and directors but which are performed in the presence of dominant White culture, and to some extent are mediated through its institutions. By illustrating this thesis with family recollections, memories and my own experience, I explore the role of humour through my own ethnographic journey, and my participation in both Aboriginal and White society.

My interest in Aboriginal humour is longstanding. It grows out of personal experience both as a child and as an adult when I witnessed humour being used in everyday life. Even as a small child I noticed that humour prevailed in the daily discourse of the adults around me and, as I grew older and attended school, I became painfully aware, also, of the deprivation, hopelessness and apathy which flourished in my social environment. It seemed incomprehensible that people could laugh when there was no apparent reason. I grew up on the fringe of a small, rural town in northern New South Wales where racism was rife. My family always identified as Aboriginal despite the considerable admixture of European blood in our veins. We did not live in an Aboriginal community but we provided hospitality to Aboriginal friends and relatives who passed through town, and because of our regular interaction with other Aborigines we never lost sight of our roots. In any case we were always reminded of our status by the White community if we thought we could interact with them or try to become upwardly mobile.