Aboriginal Environments Research Centre

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Kelly Greenop


Year Graduated: 

Currently Working: 
School of Architecture, University of Queensland

Park signage in Inala

Thesis Title: 
‘It gets under your skin’: Place meaning, attachment, identity and sovereignty in the urban Indigenous community of Inala, Queensland


Indigenous places in Australia have been changed dramatically through processes of colonisation, but current models of place do not reflect place attributes that are embedded within the contemporary urban Indigenous context. The changes to Indigenous place attributes since colonisation include effects on legal ownership, access, social and kin connections, and the conceptualisation of places. This thesis examines place attributes in the Indigenous community of Inala, in Brisbane, and examines the meaning, attachment, identification and sovereignty associated with contemporary and historical places. A model of place is presented in which these four place attributes describe the hierarchy of increasingly complex and powerful people-place relationships.

I propose an expansion of this model to incorporate the new concept of ‘transcending sovereignty’, whereby Indigenous people assert their ongoing links to traditions of ownership and authority that transcend colonial histories and current laws. This research uses a ‘decolonising’ approach, which searches Indigenous versions of place that have seldom been acknowledged in the suburban Australian context, while acknowledging the entanglement of Indigenous lives and places with the state. The concept of the ‘intercultural’ is used here to frame this analysis within a multicultural, dynamic suburban context. The approach is based on ethnographic research with people in the Inala Indigenous community over a number of years, and analyses the everyday, informal and formal ways that Inala Indigenous people relate to place, as well as the current effects of the state and non-Indigenous people on these place attributes.

The meanings of place are examined, demonstrating the highly fluid and individualized nature of place meaning, and the importance of kin and social groups in making places meaningful. Place attachment, a strong concept in Inala, is analysed and I discuss the ways that attachment is generated through activity, family connections and memories, and describe some of the places of attachment in Inala, ranging from homes to parks and neighbourhoods, zones of more proximate street blocks and landscape features. Topophobia, hatred of place, attachment’s opposite and the way such a feeling is generated, is also analysed, providing and expanded understanding of this phenomenon.

Place identity is analysed, using the concept of domains, which act as social and spatial constructs that trace identity and affect how places are continually re-inscribed through actions. I argue that belonging in or to a place is an extension of place identity, beyond the individual’s feelings, into acknowledgement of their rights to that place by social or cultural institutions. Place belonging implies a socially sanctioned right to belong, rather than place identity which is a more personal attribute. The policing and affirming of belonging through social and cultural processes is contrasted with the individual’s identification with place. Ways in which both place identity and belonging are created, through historical, family and childhood experiences and the re-inscription of place through travel and other activities are discussed. The expression of place identity through retaining social ties, self-description and place-based tattooing, and belonging through affirmation by groups help to distinguish between identity and belonging.

Finally, sovereignty, the ultimate power-in-place, is examined: both the assertion of colonial sovereignty, and the continual counter-assertion of an Indigenous sovereignty. I describe the new concept of transcending sovereignty, which incorporates the importance of home country and traditional places but also, and at times instead of, emphasises the importance of newer Indigenous places.

The research contributes a more detailed knowledge and understanding of place by considering and describing how Indigenous place is accounted for within general models of place. It defines place identity more fully and explains the difference between belonging and identity, and challenges the concept of sovereignty to consider Indigenous understandings of sovereignty. The thesis describes the specific ways in which place is made meaningful in a suburban Indigenous setting contributing to the body of work detailing contemporary Indigenous lives and places.