After completing her PhD at JCU in 2022, Gugu Badhun/Ngadjon-ji researcher and academic Dr Janine Gertz has been awarded the prestigious 2023 Stanner Award — a national biennial prize that recognises her thesis as the best academic writing by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander author.
Janine’s PhD thesis focused on how to forge a path forward for Gugu Badhun people and offered a framework that might be useful to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities around Australia.
“My PhD considered my people — the Gugu Badhun Aboriginal nation — and our current situation in a post-colonial context. I wanted to work through proposed programs for the Gugu Badhun about reconfiguring our relationship with the Australian state,” she says. “It’s essentially about ensuring a Gugu Badhun future and draws on international law, international human rights standards, and domestic public policy arrangements.”
Gugu Badhun Country is located in the upper reaches of the Burdekin River, surrounding the township of Greenvale and 220 kilometres north-west of Townsville. As a community, Gugu Badhun are spread throughout Australia. Native title was successfully determined in 2012.
“I was proposing what our future for Gugu Badhun could look like, if we put in programs of sovereignty, self-determination, nationhood and self-government. These are all things that are very important in discussions around treaties, and in the discussions surrounding agreement-making between Indigenous communities and the Australian government.”
Under current Australian law, when a determination recognising native title is made by the Federal Court, the Native Title Act 1993 requires Traditional Owners to establish a corporation to represent their interests. Janine’s research, however, proposed an approach to shift Gugu Badhun thinking from governance of a corporation to self-government of a nation.
“It’s about lifting our thinking to doing and being our own government to remedy our own situations and step into policy gaps that currently exist within Australian government frameworks. This is opposed to the present situation which is limiting our actions to a corporation. The scope of what a corporation can do is limited by Australian legislative policy and regulations under corporations law.
“This research is about lifting our thinking beyond. It’s largely about making our own policies, for example health and wellbeing, and self-legitimising those policies, which is essentially what self-determination is,” Janine says. “Self-determination is a doctrine of self-realisation and self-legitimisation. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are people with an inherent right to self-determination, and there are many international instruments that talk about that.”