For a long time, the media has portrayed Indigenous Australians negatively and stereotyped them in most cases. The voices of non-Indigenous Australians phase out those of the Indigenous ones in matters that concern the latter in the society. Essentialism is whereby people believe that a particular group has to have specific traits to belong in that group (Bradley, 2018). The concept began due to colonization, and has led to stereotyping and discrimination. Through the media, essentialism has created a negative impact on viewers’ opinions on different social groups. Essentialist views of Australian media like newspapers and Television shows, creates a limiting perspective of Indigenous Australians, creating stereotypical views and Othering.
Essentialism is a theory that may result in stereotyping cultures and many may view it as negative, but it can have constructive outcomes as well when used strategically. Minority groups often use essentialism to highlight aspects in their class which are viewed as complex and cannot be portrayed in simpler terms or concisely (Eide, 2010). An example is the television show, 8MMM Aboriginal Radio. The show vividly portrays the Aboriginal culture in the form of a narrative comedy, unlike most serious pieces that are often in form of documentaries or news. The writer, Trisha Morton-Thomas, created the 8MMM Aboriginal Radio to portray Aboriginal people as reductive and distorted. An example is the when David Cross is unhappy with his current position, but the job he wants is unavailable for six months. The character complains when he had just worked for half a day and says that the Aboriginies cannot be trained (Curtis & Morton-Thomas, 2015). The ABC contact that Cross was speaking to responds and says that Aboriginal people should not be referred to as Aborginies as they do not like it, but Cross counters and says he is an Aboriginal (Curtis & Morton-Thomas, 2015). The character could have added on to specifically relate the situation to his community, but the scene, by using the term “Aboriginal”, portrays how essentialism can be implemented to achieve minority groups’ goals. Another instance is when Koala joins a group of dancers but is not in tune with the community. Later on, she states how Aboriginal babies are cute and that she loves the people and their culture (Curtis & Morton-Thomas, 2015). The description of the babies may seem harmless, but Koala rings out the culturalism concept where a group of people are defined by certain characteristics. This makes the comment and perception of the Aboriginal people reductive. Characters depicted as essentialist and non-essentialists are juxtaposed in the show, creating a diverse illustration of the Central Australian community culture where both sides of the essentialism scale are outlined.
Stereotypes and Othering
The media marginalizes Indigenous representation, and the communities are Othered by the stereotypes. Negative and prejudiced stereotypes lead to the Othering of a certain group (Holliday et al., 2016). In 8MMM Aboriginal Radio, David Cross is a character that highlights how Australian Indigenous people are Othered due to stereotypes. A scene shows Cross addressing Jampajinpa in a staff meeting and telling him that his people are not renowned for their hard work (Curtis & Morton-Thomas, 2015). This happens at a time when Jampajinpa is getting in touch with his Indigenous heritage after discovering. Cross proceeds to portray Othering through the use of his terms and stereotyping the Indigenous people. He asks if the company allows “boons” to drive their cars (Curtis & Morton-Thomas, 2015). The term used is offensive and he also insinuates that the category of people cannot be trusted with vehicles or even drive. Through his statements, Cross views himself as more superior than Aboriginal people. The prejudice also causes Othering because the character had not met Jampajinpa before and yet he was quick to question his work ethic due to his cultural origin. This demonstrates how Othering can make one group to put down others from a different social group so as to feel more exclusive and confident. Another instance is when BBC represented the Aboriginal people stereotypically when reporting of how they were taking measures to curb alcohol abuse (Korff, 2022). These examples portray the kinds of othering and stereotypes being deployed.
The term Aboriginal began after the colonial period for identity of the Australian Indigenous people. Before the British occupied Australia, the land had different Indigenous language groups whose cohesion depended on their similarities and involvement in certain ceremonies together (Davis, 2019). The groups existed together and there was no need for classification as Aboriginal people. Studies show that the Europeans identified the homogeneity, but the indigenes did not view themselves as a homogenous group; hence, the concept of an Aborigine (Davis, 2019). Indigenous identities are vital and they are shaped through different representations. According to Davis (2019), when colonization started in Australian, the colonists analysed, classified, studied, and observed the people then started the labels Aborigines and Aboriginality. The normal way of life changed to Aboriginality which became an issue to be solved. Essentialism and Othering began because the way in which Australian Indigenous people were portrayed, whether ignoble or noble, depended on what the colonialists wanted to perceive themselves (Davis, 2019). Aboriginality created a form of unitary identity that allowed political authority. However, the constructions obstructed the Indigenous group’s heterogeneity and lead to an identity based on specific characteristics. To counter the negative effect of Aboriginality in the country, Australians use essential qualities such as and affinity with the land and spirituality for the Aboriginal resistance and survival (Davis, 2019). These qualities are the wellspring of the Australian culture and present through its hegemony. Although this leads to a romantic essentialism, it creates an opportunity for Aboriginality to arise above colonial domination, and allow Indigenous Australians to produce and reproduce their own culture (Davis, 2019). Colonisation in Australia led to new ideas and terms that led to the issues of essentialism and stereotypes that people deal with today.
Impact of Media Representation
Media representation of Indigenous Australians has a significant impact on people worldwide and their views. Australian media often present Aboriginal news from a point of stereotyping the native people. Research shows that only 1.8 percent of journalists identify as being Torres Strait Islanders or Aboriginals; moreover, they mostly work in Aboriginal media (Sakinofsky et al., 2019). This shows that there is an under-representation of Indigenous Australians in the media. Jason Glanville’s piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2014, states that in order to create Indigenous excellence, the native group should create media channels that focus on their stories (Sakinofsky et al., 2019). This is vital because lack of cultural awareness and proper understanding hinders proper media representation. Media representations of Indigenous Australians are often uninformed and inaccurate leading to sensationalized issues, negative stereotypes and limited context of crucial matters (Sakinofsky et al., 2019). Therefore, the media should be careful with the notion it creates about Aboriginal people, by ensuring that they have balanced coverage and are well represented to avoid detrimental effects.
In conclusion, Australian citizens have their own identities, backgrounds, and cultures. Different shows like 8MMM Aboriginal Radio, newspapers, and other forms of media portray the various concepts of essentialism, stereotypes, and Othering. These aspects began during the colonial period and the media is key in representation of Indigenous groups. What they represent influence the perception if the audience. Therefore, to reduce cases of stereotypes towards the Aboriginals, the media should have proper representation of the group.
Bradley, N. (2018). Essentialism in the concept of culture: Gauging belief. Journal of Intercultural Communication, 21, 1-21.
Curtis, D. (Director) & Morton-Thomas, T (Writer). (2015, April 29). Episode 1 [ABC Television series episode]. In A. Denholm & L. Walters (Executive producers), 8MMM Aboriginal Radio. Alice Springs, Northern Territory: Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Davis, M. Indigenous Australian Identity in Colonial and Postcolonial Contexts.
Eide, E. (2010). Strategic essentialism and ethnification: Hand in Glove? Nordicom Review, 31(2), 63- 78.
Holliday, A., Kullman, J., & Hyde, M. (2016). Intercultural Communication: An Advanced Resource Book for Students (3rd ed.) Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge
Korff, J 2022, Mainstream media coverage of Aboriginal news, <https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/media/media-coverage-of-aboriginal-issues>, retrieved 23 August 2022
Sakinofsky, P., Janks, A., Clark, T., & Hawtrey, K. (2019). Power imbalance in media representation: An Aboriginal Australian public relations experience. PRism, 15(1), 18-33.