Reel Smart Academic Roundtable: Black, White and Exempt

Roundtable In this Reel Smart Academic pitch, the La Trobe research team share their exploration into Aborginal exemption and the untold story of cruel choices, assimilation and resistance that Australia is now ready to hear.

La Trobe University and AIDC present the Reel Smart Academic Roundtables which sees academics from La Trobe University pitch up-to-the-minute original research to producers at AIDC with the aim of triggering the development of new factual series or one-off documentary projects.

In the roundtable Black, White and Exempt, we hear about research on Aboriginal exemption.

The history of Aboriginal exemption is one of insidious choices, shameful secrets and cultural loss. Exemption was a passport to ‘white privileges’ that gave Aboriginal families a chance to get away from reserves and missions and keep their children safe. But exemption also meant promising to relinquish language, identity, and kin.

Our longstanding research collaboration is led by Elders, Aunty Kella Robinson and Aunty Judi Wickes, who have lived experience of exemption. They know the freedoms and choices that exemption provided. They understand its legacy of generational harm and want to see it end. As co-researchers, they have given permission for the pitch to be presented on their behalf.

Together, we discover why achieving and maintaining exemption was so difficult. We learn why some Aboriginal people despised exemption while others accepted the sacrifices or tried to work the system. We follow families from across Australia as they make contact with our website, access dusty archives and reclaim their cultural heritage for the first time. A rich visual archive and unique period sources, including the letters and dairies of long-gone ancestors, reveal a complex and compelling chapter in our history.

Many Australians are eager to learn more about our overlooked history. Now is the time to break the silence about exemption and to recuperate the heartbreaking and empowering stories from this difficult history.

Research Team:

Dr Lucinda Aberdeen, PhD La Trobe

Assoc Prof Katherine Ellinghaus, PhD Melb

Assoc Prof Jennifer Jones, PhD Adel

Aunty Kella Robinson, MA Deakin

Aunty Judi Wickes, MA Sunshine Coast

Image Credit: Photo of Daisy Smith with her daughter Valma, circa 1950 (pic. courtesy of Judi Wickes).

The Reel Smart Academic Roundtables are limited in capacity. Interested delegates are encouraged to reserve their spot via AIDC’s online event platform early to avoid disappointment.