Elizabeth Muldoon

Elizabeth Muldoon (PhD in History, 2024) Learning History with the Founding Foremothers of the Redfern Black Movement

This thesis offers a history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in the Redfern Black Movement from 1968 to 1973. Recognising the central place of women within the Movement, it crafts a platform for their voices to be properly heard within historical scholarship for the first time. The PhD candidate, Elizabeth (Beth) Muldoon worked with eight founding foremothers of the Movement as co-researchers to develop a historical analysis of its origins, philosophy and praxis based on their oral histories. The anti-colonial methodology of the collective research underpinning this thesis enabled joint control of every component, from its guiding questions to its budget. This methodology responds to the longstanding demand of Aboriginal activists and scholars, including Black Movement activists in the 1970s, for Aboriginal communities to be in control of research about them.

The historical analysis of this thesis is informed by the theorisation of Aboriginal sovereignty as lived, embodied and inalienable by Aileen Moreton-Robinson, Crystal McKinnon and other Aboriginal scholars who articulate an Aboriginal ontology that co-researchers share. When viewed through this theoretical lens, the Redfern Black Movement can be understood as an assertion of Aboriginal sovereignty that displayed significant continuities with prior assertions. The oral histories of co-researchers reveal that such assertions did not only take the form of organised and spontaneous confrontations with colonial power, but also the daily acts of care, protection, education and cultivation of kinship that have always sustained Aboriginal communities. Attentive to the diverse ways through which Aboriginal sovereignty is asserted, this thesis traces the origins of the Movement through co-researchers’ personal and community histories in rural New South Wales, Townsville, Cairns and Darwin. It then demonstrates that their connection to a long legacy of Aboriginal community defence and nurturing on Gadigal Country (where Redfern is located) was vital to the emergence of the Movement.

Additionally, this thesis maps the philosophy and praxis of the Movement, showing how four key strategies – ‘direct action’, ‘sharing and caring’, ‘unity’, and ‘solidarity’ – grew from the ancestral knowledge of co-researchers and other the Movement activists in response to new circumstances, relationships and ideas. The oral histories of co-researchers reveal that each of these strategies contributed to the strength of the Movement yet carried significant challenges, which opponents of the Movement have, over the past fifty years, exploited to undermine the Movement’s pursuit of ‘self-determination’, understood by co-researchers as entailing ‘land rights’ and ‘community control’. The political objectives of Movement women and the strategies that they developed to attain them were grounded in their theorisation of their unique position of subjugation within settler-colonial society as Black women, yet the indivisibility of their struggle for liberation with that of Black men. By contextualising women’s participation in the Movement within a long tradition of Aboriginal women’s political leadership and Women’s Business in south-eastern Australia, this thesis demonstrates that we cannot understand the Movement without grasping the perspectives of Movement women.

Supervisors: Professor Gary Foley, Professor Sara Wills, Professor Barry Judd