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70% Urban

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are advised that images of recently deceased persons may be viewed. All images are included with the knowledge and permission of the individuals involved in the project.

The 70% Urban exhibition drew upon the Museum's collections of Indigenous material to demonstrate, through visual means, the emergence of dynamic urban Indigenous cultures.  The exhibition was on show at the National Museum of Australia from 30 March 2007 to 10 March 2008 in the First Australians gallery.

Urban matters

Barbed Wire Emu

Emu 2003 by Laurie Nilsen, Fire-Works Gallery. Photo: Dragi Markovic, National Museum of Australia.

... there is a new urban Aboriginal culture emerging that remembers the past while looking towards the new.

Jack Davis, 1990

More than 70 per cent of Indigenous Australians live in urban areas (defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics as clusters of 1000 or more people).

But to define an Indigenous person as 'urban' can be provocative. The term 'urban' has cultural, political and emotional connotations that sit uncomfortably with many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

For some Indigenous people, urbanisation is associated with the processes of colonisation and the loss of traditional land. For those in large communities in the top half of the continent, the definition of 'urban' is generally dismissed as a mismatch. In the eyes of some people, an 'urban' Aboriginal is considered non-traditional, inauthentic and a cultural outcast.

Says Ngoongar elder Irene Stainton,

I see Aboriginal identity as being different in cities. I think that in cities there's so much pressure from the broader community to assimilate ...

In the face of these negative perceptions and challenges, Indigenous Australians living in urban areas, often separated from their traditional lands, have found diverse and innovative ways to assert their identity and remain connected to Country and traditions.