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The great asymmetric divide: An empirical investigation of the link between indigenous and non-indigenous economic systems in Northern Australia


  • The research described in this paper is one of several outcomes of separate (albeit related) projects funded by the Tropical Savannas CRC, The Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge (TRaCK) and James Cook University. We very gratefully acknowledge that support. We gratefully acknowledge and appreciate the contribution to this research made by Mitchell River catchment traditional owners (The Olgol, the Yir Yoront, The Western Gugu Yalanji; The Mulliridgee; The Barbarum, The Kuku Djunkan and Gugu Mini). Finally, we wish to extend our sincere appreciation to the hundreds of anonymous householders who took the time and effort to complete our survey – without such input, the project could not have gone ahead.


This empirical study explores financial links between indigenous and non-indigenous economic systems in a remote river catchment in Northern Australia (the Mitchell). It finds evidence of a profound and asymmetric ‘disconnect’ between these economies: an exogenous increase in indigenous incomes raises the incomes of non-indigenous people, but the reverse is not true. Evidently, those seeking to improve the incomes of indigenous people in Northern Australia cannot simply seek to (i) increase payments to indigenous people, or (ii) expand the non-indigenous sector hoping that some benefits will ‘trickle down’. Instead, structural change is required.


Este estudio empírico examina los vínculos financieros entre los sistemas económicos indígenas y no indígenas en una cuenca fluvial remota en el norte de Australia (río Mitchell). Se han encontrado pruebas de una “desconexión” profunda y asimétrica entre ambas economías: un aumento exógeno de los ingresos indígenas eleva los ingresos de las personas no indígenas, pero no sucede lo contrario. Evidentemente, quienes buscan mejorar los ingresos de las personas indígenas en el norte de Australia no pueden simplemente proponer un (i) aumento de los pagos a la población indígena, o (ii) expandir el sector económico no indígena, con la esperanza de que sucedan “derrames” de los beneficios. En lugar de ello, se requiere un cambio estructural.