Local voices, national conversations

The Cairns Institute, JCU Cairns, Nguma-bada campus, Smithfield.

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Written By

Tianna Killoran


College of Arts, Society and Education

Publish Date

5 January 2024

Framing the future for Gugu Badhun

After completing her PhD at JCU in 2022, Gugu Badhun/Ngadjon-ji researcher and academic Dr Janine Gertz has been awarded the prestigious 2023 Stanner Award — a national biennial prize that recognises her thesis as the best academic writing by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander author.

Janine’s focused on how to forge a path forward for Gugu Badhun people and offered a framework that might be useful to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities around Australia.

“My PhD considered my people — the Aboriginal nation — and our current situation in a post-colonial context. I wanted to work through proposed programs for the Gugu Badhun about reconfiguring our relationship with the Australian state,” she says. “It’s essentially about ensuring a Gugu Badhun future and draws on international law, international human rights standards, and domestic public policy arrangements.”

Gugu Badhun Country is located in the upper reaches of the Burdekin River, surrounding the township of Greenvale and 220 kilometres north-west of Townsville. As a community, Gugu Badhun are spread throughout Australia. Native title was successfully determined in 2012.

“I was proposing what our future for Gugu Badhun could look like, if we put in programs of sovereignty, self-determination, nationhood and self-government. These are all things that are very important in discussions around treaties, and in the discussions surrounding agreement-making between Indigenous communities and the Australian government.”

Under current Australian law, when a determination recognising native title is made by the Federal Court, the Native Title Act 1993 requires Traditional Owners to to represent their interests. Janine’s research, however, proposed an approach to shift Gugu Badhun thinking from governance of a corporation to self-government of a nation.

“It’s about lifting our thinking to doing and being our own government to remedy our own situations and step into policy gaps that currently exist within Australian government frameworks. This is opposed to the present situation which is limiting our actions to a corporation. The scope of what a corporation can do is limited by Australian legislative policy and regulations under corporations law.

“This research is about lifting our thinking beyond. It’s largely about making our own policies, for example health and wellbeing, and self-legitimising those policies, which is essentially what self-determination is,” Janine says. “Self-determination is a doctrine of self-realisation and self-legitimisation. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are people with an inherent right to self-determination, and there are many that talk about that.”

The exterior of the JCU Cairns Institute.
JCU PhD graduate and alumni Janine Gertz
Left: JCU Cairns Institute on the Cairns, Nguma-bada campus, Smithfield. Right: Dr Janine Gertz, whose PhD thesis completed at JCU entitled 'Gugu Badhun Sovereignty, Self-Determination, and Nationhood' won the 2023 Stanner Award. Supplied by Janine Gertz.

A local focus

Taking on university studies and pursuing research as a mature-age student, Janine said that she took a path to PhD after wanting to make a career change and make a difference.

“I decided to undertake postgraduate studies at JCU to have a complete career change from the public service. It was a deliberate decision of mine to undertake qualifications that would put me on a research pathway,” she says. “Having experienced public policy at the local, regional, national and even international level, I wanted to take a different track and become a policy initiator, as opposed to just implementing a policy.”

Janine says that a number of people at JCU were crucial in supporting her PhD research and connecting her with scholars in Australia and internationally. “I want to thank the academic supervision of from the College of Arts, Society and Education, as well as from the Cairns Institute,” she says.

“I was really fortunate to receive both academic and cultural mentoring from Gugu Badhun academic , an adjunct Professor within JCU’s Indigenous Education Research Centre (IERC) and who was directly involved in the supervision of my project.

“I received a lot of support from JCU’s IERC, including the workshops, methodological training, and reading groups they provided. They put me in contact with leading Indigenous scholars through the . I also had the opportunity to work alongside the constitutional law scholars at the Indigenous Law Centre out of the University of New South Wales who contributed towards my thinking for this research.”

“As a part of Indigenous studies, my thesis brings together research from many disciplines. It draws together political science, international law, sociology, and historical aspects. This gives the benefits of not being limited to one way of thinking.”

JCU Alumni, Dr Janine Gertz

The JCU Indigenous Education and Research Centre is a leader in providing Indigenous education research and engagement.

Recognition on a national scale

Janine says that an important part of the Stanner Award is that it will enable her research to become more accessible and widely read across Australia. As part of the prize, Janine will have her work published as a book with , the publisher for the (AIATSIS).

“It’s a very prestigious award, and for my work to be assessed by peers as being worthy of a published monograph is great,” she says. “I like Aboriginal Studies Press because it makes the work really accessible to its intended audience. In addition to the book being published in an orthodox way and printed as a physical copy, I understand that it will also be made available to access online for free.”

Janine says that it’s important that her research doesn’t just live on a shelf, but that it can be used and accessed by others. “I did this work for future Gugu Badhun scholars to pick up, and take, and use, and build upon,” she says. “The support of Gugu Badhun and the support of my extended Gertz family were important in this research. They invested in this PhD as much as I did, and this thesis belongs to Gugu Badhun.”

As for the future of her research, Janine says she hopes that it will have value for other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations and will enable her to pursue further research. “I also want this work to be available to other Indigenous nations and their work, to see if they can apply some or all of this to their own situation,” she says. “The Stanner Award places me on a pathway for further research. I’m intending to commit that research to studies around the Gugu Badhun situation now and in the future.”

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