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Diane Robin (Di) Bell (born 11 June 1943) is an Australian feminist anthropologist, author and activist. She has a particular focus on the Aboriginal people of Australia, Indigenous land rights, human rights, Indigenous religions, violence against women, and on environmental issues. She is Professor Emerita of Anthropology at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Writer and Editor in Residence at Flinders University, South Australia. Bell was born in and grew up in Melbourne. In 2005, after 17 years in the United States, she returned to Australia and worked on a number of projects in South Australia. Bell lives and writes in Canberra.
Her books include Daughters of the Dreaming (1983/93); Generations: Grandmothers, mothers, and daughters (1987); Law: The old and the new (1980); Religion in Aboriginal Australia (co-edited 1984); and Radically Speaking: Feminism reclaimed (co-edited 1996). Ngarrindjeri Wurruwarrin: A world that is, was, and will be (1998) won a NSW Premier's Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Age Book of the Year Award, the Queensland Premier's History Award and the Australian Literary Society Gold Medallion. Evil: A novel (2005) was made into a play and performed in DC and Adelaide. She also wrote Kungun Ngarrindjeri Miminar Yunnan: Listen to Ngarrindjeri Women Speaking (2008).
Bell trained as a primary teacher in the 1960s in Victoria, Australia. She returned to study in the 1970s but first had to complete high school which she did by attending night school at Box Hill High School, Victoria.Bell continued onto university and received her BA (Hons) in Anthropology at Monash University in 1975, and a Ph.D. from Australian National University (ANU) in 1981 which was based on field work with Aboriginal women in central Australia.
During the 1980s, Bell held a range of positions in Australia. She worked for the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Protection Authority in the early 1980s, before establishing her own anthropological consultancy in Canberra. She consulted for the Central Land Council, the Northern Land Council, Aboriginal Legal Aid Services, the Australian Law Reform Commission, and the Aboriginal Land Commissioner. She subsequently held academic posts, first as a Research Fellow at the ANU, and then as the Chair of Australian Studies at Deakin University in Geelong where she was the first female professor on staff.In 1989, Bell moved to the United States to take up the Chair of Religion, Economic Development and Social Justice endowed by the Henry R. Luce Foundation, at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1999 she moved to Washington, D.C. where she was Director of Women's Studies and Professor of Anthropology at the George Washington University (GWU). As the recipient of a fellowship in 2003–4, awarded by the peak educational body, the American Council on Education (ACE), Bell also worked closely with the senior administration of Virginia Tech as they revised their curriculum. Bell served on the Board of Trustees for Hampshire College for eight years. On her retirement from GWU in 2005 she was awarded the title "Professor Emerita of Anthropology" by The George Washington University. On her return to Australia she was appointed Writer and Editor in Residence at Flinders University (South Australia) and Visiting Professor, School of Social Sciences at the University of Adelaide (South Australia).
Bell is the author/editor of 10 books, including several significant monographs on Australian Aboriginal culture and numerous articles and book chapters dealing with religion, land rights, law reform, art, history and social change.She has served on the editorial boards of several journals (Aboriginal History 1979–1988; Women's Studies International Forum 1990-) and was a contributing member of the Editorial Board for the Longmans Encyclopedia (1989) Macmillan, Encyclopedia of World Religions (2005) and the Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia (2009).
Bell was a contributing consultant to National Geographic on their Taboo TV series (2002-4).
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Bell's first full-length anthropological monograph was Daughters of the Dreaming, which focused on the religious, spiritual and ceremonial lives of Aboriginal women in central Australia.The book has been in continuous print since its first publication in 1983 and subsequent editions in 1993 and 2002 engage with the debates the work stimulated. It is now well-established practice to have women's councils as part of the decision-making and consultative structures in Aboriginal affairs. Through her research and in giving expert evidence, Bell has been able to demonstrate that Aboriginal women are owners and managers of land in their own right. Bell worked on some 10 land claims for the Central Land Council, the Northern Land Council and the then Aboriginal Land Commissioner, Mr Justice Toohey.
In 1986, Melbourne publishers McPhee Gribble, with Bell as author, won the competitive tender from the Australian Bicentennial Authority (ABA) to write a book about women in Australia for the 1988 Bicentenary. The book, Generations: Grandmothers, Mothers and Daughters (with photos by Ponch Hawkes) explored generations of Australian women and "the way the significant objects in their lives have been passed from hand to hand, generation to generation".It focused on ordinary people through the stories they had been told by and were passing onto their female kin. Bell used an ethnographic approach to explore the commonalities of Australian women's cultures across age, time, race and region. Shortly after it was published, the book reached number one on the Age best seller list for works of non-fiction.
Throughout the latter part of the 1970s, and through most of the 1980s, Bell was involved in issues about Aboriginal land rights and law reform. With lawyer, Pam Ditton, she authored Law: the old and the new. Aboriginal Women in Central Australia Speak Out (Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service, 1980) which addressed issues of law reform in Central Australia, in the wake of the passage of the Northern Territory Land Rights Act (1976). Bell worked on a number of land claim cases in the Northern Territory, particularly in central Australia, but also in and around the Top End.
In the late 1990s, Bell became a key player in the Hindmarsh Island bridge controversy. In 1994 a group of Ngarrindjeri women, traditional owners of the Lower River Murray, Lakes Alexandrina and Albert and the Coorong (South Australia) had objected that a proposal to build a bridge from Goolwa to Kumarangk (Hindmarsh Island) near the Murray Mouth would desecrate sites sacred to them as women. The gender restricted knowledge that underwrote their claim became known as 'secret women's business' and was contested in the media, courts and academy. In 1996 a South Australian Royal Commission found that the women had deliberately fabricated their beliefs to thwart the development. However, the women who claimed knowledge of the sacred tradition did not give evidence at the Royal Commission because they considered it to be a violation of their religious freedoms. Five years later these women and those experts who had testified on their behalf were vindicated. In 2001, federal court judge, Mr John von Doussa, heard from all parties to the dispute and found the women had not lied. Nonetheless the notion that the women lied persists in some quarters and 'secret women's business' is used as a term of derision and disrespect. Bell became involved in this matter of gender-restricted knowledge after the Royal Commission. On the basis of her research in the SA archives and fieldwork with the women in 1996–8, Bell was convinced there was sufficient evidence to support the women's claims that there was gender-restricted knowledge in Ngarrindjeri society and that the women had told the truth.
Bell's subsequent monograph, Ngarrindjeri Wurruwarrin (1998), won the NSW Premier's Gleebook Award for cultural and literary criticism in 1999. The judges wrote: "An erudite capacious book on the politically contentious and culturally sensitive subject of the Hindmarsh Island Bridge affair, in which the author allows diverse voices to be heard and refuses to simplify an inherently complicated and pressing set of issues. This is an outstanding book of cultural criticism, which brings together feminist anthropology, oral and archival history, political and legal narrative." The book was also short listed for The Age Book of the Year and the Queensland Premier's History Award in 1999 and the Gold Medal of the Australian Literary Society in 2000. Ngarrindjeri Wurruwarrin is often cited as an important example of alternate ethnographic prose. Bell's most recent writing with Ngarrindjeri women, Kungun Ngarrindjeri Miminar Yunnan (2008) is a further contribution to collaborative research and writing and documents the impact of the contesting of cultural knowledge on the Ngarrindjeri. Bell continued to work with the Ngarrindjeri and from 2005–2012 lives on their traditional lands as she researched and wrote the Connection Report for their Native Title Claim.
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Bell has also delved into the writing of fiction and plays. Her first book, titled Evil, addresses secrets within the churches and is set on the campus of an American college. Performed as a play adapted by Leslie Jacobson for the "From Page to Stage" season on new plays at the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C., USA, 3 September 2006 and presented as a staged reading in Adelaide, 16 May 2008. Her play "Weaving and Whispers" was performed at the TarraWarra Museum of Arts Biennial in 2014. Her short story "Blenders" appeared in Island magazine 2010.
Bell ran as an independent candidate in the 2008 Mayo by-election, caused by the resignation of former foreign minister and Liberal leader Alexander Downer.Her campaign was called Vote4Di and was supported by a campaign website. South Australian independent Senator Nick Xenophon gave support to Bell's campaign. In a field of eleven candidates and the absence of a Labor candidate, Bell finished third on a 16.3 percent primary vote, behind the Greens on 21.4 (+10.4) percent and the Liberals on 41.3 (–9.8) percent. The seat became marginal for the Liberals on a 53.0 (–4.0) two-candidate vote.
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Bell campaigned for fresh water flows for the River Murray, Lakes Alexandrina and Albert and the Coorong. In 2007, she was a co-founder of the 'StoptheWeir' website and worked with the River, Lakes and Coorong Action Group Inc to stop the construction of a weir across the River Murray at Pomanda Island (at the point where the river enters Lake Alexandrina). She administered the "Hurry Save The Murray" website [ failed verification ] and has been a frequent speaker and commentator on environmental matters on line, in the media and in preparing submissions and giving evidence to various environmental inquiries.
The Coorong National Park is a protected area located in South Australia about 156 kilometres (97 mi) southeast of Adelaide and that predominantly covers a lagoon ecosystem officially known as the Coorong and the Younghusband Peninsula on the Coorong's southern side.
The Kaurna people are a group of Indigenous Australians whose traditional lands include the Adelaide Plains of South Australia. Pronunciation of the word "Kaurna" varies slightly by the background and origin of the speaker; the most common is English, sometimes, native [ɡ̊auɳa] or, less often,. They were known as the Adelaide tribe by the early settlers. Kaurna culture and language were almost completely destroyed within a few decades of the European settlement of South Australia in 1836. However, extensive documentation by early missionaries and other researchers has enabled a modern revival of both language and culture.
Tailem Bend is a town on the Murray River in South Australia and the home of The Bend Motorsport Park. It is located less than 100 km south-east of Adelaide. It is located on the cliffs above the east (left) bank of the Murray River close to where the river empties into Lake Alexandrina.
David Unaipon was an Indigenous Australian of the Ngarrindjeri people, a preacher, inventor and author. Unaipon's contribution to Australian society helped to break many Indigenous Australian stereotypes, and he is featured on the Australian $50 note in commemoration of his work. He was the son of preacher and writer James Unaipon.
The Ngarrindjeri people are the traditional Aboriginal Australian people of the lower Murray River, western Fleurieu Peninsula, and the Coorong of the southern-central area of the state of South Australia. The term ngarrindjeri means "belonging to men", and refers to a "tribal constellation". The Ngarrindjeri actually comprised several distinct if closely related tribal groups, including the Jarildekald, Tanganekald, Meintangk and Ramindjeri, who began to form a unified cultural bloc after remnants of each separate community congregated at Raukkan, South Australia.
Hindmarsh Island is a sacred inland river island located in the lower Murray River near the town of Goolwa, South Australia.
Goolwa is a historic river port on the Murray River near the Murray Mouth in South Australia, and joined by a bridge to Hindmarsh Island. The name "Goolwa" means "elbow" in Ngarrindjeri, the local Aboriginal language, and the area was known as "The Elbow" to the early settlers.
Ramindjeri were an indigenous Australian people forming part of the Kukabrak grouping now otherwise known as the Ngarrindjeri) people. They were the most westerly Ngarrindjeri, living in the area around Encounter Bay and Goolwa in southern South Australia, including Victor Harbor and Port Elliot. In modern native title actions a much more extensive territory has been claimed.
The Warki are a lakalinyeri (tribe) of the Ngarrindjeri Australian Aboriginal people of southern Australia.
Ngarrindjeri or Narrinyeri was the language of the Ngarrindjeri and related peoples of southern South Australia.
The Hindmarsh Island bridge controversy was a 1990s Australian legal and political controversy that involved the clash of local Aboriginal Australian sacred culture and property rights. A proposed bridge to Hindmarsh Island, near Goolwa, South Australia attracted opposition from many local residents, environmental groups and indigenous leaders. In 1994, a group of Ngarrindjeri women elders claimed the site was sacred to them for reasons that could not be revealed. The case attracted much controversy because the issue intersected with broader concerns about Indigenous rights, specifically Aboriginal land rights, in the Australian community at the time, and coincided with the Mabo and Wik High Court cases regarding Native Title in Australia.
The Hindmarsh Island Royal Commission was a legal investigation into the nature of female Aboriginal religious beliefs that relate to Goolwa and Hindmarsh Island in South Australia. It was a product of the Hindmarsh Island bridge controversy.
Fay Gale AO was an Australian cultural geographer and an emeritus professor. She was an advocate of equal opportunity for women and for Aboriginal people.
Diane Elizabeth McEachern Barwick was a Canadian-born anthropologist, historian, and Aboriginal-rights activist. She was also a renowned researcher and teacher in the field of Australian Aboriginal culture and society.
Maria was a brigantine built in Dublin, Ireland, and launched in 1823 as a passenger ship. On 28 June 1840, she wrecked on the Margaret Brock Reef, near Cape Jaffa in the Colony of South Australia, somewhere south-west of the current site of the town of Kingston SE, South Australia. The wreck has never been located.
Raukkan is an Australian Aboriginal community situated on the south-eastern shore of Lake Alexandrina in the locality of Narrung, 80 kilometres (50 mi) southeast of the centre of South Australia's capital, Adelaide. Raukkan is "regarded as the home and heartland of Ngarrindjeri country."
The Aboriginal South Australians are the Indigenous people who lived in South Australia prior to the British colonisation of South Australia, and their descendants and their ancestors. There are difficulties in identifying the names, territorial boundaries, and language groups of the Aboriginal peoples of South Australia, including poor record-keeping and deliberate obfuscation, so only a rough approximation can be given here.
The Avenue Range Station massacre was the murder of a group of Aboriginal Australians by white settlers during the Australian frontier wars. It occurred in about September 1848 at Avenue Range, a sheep station in the southeast of the Colony of South Australia.
Doreen Kartinyeri was an Ngarrindjeri elder and historian, born in the Australian state of South Australia. She played a key role in the Hindmarsh Bridge controversy and made many contributions to Indigenous activism.
The Bodaruwitj, also rendered Bedaruwidj or Potaruwutj, and referred to in some early sources as the Tatiara, are an Aboriginal Australian people of the state of South Australia. Some authorities believe they are extinct. David Horton believed they were the group his sources referred to as the Bindjali people. Austlang refers to Bindjali / Bodaruwitj as alternative names for the same language.