Since the 1967 constitutional referendum, Australian governments have moved towards policies of indigenous self-determination. Obliged to be Difficult presents the central issue of self-determination as seen by Dr H. C. Coombs, the most important policy maker since the referendum: through what political mechanisms will indigenous Australians find their own voice? Coombs was singularly influential within government in the years 1967 to 1976, and he remained a tireless critic and policy advocate from 1977 to 1996. Rowse's narrative of his work, drawing on many unpublished sources, illuminates the interplay of government policy with indigenous practice. This book is both an account of government policies and a biographical slice of an outstanding Australian. In attempting a critical celebration of Coombs' vision and methods, it invites informed reflection on the issues of land rights, sovereignty and reconciliation in these conservative, and highly anxious, times.
'Rowse has produced the first comprehensive political history of the federal administration of indigenous affairs in late twentieth-century Australia ... for those interested in his innovative approach to governance, Obliged to be Difficult is an essential work.' Times Literary Supplement '... for those who want to understand how negotiations evolved between indigenous groups and successive Australian governments, or who want to draw useful comparisons with other such interactions, this volume offers real insights into the complexities of the process. It also paints a fine biographic portrait of an extraordinary man.' Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute