This paper explores some issues for urgent consideration before any new policy for outstations is developed under the new administrative arrangements in Indigenous affairs. The research reported here is animated by a long-standing interest in the livelihoods of Indigenous people who reside at small remote communities, usually termed outstations, or homelands, or emerging communities. The paper uses official secondary data to demonstrate that there is no compelling case for a policy change that would encourage recentralisation from small discrete Indigenous communities to larger discrete Indigenous communities. Nor is there a compelling policy case for a move from outstations to townships or from townships to larger urban centres to improve Indigenous people’s livelihood prospects.
This paper suggests there is too little research and understanding of culturally distinct, but evolving, patterns of Indigenous mobility and migration in remote and very remote Australia. In particular, there is a danger that policy-makers will fall into the trap of conceptualising Indigenous residence as occurring in some fixed hierarchy of settlements, rather than as occurring reg