March 2018’s PROFILE OF THE MONTH: Sidrah McCarthy

Sidrah is a PhD candidate at La Trobe University in Melbourne. After completing honours in Anthropology, she spent four years at the Central Land Council in Alice Springs, undertaking research with traditional owners in the Arrernte and Luritja language regions for Native Title Claims and sacred site protection. Continuing her interest in applied anthropology, in her spare time Sidrah is involved in a research project on food insecurity among young people in urban Melbourne.

In her PhD Sidrah is having conversations with Aboriginal people across Victoria about what culture means to them today. She’s particularly interested in the role of young people in cultural regeneration, and is keen to explore an optimistic energy that seems to be driven by youth.

ANSA speaks to… Sidrah McCarthy

1. How did you first get involved with Anthropology?I went to University to study Ecology and by chance enrolled in an anthropology subject. I vividly remember those first lectures opening up the world to me- not just learning about other people but also skills to understand my own world. In Alice Springs, working with experienced Anthropologists- I came to see anthropology as a craft that you build up over time, which I try to remind myself during this daunting privilege that is a PhD!

2. How would you describe Anthropology to someone you met at a party, and/or how do you use anthropology at a party or social event (think: meeting the in-laws for Christmas, a hose warming, a festival, etc.)

Anthropology is about getting an insiders perspective on why people live their lives the way they do- the weird, the wonderful and the everyday. Traditionally, anthropology was focused on others e.g the white man in pith helmet writing books on rituals in faraway ‘exotic’ tribes. These days there are a lot more applied uses, such as research for Native Title Claims. Anthropologists research almost anything these days, such as what’s going on with craft beer?

3. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received about doing anthropology and/or ethnography?

The most valuable advice I’ve received has come from Elders in Central Australia who take on the, largely un-paid, role of patiently guiding and teaching new Anthropologists. It’s a collection of astute words and experiences. Two messages that are of recurrent relevance are: work within the flaws of the system but never become complacent about these, and; don’t accept suffering or injustice just because it has been normalised.

4. What’s your favourite saying, phrase, or quote?

“A dame who knows the ropes isn’t likely to get tied up.”  Mae West

5. On what topic and on what location would your ideal future fieldwork be, and why? 

I’d like to be involved in collaborative applied research involving young people in the communities that I’ve spent time with during my research in Central Australia and Victoria. An area of interest is small-scale tourism and land management in pastoral areas. I’m also interested in how anthropological research can contribute to getting food security on the policy agenda in Australia.