15th February 2019

The Bukal Spirit of the Institutional Racism Matrix

By DrMJLock

‘I would like to acknowledge my wife, Henrietta for her contribution and partnership in the development of the original Matrix which provided the foundation for the assessment tool used in this report. Her insights, strength and feistiness have forever been my inspiration. The revised Matrix is renamed in her honour: the Bukal Institutional Racism Matrix.’ Adrian Marrie, 2017

Bukal – A Yidinji Spirit Name

The word ‘Bukal’ (meaning black lawyer vine) is the Yidinji spirit name of Henrietta Marrie (CQU 2018a). Henrietta was born in Yarrabah, in 1954. She is an internationally recognised Indigenous rights activist and is a Member of the Order of Australia (Nally, A. 2018) for her advocacy on Indigenous cultural heritage and intellectual property rights (Wikipedia 2018). Henrietta’s life is dramatized in the play ‘Bukal’ presented by the Jute Theatre company in July 2018 (James, A. 2018Lawrie, J. 2018). She is also a ‘Queensland Great’ and Associate Professor at Central Queensland University (CQU 2018b) where she is an advisory member for the Centre for Indigenous Health Equity Research (CQO 2019).

Henrietta’s spirit flows in and through her advocacy, determination, and achievements, including the Bukal Institutional Racism Matrix.

The ‘Bukal’ in the ‘Matrix’

The black lawyer vine is a prickly climbing plant (Dingo Gap 2019) – perhaps a suitable antagonistic imagery to the invisible rules of institutional racism?

I like the imagery of the lawyer vine growing into the policies of organisations and prickling the invisible rules hiding within and between them. The rules, which are comfortably part of managerial procedures, are spiked and forced into the open in the form of the Matrix’s indicators, criteria, and sub-criteria. Made visible for the first time, the rules come to light as interrelated strands that interweave through the organisation’s policy textscape and, therefore, require a Matrix to capture them.

The Matrix Prickles Rules

The Matrix – to me – is a fishing net cast into a sea of policy documents to capture the illusive rules of inequity – the ‘unfair, avoidable differences arising from poor governance, corruption or cultural exclusion’ (Goh 2017). A fishing net has strands of fibre joined to one another through knots to form a grid-like structure. Perhaps, strands of the black lawyer vine? Except in the Bukal Matrix the strands/vines are the criteria, the knots are the indicators, and sub-criteria are the prickles of the vine.

However, what are the ‘rules’? The Bukal Matrix contains just 4 instances of the word ‘rule/s’, and it is my contention that rules are the central concern of institutional racism. To make my position clear, think about how obvious racist behaviour is immediately visible to those observing it, for example the racism directed at Adam Goodes (Jewish Board of Deputies 2009). Individual behaviours are the central concern of anti-racism campaigns, but the Bukal Matrix makes it clear that ‘an institution can engage in racist practices without any of its members being individually racist’ (Dudgeon et al. 2010 in Marrie 2017). Institutional racism is not obvious, observable behaviour expressed by individuals, but inequity based on invisible rules.

Invisible Rules in an Unexpected Quarter

I think the most significant influence on my research into committees is an article by Barry Christophers in 1964 called ‘Discrimination in an Unexpected Quarter‘ (National Museum of Australia) which is contextualised in Sue Taffe’s (1999) paper ‘Health, the Law and Racism: The Campaign to Amend the Discriminatory Clauses in the Tuberculosis Act‘ – both make for inspiring reading. Christophers’ noted that ‘it is surprising to find discrimination against Aborigines in the determinations of the Tuberculosis Act 1948’ and as I read through it, I was amazed at the lengths that people undertook to rule-out benefits for Aboriginal people.

I won’t go any further into an analysis of Christophers’ and Taffe’s papers, but I wanted to highlight how the social rule of overt racial discrimination was codified into legislation (the Tuberculosis Act 1948) and interpreted into instructions into an ‘operating manual’ for decisions about who should receive the Tuberculosis allowance. This is a powerful example of overt racial discrimination, but the Bukal Matrix was developed in 2017 when codified discrimination was removed from legislation. However, a transformation has occurred where overt rules are now residual covert rules and so a sophisticated Matrix fishing net is required to prickle the rules into the light.

And I found an amazing link between Taffe’s paper and the Bukal spirit! On page 42 of Taffe’s article she explained how Joe McGinness (1961 President of the Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement) worked on the wharf in Cairns (in 1963) and discovered a group of tuberculosis patients from Yarrabah and Cairns who were not receiving payment – and they were all Aboriginal people. Joe McGinness contacted Dr Barry Christophers (then President of the Victorian Council for Aboriginal Rights) and the rest is history. And Henrietta’s spirit has had incredible effect through the Bukal Matrix that will ripple through the policy document ocean for decades to come. #CalloutIRAustralia


  • CQU 2018a, ‘Emotion expected when life of prominent Indigenous Elder unfolds on stage’, accessed 1 February 2019.
  • Nally, A. 2018, ‘CQU lecturer, Cairns woman, Yidinji elder Henrietta Marrie receives Order of Australia’, accessed 1 February 2019
  • Wikipedia 2018, ‘Henrietta Marrie’, accessed 1 February 2019.
  • James, A. 2018, ‘Bukal’, accessed 1 February 2019.
  • Lawrie, J. 2018, ”Bukal’ brings the story of Auntie Henrietta Marrie to the stage’, accessed 1 February 2019.
  • CQU 2018b, ‘Henrietta a Queensland Great’, accessed 1 February 2019.
  • CQU 2019, ‘Centre for Indigenous Health Equity Research – People’, accessed 1 February 2019.
  • Dingo Gap 2019, ‘Lawyer vine’, accessed 1 February 2019.
  • Goh 2017, ‘Say what you mean, mean what you say: inequality and inequity’, accessed 1 February 2019.
  • Jewish Board of Deputies 2009, ‘Joint statement on racism directed at Adam Goodes’, accessed 6 February 2019.
  • Marrie A. 2017, ‘Addressing Institutional Barriers to Health Equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in Queensland’s Public Hospital and Health Services’, accessed 2 January 2019.
  • National Museum of Australia, ‘Collaborating for Indigenous Rights’, accessed 15 February 2019.
  • Taffe S. 1999, ‘Health, the Law and Racism: The Campaign to Amend the Discriminatory Clauses in the Tuberculosis Act. Labour history.41-58’