Possums Pollytics

Politics, elections and piffle plinking

First Do No Harm – The Unattainable Luxury

Posted by Possum Comitatus on December 14, 2007

Can anyone say with any honesty that there is a social and economic policy issue that is more important to finally deal with than the plight of aboriginal communities, particularly remote aboriginal communities?

This is surely our national disgrace. We might not do some things as well as we ought to, we probably should pay a little more attention to other things than we tend to – but there is no other single issue that detracts from the health of our nation, than the state of too many of our remote indigenous communities.

But it’s been this way for so long that we’ve all seemed to become sick of it, or we’ve all learned to ignore it, or we’ve just simply come to terms with the embarrassment it causes.

We all too often and all too easily find ourselves treating the issue as if it were simply a piece of unfortunate national human furniture; a part of the national lounge room that we’ve accepted is awful, but our solution is to simply throw a rug over it when the neighbours come round for a cup of tea lest we have to deal with it in front of others.

Every so often an outrage finds its way from the remote indigenous communities into the national media and captures the nation’s very short attention span. So we all get outraged, we all ask the same old questions over and over again, we all start squabbling about who caused what, when and why – sometimes we find a quick scapegoat, sometimes we don’t, but the one thing we always do is nothing.

Three fifths, of five eights of sweet fuck alls worth of nothing to be precise.

We’ve all become addicted to our policy failure because we don’t like the answers to the questions.

A particular answer we don’t like is the need for the reinstatement of basic community security in aboriginal communities. When this is called Law and Order, it’s an invitation for well meaning people to go ballistic – and often understandably so. “Law and Order” is the first rhetorical weapon of choice used by simplistic polemicists, usually of the radio broadcast variety that reckon the problem is just blackfellas not getting their shit together like white fellas, and if only they did then all would be right in the world.

But lets ignore those buffoons – this is a sophisticated audience, everyone reading this knows full well that in all of these dysfunctional communities, both the perpetrators of crime and the victims of crime are themselves the heart breaking casualties of 200 years of criminal negligence, a negligence that was at times more malicious than benign, and recently more benign than malicious.

But this cannot be an excuse for inaction. Suggesting that aboriginal people should be denied the level of security within their own communities, a level of security that is an intrinsic right expected by the rest of the country, is to perpetuate the criminal negligence of the last 200 years into the next.

Aboriginal children deserve to be protected from sexual abuse even if the perpetrators are themselves victims. Aboriginal women deserve to be protected from domestic violence in their communities as much as any well educated, middle class white women in a nice house, in a nice suburb that happens to have a prick as a husband.

We have achieved a widespread consensus that if a bloke beats the seven shades of shit out of his wife in suburbia, then he should go to prison; no ifs, no buts – even if only to protect the victim and the community from his totally unacceptable behaviour. Yet we refuse to provide the same guarantee of security to aboriginal people in remote communities, simply on the basis of various interpretations of the perpetrators being victims too.

To deny innocent victims safety from their abusers makes us all complicit in the further destruction of aboriginal society, and the continuation of the benign neglect that has proven so cancerous in the past.

For those that say “It’s not fair that victims should be punished”, is the wrong answer to the wrong question. We don’t have the luxury of there being a neat little world where there are victims and perpetrators. We have the dirty reality of there being victims of circumstance and victims of violence.

We cannot continue to sacrifice the protection of the latter, simply because the origins and consequences of the former stain out hearts and our history.

“It’s not fair” – no it’s not, it is not fair at all. None of our options are fair, and unfortunately we face the deplorable situation of none of our options being completely just, only some being more just than others. That’s what taking national responsibility for an extremely difficult problem involves, it’s what it means, and it’s why we are continuing to avoid it.

We just don’t like the answers.

If it was easy, if we had that ideal world and a set of ideal circumstances – we wouldn’t be having this conversation, as the problem would have been solved long ago.

But that’s not to say that enforcing community security is the be all and end all – far from it, it’s just where we need to draw the starting line. The flip side of the provision of a basic security guarantee requires dealing with the consequences of those that are removed as part of the guarantee itself, dealing with the consequences of incarceration.

We effectively have a revolving door between large sections of the male aboriginal population and the prison system, and as a result the aboriginal community continues to become infected by the brutalisation and deviant behaviour born in the prison system and transferred to become way too normalised on the outside.

Ideally we’d like to stop that revolving door – but we need to stop kidding ourselves that it’s going to be achieved by simply refusing to send aboriginal people to prison for committing crimes. Again, we just don’t like the answers.

It would be far better over the longer term to solve the revolving door problem by actually having fewer people committing crimes in the first place. On this everyone agrees, even if we just don’t know how to get there.

But reducing incarceration rates by simply not sending people to prison is effectively using an accounting trick to make ourselves feel better about the state of affairs, while aboriginal communities get to pick up the tab for the damage as violent offenders get released back into the community to continue to offend again.

We need to seriously reform the prison system to eradicate the brutal culture that ends up infecting the wider community, particularly the wider aboriginal community through inmates when they are released. That would definitely involve greater surveillance of prisoners, more isolation between some prisoners, and separation between violent and sex offenders and those found guilty of non-violent crimes. It would also involve the curtailing of prisoners rights as well as greater funding pumped in to effective rehabilitation programs. But here, we don’t like the answers because there are no votes to be gained in prison reform regardless of how beneficial it would be to everyone involved. Any politician that attempted prison reform would be hounded by the shallow end of the “tough on crime” crowd, a crowd that can thank its lucky stars that stupidity has never been criminalised.

But this is jumping the gun to some extent – one of the first things that must be looked at is whether many remote aboriginal communities are actually sustainable, or whether their lack of sustainability is a root cause of their dysfunction.

This a very touchy subject by any yardstick and undoubtedly accusations of further dispossession will arise, but what if some of these communities are unsustainable? What if their lack of sustainability actually is a root cause of community dysfunction to a significant degree?

It’s a taboo question that no one dares think about, because its answers may be so awful.

The most awful answer of all would be if some of these remote aboriginal communities had to make a choice between the dispossession of their land and the continued dispossession of their humanity. Unfortunately it’s probably a choice that at least some of the communities will need to deal with, sometime, maybe… in the future, if we ever can be bothered to address the questions that have answers we don’t like.

So how long will the country continue to go through the process of having these small bouts of temporary outrage?

This time will we do what we usually do and have a bit of a national hissyfit, find a quick scapegoat like some Qld government Minister, before reverting to our usual inertia because some of the answers are a little awkward? Or will we actually get the balls to stop treating some of our indigenous communities like shit and realise that our practicable choices unfortunately don’t include the one marked “First Do No Harm”, simply as the complexity and enormity of the problem makes the thing we wish for most an unattainable luxury.

More importantly, will we ever realise that our inaction in choosing from the unpalatable, imperfect choices available is actually causing the most harm of all?

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96 Responses to “First Do No Harm – The Unattainable Luxury”

  1. kwoff.com said

    First Do No Harm – The Unattainable Luxury « Possums Pollytics

    Can anyone say with any honesty that there is a social and economic policy issue that is more important to finally deal with than the plight of aboriginal communities, particularly remote aboriginal communities?

    This is surely our national disgrace. W…

  2. David Gould said

    This is an excellent piece, Possum. Fear of repeating the bad decisions of the past should not prevent us from taking necessary action now.

  3. David Gould said

    I should add that I completely agree with you about the possible unsustainability of some Indigenous communities. Economics pretty much dictates social outcomes. There is no economy in some of these places. Ergo, there are no (or very few) possible good social outcomes.

  4. Roger said

    Poss, a great piece. This time we have a real chance for change because we now have substantial, quality leadership and that will only result in good outcomes.

    It took a decade to get there but it did happen – a big relief for thinking Australians who thought the nation had been hi-jacked by bigotry, ignorance and self interest.

    For the first time in a decade we have substantial intellect at the helm of our Government and that makes me feel good. Actually better than good – it makes me feel great.

    The bar is now much higher – and we can now get on with all those things that were neglected for a decade or so.

  5. Ed@Bennelong said

    If we propose solutions that have as their base respect not vilification then inroads can be made.

    How can Noel Pearson sustain the argument that indigenous people need to take more responsibility and then in the same sentence claim that can’t deal with what responsibility they already have. (last night’s 7.30 report).

    The “sorry” statement needs to be made as a priority so that the strident and opportunistic baying of the radio jocks can be muted and made as irrelevant as possible and allow for decent, respectful, bipartisan solutions to be implemented with the Federal Gov’t providing the leadership.

  6. Catherine said

    I think your point about prison reform is crucial and not just for the Aboriginal community – the ‘revolving door’ and process of brutalisation is just as prevelent in the non-aboriginal prison population.

    I think education is an area in this debate which is often glossed over, there are always calls for Aboriginal children to be ‘sent to school’ but what this actually means in far to many communities is being sent to the tiny building with one or two teachers who are facing often overwhelming problems, most of which they won’t have been properly trained for and for which they are not given sufficent support. Many aren’t aware of this but secondary english teachers (I am one) are not trained in teaching children basic literacy (primary school teachers are, but for older kids there are post-graduate certs you do after your basic teaching diploma.) , or teaching english as a second language (its a seperate specialisation – you need a TESL cert), or in diagnosing or meaningfully assisting kids with learning difficulites such as dyslexia or fetal alchol syndrom (educational psycologist and special needs teachers – masters degrees). Now, I have been expected to deal with all these issues in city schools, along with being asked to teach in subjects for which I am not at all qualified (I’m doing an MA research in history so they put me in the year 7 Geography class? I failed that subject when I was at school for Christ’s sake!) but, and its a big but, there have always been at least one each of people with these qualifications I could go to for advice. We are just going to have to bite the bullet and pay people with the necessary qualifications to go and work in these communities. And we are going to have to pay a lot of them a lot of money as the price for the neglect you mention.

  7. Dan said

    I agree. It’s the kind of problem that hovers in the back of the national conscience and festers there. People are either uncomfortable talking about it, bored of it, or have a violently aggressive opinion (which is in turn usually born of discomfort).

    I don’t think policy makers are unaware of the solutions outlined above. In these modern political climes however, what can act as a catalyst to provoke this kind of action? We’ve accepted it’s historically not a vote-winner. Could it be made a vote-winner? Is that possible?

    Or could a powerful leader with control of both houses ram it through work-choices style? Would he have the will or the balls to do so?

  8. ViggoP said

    There is no longer a need to ask the question “why are there communities that have become so dysfunctional?” for we know the answers. I’m not even sure that dysfunctional is the right word: there seems to have developed a set of social and personal values which is so different from those “we” have. A set of values that includes that it is acceptable for you to beat up your partner, a set of values that says it’s OK for a ten-year old girl to offer sex for money and cigarettes.

    I don’t know how you set about changing such values but education must be a vital element. I do know that we must accept responsibility for doing just that. There must be enough empirical evidence to show what actions have what effects (e.g., incarceration is likely to lead to recidivism) so we must al least be able to avoid repeating actions that have disastrous consequences. To put it another way: this has not worked in the past, let’s not do it again.

  9. David Gould said

    The problem would be the left of the Labor Party. Would they set aside the rhetoric and allow actions that could be seen simplistically as right wing responses to the problem? (I should note that I am on the left – I vote Green and preference Labor). Is it politically possible to close down some of these Indigenous communities?

  10. David Gould said

    The empirical evidence is often clouded, though. Which of multiple actions taken around the same time led to which outcomes (the outcomes sometimes occurring years after the actions)?

  11. Big Tofu said

    Possum, I think you identify some of the issues quite well. Yes the problem is largely ignored except for when it is the site of political and public outrage and reaction. Yes there is a revolving prison door and it does need to be stopped. I disagree strongly however with some of the conclusions you draw. Of course the victims must be protected. As you note, sexual abuse and family violence are a symptom of a people still reeling from 200 years of colonisation. This is still the case. The fact is though that the white justice system cannot protect Aboriginal women from being bashed, and it can’t protect kids from being interfered with. The white justice system has been set up by whites and serves white concerns, dealing with problems that whites identify. The white justice system doesn’t see the racism, dispossession and disempowerment that is the root cause of community dysfunction. Time in gaol cannot and will not work. More cops in communities is only a part of the answer.

    Of course no-one has asserted this, but the point needs to be made. Men don’t bash their women and abuse their kids because they’re fundamentally bad people. It’s because their lives are disastrous. Despite what Noel Pearson, who doesn’t speak for all Aboriginal people, says, “tough love” isn’t what people want. Aboriginal communities need a chance to heal. In the Territory there are some excellent examples of where drinkers and sniffers are made to account for their actions by community leaders, forced to dry up and refocus in outstations. My brother was involved in restoring outstations and developing diversionary programmes (as designed by community leaders), and there were some wonderful results. I knew a number of young fellas who stopped sniffing and started working to stop others from drinking and sniffing too. They became role models, moving kids into learning to play music, getting out into country etc. Communities need a chance to deal with their problems, certainly with support from the wider community, but the issue is self-determination, not the white justice system, which will always fuck it up.

    As for your suggestion that some communities may not be viable, you appear to misunderstand what communities are (if I’ve misunderstood my apologies). Communities are the direct link between people and country. Dispossession of land equals dispossession of culture and a promulgation of colonisation. Communities are not economic entities first. They are cultural. And they are only unsustainable if they are unable to determine their own destinies. Questions about community sustainability, even if well intentioned, are not a million miles from earlier state paternalism that determined how and where Aboriginal people lived.

    Urgent action is required, but if the previous government had followed the recommendations of the ‘little children are sacred’ report instead of using the political climate as a land grab opportunity and a chance to take Aboriginal self-determination back to the 1960s, this shit would already be on its way out.

  12. Ron said

    I have posted a reply as requested
    (its on your ‘Polling analysis and Carr-ying on’blog

  13. Possum,

    I totally agree. It would be good if such decisions and choices that were started under the Howard Government (to give them there dues) were completed by the Rudd Government.

    At least the Rudd Government are less likely to be playing to the extreme right of the Australian Community – so long as they don’t start playing to the extreme left…

  14. David Gould said

    Big Tofu, with respect, a community that has no economy cannot be a community, no matter what ‘ties to the land’ it has. The lack of outcomes in health, education and employment are a direct function of the lack of an economy. The causes of that lack of economy include racism, dispossession, stolen children and so on, but one other cause is simply that of no ability to build an economy in the first place. Fixing all the other problems for *some* of these communities will be pointless, because they will still not have an economy at the end of the process.

  15. Grateful said

    A most thoughtful and thought provoking piece yet again.
    “Sustainability of the community” should become a critical point of discussion….and not just as it applies to remote aboriginal communities

  16. John VK said

    An excellent piece Poss.

    I lived for a time in North Queensland and have been to the Centre. I saw the old way, the billy clubs and the move on orders and rail cars with human freight a long time ago.

    I have heard the arguments they are all like that and so on and what has amazed me at times, this conversation has come from pillars of community, who in other matters are completely caring, as well as my blue singlet mates.

    I have listened to urbanites whose only experience with indigenous has been at their teachers knee and a romantic novel or a fillum and see some mythology hardly real. Who refuse to see the tragedy and if they do want to say sorry and nothing else.

    But I have also met indigenous, barely literate by our standards as great humans and mates, extremely well accomplished in their industries and with great family relationships.

    anyway I will link your piece, and perhaps I have hope this time.

    No ones walking across a bridge and when the intervention happened there wasn’t a murmur in public opinion generally, perhaps a brow here and there wiped, it starts. There was certainly no braying of the ignorant on both sides of opinion.

    Just silence. Perhaps the stars align.

  17. Steve_E said

    The NT intervention based on protecting children is and continues to be a sound idea. Where it came of the rails was the lack of consultation with the communities it sought to change. No land grab is necessary to reduce alcohol consumption just as no land grab was needed to stop petrol sniffing.

    There has been reported evidence in Qld and WA of similar endemic abuses and as described – no consistent action to implement change has occured. The patterns of behaviour that support rape of children, women and young men must stop.

    It is not that the questions or answers are too hard but that it will cost a very large amount of money to reduce and eliminate the extent of the problem. Politicians want to get a bang for their buck – hence the spending of tax payers money in marginal electorates.

    For solutions to the identified problems to become apparent a lot of different attempts need to be made and some of these will fail. It is very likely that there is no one size fits all solution. It is likely that due to the cost, there needs to be a National co-ordination of the program for change but on the ground, the people who will do the work will need to be known and respected by the communities involved.

    Sme ideas include:

    1. Reduce alcohol where the community agrees this is to their advantage. Reduce points of sale, increase price, limit amounts that can be purchased, etc.
    2. Increase Police presence and modify the Legal treatment for offenders so that respect for each other means that, if you do the crime, you do the time. What happens in prisons and where prisons are located needs to be part of this change. Why could not the very expensive remote detention centres such as the one at Woomera be used as a prison to modify the behaviour of mostly adult males?
    3. Provide employment and encourage relocation of large sections of the community to areas where there is ongoing employment. Self respect is a starting point for changes in behaviour.
    4. Education of the whole community is how change will occur. Only education can change how we behave. The objective is to gradually eliminate and not repeat past behaviour that causes harm and does not respect the rights of women, children and young men.
    5. Build houses with ownership attached. Very overcrowded and under resourced small towns are not positive environments.

    The list of changes needed is long and will be expensive to implement with no guarantee of success in the short term. However, just as for climate change the cost of doing nothing is worse.

  18. Rain said

    I’m still uncomfortable with focussing on cases such as this one as a racialised case, or even typical of just one type of community. It is not unusual, it is not an ‘isolated case’ or limited to just outback isolated Aboriginal communities with more than the average level of social dysfunction.

    In a nice white middle-class suburban Australian city, my home was an emergency foster-home for girls such as this, victims of life-long abuse from all walks of life. Cases like the one in Aurukun by the dozen. But the public mustn’t know about our own backyards and lily-white suburban neighbourhoods, so we can all look down and feel morally superior to those outback folk.

    I don’t believe we do have widespread “high community standards” in ANY of our communities, when it comes to sexual assault on women and girls *anywhere* in this country, or that we only ignore Aboriginal women and children. Granted, Per head of capita, perhaps it does happen more often in economically depressed isolated communities, with all sorts of extremely complex social dysfunction, but its not exactly negligible, or even rare, in our own either.

    But if we focus on the Aboriginal ones, we can always bury our own social dysfunction, sexism and mysogyny, and pretend it doesn’t exist.

    We ignore women & girls everywhere – most DV refuges, sexual assault services and DoCS services have been de-funded and closed-down over the last 10 years. The one or two that remain are turning away 80-90% of the demand. Howard’s changes to Family Law has seen women with little option but to return to violent husbands. Women and kids die in large numbers from violent men every year, and it keeps increasing. Back to the 1950s indeed.

    Keep ’em barefoot and pregnant, and DV goes back behind closed doors. Plenty of rapists have never been charged, and if they do get to court, get off with lenient sentences, no matter the age, mental health status, or geographical location of the victim.

    On some blogs in recent days, I have seen men wondering what the Big Deal is, reminiscing about their youth, participating in gang-bangs with the local under-age town bike, like it was some kind of adolescent male coming-of-age ritual. I’ve even seen male lawyers shrugging it off as no biggie, just common garden-variety ‘statutory rape’, like shoplifting.

    Some months ago, a group of white middle-class boys in the USA sexually tortured a Downe’s Sydnrome girl, filmed their “fun”, put it up on the internet for public entertainment, and not much happened to them either. Just being ‘naughty’, like all they were guilty of was ‘bad taste’. I guess all the white boys from good schools, who do exactly the same thing, are just victims of circumstance too?

    This case was leaked to the media, over 2 months after it was heard, long after the Appeals period closed, and immediately after the latest bout of rioting in Aurukun. Somebody wanted to racialise and politicise this particular case, in this particular location, at this particular point in time. I can only guess at the motive, to stir up national moral panic, and press the emotional trigger of ‘white guilt’ to direct extended action at isolated Aboriginal communities.

  19. John VK said

    Post 17 offers solutions.

    this what is needed, the public actually looking at what needs to be done, the cost and what the result could be if we try.

    What amazes me,not a sound on soldiers in ET or elswhere around the world reconstructing, bringing law and order and policing, having a crack, similarly the intervention, this was not even an election issue or sound byte, though everyone knew.

    The thing that amazed me when I used to do reconstruction was the amount of whinging from people in the failed systems, always someone elses fault and it was too hard, until they got a clip across the ears and told to do what they were paid for and whinging about it was not in the job description.

  20. Xercius said

    An excellent piece, Possum. I know I hide behind a non-de-plume (for professional reasons), but I would love to have a discussion with you about in this — in more detail — off line sometime.

    Having worked for some time in ‘Indigenous Affairs'(in the past), and having had Indigenous Culture and Politics as a substantial slice of my post-grad poly sci work (at UQ), I have a real sense of the frustrations involved in policy formulation in this area.

    A clue, though, for the other readers. It’s all about the ‘why’ questions. Why are some of the communities ‘dysfunctional’? Why did this come to be? Why is the incarceration of Aboriginal People and Torres Strait Islanders so concerning? You might get a drift here . . . no one seems willing to keep asking the ‘why’ questions until a set of bedrock realities can be found and then fully understood.

    The other aspect is context. Context insofar as it relates to an understanding of the different cultural imperatives at play here. Cultural impertives that are distinct and that bring essentially competing ontolological and epistemological artefacts to the table. It’s heavy gear and, sadly, few in this policy area seem prepared (or capable) to do the lifting.

    I could tell stories, but I shaln’t

  21. JP said

    Now perhaps I’m being naive, but to all those who say a community is unsustainable without an economy, and perhaps it’s necessary to move the people to where the jobs are:

    Why can’t you move the jobs to where the people are? Obviously not all jobs, especially in the service industries, can be moved to remote settlements, but are we so devoid of imagination that we can not think of a single job creation project that would suit a remote community? Small manufacturing? Dryland agriculture? Art and music production? Cultural and eco-tourism? Reuse and repair workshops? Trades training encouraged by real housing and infrastructure funding?

    When the steelworks closed in Newcastle, the state and federal governments tipped serious money into job creation to avoid a social disaster – they didn’t talk about abandoning the city. We have the social disaster in remote communities, so how about taking some of the same approaches to fixing it?

  22. Harry 'Snapper' Organs said

    Well said, Rain. Further to this problem is the widespread ignorance among the judiciary concerning the behaviour of children subjected to serial abuse, in this instance the sexualised behaviour of the child. One example from so many in my experience: 3 year old with forensic evidence of sexual assault, case thrown out by magistrate because “the sperm probably swam up there in the bath”. One thing about this case though that has again left me gob smacked is that, in law, a 10 year old cannot consent. Full stop. Possum, I could take you to a community of mixed whites and aborigines, just like Aurukun, 3 hours drive from Melbourne. It hasn’t been for want of trying by Child Protection and Police to do something about this out of control community. Three things commonly defeat Child Protection and Police there; one the community exists at the boundaries of 3 State jurisdictions; the people have learned to scarper into another jurisdiction when CP and Police turn up, and they always have to turn up together and in force; three, even when prosecuted, you’d be amazed how often you wind up in front of a dolt such as that described above. Successful prosecution of sexual abuse, particularly of children, where evidentiary rules are such as they are, is extremely difficult. Was directly involved in this work for 10 years. Broke my heart repeatedly.

  23. George said

    Excellent Possum, just excellent.

  24. Hobosexual Misanthrope said

    Possum, that’s the best thing I’ve read all year, seriously.

    I read it out loud to my family, (even though they’re always are bored with my “hey, listen to this” readings)

    The kids clapped!. Can you believe that! my kids clapped for something that didn’t involve takeaway food or Xbox games

    When my partner or I give or do things for the kids we have noticed that every now and then (once or twice every few years) we get what we call “the face”. It’s the look that they get on their faces when they are truly “blown away” and are rapt by whatever has happened.

    Today it was me that had “the look” watching their reaction to your post.

    Simply brilliant

  25. Harry 'Snapper' Organs said

    The more I’ve thought about it, no, Possum, in so far as possible, we must first do no harm. Passion for doing something meaningful in relation to child sexual abuse is laudable, but there are two issues running here, the first being child sexual abuse and the second being racism, both of which are important, but should not be conflated. Despite all the accolades for your piece, and again, I understand the passion for wanting something different for any child who’s been abused and something different for the Aborigines who’ve been right royally screwed, it ain’t that simple.
    Question, does anyone know when and where the last known organised hunt against Aborigines happened? That’s one with the whites having guns and the Aborigines not knowing they’re coming.
    Answer, Queensland, 1938. Reported to me by an eye witness, a Queensland Health Inspector.
    Want any more of the systemic abjugation, humiliation and attempted extermination of the Aborigines? Can tell you more if you can bear to hear.
    Want any more of the systemic abjugation, humiliation and sometimes attempted extermination of sexual assault people? Can tell you more if you can bear to hear.
    We cannot not act, but we’d better try to do no harm. We’ve done so much already.

  26. ViggoP said


    FFS , “in so far as possible, we must first do no harm.”

    My special topic is the bleeding obvious. May I suggest that we follow Possum’s lead: look at the evidence? Step 2: Ockham’s razor. And, now,for the good of all of us, let us do it! (I don’t like shouting so an exclamation mark will have to do)

  27. Harry 'Snapper' Organs said

    ViggoP, don’t quite understand your point. And not to put too fine a point on it, while I enjoy Possum and others offerings on any number of issues, including yours, I’m not following anyone on these issues. If you did not understand what I was saying the first time, understand this, “And now for the good of all of us, let us do it” means exactly what? And at least quote the theoretical evidence for what you are proposing.

  28. ViggoP said

    Sorry, Harry, no offence meant, but I strongly opine that the evidence is in that whatever we do, and we have to do it, people will be harmed.

    Background: I’m deeply distressed about what we have (and are doing) to those who were here before us. The rodente regime was bad, Brough’s military invasion was even worse, a political stunt that may have been worse than no action since it involved no consultation.

    I am so distressed but somewhat with a hope that the new regime will do something that will improve conditions.

  29. Ron said


    This blog of only 27 genuine people is an example

    As a result there has never been the political will to bear the political cost to make the radical reforms necessary to solve the numerous indigenous problems

    Nothing significant will change at all
    until/if the issue becomes mainstream like a ‘climate’ or ‘work choices’ type issue

    If I could the following solutions would be addressed:
    Obviously a few blog lines are insufficent.

    Starting points to address may be:

    Attitude & Perspectives :
    by black and by white seem wide

    Reconciliation :
    means different things to black & white

    what do Elders teach kids to aspire to and aspire for , how to achieve this

    are kids to be fully ‘westernised’ & if not what culture will they have

    Land rights:
    Elders & Governments need to bring the issue to final conclusion

    many settlements are remote so adequate services delivery is too hard

    Community-wide unemployment:
    guarantees the current generation is lost & the next one

    Health , Optical & Dental:
    free mandatory checks for at least the kids
    if this requires free transport , do it

    have massive presence everywhere with police trained on social issues

    Education opportunities & attendance: relies on solving other issues

    some linkage of payments to obligations seems inevitable

    which mix if any is to apply

  30. Harry 'Snapper' Organs said

    O.K. ViggoP, take a deap breath. And then breath out slowly. Repeat. For as long as you’re going to try and make some sort of difference. This case is very distressing, mostly because it exposes what has been going on in Australia for a very long time. It’s not confined to Aborigine culture; the case I quoted above was of an Asian family (the one where the magistrate thought that sperm would swim up a 3 year old’s vagina in the bath). It still causes me to gag when I think about it; I still cannot believe such stupidity.
    Yes, when we intervene in people’s lives, sometimes they are harmed inadvertantly, but if we know that our intervention will cause harm, we should not do it, and in the area of child sexual abuse, all I can say is ‘walk in my shoes’ for a while, if you want to know something like ultimate torture. I will never forget the face of that mother of the 3 year old or her anguish, or the pain and confusion of the little girl. And this is just one of hundreds. It’s not confined to dysfunctional Aboriginal communities; it’s endemic in this place. Understand this.

  31. Harry 'Snapper' Organs said

    Yes, Ron, you’re quite right. No one, very much, has been interestefd in these two issues. In a consumer/materialistic society, what else would you expect?

  32. ViggoP said

    Thanks Harry,

    I do the deep breath thing but why do I have to do it again and again and again. Your closer experiences (which I don’t have) I would find it hard to endure.

  33. Rain said

    Harry ‘Snapper’ @ 25 “The more I’ve thought about it, no, Possum, in so far as possible, we must first do no harm. Passion for doing something meaningful in relation to child sexual abuse is laudable, but there are two issues running here,
    the first being child sexual abuse and
    the second being racism,
    both of which are important, but should not be conflated.”

    *nodding* I think they should be separate issues.

    Sexual abuse is a global cross-cultural human problem, not just endemic in the poor, the dispossessed or socially disadvantaged.

    For example: Possum: “Aboriginal women deserve to be protected from domestic violence in their communities as much as any well educated, middle class white women in a nice house…”

    No Possum. This is not the case for girls or women anywhere, not even well-educated, middle class white women in nice houses. There are plenty of valid hard-core statistics available, if you are interested in looking at the evidence yourself.

    Separating out the sexism, and looking at the racism issues, how about starting with ground-rules?

    – Consultation, discussion, communication etc might be worthwhile.

    Also with all communities, they aren’t One-Size-Fits-All.

    Get rid of the Divide & Conquer tactics.

    Some are relatively healthy, socially and physically, and have kept high levels of social cohesion.

    There are some great academic studies from Canadian First Nations and Inuit communities which might be worthwhile reviewing, on measuring ‘Social Capital’. (Do a google)
    Some of their Indigenous communities are/were experiencing serious social dysfunction, similar stories to ours, but many others were not, or nowhere near as severe.

    Instead of comparing Indigenous with Non-Indigenous, Canadian researchers compared Indigenous with Indigenous with validated social survey methodologies, and actively sought the participation of different communities in networking, and sharing information coming out of the surveys between communities. In short, got them talking to each other.

    Played the role of facilitator, helped them to work their own solutions, (not just repeat the problems ad infinitum)

    One example, was the ‘Law & Order’ issue mentioned here. Some communities with the most dysfunction just wanted more police, but other Indigenous communities said why? We have the same number per head of population as the white-folks generally do, but we don’t need more? What makes us different to you? This then opens up whole stories, narratives and discussions, like, well, some of our young bucks get out of control with the booze too, just like yours, but we don’t need more cops, what we do is…”

    Another issue was sex segregation, women’s business and men’s business in Canadian Indigenous communities were far more socially separated, than in white anglo ones.

    If you want evidence-based policy making, then it might be worthwhile looking at overseas experience. Australia is not the only country or continent with an Indigenous population group, with a long history of racist colonisation issues, that has tried to grapple with reconciling with its Indigenous peoples.

    Unfortunately, this is a much slower process, and I do worry that public outrage and knee-jerk moral panic, tends to drive a frenzy to get something done fast. And quick & dirty never works for anyone.

  34. Charles said

    The solution for this is going to come from the Aboriginal communities. Consider just one small piece of the problem, lack of doctors and teachers, how do you solve that when doctors and teachers don’t want to leave the cities. They don’t even want to work in rural towns.

    Yelling and screaming about it isn’t going to work.

  35. ed@bennelong said

    Ron has raised a most important point: what is the interest in this subject.

    I’ve directed some thirty people to this blog, including some working directly with Indigenous communities, all are very interested, none have contributed, either because they are also overwhelmed, need time to digest the issues or feel otherwise constrained or inadequate to add to the debate.

    All were impressed by the sophistication of the debate and sobered with the confrontation of the issue as presented.

    27 doesn’t reflect interest, just those who have responded. I would also submit that the thousands who marched for Reconciliation is selling community interest short.

    If this blog is going to be educative as well as forming some sort of consensus on the issue then Harry, Xercius, etc who claim on the ground knowledge should find the words to educate the rest of us on what they see as the issues and not leave hanging bait that only makes the rest of us feel that we know nothing or can’t be part of the solution. We can all ask “Why” but without the relevant experience and context very few can extrapolate that to solutions and ultimately to “policy”.

    Some of us need to express emotive responses. Some calculated policy responses. It’s part of the mix and our way of dealing with the exasperation and taking the opportunity to contribute to the blog.

    “First Do No harm” is the crux of the problem. Current responses range from Noel Pearsons’s “Tough Love”, Mal Brough’s military inspired bomb the lot and then rebuild mentality, “they are all victims” approach of the bureaucrats etc etc. I don’t have answers just my intuition that says protect children, provide support services and provide a reason with opportunities for living a worthwhile life.

    It also raises the raison d’etre for blogging. Possum expressed a desire to redirect his blog to tackling policy issues after the election. Well you picked a doozy to start with. But if this can help inform opinion and formulate policy then that is surely a valid reason for doing this. I just can’t see the nexus between this blog and solutions to the issue no matter what the best intentions are.

    It is not too hard to see the self-centred racism and arrogance towards the disadvantaged in Australian society, but that is the real test of community and political leaders, to lift those who can be lifted above the mundane and self-centred. Maybe a few more will rise with the tide of opinion.

    We all have to live in the times and circumstances we are blessed with, including Indigenes. The ‘Why’ includes how relevant aboriginal culture and their desired way of life is to 21st century Australia and to what extent we should and can, mix and match it with the very Euro-centric culture that dominates.

    The Chooky Dancers on 7.30 report the other night was one small but exciting answer and shows that people are interested and there are many solutions.

  36. Michael said

    Interesting piece possum, but I think the core argument is mistaken, though prooably more in the way it’s expressed rather than what you’re trying to express.

    It’s esential that we follow the principle of “do no harm”. That doesn’t mean we don’t have to make choices between less than ideal options. We’re dealing with complex multi-dimensional problems which are may not be compeltely solvable, and that at times require contradictory approaches. The following article examines some of these issues,

    I’n not sure what you mean by “sustainable” though. Perhaps it would be helpful to flesh this out a little more. There has been much conservative angst about economic sustainability (a recent notable being Helen Hughes)as a reason to abandon /close down remote communities. Paradoxically it’s some of the smaller outstations, those least economically sustainable in a balance-sheet way, that are producing better health (and education in some cases) outcomes than the larger communities. On the purely economic view, we’d have to shut down the entire NT for not being sustainable.

    I agree with you about the revolving door of prison, and there are some helpful examples from overseas that we can look to,

  37. Michael said


    Just to be clear about the “do no harm” principle. It doesn’t mean that negative consequences are a barrier to action. Medical treatment accepts side-efects and adverse consequences, but in the context of expected overall benefit and, most importantly, with the full informed consent of the patient.

    This is where the NT intervention went badly wrong – it was imposing an unproven remedy on a mostly uninformed and non-consenting patient.

    “Do no harm” in this sense is not an “unattainable luxury” but a necesary principle on the road to long-term outcomes.

  38. Ron said

    My #29 blog said Possum has completely missed the point.

    Everything Possum said in his column has been said by hundreds of Newspaper columnists over the 20 years.
    (The columns including Possums always start with some problems stated , then some solutions stated and finally a conclusion of a ‘call to arms’ or someone should do something that the writers know is a false call)

    This is not to say any of the columnists are not genuine but in failing to address the fundamental how to effect , they are part of the problem in reinforcing the public apathy that its all too hard to solve.

  39. Bernice said

    It is our disgrace, it has been for a very long time. & the failure to provide the same amenities us white folk take for granted is somewhere at the beginning of this sorry fucking mess. But as I sat in a Getup! meeting on Tuesday & listened to every one exclaim in horror & genuine concern about the “Aboriginal issue” I heard the same thing I’ve heard again & again. A whole lot of good intentions from white people. But none of them suggested asking the Aboriginals what they want.

    & to further complicate matters, this notion that there is AN Aboriginal state of being is of course a nonsense too. Who is this person of concern – the Australian Aborigine? They have never existed. You are Gamilaroi, or Narungga, Gundungurra, Dharawal, first part of a nation, then clan. Of country. Not a nation state constructed by a settler society.

    Look at the response to the NT intervention – in some communities it has been of help, in others it has been frankly disastrous. One size does not fit all. Which of course makes it difficult to plan & implement responses – consultation takes time but more importantly it takes goodwill & the ability to listen & begin from a place that accepts that whoever you are dealing with has a better idea of what is not working & how it might be fixed than you do.

    You want to know what people need? Listen to them. Something us white fullas have been very very bad at for a very very long time.


  40. Tom said

    Not really to disagree with the run of commentary here, but it is funny to note what makes us tick.

    Life expectancies have been about 20 years shorter for Aborigines than for Settlers since 1967, and that has been a bit of a problem, but in 2007 we discover a problem with sexual perversion and suddenly we send in the army.

    Death, apparently, matters less.

  41. zoom said

    I would say that part of the problem with tackling the problem is that we’re lumping a whole lot of diverse cultures together under the label “Aborigines”.
    When Europeans first came here, they found a land inhabited by hundreds of tribes, who spoke hundreds of different languages, had different religious beliefs and cultures.
    Two hundred years later, we seem to believe that these differences have vanished and we have a homogenous group of ‘Aborigines’, who can all be dealt with using the same techniques.
    Although they may face much the same problems, the solutions for an Aboriginal child living in Albury need to be different to those for a child living in the desert outside of Katherine.

  42. Professor Higgins said

    Many thanks to all posters here for taking the time to express their viewpoints. Poss is to be commended for making this one of the first post-election topics. Here’s my questions:

    How many parents and spouses in these NT communities have been charged for which crimes since the intervention began many months ago? How many of the “business community” making money from the illegal supply of grog, drugs and pornography have been charged for which crimes during this period?

    Until someone is forthcoming with these answers, I will refrain from further comment on the Howard Government’s intervention.

    However, I hope it will be helpful to relate my experience as a new teacher of adult education in a staff development course conducted by the first indigenous person appointed to the position of the Principal of a NSW TAFE College over 20 years ago. He started our “awareness raising” by asking if we supported the policy of “self-determination” or “paternalism” or “assimilation”. All put up our hands for “self-determination”. Next, he wrote the following question on the board: “Do you support the establishment of separate Aboriginal TAFE Colleges in country areas run entirely by Aboriginal educators”? For this question, we were allowed a “secret ballot”, and over 90% of the teachers answered “No”. The Principal said he’d done this many times with groups like us and always got the same responses to his two questions.

    Over the next two days, many equally challenging and complex questions were raised with the sticking point always our abject ignorance of the cultural values and the learning styles of students we were soon going to be teaching. Many teachers attending complained that these sessions were a waste of time because good teachers are always good teachers, whoever the students are.

    My complaint was that we’d only been given enough time to scratch the surface.

  43. Harry 'Snapper' Organs said

    ViggoP, slow deep breathing, about 14 per minute helps reduce distress. Ed@Bennelong, I do apologise. I didn’t mean just to simply leave the discussion, but needed to do some other stuff. Where to begin, as both racism and sexual abuse/assault are subjects on which there has been much written and researched. As Zoom and Bernice have commented above,the aboriginal people are not homogenous, either culturally or linguistically, so different communities need to be engaged, and as also noted above, listened to for their solutions. Some communities have been very successful in organising themselves and have become economically viable. I recommend the Away program on Radio National on Saturday pm for very informative reports on developments across the country.
    On child sexual abuse, two very important things to understand. Firstly, the motivation, impulses, the drivers, if you like, of perpetrators need to be understood in order to know what intervention is required. It also needs to be understood contextually, since intervention is routinely required at individual, family and cultural level. Clearly, from my earlier comments, I think it is crucial for the judiciary to be educated. If I had my druthers, I’d make it compulsory for anyone who was going to make judgments or influence judicial process in any way, in relation to sexual abuse/assault to have formal education on the subject before they were let anywhere near a court. For some time now, Victorian Police have regular education sessions from mental health clinicians and I think something similar could work for the judiciary.
    I also agree with Michael that negative outcomes should not be a barrier to action. Even now, I think it was right for the case I referred to of the 3 year old that was thrown out at the first legal hurdle to have been prosecuted. There has been much behind the scenes as well as more public action happening to involve the judiciary in informing themselves. Last year, after much work, the Victorian Children’s and Young Person’s Act was amended to allow a parallel process to occur, which will enable both intervention in dysfunctional families, and for permanent removal of a child, without protracted process. Many of us who work in this area know the research and evidence for deciding fairly early on when you need to remove a child permanently. Note, however, that when we’re talking intrafamilial abuse/assault, the best results are to be had when you remove the perpetrator, not the child. However, this on its own is a huge topic.
    Secondly, I think there needs to be a nationally driven process to change the nation’s approach to sexual abuse/assault, much like the National Mental Health Council has been driving reform via the National Mental Health Plans. Victoria has probably been doing this better for some years for a number of reasons, though the public mental health system is subject to a number of critical problems, similar to those in Child Protection, such as recruiting and retaining staff. For example, a significant proportion of our doctors are overseas trained and need huge amounts of extra training to get them up to speed, we have enormous problems in recruiting and retaining our basic workforce of nurses, psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists. In Child Protection, there are similar problems of recruitment, but more particularly, retention of staff. It’s absolutely ghastly work, the courts are so stressful, particularly when you know the child is going to be even more traumatised by the court’s ruling and determination. If they can retain a basic worker for 2 years, they think they’re doing well.
    Bugger, who’d be a social worker? Only been doing it for 33 years. Must be a slow learner.

  44. monsoon moon said

    “First, we must restore security to these communities”

    If only it were so easy. Yes, there is a need for greater police resources in remote communities, as there still exist a great number of settlements without any police at all, and where stations do exist, they are chronically understaffed. But even if we start throwing huge amounts of danger money at what would be essentially inexperienced police to go into the middle of nowhere, how long are they going to last? I wonder how the newly installed coppers at Yarralin are enjoying living and working in a donga with no air conditioning or power?

    The fact is these cops face incredibly difficult jobs, the lack of basic comforts and company being only part of the story. Generally, they arrive in alien world, clueless about the people they are supposed to be protecting, and in very short space of time, they are plotting to get out ASAP. As they watch the clock, they don’t tend to devote much energy or thought to the cultural chasm that exists between themselves and their subjects, and instead misunderstand a great deal of what is going on. Crude rules of thumb develop, leading to injustice, and significantly in portions of the community being able to manipulate the police to serve their own interests.

    With a lack of trust and understanding, they often find themselves being completely out of their depth, and easily resort to a panicky heavy handedness. It can also lead to a contempt for the community, a refusal to consult with elders, and worst of all, a belief that in order to do their jobs, they are entitled to ignore the basic liberties of the community members.

    I agree, we need more police in the communities. It’s just there is so much to work through to implement this fine idea to its conclusion. It’s an example of the much broader problem we’re facing with getting indigenous policy right: after each point of principle that we can agree upon, there then unfolds another universe of issues to sort through.

    This must become the nation’s top priority but while ever there are still people around who were alive when whites hunted blacks with guns (and it’s later than the 1930’s), I just wonder …

  45. Cardster said

    I am old enough to have just missed out on voting in the 1967 Referendum on Aboriginal Rights, one of the regrets of my life because I felt at the time that this would at last start to make things better.

    Forty years on we have had well-meaning policy after well-meaning policy to try and “fix the problem” – they had to be at that level because there were few votes ever to be had in this area.

    An underlying feature of many of these remote Aboriginal communities is the unremitting poverty. Some have had generations of people on reliant on Welfare to survive. One only has to look at what happens in some cities in England (Portsmouth for example) where children from such homes run so close to feral its not funny.

    We, the non-Aborigines, need to find a way of making things better. To that end I offer the following insight from someone I met recently:

    A few months ago I had the the priveledge of speaking to a lovely lady who was on one of the first sorties of John Howard’s shoot-from-the-hip intervention in the NT. She is a nurse, a few years older than me. She had worked in Aboriginal Health in remote communities until about 10 years ago.

    What was her impression JWH’s Big Bang? “A disaster” because, while there were PhD’s in incompetence available in spades at the program’s organisational level, it assumed that the members of these communities had city based smarts and values on such basic things as time, taking medicine regularly as well as a host of other things.

    She said “These communities still base a lot of their structure on hunter-gatherer mores and until we understand that and indulge in real two-way communication with them the mistakes of the past will repeat.”

  46. Harry 'Snapper' Organs said

    Yes, cardster, because you have to actually listen to different communities, rather than try and impose ‘one size fits all’ solutions.

  47. Rain said

    Cardster: – She said “These communities still base a lot of their structure on hunter-gatherer mores and until we understand that and indulge in real two-way communication with them the mistakes of the past will repeat.”

    So very true. I was raised outback poor white trash, but my father was half-caste Amerindian, (Indigenous descent, but different continent *grin*) but this meant we were often mistaken for Aboriginal.

    In the 1960s, the town I lived in had a permanent in-town community (descendants of the early 19th Century Mission), plus nomadic temporary camps scattered along the nearby river, where groups would move up and down-river with the seasons.

    One of my starkest childhood memories, was one summer my older brother and I were playing with a bunch of the camp kids jumping off the old wharf into the river, diving for freshwater mussels. The cops showed up in utes and loaded us up, and took us into the police station putting us into the lockup. I was very young but remember my dad’s anger and fear, keeping my brother and I close to home for weeks afterward.

    It wasn’t until I was much older, that I realised what was going on. They had rounded up the camp kids to force the parents to come into the town, so they could all be taken away in the backs of trucks to a new Reserve about 3 hours drive north of the riverland they called Country. The authorities had dug only a single windmill water bore/dam, built some basic houses on some empty gravel of desert without so much as mulga scrub, about 30 kms from the nearest town. Someone showed up with supplies and their welfare cheques once or twice a month, and hassled them about putting their kids on the school bus. By 1970 us kids met up again at high-school…well..some days… The in-town families who weren’t taken away in the big 60s drive, had their own stories too, but in brief, I grew up embedded in slow cultural deterioration all around me.

    Fast-Forward, thanks to Whitlam’s education policies I was able to escape that world to the big smoke, but only briefly – I drifted around Oz (and SE Asia) for a couple of years, mining towns in northern WA, Darwin, Alice, amongst others – but after coming back east to Sydney, I was left a homeless single parent in the city with 2 babies, who grew into children, who kept bringing home stray kids with *issues*, instead of puppies or kittens, like normal kids are supposed to do.

    I became known to local police and social workers like Harry up there, and next thing I know social workers, Indigenous and otherwise, are knocking on my door at 11 pm on a Tuesday night, with yet another waif or two with *nowhere* else to put them. Mostly girls as time went on. One Indigenous girl hung around so long, she ended up adopted, making a third kid in the family photos.

    Harry: “Bugger, who’d be a social worker?”
    I *hear* you Harry *hugs*, saw plenty come and go during my time.
    My professional quals and day-job are in the health field though.

    “What was her impression JWH’s Big Bang? “A disaster” because, while there were PhD’s in incompetence available in spades at the program’s organisational level, it assumed that the members of these communities had city based smarts and values on such basic things as time, taking medicine regularly as well as a host of other things.”

    Ahahaha… please don’t take this the wrong way, but I sooo relate to this, from both sides 🙂 Working for the health dept some years back, we did some site visits across Australia, both city and bush etc. To me no drama, but some of my work colleagues who had never been south of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, so fit that description of “PhD’s in Incompetence” *chuckle*. I shouldn’t laugh, but sometimes the looks on their faces were priceless, as they struggled with trying to reconcile their simplistic academic theory, with the reality. Like the thing about the medicines, and medical appointments.

    Someone above mentioned the Chooky dancers highlighted on the 7.30 Report, the Yolngu people have done some other good stuff, like the educational Young Adult film called “Yolngu Boy” – particularly the ‘special features’ on the DVD version, and similarly the ‘behind the scenes’ sections of the Ten Canoes DVD. The difference in cultural concepts of time, as you mention, was something Rolf De Heer seemed to grapple with more successfully than most.

  48. Harry 'Snapper' Organs said

    Most interesting, Rain, what you said about the “Ten Canoes” fillum. I was stuck to my chair like an arraldited bastard, short a Tip of economic rationalism.

  49. Harry 'Snapper' Organs said

    Rain, have you thought about contributing your story to “Away”? What a cracker of a yarn.

  50. Rain said

    PS: A few of the good-value Indigenous health projects (which included sexual health, mental health etc) I’m aware of, include:

    – the National Aboriginal Child Health “RoadShow”, which utilised high-profile Aboriginal people, Cathy Freeman, Yothu Yindi, AFL footy players etc, on a tour to promote Aboriginal health amongst young people in remote communities.

    – Indigenous “Mums & Bubs” initiatives in Queensland, eg regular home-visits for the first two years of the baby’s life by mothercraft nurses, training of Indigenous community health workers, community childcare, so young single mums can finish their high-school education etc,

    – Some communities, have humungous rates of hearing loss in young kids, mostly due to poor nutrition leading to poor immunity to infections. One GP in northern NSW was tired of visiting the community every week, just to write out dozens of prescriptions for antibiotics. All they need is decent food he said, so worked with the teacher in making a school garden, so the kids could get some fresh veggies and fruit. Even published a great academic medical journal paper on his work, with fantastic results, of huge improved health status in those kids (along with improved educational achievement).

    No matter how successful, scientifically valid, proven to work etc – many of these great projects don’t get rolled out beyond a pilot stage, or get defunded suddenly without warning, or too little funding for too short a time.

  51. Harmless Cud Chewer said

    I’m going to say two controversial things. Perhaps because noone else will.

    First. Children are sexual beings. Even 10 year olds. But its not a topic for the faint hearted and in general our society deals with the issue by becoming hysterical and condemning anyone who dares suggest that someone under the age of 16 can consent to sex.

    Now before you strike me down with lightning, let me add the following. The facts in the current case are not public and probably never will be. We can only speculate.

    My take, for what it’s worth is that the girl was indeed acting on genuine sexual desire, but the pattern of behavior escalates. There is no clear line between those who wish to have sex with her and those that engage knowingly in ‘gang’ behavior. There is certainly an onus of responsibility upon those who should know better, that their behavior amounts to ‘taking advantage’.

    I acknowledge what appears to be a power imbalance, between the girl and her sexual partners. (We’re not just talking about the event that resulted in the court case but also about probable past behavior). And again, there is a moral line being crossed by those who knowingly exploit.

    I feel sad for the victim, a victim of greater or lesser degrees of exploitation. But I also feel sorry for the harm brought upon her by being involved with the larger adult world, and no doubt being taught she was bad, even subliminally.

    I also feel sad for a society where no matter what is stated as a fact in a court of law, it has to be reported as ‘attack’, ‘abuse’ etc purely because the person involved is underage. The truth is a lot more complex than that.

    I don’t support or condone evil, bad, or immoral behavior. But I don’t think the adversarial court system alone is enough to fix what is really wrong here. And that’s not that children want to experiment with sex but that men will act in gangs and that ignoring the sexuality of children merely serves to underground rather than weed out the true predators.

    Second. About Aboriginal communities. Communities disintegrate without a functional local economy. Without something real and worthwhile to do. The next thing worth pointing out is you can’t just bribe or force people to disband remote communities and head to Sydney. People are pretty tenacious in the way they identify themselves and then attach themselves to a group.

    The alternative is that you accept remote communities as a fact but then give them an economy. World class communications. Real work. Its probably less expensive than either paying people serious sums of money to move to Sydney or building whole towns only to watch them disintegrate later.

    Btw I wholeheartedly agree with a well thought out apology to the aboriginal peoples. It does matter.

    But, we have to go past the Howard intervention. It will catch some bad guys and fix some real problems. But the price of doing so will be a waste without some serious nation building. Real local economies, or alternately culturally sensitive help in aggregating smaller communities.

  52. Rain said

    Tom @ 40 Life expectancies have been about 20 years shorter for Aborigines than for Settlers since 1967, and that has been a bit of a problem, but in 2007 we discover a problem with sexual perversion and suddenly we send in the army.Death, apparently, matters less.

    Very good point Tom. In the kids going deaf project I mentioned above, the community was about 80-90K from the nearest large country town. When the GP was having problems seeking a few grand in funding to continue the project, he stepped into a minefield.

    He saw a televised case about some country kid needing a transplant, but the only donor found was in the US or UK or somewhere. The community responded generously to fund-raising calls to give the kid a chance. World Vision, UNICEF and the ilk might get generous support too for sponsoring African kids. Lion’s Clubs, Rotaract, local businesses etc, Meals on Wheels for the old and sick, the Salvo’s hosting soup-kitchens etc, rural communities raising funds for a doctor’s house, the list goes on. Howard/Costello regularly cut funding to things like the Royal Flying Doctor Service too.

    But nobody wanted to put out for a few of crates of fruit and veggies for about 40 local Aboriginal kids. He was verbally abused, people saying if the parents didn’t piss their welfare on grog etc, they wouldn’t need it etc.

    But hear of a case of sexual abuse and 10 times as much money would go into the army, police, welfare quarantining, home ownership schemes etc. The latter always confused me the most, why force them into private home-ownership? So they will eventually default and sooner or later be forced to move?

    I suspect the main underlying hidden objective is to move them out. Some areas are becoming environmentally unsustainable, due to climate change eg the Anangu-Pitjantjatjara Lands in the centre are running out of water. Marginal enough land at the time of european settlement, but now approaching uninhabitable. We probably spend more time, money and attention on saving the habitat of the koala.

  53. Crikey Whitey said

    What do I know, what to say? Could write policy, but I won’t.

    I went, in my early twenties, to work in government, for the welfare, in Port Augusta. I had not known any Aboriginal people, before then. Save one adult, around the corner, for whom it was necessary to portray herself otherwise. The same, sad story. Which I did not know till much later.

    The work operation was shit, for them, for me. It seemed about handing out, making judgments, decisions, within a budget, within a context. I learned. To understand. Thanks to them. I do not forget the very young aboriginal woman, with very young children, made white as snow, grappling to understand why her illness. Leukaemia.

    Maralinga. Again, and later, I realised.

    Fortunately, the District Officer, and we people who worked for and with, were of a mind, or made to be. For starters, would they come. And they did. Took us up on it.

    Gaining positions they strove to obtain. On merit.

    Together, some magic things were achieved, the difference with the local Aboriginal people in the office, great rewards. Not that there were no problems. There were. Even the partner of one, aged maybe nineteen. Angered that she was working for ‘whitey.’ And it it not for me to criticise. He knew the backdrop.

    In other ventures, Lois O’Donohue was being assisted, in a quiet way, by my DO, toward her future. Lowitja made it, in her own way and in her own right. That is the way things can work.

    And I cannot speak other than of the pleasure in working with and knowing others of these dear people. Among them, John, Roger, Joylene, Chris, Glenys, many others. Contemporary. Jim, dad, the elder, of two of these lads, suffering in his eyes. Warmth in his heart. Lally, another Colebrook girl, now woman, pain and love in her face, taking in lost aboriginal kids. Studying later, gaining her chosen profession.

    The striking other characters. Just a mention or two.

    Cyril! For heaven’s sake, remembered with delight, as he held up the traffic on the main street one day, in protest, over an issue. Impossible not to laugh helplessly, as the what? fifteen cars were held up indignantly. Massive traffic jam. Over nothing they were willing to hear.

    And at the opening of the new housing estate on Davenport Reserve, Cyril again, spectacularly confounding the Federal Minister. Timing his run, dramatic, from the hill. Declaiming! Over the belated recognition of the housing crisis.

    The Yalata woman, releasing herself from the hospital, in her gown, plucking the stakes from the newly planted trees outside the office, hurling them at the windows! In her anger at being so displaced.

    Reg, dear Reg, so clever, so lovely, so wise and witty, World War 11 Vet, unwanted in the annual ceremony, reduced to beggary at this office I speak of, in Alemein Road.

    So many more. Lovely people.

    And other so much, sad, hopeless circumstance. I could relate it to you. Umeewarra, then. This is in my own lifetime. Dispossesed kids. Chance. Nil. Aged, yep, 15 and less. Make them forty to fifty now. Assuming. You should have seen them! Cowed! Bowed! Silent! Subdued!

    Remember, I was only young, but knew this without a single book, history, anything.

    So, what can I say, but let’s know these people. Take the past and the near past into account. Allow them their lands, their places of heart, mind, soul, their very being.

    We are all people, all the same. We can learn, rather than preach. If eleven years was long for us, think how long 211 years is. Resume at least, or better than, where we left off, and on from there. With heart, resources, dollars, whatever it takes.

    I think I get it, maybe.

    The problem is that we are strangers.

    We need not be. Anymore than with anyone. The heart of it. Empathy, sympathy, will.

    A decent foothold. I think we all would be at least part way there.

    In harmony with the wishes of those for whom it matters.


  54. scaper... said

    Get them involved with infrastructure projects and in some areas in partnership with the government or corporations.

    What!…Out there?….Yep.

    Time for some old fashion “nation building.”

  55. Crikey Whitey said


  56. Enemy Combatant said

    Monica, Rain, Bernice, Possum, Bennelong Ed, HoboMis, Catherine, Whitey; your heartfelt and brilliantly articulated observations and stories are most moving.

    “The great Aboriginal singer Archie Roach was asked to sing them, and seeing the film (without the words to the songs, which had not yet been written), he readily agreed. Some months later we spent a week recording Archie and the musicians, and during a break in the recording (a very emotional time for Archie), he and I were sitting outside having a quiet cigarette. He looked at me several times, then asked a question…”Did you write those words?”. I said that I had indeed written the words to the songs. A piercing stare from Archie…”All of them?”. I nodded. He shook his head in some sort of disbelief, then said, “You and I have travelled very different roads, but we’ve arrived at the same place”.


    It’s time for the rest of us mob, blackfellas and balanda alike, to make our ways to that “same place”.

    Your call, Prime Minister Rudd. Show us some leadership!

  57. Ancient Mariner said

    Look I rekon anyone can have a view on this issue. It really helps to have an informed view if you get up to the territory and live in the commiunities for a few years. Their is this myth that the pastoral industry came to the center when somme goon on a horse saw a cow eating saltbush, believe me the cows will eat anything, and in particular SACRED fauna including this flowering bush that shows you were to dig for water. This started the conflict and history is written by the victor. The following post says it all, comes from ther bludger, better home here. Take it away Rod.

    [1]. I have been working with Aboriginal people in the NT, SA, Victoria, NSW and Queensland, since 1975. When I first arrived in Alice Springs in that year there were 1300 people living in the towns fringe camps with no housing, no toilets, and one water tap between them (people simply took sewerage polluted water from the Todd River or risked arrest by pinching it from over some whitefella’s fence). The per capita income in the fringe camps then was around $5 per week. There were always families crawling over the local rubbish dump for a half eaten can of baked beans or the like.

    Young men I’ve known personally have had wire tired around their wrists, been dragged around the floor , burnt with cigarette butts, had pieces bitten out of their ears and then been arrested for being “illegally on premises” when they were physically unable to leave when requested.

    Teenage boys that I’ve known, at Ti Tree in the NT , offering no real threat, have been shot dead in cold blood by police. Others, when I had just moved to Alice in the 1970’s, have been tarred and feathered and tied to the Alice Springs railway line. Old men have showed me the scars on their backs from the whippings they received, while tied to trees, for “giving lip” on pastoral stations in the 1920’s and 30’s. Another old guy I knew, the well known artist Uta Uta Jungala, had his legs broken when he wandered into the Alice Springs police barracks and didn’t have enough English to explain why he was there, in the early 1980’s.

    In the 70’s men and women in their mid 50’s (the age I am now) cried and cried while telling me about being hidden under bushes as children by their parents while the policeman Murray and the white vigilantes were shooting their relations during the Coniston massacre in 1928. Some never saw their parents again.

    Countless Aboriginal men and women have told me about the physical and sexual abuse they suffered from white staff as adolescents in institutions and foster homes in south eastern Australia, many of the women (though they teenagers at the time) bearing children as teenagers as a result.

    I’ve had shotguns pointed at my gut in remote roadhouses and given “30 seconds to leave or I’ll cut you in half” when trying to buy petrol simply because I worked for an Aboriginal organisation. I’ve pulled up at petrol stations on the Stuart Highway in vehicles with Aboriginal passengers and had white men running at me waving tyre leavers yelling “get those f@#&ing Rock Apes out of here”. The same loathsome guy, of course, was known for his love of “black velvet”.

    I spent several weeks in Alice Springs Hospital in 1980 after suffering some burns. The guy in the bed in the next room was a young initiated Pitjantjatjara man who had been in a road accident after sniffing petrol. He’d call out “Kumpu, Kumpu”. I’d tell the nurse that this meant he needed a piss. She’d say, “well why doesn’t he say so then. He can understand English”. He’d wet the bed. She’d say “dirty mongrel, why didn’t he tell us, the dirty little boy” (he was about 20), and the process would repeat itself time after time, day after day, with his humiliation growing every time until I complained to the management. Even then, to get them to take any action I had to get the Aboriginal medical service doctors at Congress in Alice involved.

    I’ve known Aboriginal men lovingly doing their very best, despite extreme poverty, for children produced by the unprosecuted rape of their wives by white men. I’ve known Aboriginal women explaining terrible actions by their husbands and children on the basis of even more terrible things that had been done to them.

    Yet now the entire continent is outraged by a case of statutory rape. Well, I’m glad that people can see the tragedy for the poor girl, but pardon me if I puke about the hypocrisy of a nation that has allowed similar events ,and worse, to to be perpetrated by whites day after day, year after year, decade after decade, and then dismissed such things as the “black armband” view of history.

    I’m sorry, but by the time you truly try to get to the bottom of this stuff you will find that there is very little that astonishes you.

    1. http://www.pollbludger.com/779?cp=8 post No. 713

  58. Ancient Mariner said

    Coniston massacre http://www.clc.org.au/media/events/feb2006-coniston.asp
    Sacred fauna http://asgap.org.au/APOL15/sep99-2.html

  59. monsoon moon said

    On “restoring security”:

    Do we imagine the imposition of more severe sentences is going to make communities safer?

    Can we say that a pattern of lenient sentencing is fostering this climate of abuse?

    The answer to first question depends on the extent to which (or whether at all) prison is a deterrent to the kind of behaviour we wish to reduce. In the Northern Territory, aboriginal offenders go to prison very regularly. They might even serve 3 or 4 distinct sentences within a year.

    For a number of years I’ve been directly associated with aboriginal offenders coming before the Courts, and my observation is that the deterrent effect is extremely doubtful. For a significant category, there is indifference to prison, and for another it is something of a relief. Some commit offences just so they can go back to prison. Across a wide range there is resignation to prison being a fact of life.

    Seeing people come back a month or so after they have been in prison, with clear eyes and skin, with fat cheeks, and with a spark in their voice not heard in a while, you can’t help wondering sometimes whether a regular visit to prison keeps some people alive.

    No doubt, without such breaks there are people who would just rot and die through grog and malnutrition. That’s even earlier I mean.

    Possum’s comments about the brutalizing effect of prison is well made, but my guess is that in Territory prisons, especially in lower security, and with the range of geographical and language areas represented in good numbers, there is not the routine violence and intimidation that might be expected on the east coast.

    In fact, aboriginal male on male violence is not a widespread problem in the Territory, inside or out of jail. Fights between families and communities flare up, but there is certainly not the culture of violence that exists say in Silverwater or Long Bay.

    So I don’t think inmates are brutalized, so much as they bored, and on another level, robbed of something by being so regularly a long way from family and country.

    My own view is that ramping up sentences won’t have the deterrent effect that people might expect, or hope for. So in answering the first question – will more severe “punishment” bring security back to communities? – my own view is that it might have some small effect, but it won’t bring about the clear results that we seem to be craving.

    On the second question: is a pattern of lenient sentencing is fostering this climate of abuse?

    It might be part of the problem, but I am not convinced. I think it’s the easiest scapegoat to nail, and it does get nailed because we although we are aware of the more obvious causes, we also know they don’t lend themselves to quick fixes.

    We absolutely do have to get the message across that having sex with 10 year old girls is wrong. That bashing your wife is wrong. However I suspect the message delivered by white courts is one with very little authority, and that it is only when the sanction is delivered from within, or at the very least supported by, the community that it will be effective.

    But before we get into the cause and effect, can we even accept the premise? That is, are aboriginal offenders being routinely dealt with in a lenient fashion? In the NT I have observed that sentences for less serious offences are not as long as they might be in NSW, but that for the more serious offences they are on par, if a little below.

    On the flipside, prison is the sentence most regularly imposed. There is very little by way of alternatives to custody, supervision, or rehabilitation.

    ABS figures from 2007 revealed that the Territory had between three and four times the number of prisoners per capita as the national average (573 per 100, 000, as compared to 163), with next highest being WA with 229/100, 000. Of these NT prisoners, 80% were indigenous (only 30% of population).

    It hardly tells a story of the Courts going soft on blackfellas.

    The jail stats have been like this for a while now, and continue to get worse – I heard an item on the radio recently that said the 80% was now 90% – but abuse of all sorts continues, and no doubt is getting worse.

    So how do we respond? By filling the jails up with even more blackfellas? They are already are full to capacity, and the Territory government has already raised the prospect of needing to build new jails.

    Just there is an epidemic of grog and violence, so too there is an epidemic of aboriginal imprisonment.

    Someone once said to me that the criminal justice system is the only arm of government policy in the NT that is close to functioning. Is it any wonder that when confronted with a challenge to change behaviour we are tempted to tweak the ‘sentencing’ knob higher?

    In summary, we need to look elsewhere people. Heavy lifting is required.

  60. smokey said

    At the risk of being Kiwi bashed…

    As a Pakeha (white Kiwi) and as a naturalised Australian, I’ve for a long time been disgusted with the treatment of Aboriginals here, the racist attitude portrayed by many Australians towards them, and the ongoing demise of their culture and community. It is for all intents and purposes a national disgrace which whether we like it or not these days is common knowledge in the international community. We have an appalling record in dealing with our indigenous people, probably the last 11 years being a huge backward step from a hard hearted gov that wouldn’t even utter the sorry word FFS to the stolen generation. I wasn’t even born here, but as I’m from English stock even I felt we should apologise. The lack of goodwill by assholes has lead to a lot to Aboriginal people hating us.

    In short, we as Australians need to look at ourselves. WE have caused this destruction of a 40,000 year old culture, and it’s up to us to do something about it. Reduced it to a husk of alcholism and racism. Racism now on both sides. We are not gos. We and the market don’t integrate with a culture that has survived that long.

    Some things are worth saving despite money and the market, some stupid home in Sydney at some stupid price. Aborigines are a part of our heritage, and we as Australians need to get with the programme. They are a human resource for our society, not an embarrisment to be forgotten about.

  61. Harry 'Snapper' Organs said

    Thank you , Enemy Combatent, for the link to de Heers’ account of making the film. One of the things central to this process of making an exceptonial film that is linked to any sort of healing process, is to be able to sit with silence, and to be able to listen to the different sorts of silence there are in human communication, with an enquiring mind, rather than any sort of prejudging.
    I actually rather like Rudd deciding he’ll take cabinet out to remote communities, and undertaking to go there every 3 months. I also liked Tanner in “The Age” today having a scone and cup of tea with a homeless person in his electorate, as per Rudd telling everyone to go out and find out about homelessness & turn back rates.
    He may be a driven bastard, but he’s our driven bastard. And we probably need a driven bastard at this point in time.
    Gawd, I’ve drifted off a bit here. Two glasses of wine and the cat has a superior I.Q.

  62. Just Me said

    36 Michael Says:
    December 15, 2007 at 11:21 am

    “Paradoxically it’s some of the smaller outstations, those least economically sustainable in a balance-sheet way, that are producing better health (and education in some cases) outcomes than the larger communities. On the purely economic view, we’d have to shut down the entire NT for not being sustainable.”

    Two comments:

    1. The outstations have generally been doing an outstanding job, far better than any other program, and for many years now.

    2. The widely held view that the NT is a mendicant polity is one of the great myths of Australian political debate. As of the June quarter national account figures (the latest ones I have seen), the NT is second only to WA in terms of per capita earned export income, the only kind of income that really counts.

    The reason people believe this about the NT is because the territories don’t have the constitutional guarantee of taxing powers that the states do, so they have to rely largely on whatever the federal government decides to grant them.

  63. Rod said

    Hi Ancient M, and thanks for posting that piece of mine from the Bludger over this way. As you say, it is more appropriate here.

    The following is very much “top of the head” stuff. I don’t have time to give a better response to Possum’s thoughtful and honest piece today . It would take a book, or three, or ten, to do the issue justice, of course. The big danger, I think, is that the current burst of media interest simply reinforces existing stereotypes rather than taking things anywhere. When you have been working in this area for 30 years you have, inevitably, seen the worst and best of both “sides” in these things, and you sadly see the way that these things get played by politicians and the media for their own advantage all too often.

    I must confess that I sometimes wonder that the difference in life expectancy between white and black Australians is only about 20 years, given the hand that many of these communities have been dealt. By way of example, I am working with a particular group in coastal Central Queensland at present. In 1855 they numbered about 4500. By 1890 they numbered about 120 (because of the “punitive” activities of the “Native Police” and white settlers when Aboriginal people resisted the occupation of their lands, because of newly introduced infections, because of the destruction of the indigenous economy when cattle and sheep became more important than the interests of the original land owners (read “Aboriginal people”), and the massive impact of white introduced venereal disease and the like on Indigenous fertility rates.

    The more decent white authorities of the 1890’s were wondering what to do about the regular rape of too many of the very few remaining black children by white men, with 12 year olds all too often bearing children of mixed race. (This didn’t really concern the people running the government much at the time. For the most part they simply saw Aboriginal people as a “dying race” and felt that the sooner they disappeared altogether the better)

    The more decent white “protectors” and the like were wondering what to do about opium and grog, too. They all had very definite “answers” about what was needed, rarely asked people themselves what they wanted, or what they thought might work, and created the singularly disastrous “solutions” that Queensland adopted for most of the last century, right through to the departure of Joh and Flo.

    Its worth remembering that , as a result of this era, vast numbers of Queensland Aboriginal people throughout most of the twentieth century weren’t actually brought up by their parents for much of their early lives. Many spent their childhood in dormitories, under the control of missionaries and government officials, denied the right to even speak their own languages or to experience much in the way of daily, direct, parental love. (Their parents, of course, lived lives of desperation worrying about their kids).

    Those who judge the “parenting skills” of such people in contemporary “post Spock” terms might reflect on what such treatment might have done to them. Like kids in institutions everywhere, desperately sadly, many of them experienced gross forms of exploitation that they carried with them into their own adult lives. Those who “kicked against the traces” often ended up beaten and brutalised.

    Even those who were lucky (and I’m certainly not suggesting that all such kids were treated like shit by those who had been given “responsibility” for their “management”, but many, many, thousands were) came out the other end as adults as “Wards of the State” in the NT or “Under the Act” in Queensland , which meant they had no legal right to manage their own affairs, work for whom they wished to, or even decide without official approval where they wanted to live or to marry whom they chose until the late 1960’s in the NT and even later in Queensland.

    Despite this, I might add, the vast majority of Aboriginal parents I know in every part of Australia that I’ve worked in, are at least as loving, protective, and dedicated as the parents at our local primary school, where I spent a few years on the School Council. You wouldn’t know this from the media coverage. It is so easy to make judgements about an entire community or even a “race” , on the basis of sensational events. If it is a group other than one’s own then the tendency to see the bad and ignore the good seems to unfortunately almost be an essential part of “human nature”.

    None of this answers “what to do today” of course, though it makes some things more understandable.

    I see that Possum asks:

    but what if some of these communities are unsustainable? What if their lack of sustainability actually is a root cause of community dysfunction to a significant degree?

    It’s a taboo question that no one dares think about, because its answers may be so awful.

    Actually most people working directly in this area have been asking exactly the same question for several decades. But the approach which almost all knowledgeable and intelligent people, black and white, that I know would want to see taken is not Brough’s “get them into the bigger towns ” solution. Rather it is to provide more effective support for more localised communities, outstations, places where extended family groups can have MORE control over their own lives and suffer LESS of the problems that occur in the settlements of 1 to 2 thousand people like Aurukun. It involves decent support for smaller communities, not marching everyone off to Darwin or Townsville!

    I was working with communities in central Australia when the first “outstations” were established from the major government reserves in the 1970’s. The immediate benefits were huge. The pressurecooker atmosphere in the big settlements like Papunya, Hermannsburg and Yuendumu declined appreciably.

    But, of course, there was never the necessary support, never the expenditure on infrastructure, never the recognition of success, never a teacher or two available for a community with 50 kids, even when one teacher schools with a population of a dozen or so kids were common in south eastern Australia. These things seemed to offend the bureaucracy in some ways. Your average new housing estate in suburban Melbourne attracts far more government assistance per capita for infrastructure than any indigenous community, despite the common white mythology of “privileged” indigenous treatment.

    There are broader ideological issues involved here, too.

    Over the last decade or so we have seen a concerted attack on any form of “self determination” from the federal government and other places. We have seen many, many successful programs cut off just as they started to pay dividends because they didn’t suit the ideological perspective of the funders. We have seen some sections of the media giving great weight to Australia’s equivalent of David Irving when it comes to the incontrovertible and massive evidence about the massacre of Aboriginal people during the period of white occupation. Heck, instead of seeing him as a pariah the local “denier” has been given serious positions on government boards! Not surprising, perhaps, in a nation that passed “White Australia” legislation as its first substantive Act, but deeply troubling if we really want to try to resolve some of this stuff. The simple truth is that on a per capita basis the Indigenous population loss in every state and territory of Australia during the 19th century make even those events like the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, and the events in Rwanda and Cambodia which every decent human being deplores with every fibre of their being look like small beer.

    OK, let’s leave the angst and anger aside for a bit. What has to happen? Well I’m certainly not the person to ask. There are many, many Aboriginal people who can give the government far better answers than me. They want to make sure they don’t get sidetracked by the views of a couple of advisers to Howard who had very particular interests , and very different life experiences from most Aboriginal people, when looking at such things though.

    It is sad that some sections of the media use the word ‘Aboriginal Leader” whenever someone supports their editorial view. To be an “Aboriginal Leader” it has always seemed to me that someone should have at least some “Aboriginal followers”. This hasn’t always been the case in recent times. The views of most serious Aboriginal people I run into are much closer to those of Mick and Pat Dodson, and Olga Havnen than to those of some of the guys and gals from eastern Queensland and Western Australia who had the ear of the last Prime Minister, Mal Brough and the editor of the GG. I reckon the Dodsons and Havnens have got it just about right.

    But , for what its worth, if I was asked, I’d say that if we really want to sort this stuff out we have to get rid of the “political correctness” of the last decade. Firstly we have to stop imagining that there is any truth in the convenient nonsense that money isn’t necessary to resolve these problems.

    If we can’t afford to set up a High School in places like Aurukun or Wadeye, or so many other Aboriginal communities with a teenage population in the hundreds then we can’t get on our high horse when teenagers run amok in such places.

    If we don’t realise that there is real value in resolving the massive health, social and sexual problems caused by making it necessary for 10 to 20 people to live in a 3 bedroom suburban style house with a single loo because we are too stingy to provide Aboriginal people with the same level of public housing that we offer to other poor sections of the community in our capital cities then we have no right to moralise about the consequences.

    If we truly imagine that increased “policing” , in communities which have, for two hundred years (from punitive expeditions to Palm Island) , all too often experienced the police as the enemy – people who variously shoot you, lock you up, beat you up, or take away your kids – rather than allies, is “the answer” then we are kidding ourselves, unless the police are far better trained and take a very different role from the one that was all too often adopted in the past.

    We have to recognise too that , for people who have often been left with next to nothing, and who always have seen the world through different eyes to our own, the “symbolic” truly matters. Why can’t we, for example, simply recognise that the “trillion dollar economy” that Costello and Howard are so proud of, actually rests in a large measure on the 7,741,220 km² of Australian land that we happen to have acquired without consent or compensation and that we like to think of as ‘settled” rather than “invaded” or “occupied”. Indulging in a little less sophistry certainly wouldn’t go astray when it comes to Indigenous acceptance of such things! If we could avoid spending millions and millions of dollars in legal fees opposing just about every Aboriginal land claim , no matter how legitimate, it wouldn’t hurt either.

    For me, one of the ironic “appointments” during the Howard/ Brough NT “intervention” involved that of the managing director of a major supermarket chain to the government’s advisory board. When I was last in Alice Springs one of the things that had struck me was the continued absence of Indigenous staff in the store owned by this company.

    I’d been struck by something similar in Echuca, Victoria in the 1990’s while working with the Yorta Yorta. Despite a very substantial Aboriginal population in the area, there were no people working in ANY of the shops or any other “face to face” economic role in the town that I knew of. This wasn’t for lack of trying. There were many well spoken, well educated, Yorta Yorta people that I knew who had looked for such jobs. Somehow they never got them though. The simple truth is we generally still deny access to the mainstream economy to Aboriginal people, while at the same time destroying or decrying traditional economic life.

    I’ll finish this with a few observations about my own time in central Australian communities in the mid 70’s, in the “good old days” of assimilation. I lived at a community just outside Alice Springs, at a time when the permit system was “in abeyance” while passage of the NT Aboriginal land Rights Act was being awaited.

    Tourist buses used to drive into the community unfettered, with cameras clicking through the windows and the tourists “tut tutting” about the “squalor”. One old lady got so upset by people taking photographs of her very meagre home that she started throwing rocks at the buses. She was, needless to say, dealt with by the police. Taxi drivers used to regularly turn up with loads of grog , or with passengers seeking sexual favours in exchange for money. Get rich quick merchants used to come in and sign people up for “insurance” or sell them goods at vastly inflated prices. Religious cranks used to come in for much the same reasons. Other rip off merchants would come and buy art and artefacts for a song. They, however, were never dealt with by the police. If the permit system is abolished in NT communities we are going to see much more of this sort of thing.

    At the community I lived on, the local , government employed, community manager was paid extra to provide after hours assistance in the form of telephone calls for ambulances and the like when people were sick. He also possessed the only vehicle on the community apart from my own for a period of time , and was paid an additional allowance to provide transport in emergency situations. Like the new managers installed under the Howard intervention, however, his house was surrounded by a 12 foot high wire fence. He also had a pair of bull terriers inside the fence. Those needing his (government paid for) assistance had to stand outside the fence and call to him for help. He never bothered to respond. When I see the stories from NT communities during the “Intervention” of humpies bulldozed to enable the building of a new fence and dwelling for a new “manager”, or the placement of a pit toilet in the middle of a sacred site (nobody should imagine that this was anything other than a sick joke by the contractors concerned) , and the like I find myself thinking that bugger all has changed in such places since the late 1970’s.

    So what is needed in places like Aurukun?

    Money, lots of it, for infrastructure, houses, high schools (can’t have an “education revolution”, or even a laptop, when the school stops at the end of primary!), teachers, health services, community enterprises, police (if they are there to genuinely serve the community), decent food.

    Purpose. People are denied access to the white economy and denied the value and use of their traditional ones. I often here people talking about how much “better” things were in the “old days”. A large part of this is wishful thinking. People died even earlier, infant mortality was several times worse than it is today, and the basic conditions of life were very, very tough for most Indigenous Australians a few decades back. But at least there was some real work in the cattle industry and the like. It has gone today for people in many communities. Surely, given the amount of public money we have spent on teaching “business” in our universities in recent years there are some people out there who can apply themselves to the creation of an alternative economy in many of these places. Somehow, I get the feeling that such things aren’t part of their training, however!

    What has this got to do with dealing with sexual abuse, I hear people saying? One heck of a lot.

    Sexual abuse of children is , of course, all too common in “mainstream”Australia, too (and in fact there are some researchers who suggest that it is actually MORE prevalent in mainstream Australia than in Indigenous communities, despite the recent media assault). But we also know that such problems are particularly commonplace in underprivileged communities, especially those living in third world conditions, with little hope for change, in first world countries. Unless we attack the roots of the problem by tackling poverty and purposelessness the problem will probably actually get worse. Solutions based simply on “policing” , “tough sentencing” and the like will never resolve such things. They never have. They simply make people feel like they have “done what they can”, provide them with someone simple to “blame” and provide them with a vent for their outrage. Meanwhile, children and others, keep on suffering.

    Unless Australia is prepared to put resources and imagination into resolving this stuff it will be with us for a long while. The ideological straightjacket we have been living in for the last decade of conservative government has made such things harder to deal with, but it is over now and we can, hopefully move on. I certainly hope so! An “intervention” is most definitely needed and the resources suggested by the Howard government actually fall at the low end of the scale of what is required. Rather than being ideologically driven, though, any real intervention with any hope of success needs to draw on the knowledge of the communities themselves, and of other people of good will and experience.

    The “Little Children are Sacred” report, completely ignored by the Howard government apart from for its headline creating potential, contains many sound ideas that would be endorsed by most people working in the area, but they are only ever going to have real value within a broader framework of reform that genuinely recognises Indigenous interests and genuinely seeks to improve the lot of our most impoverished communities. It will be interesting to see if Australia really has the will to deal with such things once the more lurid headlines disappear and people realise that simply sticking people in Jail won’t deal with the problems.

    Enough of the ramble. Evening all.


  64. Ordem e Progresso said

    Possum wrote:

    [quote]We have achieved a widespread consensus that if a bloke beats the seven shades of shit out of his wife in suburbia, then he should go to prison; no ifs, no buts – even if only to protect the victim and the community from his totally unacceptable behaviour. Yet we refuse to provide the same guarantee of security to aboriginal people in remote communities, simply on the basis of various interpretations of the perpetrators being victims too.[/quote]

    Part of the reason why few violent Aboriginal males aren’t imprisoned is because of the high rate of deaths in custody. Unfortunately, that means that perpetrators of domestic violence are free to live in their communities and remain a threat to their partners.

    There are some Aboriginal communities in NSW (Coffs Harbour, Tamworth) that I know of where they’re mostly run by women. There are grog bans and schooling for kids is compulsory. Violent drunks and people who disrupt communal life are kicked out.

  65. janice said

    The NT intervention was nothing but an election gimmick by the Howard Government and, by the use of the sledge hammer, shows clearly the lack of understanding of the needs of our indigenous population. Harmless Cud Chewer @ 51 is correct when he says these communities need an economy because the lack of having a worthwhile means to provide for themselves is at the root of their dysfunctionality. Noel Pearson sees the problems clearly and knows Government/taxpayer ‘handouts’ is not good for his people but he doesn’t appear to have much of an idea as to how to replace welfare payments with income gained from labour. These communities need to be actively engaged in projects that provide employment. They need to be trained to run a town council, to maintain buildings and build roads, to grow a market garden and to market their own art/craft work. And, most of all, they need to be protected from exploitation from the white population.

    I spent the first forty years of my life in the NT. I watched the blatant exploitation of aboriginals by the majority of the white population; I watched the painful, pitiful policy of the Government under the then Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Giese that resulted in the stolen generation. This was done, not to ‘save the children’ but was a digusting attempt to breed out the race – you see, it was discovered that unlike the African Negro, our aboriginals don’t have the dominant black gene and so the ‘blackness’ can be bred out. An assimilation programme was also put into operation in townships in the NT at the same time. Aboriginal families were given Housing Commission type homes scattered amongst the ‘white’ homes. These were families used to living in wurlies or camps in the bush. They had numerous extended family members who, according to tribal tradition, arrived to share the rellies new camp in town. No wonder then that the small 3-bedroom house exploded at the seams with overcrowding. There was no employment available for blackfellas and they relied on their welfare cheque. And to make the disaster worse, these people were used to their nomadic ways, had no concept of how to maintain and clean a dwelling, how to cook with electricity and use the bathroom and toilet facilities. White people were horrified that in some instances they built a campfire out in the back yard, using the cupboards, architraves and such as fuel for the fire.

    Nothing much has changed despite huge amounts of dollars put into, and sometimes taken out of, projects designed to help. All because there has been no thought given to creating viable communities where work is available so that the people are able to gain a sense of worth. In the past, and the present, any attempt has reulted in the white population feathering their own nests at the expense of the advancement and welfare of the blacks. It is the white man who sells them the grog, at inflated prices I might add. It is the white man who needs a permit before he is able to set foot on aboriginal land, and rightly so because he cannot be trusted not to abuse them either physically or economically. The removal of this permit system is one part of the NT Intervention that is potentially disastrous.

  66. Xercius said

    Ed@Bennelong (at 35) . . . If but I thought a decent job could be done of ‘filling out’ my miniscule post through a weblog. Sadly, it isn’t as easy as that. It isn’t me desire to ‘leave people hanging’, but there are some imperatives and responsibilities involved here. So, do I apologise for that, but my hands are ‘tied’. What I might be able to offer, however, is a clue.

    In my view, half the battle (and most of my past frustration) with Indigenous policy lies in someone’s ability to get a handle on the nuances of Aboriginal people’s and Torres Strait Islander culture (realising and being able to articulate, for instance, the vast difference and distinctness between these two ‘groups’, or that Tiwi Islanders are also distinct, is a bit of a start. Realising that in reality we are talking about over 200 ‘mobs’, rather than an amorphous mass of ‘indigenous’ people is another).

    That knowledge — which (if you have acquired it in what I consider an ‘approriate’ manner and under ‘appropraite’ circumstance) carries with it a certain responsibility — then needs to be viewed through something of a historical ‘prism’. One common ‘error’ made by some at that point is to consider ‘history’ from it’s context as an Eurocentric artefact. The trick, though, is to keep both an Indigenous and a Eurocentric view of history ‘overlayed’ (think: a slide of one scene overlayed with another). These historical views are very different: one fundamentally linear with respect to ‘time’; the other is multi dimensional; one is ‘finite’; the other is infinite.

    The nuaunces sitting within this habitus relate to matters such as kinship, skin, language, societal structure, ‘country’, ‘law’, shame, responsibility . . . it’s multi dimensional. For instance just as many mobs are traditionally matriachial societies as are patriarchial. But, how many are historically that way? How many have ‘adapted’ to meet the imposed requirements of Balanda ways?

    Ed (and others) I’m sorry, but this is a journey you must take yourself. It is not my place to offer any answers: they’re my answers from journey and now it’s your turn. And, you taking that journey is, believe it or not, part of the policy answer. If more of us acquired an adequate level of insight and understanding, we would be better placed as a society to remedy the past.

  67. Paul said


    Having lived in Alice Springs for 16 years & coming face to face with the problems throughout the NT (I used to work for Centrelink & ATSIC), I have come to the understanding that the problem is not normal.

    When you do some root cause analysis & some cultural comparisons – no other indigineous group in the world treats itself like what happens here – the conclusion you must come to is that its a spiritual problem.

    Combine this and the “hidden” and poorly analysed effects of the 1967 referendum and you have the situation that faces us today.

    So go, analyse the secret men’s business & look at other cultural practices. No white-do-gooder from down south appreciates what is really happening.


  68. Xercius said

    Paul at 67: True . . . so true.

    As I’m sure you are aware, though, you have to first prove yourself responsible with knowledge before you’re going to get close to a lot of that stuff. It’s not easy.

  69. Andos the Great said

    This has been an amazingly enlightening read; I am seriously amazed at the calibre of the contributions to this website.

    On the new Federal Government’s approach to “Indigenous Affairs”: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/12/17/2120878.htm

    Mr Rudd also announced that Indigenous affairs will be added to the agenda for the premiers’ conference this Thursday.

    It seems that Prime Minister Rudd does see the need to get started on looking at some of these issues right away. After the frenzy of activity from the new Government in its first two weeks, I am very heartened to hear this.

  70. Steve K said

    Hey Poss. You haven’t been hanging out with a certain former PM have you?

    Giant rat found in Indonesian jungle

  71. Well thought out, Possum.
    I agree with most of what you write here.
    But why on earth are we trying to solve these huge problems by suspending the right to make Native Title applications and denying tobacco products to people who are having their welfare payment managed under NT Intervention measures?
    Native Title and a few cigarettes didn’t cause the entrenched inequality and social disintegration facing indigenous communities.

  72. Enemy Combatant said

    “Mr Rudd also announced that Indigenous affairs will be added to the agenda for the premiers’ conference this Thursday.”

    Maybe there’s a media advisor person reading with the smarts and clout to draw the attention of the PM, Premiers and their teams to the home truths told on this thread before Thursday’s conference. These three score and ten comments contain much wisdom.

    Is there a woomera-wielder in the house who can launch this thread where it needs to be read?

  73. Rocket said

    Off Topic, but you all just have to look at this on CNN – note the name of Australia’s former PM “Paul Howard”


  74. Catherine said

    I have to respond to the ‘children are sexual beings comment’- I think this view is far more prevelent than we are willing to acknowledge.

    Basically, no they aren’t. Children role play of course, and imitate adult behavior but a ten year old girl is not physically or mentally at the same stage as an adult woman. Any more than a girl playing at feeding her doll and changing its nappy is really having maternal urges, or is a ‘maternal’ being. The rape laws that state children are incapable of giving consent reflect reality, not a moralistic invention.

    I would argue that even most of the sixteen year old ‘experienced’ girls and boys I teach are not really mature sexual beings. The reason most young teen sex happens when kids are drunk or high or with someone older than them is because when you read what they write when they know their peers won’t be seeing it, or listen to their relationship questions the whole subject is still as scary and repellent as it is endlessly facinating, and their main and overiding concern isn’t their raging hormones its that they aren’t ‘normal’ and that they have to figure out how to act ‘normal’ before everyone else finds out. It takes a time and space for this mess of confliting drives to resolve in to the ability to feel simple desire for someone.

    Shakespeare was aware of the damage done to young girls subjected to adult sexuality and he lived in a time where the marriage of 14 year olds although highly uncommon, was legal “…and too soon marred are those so early made. Let two more summers wither in their prime ere we may think her fit to be a bride” (R@J Act one – thats from memory so I apologise for any errors)

  75. Harmless Cud Chewer said

    Catherine @74, I say this at the risk of veering off topic since my original motivation was to do with the hysteria that surrounds the court case in question, and tangentially, at the clash of cultures involved.

    It is not necessary to attribute to children the sophistication of adults to ascribe them sexual feelings and behavior. This subject has been well documented (and argued) and I’d point you to Google.

    As for Shakespeare, I think he’s pointing at the harm involved in taking a child and forcing upon her the role of ‘wife’, with all that entails, rather than suggesting that sexual activity is in itself harmful.

    My point still is, that a lot of harm has been done to young people both by bringing them into the adult court system and by labeling them as ‘victims’ and ‘perpetrators’, even in circumstances of consensual sex.

    When the truth suffers, bad things follow. And I really don’t think its necessary to have a black/white sexual/non sexual cutoff in order to have a good idea of right and wrong behavior. As I alluded to, its not sex in itself that is bad. Its the behavior of those who knowingly exploit.

  76. nodalnodal said

    I haven’t read all of the comments, so sorry if this is repeating. I’m always frustrated when I hear people discussing this topic because, while well intentioned, there seems unfortunately, to be a lot of ignorance of Aboriginal culture. This is usually signaled to me when the discussion treats all Aboriginal groups as being the same. Groups from the Central Desert and from Northern Queensland a vastly different. To illustrate this, I remember overhearing an elder in Central Australia refer to some Northern Queensland aboriginal people as whites (in this context meaning “aliens”). We are dealing with a wide range of groups from widely differing geo-cultural backgrounds and it is staggering to me that the level of debate is still so ignorant that we bundle these groups into a single identity. There are of course common problems amongst all Aboriginal groups which stem from the common cause of exposure to European culture. As such it is convenient for concerned whites to discuss the “Aboriginal Problem” in this singular way. But the thing is that solutions to the dire problems that confront many of the communities are not likely to be universal.

    Why don’t we get taught about the extent and diversity of Aboriginal culture? Why don’t we have documentaries on TV where we can learn the realities of traditional cultures? This, instead of the sanitized and often erroneous versions we get which in my view is generally romantic middle-class-white noble savage stuff – Hertzog and that Songlines book in particular but the list is long (although thankfully not including the wonderful Ten Canoes).

    If we really what to change things over the long term, then people have to learn, at a critical level, what the various cultures are and what some, at least, are in detail. But then an understanding of culture is not an activity that has been encouraged in the last decade or so. Maybe this will change, the sooner the better for all of us.

  77. nodalnodal said

    Paul #67

    “No white-do-gooder from down south appreciates what is really happening.”

    I agree but I also think that no white-do-gooder from down south (myself included) would actually understand your post. Can you explain more?

  78. Paul said

    Nodalnodal #77

    “When you do some root cause analysis & some cultural comparisons – no other indigineous group in the world treats itself like what happens here – the conclusion you must come to is that its a spiritual problem.”

    A starting point is the former British Colonies. ‘How well’ are the original inhabitants going today. Do they experience the same breadth and depth of the Australian Aborigines problems? I would answer with no.

    The people groups I am talking about are say the Maori, the American Indian, Canada’s ‘First Nations’ people, the African’s in South Africa (Rhodesia), etc………………

    “Combine this and the “hidden” and poorly analysed effects of the 1967 referendum and you have the situation that faces us today”

    The general Territorian view was that the NT voted against the 1967 referendum, because they could see and understand the ill effects a positive vote would have.

    “So go, analyse the secret men’s business & look at other cultural practices….”

    I have undertaken some study on this topic (my notes are somewhere) – and it really isn’t fit for mixed company.


  79. Enemy Combatant said

    Lil’ Bwana Rodente defends his handicap to fringe dwellers:


  80. Rod said

    In the 1970’s and early 80’s, Paul, I met with quite a number of delegations of indigenous people from the groups you mention when they visited Alice Springs on “fact finding” missions and the like. In those days the general perception amongst them was that Australia was actually making significantly faster progress in resolving this stuff than they were. The difference today is that they have moved on, with much greater recognition of Indigenous interests , and far greater resolve to tackle the problems in a co-operative fashion, while Australia has not.

  81. Darren Godwell said

    Possum congrats for grasping a bundle of confronting moral and then subsequent public policy problems. Your article is a great effort. And I’m encouraged by the discussion so can I add some points, may these urge people forward with hope.

    1. There are only about 500,000 Indigenous peoples across all of Australia. This is a small number, really. Surely our nation has the imagination AND will to cope with this small number.

    2. A full 70% of that population live in regional cities or within an urban context. This is very important. It means most Indigenous peoples have a postman riding past their front door everyday, access to a telephone, within tv & radio reception and are surrounded by the services of government and a booming Australian economy – we still need to answer the question ‘why with all this social infrastructure are Indigenous life outcomes so dramatically different?’.

    3. And, lastly, nearly 2/3 of the indigenous population is under the age of 26 years. This is the same age profile as any developing country. Its also a prompt to action because if we don’t move then the problems with feed a negative spiral that will bear a human cost that merely contrasts our nations moral inadequacies. And the inverse works just as powerfully, small turnarounds will have a disproportionately positive impact. IF we act.

    I concur with many of the ideas proffered and would like to add two more:

    1. A true measure of investment – let’s use one metric to measure our public sector efforts. Let’s ascertain the proportion of the public funds allocated that are actually spent through indigenous controlled community organisations in indigenous communities. And let’s set a target that that this figure increases every year.

    2. Speaking your Language – If its good enough for our diplomats to learn a language before being posted overseas then its good enough for public servants to learn an Indigenous language before being promoted here. This includes those languages for peoples in what are now major urban centres. This one initiative would generate real economic and employment outcomes. Just consider who retains & practices Indigenous languages today. Now make the holders of that knowledge valuable participants within an economy that is ultimately intended to make service delivery more effective. We should be aiming for a day when community organisations and community consultations are conducted in language.

    A most surprising post Possum, congrats

  82. SBT said

    Thanks Poss for posing these questions, and to all for contributing their thoughts.

    I think there are two factors that contribute to the lack of action to fix the problems which beset indigenous communities. One is that most white Aussies are simply unaware of the issues Ancient Mariner mentions @ 57. How often have we heard people saying there should be no apology to the stolen generation because that happened so long ago, when in fact the last cases occurred during the 1980s? If more people knew exactly how bad the treatment of aboriginal people has been, and how recently, the chances of such problems gaining ‘WorkChoices’-like prominence would improve. Why don’t aborigines deserve a Fair Go? Secondly, Australia just isn’t very good at seeing the big picture and deciding to act upon it. It seems to be a flaw in our national psyche. Other countries move ahead in leaps and bounds, planning and executing the steps needed to do amazing stuff like put people on the moon (by contrast Australia is the only developed country to have had an active space program, and shut it down). It took us a century to pull our finger out and build a railway between Adelaide and Darwin. We’re still patting ourselves on the back about constructing a hydroelectric scheme over thirty years ago! We’re exceptionally bad at formulating “big thinking” projects and putting them into action. And when we do, we move at a snail’s pace. I fear that creating infrastructure in the outback to support rural communities just sounds too much like real work.

    Regarding the sustainability of communities, there doesn’t seem to be much recognition that different strategies for sustainability are needed in different environments. The whole reason indigenous australians in central NT, for instance, tended towards semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyles is because the environment wouldn’t support anything else, whereas in other areas (like Victoria) more settled communities that farmed eels were possible. Different solutions for different circumstances. The Howard regime’s insistence that every problem could be solved through the free market seemed to permeate the idea that indigenous communities needed to develop “real’ economies in order to become healthy, crime-free places to live. So, for example, instead of trying to develop market-driven economies so that people in indigenous communities can buy food imported from elsewhere, maybe they should be growing their own crops (especially native arid-adapted ones) locally and sharing the produce communally. Just an idea…

    If I could nominate one thing that should be done to help aboriginal communities it would be this; let the people who live in those communities decide what needs to be fixed and how, and then pull out all the stops to make it happen. And not just via some small council of appointed decision-makers, I mean through broad-based community consultation. The government needs to be facilitating, not leading, and certainly not intervening. I’m sure people in these communities have a much better idea of what makes their lives meaningful, what resources they need, and how their cultural background and personal expectations factor into the equations, than we do looking at it from a capitalist, white-fella, city-bound perspective.

  83. kyangadac said

    Where to start – it’s probably too late but here’s my 2 bob’s worth.

    The last massacre – 1981 – 11 Pintubi poisoned by a bottle of port laced with strychnine 2 die immediately. News item of the day – Dingo took my baby – coroner court overturned. Deliberate? Don’t ask me ask the coroner at the time, Dennis Porrit.

    Sexual abuse of children – same language used at Crystallnacht in Germany to take away Jewish property rights is used by Brough to get through laws removing land ownership, civil rights, equal opportunities. Go figure.

    Solution – empower grannies and aunties. Change centrelink rules and provide welfare support to the matriarchy in Aboriginal communities.

    Jobs – Alison Anderson – MP NT Parliament several years ago pleading for the supported establishment of a camel abbatoir at at Docker River or a mobile one (recently) – don’t tell me jobs don’t exist in these communities, what bullsh*t – most of them are refugee camps surrounded by land controlled by pastoralists. What do pastoralists do? They create the real desert, as Robyn Davidson described it in Tracks all those years ago. Run their cows unsustainably and don’t give a stuff about bush tucker or the environment. Papunya might look like a disaster zone but count the number of species when you cross the boundary from the pastoral zone to the Traditional Owners zone.

    Lets start talking about traditional Australians right now, not Aborigines or Indigenous people but Australians.

    I suggested in another blog that we should be teaching traditional Australian culture and language at high school and was roundly condemned because Greek and Latin were more important. Couldn’t be buggered to respond to that. QED I thought.

    Turnover of support staff – provide support and training for people working in remote areas just as we try to provide support to people working in child abuse areas in mainstream society. Whats so hard about that?

    Provide decent accounting and transparent administration support. How many communities have suffered being tarred with not being able to manage their own money when some b*stard white adminstrator rips them off.

    I agree with Rain – one of the few people to speak some sense here. Let me tell you about the Women’s Refuge in Alice Springs in 1980 – the local council bulldozed it because it was run by lesbian witches – or so they reckoned. Women used to joke about the 400 yard sprint to the front door. Let me tell you about the Albany refuge in middle class south western sea change town in 2007. There’s no room for Noongar women who make the 400km dash from Perth to get away from their husbands at least not for more than a few days.

    But jeez how many women get shot in W.A. by their angry partners – one a week I’d reckon from the news reports – it’s almost as bad as the road toll. When was the last time you saw a feature article on women getting shot? Certainly not one about white or asian or european women. Maybe about Aboriginal women – but the’yre different aren’t they, cause we know how violent aboriginal men are don’t we? Shouldn’t that be Australian men?

    It’s probably disappointing to many of your readers but many traditional Australians don’t actually buy into the making money individual wealth mantra that whitefellas shove down their throats. They believe this thing called relationships, between each other and between themselves and the land, is more important. Sorry.

  84. Rod said

    Interesting to see some Indigenous leaders calling for complete alcohol bans in Arnhem Land.

    Never happen, of course. The white booze issue in the NT is really just as bad as the black booze issue (they used to brag about the consumption figures being 5 times the national average on the wall of the 50 plus liquor outlets, including the local petrol stations, when I lived there 30 years ago. It was certainly no better when I last visted Alice a couple of years back).

    I suspect that they would be hard pressed to find a single cop, nurse or teacher for each Territory community if booze was banned altogether. Given the levels of alcohol related violence, road death, and sexual abuse in the white community there, though, the proposal has something to recommend it! But it is far easier to hide the nasty consequences if you are living behind the brick veneer walls of Braitling or Bradshaw than if you are living in the bed of the Todd , of course.

    Well said, Kyangdoc and SBT. No doubt some will see your comments as ‘extreme” in one way way or another, but for mine they sit pretty close to the marks that run right down the middle of the real road!



  85. Alan H said


    I share your passion and outrage, but having a daughter who is a ranger at a remote NT National Park, who has close contact with local communities, I am aware that there are layers upon layers of complexity to this whole appalling situation. To all of you who advocate gaol as some sort of remedy/panacea/revenge mechanism in the situation, please recognise that young people, be they male or female, are pack raped as a matter of course in prison, and no-one ever does anything about it. That will teach them, eh! To advocate the brutalising of brutalised people, to cure them of their habit of brutalising others is surely inane. You only have to point it out to see its complete lack of any logical coherence.

    Prisons in the NT, like prisons everywhere in Australia, are islands of corrupt neglect and brutality, where drugs are freely available, and corruption is commonplace.

    What is needed in aboriginal society is the means to occupy all of the people productively, to limit the availability and consumption of grog and other drugs, and as you have rightly pointed out, good old law and order. But that does not mean the cops controlling the supply of alcohol, and profiting from it, as was the case in times past. The assumption that the appointed agents of ‘law and order’ will provide what is needed is sadly awry. ‘Little’ men in uniforms have rarely been the solution to anything.


    Alan H

  86. lurker said

    This is going to sound simplistic, but since one of the seemingly intractable problems seems to be lack of “employment”, why not pay Aborigines to rehabilitate the land? Since the land is degraded and Aborigines are the original custodians of the land, wouldn’t this kill two birds with one stone?

  87. Rod said

    Hi Lurker,

    http://www.clc.org.au/media/publications/rose_reports/resources.asp will give you some idea of just how such programs are being developed in the Territory.

    http://www.kimberlychristen.com/?cat=39 on the other hand, will help to explain why so many people who work with Indigenous communities were aghast at the heavy handed nonsense that the Hpward / Brough “Intervention” brought in its wake, why Aboriginal people in the NT voted so solidly against the coalition, and why people are so glad that Labor have promised to restore the CDEP program.

    As you say, there is certainly a lot to be gained from these sorts of programs.



  88. Ancient Mariner said

    Hi Rod
    I am glad you didn’t mind me reposting your bludger post here, from my limited experience living and working with the wonderful Arrende people your post encapsulated so many of the real contemporary issues facing some Australians in the bush particularly in the center but your storey of the tragedy for some Australians in Queensland opened my eyes there. Your experience and memories have great value while this struggle for the liberation of our indigenous compatriots continues. Join with me Rod in swearing this oath, “Let nothing come between us and Reconcilliation”.

  89. Ron said

    Blogers here perpetuate the problem by offering half baked , welfare officer or doctors wives & social worker type “solutions”

    How about answering 10 hard questions.
    How many will VS how many will hide behind impractical guilt:

    Are Aborigine’s attitude the problem or are they 100% innocent

    Why aren’t the Aborigines individually responsible for themselves
    rather than as a total racial group not being responsible at all

    Are the Adults children or Adults and have no accountability

    Do the Aborigines want all the benefits of ‘western’ culture (welfare, houses) but without the responsibility to earn the income

    Do the Aborigines wish to retain & continue all their traditional ways of living but expect ‘white’ Government to support them

    Do the Aborigines accept some western Laws when it suits them but reject others as ‘white mans’ laws

    Why do Aborigines insist on living in areas where the supply of adequate services is impossible yet then complain about their conditions & lack of those services

    Why can a male Aborigine in Melbourne be caught drink driving
    (in white mans cloths) yet turn up to Court (in ‘black mans clothing) claiming he’s a ‘stolen generation’ & does not recognise ‘white mans’ law

    Do Aborigines want to be solely ‘Aboriginal’ in every way , or
    do they wish to assimilate into western jobs , houses , schools , or
    a bit of both and which bits

    Should Australia adopt the US solution to the indigenous Indians:
    make a treaty , give reserve blocks of land & allow the indigenous Indians their choice & responsibility to follow their hunter & traditional ways or assimilating outside of the reserves

  90. H&R said

    More cops in communities is only a part of the answer.

    How about we talk quality over quantity and opt for aboriginal cops for aboriginal communities?

    Would such a scheme be able to neutralise/ameolorate the antagonism within the relationship?

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