Aboriginal Australia

Posted on January 28, 2012


First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak out because I was Protestant.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) about the silence of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group.

I have remained silent, but I should not be silent, because I am educated.

I watched the events of Australia Day and the Tent Embassy, then the reaction on Twitter and in the media from a distance. It was too emotive, too reactive to get involved. It is very sad.

As a child, my father told me stories about teaching Aboriginal children at Beswick Creek near Katherine in the Northern Territory. He has bark paintings of fish and other animals, done in blue school chalk. He taught the actor David Gulpilil and other children. He taught me compassion and understanding towards Aboriginal people.

At 18 I travelled around Australia, and worked in ABC Shops in Sydney and Darwin. I lived with rangers in Kakadu and met Bill Neidjie. When he was sick we collected green ants to boil up, they tasted like spearmint. I learned about the land that is Australia.

I studied journalism at Bathurst, where many prominent people in the media studied. I don’t remember any journalism students in my Aboriginal studies classes, anthropology and sociology weren’t popular like politics and economics. I read a lot and wrote essays about complex issues. In 1993 I researched the coverage of the Mabo case in the media and did a presentation about it. I did an internship at The Australian in Parliament House, Canberra because at the time Jamie Walker was doing the most thorough coverage of Mabo in the media. I remember some of my friends going for cadetships at ABC radio and when they were asked a basic question about the Mabo case, they didn’t know the answer. They now have highly influential positions in the media.

I went to Alice Springs and was a journalist at Imparja TV. I worked with a lot of Aboriginal people, it was like a family. I interviewed people and created stories from Alice Springs to Elcho Island in Arnhem Land. Charlie Perkins joked that he’d gone from a feather duster to a rooster. Tracker Tilmouth was the head of the Central Land Council and was always a laugh to interview. I met Yami Lester who was blinded by British Atomic testing. I met the guys from Yothu Yindi.

Australian rules football was popular. I had great fun dancing at the Katherine Pub, which goes all night and there’s a very funny guy there called ‘Big Eyes.’

I met amazing elderly artists from the western desert, their skin so worn you could tell they’d lived their lives in the desert heat. I developed a great love and respect for many people. I filmed Emily Kame Kngwarreye painting before she passed away, and all the Utopia women stayed at my house and sat in the back garden doing batik by the fire. Barbara Weir dropped into my house when she was in town. Eunice Napangadi told me stories about how to “sing.” I met many highly evolved spiritual people. I studied the Arrente language at the Institute for Aboriginal Development.

We covered the stolen generation. Imagine being taken away from your mother as a child. Imagine having your child taken away from you. The most traumatic experience in life is the death of a child, I’d say losing your child from your care would come a close second.

Underneath anger is often sadness. Aboriginal people have been and are still angry, they’ve faced great trauma. That is why the apology was so important, people need to be heard before they can grieve and heal.

I taught in a juvenile detention centre for boys where there was a huge over-representation of Aboriginal boys and they told me that they went there deliberately, it’s the modern day equivalent of initiation. Isn’t that sad. At a women’s rehab there were so many Aboriginal women with horrific stories of abuse, I can’t begin to tell you. Incredible trauma, broken people, yet still alive, amazing. One woman collected shells from the beach and gave them as gifts.

The events of Australia Day are symbolic of where we are at. Let Aboriginal people decide what they want to do with their Tent Embassy. For goodness sake, they’ve been told what to do for 224 years, give them a bit of power. Dole bludgers? Please. Their land was taken by force, their people killed or stolen from them, show a bit of intelligence and respect.

Aboriginal people have been disenfranchised, some in La Perouse have told me their stories. If you’ve been brought up by parents addicted to drugs, you’re not likely to have been socialised well, so physical and verbal abuse is a consequence. They were angry on Australia Day and they expressed it in the way they knew how.

These people just want to be heard. Tell me, who should have more rights to land in Australia – Gina Rinehart, Andrew Forrest or Aboriginal people?

The wound needs to be opened and the pus cleansed before the wound can heal.

Paul Keating was on the right track, I wish for their sake that he’d stayed in power and been able to finish what he started. In Alice Springs I helped an elderly Aboriginal woman write a letter to him which was like a love letter, she was so full of love and gratitude for what he had done for Aboriginal people. I was in Alice Springs in 1994-5 when there was a lot of positive development going on, sadly that seems to have gone downhill since ‘The Intervention,’ which had the word disempowerment written all over it.

Aboriginal people need to be empowered like anyone to overcome trauma. First they need to to tell their stories, be heard, listened to and validated.

If you want to read more, read ‘Trauma trails, recreating song lines: the transgenerational effects of trauma in indigenous Australia’ by Judy Atkinson. http://bit.ly/cqp6V9

These are good videos about the ‘Stronger Futures’ legislation. Aboriginal people from Arnhem Land discuss important issues- education, addiction, nutrition, money, social security, mental health, imprisonment, spirituality, law and connection to land: http://www.nitv.org.au/fx-program.cfm?pid=6312D945-DFD1-0FE9-5A358ABD4B521506&pgid=25F46EDC-9848-30B1-E526694CD47F486B

La Pa

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