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“You can have your cabin back”

By Kyran O’Dwyer

It seems odd to try and write a piece about our First People, when I hold no qualification to do so. It is, however, entirely acceptable, bearing in mind we, with no more than a few centuries of occupation as qualification, continue to tell our First People how we expect them to live and behave.

Their tens of thousands of years of occupation of this land mass has rendered them voiceless. We not only disallow their voices to be heard, unless it’s through a ‘white’ construct, we deride and ridicule any notion that they might know what they are doing. Let alone any notion they may have any notion of what they need or want.

We have held numerous enquiries and royal commissions, usually when the atrocities against our First People are simply too obvious, too egregious, to ignore. Every single time, the recommendations of the enquiries are held up as some sort of acknowledgement that wrongs were committed, with the promise we will do better. Every single time, the recommendations languish, whilst our leaders exonerate their pathetic inaction by pointing to the enquiry being held, rather than the recommendations being ignored.

The recent Uluru statement was not the issuance of an ultimatum. It was an assertion of fact. How can we continue to prescribe remedies for our First People whilst ignoring their contribution?

We are fast approaching NAIDOC week. It’s one of those feel good times, when we pay lip service to their existence, and their right to existence, whilst ignoring the underlying problem. The elephant in the room. They will be tolerated, but not heard.

NAIDOC stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee. Its origins can be traced to the emergence of Aboriginal groups in the 1920′s which sought to increase awareness in the wider community of the status and treatment of Indigenous Australians.

NAIDOC Week is held in the first full week of July. It is a time to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture and achievements and is an opportunity to recognise the contributions that Indigenous Australians make to our country and our society.

We encourage all Australians to participate in the celebrations and activities that take place across the nation during NAIDOC Week.

Dear Uncle Tom, you can have your cabin back.

This is the ten year ‘celebration’ of the intervention. By any definition, a monumental failure. Stan Grant wrote about it, and as with most of his work, he is eloquent, impassioned and sincere.

Whilst in agreement with Mr Grant about the failure of the intervention, Chris Graham on New Matilda suggests a conflict of interest on the part of Mr Grant. Mr Grant, an employee of the ABC, fails to mention that his employer was instrumental in the formation of the intervention policy.

Ah well, that’s all water under the bridge. We have the ‘welfare card’ as our newest ‘innovation’ (to use a talcum’ism, rather than call it what it is, a reincarnation of failure), telling our First People what they need, whilst ignoring what they deserve. Another platitudinous intervention.

We have a federal grant to build lots of houses in the NT for our First People. Yeah, OK, lots of people made money and not many houses were built.

There was the story of the turnaround in the Katherine Hospital outcomes for patients when they actually talked to the patients.

There was the story of a ‘mentoring’ program in Western Sydney, where First People elders mentored youth on traditional medicines. Oddly, unfunded by any government assistance, yet very successful.

There was the story of Mr Voller, who was released from prison – where he was undeniably abused – into the custody of a program, to be mentored. Wanna guess which one was better?

There are many stories about the successes of our First People. They are the ones where we pat ourselves on the back, where we say it’s OK, one of them succeeded. There was an interesting article on the ABC posted by some bloke from the New York Times. It’s a tad brutal, pointing out that incarceration, unemployment, demeaning, belittlement, is the reality for our First People. In that scenario, suicide is a most viable option.

In my opinion, completely and utterly without qualification, the Uluru statement did not go far enough. It should not have been a reasonable request to be heard. It should have been a demand for ‘treaty’. One of the Commonwealth’s richest members (yep, Australia) is the only Commonwealth country that does not have a treaty with its First People.

It seems to me unlikely our leaders will ever grasp that. Not without numerous referendu’s and plebiscites. More platitudinous enquiries.

1922, in Eire, they resuscitated a culture. When they taught the dance, the song, the language, in primary schools. Our leaders will never get that. Perhaps our primary school teachers and principals will show these miserable bastards they are wrong. By inviting our First People to do what they do best. Be themselves. And be bloody proud of it.

“Now two rivers run their course
Separated for so long
I’m dreaming of a brighter day
When the waters will be one.”

19 comments

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  1. Owen

    Thanks Kyran, Australia needs this debate. The arrival of the original white settlers signaled the start of a land grabs, massacres, retaliatory guerrilla wars, policies that separated children from families and clans from their lands. Remote reserves were seen as a solution – ‘out of sight out of mind’. Imagine if that was your lot tomorrow. That level of violence resulted in trauma that has been transmitted down through the generations. The disproportionate number of aboriginals making up our goal population is an on-going dysfunction that can be traced back to Invasion Day. Yet MSM seems to see no causal link between the two things. Amazing. It’s one thing to sign a Treaty but how are we going to undo that trauma in the community? It’s obvious the recent Intervention was a failure so whatever advice psychiatrists and psychologists are giving govt agencies isn’t the right formula. A formal treaty is a good first step but, more important, we need to understand trauma and how to treat that.
    THAT is the real Treaty.

  2. Terry2

    ABC Foreign Correspondent Through American Eyes had a black American journalist with the New York times investigating and interacting with aboriginal and Torres Strait Australians.

    http://www.abc.net.au/foreign/content/2016/s4692630.htm

    Well worth watching as it dealt with the injustices of the past but, the present situation seemed to be showing some very positive signs particularly among the younger generation. A white Australian police officer in Kununurra was particularly inspiring although the possible misappropriation of community royalties generated from the Argyle Diamond mine is a bit troubling.

  3. David Bruce

    Regrettably the Australian Aid Programs for the Pacific Islands have not learned nor applied any remedies from past failures with our First Nation residents. We currently have a program in place to teach the natives how to weave baskets and install 21st Century plumbing! Of the $8 million or so in aid, less than $2 Million will actually be spent on training programs. The remainder will go on consulting fees, project team salaries, travel, accommodation and other essential services. The Japanese are also heavily involved in the Island nations and their results are far more impressive. In their model, they first develop a capability, usually involving the construction of a workshop, workplace or training facility. They then staff it for a number of years with Technical Advisers (TA), many of whom are volunteers. These TA’s are directly involved in building capacity to use this capability, by training, mentoring and supporting the indigenous young men and women.

    Now we are telling the locals not to engage in domestic violence, harassment, bullying and other anti-social behaviours. In the meantime, Australia’s reputation as a concentration camp operator in the region is growing! No wonder the Islanders are confused?

  4. Kaye Lee

    We not only stole their land and their children, we stole their wages. As white people inherited and built on the fruits of their parents’ labour (and land grab), Aboriginal people were used as slave labour. Some workers lived on settlements and missions and their wages were paid in rations, shelter and cash. Other workers were sent to work for employers and a portion of their wages was paid into a savings account held by the government under the Protection Acts. Much of this money went missing.

    They had no chance to determine how they used their money. No chance to save and invest. No chance for generations to accumulate property, possessions and wealth. We have ground them into the dirt from day one and we continue to do so. The welfare card is just the latest insult in a long list.

    I certainly understand that there are concerns that must be addressed but our First People must be part of the solution. We must stop doing things TO them and start doing things WITH them, stop telling them what must happen and start listening to the people, assisting them to help themselves rather than making decisions for them.

    Over and over, we make the same mistake. We show no respect and wonder why they feel despair.

  5. Michael Taylor

    But at least we gave them a number of things back, Kaye. We gave them a lack of identity. We gave them missionaries to let them worship our God. We gave them booze. We gave them lots of unhealthy things to eat. We gave them reservations to live (and hopefully die out) in. We gave them diseases.

  6. diannaart

    We gave them reservations to live (and hopefully die out) in.

    …and when ‘they’ failed to die, ‘they’ were told living on the land was a “lifestyle choice”. Another foot in mouth moment for Abbott.

    Does AIMN have any First Nation followers?

  7. stephentardrew

    Thanks Karyn great article with which I totally agree. Such an unavoidable tragedy. The cruelty of this country is, to me, intolerable.

    We have a body of information that proves this is a stolen nation of vast wealth and resources yet we cannot treat our brothers and sisters with justice and dignity.

    Every year new band aids, new reports, new papers written and for what? To give the appearance of action while continuing to prevaricate feeding the coffers of politicians, the wealthy, corporations and elites.

    What a despicable racist disgrace.

    A country of shame.

  8. wam

    Arguably there was not an Australia but hundreds of countries each with its own cultures of land and language.
    We could even afford the, a name much less an identity that reflects an individual’s culture. Why ATSI is worth thinking about?
    How white Australia can see and treat Aborigines as one but see and treat themselves as individuals except where it is advantageous to treat some groups as one..
    We are so ashamed of our history that we declare we are not responsible for the errors of our fathers.

  9. roma guerin

    I would like to see a big discussion on our First Peoples on AIMN. I came to this too late tonight and I will be hoping for more tomorrow.

  10. Michael Taylor

    Hi roma, is there anything in particular that you have an interest in? I have written many artickes on our First People for a site that pre-dates The AIMN, and I would be more than happy to publish them here.

  11. Joseph Carli

    The treatment of Albert Namatjira is enough to turn your stomach…; http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/6750097?selectedversion=NBD1641499 ..I don’t know if you can borrow it online, but it is a conservative but very, very insightful expose on his treatment by both the art world and the authorities…surprisingly, one of the people who was very supportive of him was the Quiz-show host ; Jack Davies…

  12. havanaliedown

    “The time has come
    To say fair’s fair
    To pay the rent
    To pay our share
    The time has come
    A fact’s a fact
    It belongs to them
    Let’s give it back”

    Beds Are Burning – Midnight Oil

    Let’s give it back? You first, Peter

  13. Freethinker

    Michael. IMO it will be great for you to publish the articles not only for the benefit of us “the regulars” but to all those thousands of visitors to the site.
    Unfortunately, and not only in Australia, in the school never is tell the truth about the history and present life of the land native people.

  14. Freethinker

    havanaliedown, you have the ability to use your “right of freedom of speech” to come with offending, low and unacceptable posts the only can be classify as a spam.

  15. Michael Taylor

    Havana, it appears you don’t like Aborigines. You have that right, of course, but sometimes it would be prudent to keep that to yourself.

  16. Joseph Carli

    Havanameltdown…But can’t you see?…we ARE “giving it back” at least , trying to..Many of us on the left realised back in the days of even the Ranger Uranium Mine that the best people to care for the land was the original, indigenous owners..Gough started the ball rolling and it really has not stopped…Oh it’s hit some speed-humps on the way, but it keeps progressing..Even here at our place , we have reseeded thousands of trees and shrubs to restore the land and the environs…many millions over the nation are doing the same..why just last week we discovered the existence of Pygmy Possums in our trees by the house..it is just the likes of YOU that stand in the way of the rejuvenation of the whole planet one day..just the likes of YOU helping to bring destruction on the planet and it’s peoples and flora and fauna…It is the likes of YOU who are standing in the way of the future of our children and their children..YOU ARE OF THE GUILTY PARTY….YOU can be judged by your cynicism and STAND CONDEMNED!…and all that is left is for YOU to be sentenced to a special Gulag (that I have already designed) and the land, the environment and the peoples will be on the road to restoration…
    OR..; seeing as YOU are part of the problem..perhaps you could do the planet a favour, get out of the way and “remove” yourself?

  17. Michael Taylor

    Thank you, Freethinker. I certainly will.

  18. roma guerin

    Michael Taylor. Thank you, I would appreciate reading more. Henry Reynolds book lives on my desk because it was the first time I became fully aware and I never, never want to forget. I have lead a life of white privilege and it is just not right. If we cannot give our First Peoples a decent education and good health, how are we going to help the people in the concentration camps we set up. Two sides of the same coin it seems to me.

  19. Kyran

    The first Aborigine I met was in fifth grade. 1969, Richmond. The school was full of ‘wogs’, mainly Italian and Greek. Gavin, the Aborigine, had dark skin. For that, he was branded a ‘black wog’, as the ‘real wogs’ had olive skin. It always amused me that I was branded a ‘white wog’, because of my accent.
    Some decades later, my then partner’s grandmother took me on a walking tour of Wagga Wagga. She pointed to what I thought was a chimney stack, a stand-alone brick construction, with a wide hearth, situated in a back yard.
    She advised ‘that was where the ‘help’ was housed’. The ‘help’ being Aborigines, removed from their community, to cook, sew, clean (and whatever else) for their masters. She recalled that that particular chimney stack had been in a ‘ministers’ back yard. I can’t recall the ministry. I think it was Methodist, but I can’t be sure. Her dissertation appeared devoid of emotion, devoid of empathy. Cold, factual recitation.
    How wrong I was. After much more conversation, it became apparent she was well aware of the past. Not ashamed of it. It was a disgrace, enacted in her name, without her permission.
    Her cognizance was neither devoid of emotion or empathy. It was a thin veil over her anger, that such disgrace was enacted in her name, without her permission. Most egregious, without her knowledge.
    In this day and age, whilst we can decry what is being done in our name and without our permission, we cannot plead ignorance.
    With great respect, Mr Owen, Terry2, and Mr Bruce, this is not a debate we need to have. This is a reality we must accept.
    “Over and over, we make the same mistake. We show no respect and wonder why they feel despair.”
    Indeed, Ms Lee. I’ll get back to that.
    From yesterday’s news;

    “More than three quarters of court cases where local communities are against big alcohol stores being built are being thrown out because judges do not have to consider the health impacts of planning decisions.”

    “Currently, researchers said courts could consider competition and noise issues but not public health and family violence impacts.”

    “A spokesman for Dan Murphy’s said despite a limited number of licence applications being opposed by a small section of the community, every store once opened had been warmly welcomed by the local community.
    The spokesman also said the stores helped provide ongoing employment and career opportunities for local residents.
    Australian Liquor Stores Association CEO Terry Mott said there was no credible evidence linking the number of liquor outlets to increases in alcohol harms.”

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-30/communities-losing-ground-in-war-against-liquor-giants-experts/8665026?section=health

    The article is about the availability of grog and its impact on community. As it is written largely about suburban developments, we need not concern ourselves. It’s just business. If these developments occurred in outback communities, we would address it by way of welfare restriction on the purchasers, whilst extolling the virtues of the store owners, who contribute ‘jobs and growth’.
    It is simply a matter of fact and record that Dan Murphy’s is part of Woolworths, the largest alcohol and gambling company in Australia.
    When the rules are not only wrong, but dangerous, don’t we have a responsibility to effect change? Even worse, when we can’t live by our own rules, how can we impose greater sanctions on those who have no say in constructing the rules?
    Going back to Ms Lee’s point, which cut to the substance of the post.
    “We show no respect and wonder why they feel despair.”
    In SA, as part of NAIDOC week;

    “It’s a dream he believes is achievable if enough people listen to the message behind the Our Languages Matter theme of NAIDOC Week this year.”

    “Co-manager of the team, Karina Lester, said there were now fewer than 20 Indigenous languages that exist in some form today with about 4,000 Indigenous language speakers in South Australia.”

    “”I started understanding more of who we actually are and what our country and our culture actually means to Aboriginal people by learning language it’s a massive identity purpose for Aboriginal people,” he said.”

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-01/naidoc-week:-saving-sas-indigenous-languages-with-youtube/8669078?WT.ac=statenews_sa

    Our leaders, our legislators, will likely take years to understand the facts, let alone the decades it will require them to legislate. Here’s the thing. If we want to do something, we need to do it now and we need to do it local.

    http://www.abc.net.au/indigenous/map/

    If primary school principals and teachers invite our First People, their dance, their song, their language, into the schools, the change will be far more rapid than waiting for these vacuous gits we patronizingly call leaders.
    From little things, big things grow.
    Thank you commenters. Thank you, again, AIMN for the opportunity. Take care

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