How hard is too hard for troubled people?
How hard is too hard for troubled people?
Eighteen months before my mother was born the Aboriginals Ordinance 1911 was signed on 8th January 1912. There can be no doubt the intention of the authorities were pure. Their aim was rescue children of part-descent white parentage from aboriginal camps (by force if necessary) and raise them in the manner of their white parent because it seemed a caring thing to do. A more cynical reason it was done was though fear of being out numbered. A Royal Commission and thousands of broken homes attests the policy was wrong regardless of the reason.
This thought brings me to a visit I made to the 6 mile camp today. It is with displeasure I record my thoughts today as they are written from my privileged perspective as a white visitor to a community of people deserving their privacy. Yet it would be as if to record a white-washed version of this blog if it was ignored.
The first thing to notice as you turn into the camp is the orderliness of it. The streets are bitumen. They are wide. The house blocks are generous. The camp has several buildings for community use. There is also a covered basketball court and much more I missed. From corner of my eye and to the right I saw two dogs that seemed to have been alerted by our vehicle racing up a side street to cut us off. My reaction was to say, “cheeky dogs.” The driver and passengers were mute.
As we drove closer the dogs turned from us and joined an adult male walking under a bough shade to join some friends. I was wrong. The dogs weren’t interested in us they just wanted to be with their owner.
In less than one hundred and fifty metres from the highway the first house had at least three damaged, chocked up, cars in different stages of decay. The bonnet up, smashed windows, or all four wheels missing and a least one car blocking the road to the through traffic. This is the sort of prejudiced thing one expects to see. The barren dryness of the place is something unexpected. Red dust seemed to cover nearly every surface.
We were returning a sick child to his home. The address was signified on the property by a number spray painted in large numbers on their wheelie bin. The home was poorly maintained and painted in a weak green colour. It was surrounded by a waist high mesh fence with items hanging over almost its entire length. Dozens of other items littered the grounds right up to the door. We dropped off the child, farewelled him and dropped a teachers’ aide at another.
On another corner, behind a fence, in the yard the occupier ambled through at least ten dogs toward the gate. The number of dogs seemed excessive to this southerner. The animals were a motley lot emphasising a prejudice at work broken by our driver’s words. She said she was a good worker, as was her husband. “Those two are not afraid to work” she said.
Of course every stereotype imagined can be envisioned and to a point seems justified. The unemployment rate there is between 40% and 50%. This camp is bigger than the 12 mile camp but by all accounts it is better in nearly every way than that. The seventeen kilometre road to 12 mile is considered too dangerous for some to ever want to drive In or out. In fact there was talk that it was too dangerous for the children on the bus to travel but they do it twice a day. Those that attend that is.
How can this lifestyle be accepted? Was Tony Abbott correct to say they should all be shut down? Should the NT government do as the Western Australian government is doing, and turn off the power and water and shut down these camps? I honestly don’t know but it is not a lifestyle choice alone to live in your own neighbourhood.
Next, I return to the affects of trauma. I ask the academics among my readers to verify an understanding I hold. Viz. [The grand children of Second World War and Vietnam veterans are affected with illnesses related to the traumas their relatives suffered.] is this true? I am not in a place to verify this but if ordinary Australians are still being affected by armed conflicts that ended over 70 years ago surely the same injury is possible in the broken aboriginal families from so long ago.
Today I spoke with teachers’s aide April she left home at 16 and went to a boarding school in Alice Springs. Obviously bright enough to finish her studies she was homesick and she returned. She said she came back and worked. In fact she never stopped. At first she washed floors, worked in the kitchen and did other work until she go her job in the school. She lives in a smart house next to us.Today she is a cultural elder. She is completing her studies (almost complete) at Batchelor College In Alice Springs and Darwin. She also paints. Her paintings are in demand and she earns up to $800 for them.
She illustrates another side of remote living – it dislocates families. For any child to have the best education possible it means leaving home before the kids have any idea of their future interests.It is not the fault of their school. The numbers are too low to justify reasonable subject choice even if they could find specialist teachers.
The stolen children program was costly in so many ways, however it was also a failure in other ways – up to a point. It failed to wipe out cultural practices and language. As each year passes the number of spoken languages across the world diminishes yet many of the aboriginal languages have current usage. It is of significant ethnographical importance that these old languages remain.
I have written previously how I admire the ability of the children to speak at least three languages when they start schooling. The difficulty of course for those brought up in an oral tradition is to learn early enough the skills to survive in a world with ever demanding ability to read and write in not one, but more, languages. However this is a digression from the sobering reality facing indigenous people today.
Much of the trouble stems from the stolen generation and its repercussions. The horrible family breakups and the long years waiting not to known what has happened to the missing bits. The families which never reunited still suffer. This was government policy but it was not the only one influencing aboriginals. Governments have come and gone in quick succession. Each new one with differing views, differing policies, and differing outcomes for the people under its charge.
To return to 6 mile camp for a moment – Maureen my driver, said one of the reasons for the popularity of dogs lies in a former policy where dog owners were given bigger payments than those without. The policy no longer exists but the dogs do in aboriginal settlements. Work for the dole is another contentious issue. How can dole recipients not dislike a policy that forces them to appear to do a job that has no future, or is no more inspiring than to pick up other people’s rubbish for 5 days a fortnight?
Today people are used to “sit down money” for not working. The walk off at Wave Hill in 1966 meant the old station practice that people worked for nothing but food and not much more had to stop. It meant the government was obliged to provide sustenance money when stations had to pay proper wages and they employed fewer people. In the scheme of things 50 years is a mere moment in the lives of the indigenous. Is it any wonder some think it is easy money? A few short years ago they did much more for a whole lot less.
This is a subject bigger than my biased views so I will précis some of the things worthy of more thought: Isolation, shifting policy positions, poor education, poor job prospects, foreign language, family dislocation, blame for systemic changes, are all just symptoms that lead to other problems. Drunkenness, violence, hopelessness, depression, theft, imprisonment and suicide are all outcomes pressing in on the disadvantaged first people.
It is hundred and five years plus since the beginning of the devastating “stolen generations” policy began. I haven’t an answer. I just have more questions. My challenge to you, the reader, is to do a little to help the helpless. Aboriginals want to fully live in the society of their choice as you do. Like you they deserve to live their lives without h