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Intervention more like a land grab

This is a dispatch from Frank, a friend and colleague from Yuedemu Mining Company, an Aboriginal owned exploration and development operation on the edge of the Tanami Desert.

You might ask why I’m blogging about this but unless we appreciate traditional Aboriginal culture, respect their ways and give them the freedom to live as they see fit and also value the food, medicine and ecological resources they maintained over 50,000 years or more, how can we object to others ignoring basic Human Rights in West Africa, North Korea, the Gaza Strip or Iraq?

Frank is not Aboriginal but speaks fluent Walpiri after over 30 years in Yuendemu and he comments on The Intervention, a Howard Government initiative which Kevin Rudd endorses and clearly was designed as a land grab to wrest land from its traditional owners and counter to the Land Rights Act.

Read Frank’s comments …

Paul Toohey who recently got a Walkley Award (but is actually more deserving of the much coveted Wankley from Crikey.com) wrote an uplifting piece ‘A New Lease of Life’ in The Australian.

The story, complete with a picture of a corn-flakes-packet-family (a lovely Aboriginal couple holding their – if you look closely- bawling grand-child), standing in front of their house on which they had just paid a deposit. The vanguard of a utopian remote suburbia.

If Toohey’s story wasn’t enough, another dispatch made The Australian a few days later. In a self promoting article titled ‘Aborigines Must Move with the Times’, the Hon.Dr.Gary Johns touts his ‘research paper’:

“…No Job, No House: An Economically Strategic Approach to Remote Aboriginal Housing, published by the Menzies Research Centre, I argue that governments should stop building permanent housing for Aborigines in remote communities where they do not have a job in the real economy and where they are unable to, like other Australians, pay rent or service a mortgage…”

The timing of the release of Dr.Johns’ ‘paper’ is nothing short of brilliant. Just as world leaders are propping up the house of cards that is the Global Economy by bizarrely urging us to spend more and banks to lend more (the very causes of the shit we are in). Just as Australia has a ‘mortgage repayment’ crisis and increased rates of unemployment, Aborigines are urged to join the ‘real economy’ (“Come aboard our sinking ship”).

Dr.Johns is the president of that luminary organisation: The Bennelong Society.

In case you don’t know, Bennelong was a tragic historical figure whose tribe, the Eora people, virtually disappeared and whose language is no longer spoken.

Whilst writing this dispatch I came across this article by Mike Steketee

Nothing much has changed in the two and a half years since he wrote it, except that the ‘grounds for optimism’ have been further eroded by the firmly entrenched assimilationists.

A few weeks ago Mike wrote an article: ‘Principle not power for prescient servant of the people’, in which he reviews Kim Beazley Sr.‘s recently published memoirs (‘Father of the House’). KB Sr. is quoted as having written that:

“In Australia, our ways have mostly produced disaster for the Aboriginal people. I suspect that only when their right to be distinctive is accepted will policy become creative”

And here another quote:

“Above all, let us permit native children to keep their own languages, -those beautiful and expressive tongues, rich in true Australian imagery, charged with poetry and with love for all that is great, ancient and eternal in the continent. There is no need to fear that their own languages will interfere with the learning of English as the common medium of expression for all Australians.

In most areas of Australia the natives have been multilingual, probably from time immemorial. Today white Australians are among the few remaining civilized people who still think that knowledge of one language is the normal limit of linguistic achievement.”

– T.G.H Strelow,1958, ‘Dark and white Australians’, as quoted in “Critical reflections on the history of bilingual education in Central Australia” by Robert Hoogenraad (in Forty Years On – Ken Hale and Australian languages, 2001, Pacific Linguistics).

Nothing much has changed in the half century since it was written, we’ve come full circle.

So here’s something from 2008:

If you have the time, read it, Tom Calma’s voice is an island of wisdom in a sea of ignorance.

Mr Tom Calma is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and acting Race Discrimination Commissioner. Tom is the subject of many media attacks (I suspect he keeps hitting a nerve). He’s been accused of amongst other things: having a real well paid job, being erudite and having an excellent command of English and of owning a house. These are seen as disqualifying him to speak up about Indigenous matters.

The cake however is taken when he is accused of (heaven forbid) having a “human rights agenda” or of “putting too much emphasis on human rights”. It doesn’t seem to occur to the critics that that happens to be his job!

I’m (Frank’s) a geologist. Never ever have I been accused of having a “rocks agenda”.

Meanwhile an Expeditionary Force has headed to Canberra to protest the Intervention at the opening of Parliament (on the anniversary of what are turning out to be empty words- The Apology). Yuendumu has contributed troops to this Coalition of the Disempowered (download it here).

Hot off the press:
“…Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory will get a piece of fruit at breakfast every day this year thanks to an arrangement between the Red Cross and a remote food store chain…” (Outback Stores- a Government subsidised accomplice in the Intervention- that manages Yuendumu’s third store). Sounds great, n’est ce pas?

_It’s a shame that the fruit is rubbish nutritionally, compared to wild fruits which are becoming scarce because of the difficulties of maintaining traditional land management practices. (Editor’s comment)

It’s yet another patronising (albeit well intended) initiative based on all sorts of assumptions about Aboriginal dysfunction. I suppose we can look forward to some other charitable organisation to come to places like Yuendumu and change nappies.

From a Crikey article on Aboriginal Education:
“The very phrase ‘closing the gap’ suggests the science of dentistry….”

When the phrase first received wide publicity, some Yuendumu residents thought Kevin Rudd was referring to that prominent Alice Springs geographical feature: “The Gap” (or to Gap Road and The Gap Hotel) and were puzzled as to why the Government wanted to close it.

That’d be funny if it wasn’t so serious. (editor’s comment)

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