On this page there are the following articles about Indigenous news and issues:


Kids learning to drive

There are new laws in NSW about mandatory sentencing for some driving offences that are very likely to disadvantage young Aboriginal people especially those living in rural areas. The effect of the new laws on this section of the community wasn’t considered, but it will be result in many more Aboriginal people going to gaol. In the past year there have been 1,000 Aboriginal people sent to gaol in NSW for minor driving offences. Spending time in gaol has a very negative impact on a young person’s life.

  • The first problem is that many of the young people cannot read so can’t pass the test that gives them a learners permit.
  • Secondly, if fined, they can’t pay the fine
  • thirdly, applications for permits, and the place to pay fines is very often a Police Station and few Aboriginal people want to enter that building.

In Condobolin, a far west rural centre in NSW, an Aboriginal support worker has trained 60 kids while at school, to drive. They have passed their tests and got licences.

Having a licence doesn’t always solve the problems as one young man explained. His wasn’t in the name on his birth certificate. He was sent to gaol and still can’t get a different licence. Because he isn’t allowed to drive, he can’t get employment.

Something must happen to fix the problems. Our Indigenous people must not be disadvantaged at every turn.



Australia Day

Australia Day marks the beginning of white settlement in Australia so not surprisingly many Aboriginal people call it Invasion Day. This year a proud Aboriginal man, Adam Goodes, has been named Australian of the year and his selection will please many people. Adam is a prominent sportsman and also is committed to working for equality of all Australians, whatever their background. He is particularly concerned with removing racism in our society.

It is 26th January as I write and in Sydney Australia Day has begun with the raising of the Australian and Aboriginal flags. At night major Aboriginal artists will perform on the floating stage on the harbour and the Aboriginal Yabun music festival will be watched watched by thousands.

There are many other events around the country. The Saltwater Freshwater festival is held in Taree, NSW and features dance, music, art and culture workshops. In many other regional centres Aboriginal and Torres Strait people will be honoured and be part of celebrations.


 If I was Prime Minister…

Back in August 600 Indigenous kids entered a competition to write a speech on what they would say in their first speech if they were Prime Minister. Each student was given a mentor and the aim was to help them develop a wide range of skills and to encourage them to stay at school and follow their dreams.

The top ten students had a two day workshop with mentors. They then wrote their speeches, practised them and recorded within two hours. The public then voted on the speeches and the top three students were flown to Canberra during the elections in September. Each of these students was remarkable and a wonderful role model and inspiration to all indigenous people.

Danae Haynes was voted first for her speech explaining why stereotyping people is not a good idea. She realized that she too sometimes stereotyped people. However, she feels that she could lead a change so that everyone can be proud of who they are.

Jayden Gerrand gave a speech for the young, the ones who dream, for the everyday heroes, for fathers, mothers and for the ones who are afraid to dream or to stand up for what is right.  

Shannon Hart-Cole’s speech was about freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of choice and freedom to live how you like. He has written a song about peace in mind as well. He believes in equality for all and we should be proud of our differences. If he was Prime Minister, he would build hospitals so every person could have good health care and improve education, with opportunities for all.


Banatjarl Women’s Garden

South of Katherine in the Northern Territory near the King River, the women have established a garden of important plants for bush tucker, medicines, fibre and dye. As well as maintaining the gardens with weeding, harvesting and replanting, and searching for new plants, they teach children about the uses and values of each plant. There are almost 80 fruit trees in the garden and now that it is growing season women and children will be out moving wild plants into the garden where they can be well cared for. The garden is a priority for the community. A great example of how children can be encouraged to become interested in healthy foods as well as healthy activities. 


Australian Children’s Laureate Boori Monty Prior

Boori Monty Pryor and Alison Lester are joint Laureates for 2012/ 2013. During Book week in August, they worked together in Alice Springs. As Laureates they encourage Children to read and write as these are powerful ways to express ideas and to tell their own stories. Boori has written several books and in 2011 his picture book, Shake a Leg, illustrated by Jan Ormerod, won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Children’s Literature. Boori is well known as a storyteller. This year in Book Week he also visited Blacktown Arts Centre

His special project is to travel around Australia visiting schools and libraries to encourage teachers, parents, helpers  and of course kids to read and especially to write their stories.

From 13 to 15th September, he’ll be at the Big Sky Festival in Western Australia.

In July/August, the stage production of his book My Girragundji was performed all around the country. Congratulations Boori on your projects.



The Theme this year was We value the vision: Yirrkala Bark Petitions 1963. It was fifty years since the bark petitions were presented to the Federal Government. This was the beginning of the fight for land rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The Yolngu people in Arnhem Land were protesting at the taking of their traditional land for mining. Although there have been other bark petitions presented to the government, these original bark petitions of 1963 are the only ones that were formally recognised by the government. They are kept in the Parliament house with a copy of the Magna Carta and the Australian Constitution.  It was another four years before the Referendum passed and changes were made to the Australian Constitution so that Aboriginal and Islander people would be recognised and have a right to vote.

Ten outstanding members of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities have been honoured at this years' awards.

Kate Malpass, a physiotherapist and champion basketballer, won the youth of the year award. Look at the website  for the other winners.  Congratulations to all.


The Wall of Hands 2013

The Wall of Hands movement  is part of the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation. Its goal is to improve literacy and numeracy in remote Aboriginal communities. Their teachers also work with refugees. The workers for the Wall of Hands concentrate on individual communities and this year the project is to help 463 kids on Groote Island. To do that $400,00 dollars must be raised. At the moment only 1 in every 5 kids in remote areas like Groote Island can read, yet the opportunity to learn to read is the right of every child. At Ali-Curung, the community that was helped last year, the literacy program took off in a great way and now the whole community is involved. Here is a link where you can read and see more and donate.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------The New Long Walk

Michael Long began a walk from Melbourne to Canberra nine years ago to ask the Prime Minister ‘where the love for his people was?’ Now he has started another long walk to support changes to the Constitution that will recognise Aboriginal people.  Along the way he hopes people of all ages will support the concept of recognition. The walk will go through all states, ending in Arnhem Land in summer. If Michael walks through your town, he’d be delighted if school students walk alongside him and learn something about our history and our country and why the Constitution is so important


Talking Up Our Strengths

This is a set of beautiful cards produced by The Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care. They can be used with Aboriginal and Torres Straits children and also with non Indigenous children. There is also a guide about why, when and how to use the cards. The cards focus on the strengths that have kept the people strong throughout the ages and that are still helping them today. They include pictures of identity, land, colour Elders, sport, music, heroes, knowledge, language and much more. This resource is an excellent one to have in schools and Early Childhood Centres. Available from


Don’t Let Thursday Island Burn

On March 26th a book written and illustrated by the Thursday Island community was launched at a special celebration. The book is the result of a campaign to make people more aware of fire danger. A number of workshops, competitions and demonstrations were held with Uncle Norm a visiting poet, and Mr David Prain, and co-ordinator Jennie Schoof. Jennie said that, ‘The best way to educate a community about an issue is to have a yarn and tell a story.’ Everyone is very proud of the book which is published by the Indigenous Literacy Foundation


The Australian Children’s Music Foundation

The website says The Australian Children’s Music Foundation is 'a not-for-profit organisation that provides music instruments and programs for disadvantaged and Indigenous children and youth in schools, remote communities and juvenile justice centres across Australia.'

Music is a fun way to learn and improves learning in every way including literacy, numeracy and creativity. The foundation was begun by Don Spencer who had inspired children to sing through his time at ABC’s Playschool and with his own musical shows. The foundation provides free weekly programs that reach over 3,000 children each week. The kids take part in song writing, singing, drumming, percussion and guitar and many take part in a national song writing competition. The program has made a big difference to school attendance in remote areas. May it keep going and growing.


Kids to coast

This is a program that has seen 10 kids from Mutujulu school near Ullaru Central Australia, go to Bondi Beach in Sydney for a two day visit. The children were chosen on their attendance, behaviour and their school performances. Once there, they were each paired with a Nipper from the Bondi Surf Club. It was the first time the Uluru kids had seen the ocean and it is hoped that a future trip will see their new friends from Sydney going to Uluru to experience life in the Red Centre.


Friends of Myall Creek  hope to get funding to build a reconciliation centre near the memorial plaques at Myall Creek near Bingara NSW. A massacre of 28 women, children and old men occurred there in 1838 and this was the only time that white people were punished for killing Aboriginal people. Many Aboriginals were massacred as the result of white settlement in an undeclared war, and people today, including children, need to learn about this part of our history. This centre would commemorate massacres across Australia, acting as a memorial and would provide programs about

·        reconciliation
·        healing and health 
·        education and culture

 For more information about the proposed centre please visit this link


Redfern Now

I’ve been looking forward to this series on ABC TV of six dramas about contemporary Aboriginal families, and I was not disappointed when the first one aired on 1st November. The first episode deals with mental illness and how it affects not only Lilly and her two children, but her sister Grace and her family. Grace and family are leaving for a long planned holiday in Bali in the first scene, but the telephone rings and Grace answers it. As a result she feels compelled to set off to help Lilly and to find someone who will mind Lilly’s two children. Commitment to extended family is a very real part of Aboriginal culture but not everyone wants to help even though the children may be taken by the Welfare department. This well-acted film, set in Redfern, Sydney, is compelling viewing and leaves one thinking about the moral issues raised. I look forward to the second story next week.


Gardening Australia

Josh Byrne, the ABC western Australian gardening presenter, visited the community at Looma beside the Fitzroy River, where about 120 kids go. Josh was keen to see the school garden which is really an extension of the classroom. There kids are seeing maths and language in action. The kids have planted eight raised beds with vegetables and herbs and take a great interest in every aspect of garden care. When the vegies are picked, they are used for lunches and soups at the school canteen. The children take home ideas and information and are keen to eat healthy, fresh food. Parents report that more fresh fruit and vegetables are being eaten and gardens are being planted at home. The project has been going for three years now and should inspire more isolated schools to copy this success story.


Sapphires: The importance of mentors and role models

August has been a busy month for me at workshops, meeting students, and hearing about the Children’s Book council awards. I have met and talked to inspiring people and read stories about writers who have worked hard to realise their dreams. Our dreams are many and varied. Sometimes we feel we are completely alone and sometimes we are fortunate enough to find a mentor who will guide us forward. Having a mentor or someone who encourages us and talks positively to us makes all the difference between settling for a second best approach to life and taking the steps that will lead to fulfilment and success in our chosen fields.

In August I went to see the new Australian film Sapphires.  The Aboriginal actors have all overcome difficulties to follow their dreams.

Their personal stories show how they have overcome discrimination and through hard work and determination have made successful careers. They are now inspiring young people from all sections of our community as well as from their own culture to follow their dreams and to make their own opportunities.

Sapphires is a story of the determination of four young people to  rise above racist obstacles to become singers. Their spirit of adventure takes them to Vietnam to entertain the troops during the Vietnam War. The film is vibrant, funny, dramatic and the singing and acting is first class. Set in the 1960’s, it painted a picture of Australia in which Aboriginal people had only just gained the right to vote and where discrimination was very obvious. Once in Vietnam, they find life isn’t what they expected. They are only briefly in Saigon and then sent up country to entertain troops between periods of fighting. These country girls, little more than teenagers, are to give 27 recitals within 22 days and their safety is not assured. The personal conflicts the girls face are true to life for today’s youth, while the music and the costumes from the 60’s seem timeless. This is a must see film. Whatever your background it will give you inspiration to go forward.


Education and the rights of the child

In the Declaration of Human rights, one article says that primary education shall be compulsory and freely available to all. There is also a Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, which states that Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.

In Australia we do have free and compulsory education, but that doesn’t mean it is always available especially in remote areas of the country. Much is being done to remove discrimination and to include Aboriginal culture in our education system, (see Sharing Stories). However,

  • the government must recognize the importance of teaching children in their first languages
  • more materials must be produced in those languages
  • more Aboriginal teachers and assistants must be engaged.

Individuals and local groups can work with Aboriginal community members to improve education outcomes for Aboriginal children. What did your community do on National Aboriginal and Islander Children’s Day?


More Indigenous films

There are some wonderful films to see now. The first, Mabo, tells of the struggle by Eddie and Bonita Mabo, to overturn the concept of terra nullius in Australia and to gain Aboriginal land rights. The High Court ruling in Mabo’s favour, was made twenty years ago.

The second film is Croker Island Exodus. Croker Island, 260klms north east of Darwin is definitely remote. The film tells about the experience in 1942 of 95 children of the Stolen Generation. They were isolated on Croker Island when the Japanese bombed Darwin. With their Missionary carers, they trekked for 44 days and almost 5,000 kilometeres to a Methodist farm south of Sydney NSW. This film will be on TV later, but Mabo has already been screened. both are certainly worth watching.


Sharing Our Stories

There are eight new books out in the Sharing Our Stories series. Each story is about the Aboriginal people in a community. Some of the newest ones are about Tasmania, Bendigo and the Flinders Ranges. The beautiful illustrations are done by children from the communities. For schools, packs are available with big books and disks as well as audio readings, photos and video interviews with some Elders. Books are also available individually in soft covers for $13.50. These books are relevant to all children’s education. The project is ongoing and the involvement of each community has been an excellent way to support Aboriginal people in preserving and going forward with their culture. Titles include The Creation of Trowenna and Yulu’s Coal. Ask about them in ABC book shops and your local bookshops or look at


National Reconciliation Week 2012

The last week of May through to 3rd of June, is National Reconciliation week.  Have you planned some special activities? Here children will perform at the Keeping Place and new exhibitions of Aboriginal art will be launched. Every school will have special events also. One of the most successful community events is the bridge walk. We only have a small bridge here, but many people gather to talk, have a barbecue and to share time and conversations together. It’s an ideal time to celebrate what makes us different and to remember the things we have in common.

However, reconciliation and respect for our Aboriginal people isn’t a one week thing but should be constant. I have been reading about Indigenous Community Volunteers in communities across Australia. It is an organization that links volunteers of all ages and skills to projects in which Aboriginal people need help. Projects range from helping with sewing skills, to science, from carpentry projects, to holiday camps, from computer and media skills to gardening and many more areas of life. This is the link to find out more 


Life expectancy

 Last month I looked at closing the gap. Statistics showing improvement were not available but Armidale ANTaR (Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation) has provided some encouraging statistics on life expectancy.

Life expectancy of Aboriginal men and women has increased between the years 2000 and 2011. For men it has increased from 56.9 years to 67.2 and for women from 61.7years to 72.9. More Aboriginal babies are surviving also, with the death rate down from 21.7 in every 1000 in 2000, to 9 in every 1000 in 2011.

More than 35% of the Aboriginal population in NSW is under the age of 15 and the number of births is expected to continue rising.  The NSW Aboriginal population is the largest in Australia. There will continue to be a need for quality education and health services to close the gap and improve all aspects of Aboriginal life.


Closing the Gap Day

On 22nd March it was Closing the Gap Day and health professionals discussed the progress being made over the past year in trying to close the gap between the health of Aboriginal people and the other people in our country. There is no clear progress at this stage. Statistics may show the number of health assessments is up, but it is what happens after the assessment that is important. For example, after assessment of a child’s hearing or sight, how long will it be before action is taken to help that child? Children with poor hearing often have related problems with speech, learning, and behaviour difficulties. Poor hearing can affect school attendance and motivation to learn. Children quickly fall behind their peers if special assistance is needed but is not available.

Infant mortality has been declining over the years and child health has been improving. However, funding of many health-related services is not guaranteed. It is critical that budgeting decisions are made before current funding runs out if services are to be maintained. 


Our Children, Our Culture, Our Way

It is 25 years since the Children’s Day for Aboriginal and Islander children was established. To mark the occasion a book will be produced and applications for inclusions in the book close on March 31st. Contact the Secretariat for details at

This site has ideas for involving families in the celebration. There are also resources available that will be of interest to everyone.


Aboriginal Swimming stars

Thomson Fleming, 9, and Jorjhara Koraba, 8, are members of the Silver City swim club in Broken Hill and have just won a number of medals at a competition in Mildura. Thomson is a descendant of the Barkindji tribe, and Jorjhara, a descendant of Saibai Island and the Bidjara and Birri-Gubba tribes.  Jorjhara won four gold, two silver and one bronze medal while Thomson won six gold, one silver and two bronze. They both qualified to go to Adelaide to the championships.

In the Adelaide championships in which 600 swimmers competed in age races, Thomson was the fastest nine year old and he was in the final of the 11years and under 100 metres backstroke. It is wonderful to see young Aboriginal swimmers doing so well. Congratulations kids.


Birth weight statistics

Statistics are often interesting but rarely up to date. This is the case with birth weight statistics for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. The latest statistics available are for 2005 and that is hardly current. However, the trend for babies in this group of our population to be of low birth weight, is unlikely to have changed. Babies of low birth weight i.e. under 2,500 grams, are often of low weight because the foetus is malnourished. The number of Aboriginal and Islander babies dying in the first year of life is still almost three times that of other Australian babies, and low weight babies tend to develop chronic health risks later. Why are foetus’s malnourished and why do so many babies still die in Australia?

The main reasons are poverty, premature births and poor access to care after birth. Many Aboriginal mothers have poor nutrition both during and after pregnancy which may be through limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables.  High blood pressure, urinary infections, recurring colds and ear infections interfere with the immunity of both Mothers and babies. Alcohol is often consumed while a woman is pregnant and 90% of Aboriginal babies are also exposed to smoking in the home. Better education must be an answer.


Concern about the Gap

Early Childhood education ( E.C.E.)is undergoing big changes in Australia. As a result, the gap between the provision of services provided to children in the general community and services to those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, may widen instead of narrowing. It is not only the provision but also the quality of the services. At the moment the access of Aboriginal and Torres Strait people to early childhood services is only half of that of other groups. Most aboriginal parents access E.C.E. services if there is a specific service for Aboriginal and Torres Strait people but these services are few and far between. Funding for the development of new services or for staff training is inadequate. Most funding will go to Western Australia and the Northern Territory and it is not necessarily ongoing. This leads to uncertainty about staffing as well as provision of the service. For the existing services to be upgraded and the new staff ratios to be implemented, much must be done. Some of the necessary pathways are as follows:

  • Community consultation must be done at all stages of the development of services.
  • Services should be tailored to local needs and be culturally appropriate including language appropriate.
  • There should be an integration of services with flexibility to use successful strategies from one service in another.
  • Bridging programs for training and development of services is important.
  • Mentor based programs work well.
  • Short term training is needed in local communities with funding for casual and relief staff too.
  • The term Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children is preferred instead of Indigenous children.
  • There is a need for occupational and speech therapists 2-3 days a week in centres instead of at Health service locations.


Caring for Kids’ears

All children are likely to get ear infections particularly when they have colds, but Indigenous children are much more likely to have recurring ear infections and in fact have one of the highest rates of ear infection in the world. Without proper care infections can lead to poor hearing which impacts on learning and language development. It is vital that children have regular ear checkups as middle ear infection may not have obvious symptoms. Ears should be checked if your child, or a child you have at your centre is doing any of the following:

  •  is not respond correctly to instructions

  •  is pulling at the ear

  • seems to be in pain or is unusually cross

  • has a cold and discharge from the nose and/or ears

  • has a fever

  • is not eating or has diarrhoea or vomiting.

Parents may not be aware that the child has a problem because of time spent at your centre, so please report to them if you think there is a need for ears to be checked. It is important to teach children from an early age to blow the nose one nostril at a time.


Indigenous literacy program

Reading with children is a pleasure for most of us but even here in Australia there are children who don’t have any books. Recently I heard a bout Aboriginal teacher Debra Dank, who travels to remote Aboriginal communities from her base in Darwin in her work with the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. These places really are remote. For example Nangarra is 1000ks from Kalgoolie and about the same from Alice Springs I think.  It isn’t until the children go to school that they begin to learn English although they speak two or more Indigenous languages. Debra is excited about the work the Indigenous Literacy Foundation is doing, as she knows how important it is for children to have books. The foundation is producing books for the children in their own languages as well as translating books such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the children and their parents who attend playgroup sessions. The books are very popular and story time sees everyone sitting to look at books and then to hear the story. Last year five books were translated and hopefully more will be translated this year. The adults are now learning to read the books in their own languages and are very excited as they have never before had an opportunity to learn to read. If you work at a Child Care Centre or of your child goes to one, imagine what it would be like to have only five books there.


Education Action Plan for 2010 -2014  

The government Indigenous education plan has six main areas. These are:

  • Readiness for school
  • Engagement and connections
  • Attendance
  • Literacy and numeracy
  • Leadership, quality teaching and workforce development
  • Pathways to real post-school options.

All children, whatever their ethnicity, need to be ready physically, socially, emotionally, cognitively, language and communication ready, by the time they reach school age. If one of these areas of development is inadequate, the child will be at a disadvantage in the school environment. A special Index of child development shows that 47% of Indigenous children are below the standard required in one or more areas when they begin school. One of the key factors in helping children is attending pre-school for at least one year. At present this is a pie-in-the-sky possibility for most Indigenous kids in all states and territories simply because enough pre-schools and pre-school vacancies do not exist and fees are often too high.

Where Indigenous kids do get to pre-school, they benefit a great deal. One of the benefits is regular exposure to books. In remote areas most Indigenous adults are not literate or have poor literacy skills. Books are not amongst the families’ possessions. Next month I will write about a program that is addressing this.


Parents are important role models

People learn parenting skills from their parents. Many Indigenous people missed out on that learning because they were members of the Stolen Generation. Those children had no parent role models and no grandparents or extended family to help them or to model their own parenting on. There is no doubt that this had far reaching affects and is still affecting the present generations today.

More than 40 Aboriginal delegates attended the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues just over a month ago to report on what is happening in Australia. Many of us think that since Kevin Rudd apologised to our Indigenous people for the government policies that denied them human rights and stole away their children,  all is now okay. However, for many families the result was alcohol dependency. One solution of Indigenous people in the Northern Territory, was to move onto remote homelands where alcohol was banned and traditional culture was strengthened. People who live in the homelands are now under great government pressure to move to large towns.  In the homelands, housing development is almost nil but culture is strong. There are 46 homeland communities without full time teachers despite the request for teachers and resources. Children wherever they live, should have access to education.

It is 20 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody but in that time there has been a big increase in the number of Indigenous people imprisoned. Indigenous people make up only 2.5% of our population but 80% of juveniles in detention are Indigenous, despite alternatives being proposed by the Aboriginal Legal Services. Australia is known as The Lucky country, but this is not good enough, especially for our young people.


Alice Springs Families

We all want safe homes for our families. Indigenous people want safe homes too, wherever they live. Alice Springs, regarded as the ‘capital of remote Australia’, has a real lack of adequate and safe housing.  It has a population of 23,000 people of which 5,000 are Indigenous. It is also the service centre for 15,000 Indigenous people. Government policies, on intervention, housing, health, safety, pension quarantining, are all controversial. There are some positives that have occurred. One of these is a new safe hostel – Apmere  Mwerre Visitor Park. However, people can stay there only for two weeks. Some mothers take their children there to avoid violence in remote communities. Families are concerned about the interruption to the education of their children when homes are overcrowded and there is often violence in the community. One parent who was interviewed by a reporter from the Age said she had taken her kids there because, ‘they were frightened and distracted. We live in fear, the tension is unbearable.’

Kids going to school have access to nutritious food programs which is also a very important service. So much more must be done but consultation and dialogue with Indigenous people must be the basis for action. On June 19th Indigenous people including many from Prescribed Area communities, will meet in Darwin with parliamentarians, unions and key organisations. Let us hope that all those key people will be listening and will take more appropriate action than in the past.


National Youth Week

National Youth Week is the largest celebration of young people in Australia. Thousands of young people aged 12–25 all across Australia get involved each year. It is an opportunity for young people to:

  • share ideas
  • go to special events
  • have their voices heard
  • show their talents
  • celebrate their contribution to the community
  • compete
  • have fun

    Indigenous people can be especially proud this year of their young achievers. Benson Saulo became the first Indigenous Australian to become the Youth Representative to the United Nations. He said this is “an amazing honor and something I am proud of…I know the responsibility and expectations will be great but I also know that wonderful people like Chris, UNYA , Family and Friends will provide me with the support to achieve my goals and outcomes during my consultation tour and time at the United Nations General Assembly.” Congratulations Benson.


Close the Gap Day

Were there special Close the Gap Day activities at your Child’s school in March? Some local schools have arranged special workshops with visiting Indigenous music and art groups. Other schools will combine Close the Gap Day with Harmony Day and Grandparent’s Day on the last day of term in April.

Indigenous people lag far behind most Australians in health matters. Did you know that the death rate of Indigenous infants is still three times that of non-Indigenous infants? Education opportunities are also unavailable to many Indigenous children.

A special day can be an important part of the reconciliation process. It shouldn’t be left to government to take all the action. As individuals we can still organize something as simple as a bike ride, a walk, games, a poster competition, or thinking up three ways each of us can to help  to close the gap. Get ideas from your children.


Values that come from the heart

Recently Tania Major, a former Young Australian of the Year, was asked if she felt that the government or the people should take the lead in Reconcilliation. In her reply she said “…at the end of the day reconciliation isn’t about policies or laws; it’s about how Australians feel about each other; our attitudes towards each other, our respect for each other and a genuine belief that we should all have equal access to the many wonderful opportunities this country of ours provides.  These are essentially human qualities and values, and you can’t legislate for those – they come from the heart.

How true that sounds and as parents and educators I hope we are helping our children to respect others and to show by example what that means.



Significant sites

There has been a long battle in Tasmania to protect a Heritage area containing artefacts and remains dating back 40,000 years. The area is in the way of a $177 million bypass at Brighton and now the government has approved the road work. Protesters are organizing a peaceful confrontation to prevent construction workers and machines from proceeding.

In NSW also, an area of cultural and spiritual significance is at risk as the Roads and Traffic authority want to blast the whole of Bulahdelah Mountain, to widen a motorway. This mountain is a creation place, a place of ceremonies, a place used for teaching traditional languages and customs. It contains sacred rocks and trees and burial trees. For the Worimi people this is a hugely significant site and must be protected. They call for submissions to be made under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act in order to save the mountain. Submissions should be made to

Ms Madeline Brennan, Roma Mitchell Chambers, Level 12 Quay Central, 95 North Quay, Brisbane 4000

If these sites are destroyed, new generations of Indigenous children won't be able to experience important parts of their cultural heritage. Compromises must be found.


Winners of the One Voice competition

Sharnia and Summer are two thirteen year olds from Doomadgee, a remote community in Queensland. In their winning entry for this competition, they spoke about their plans for the future and how important they feel that education is, to our first Australians. They are motivated to help their community, but we all need to support them with words and actions and make sure communities like theirs are not forgotten. Their message was on the Generation One website. It may still be there but if not, this site always has a lot of interesting articles


Heart magazine.

The first copy of a new magazine, Heart, Celebrating Indigenous Australian Women, is out. The first copy is free online to read. Look at   I also ordered a copy so I could show it to others. It has some inspiring stories about careers, art, food, fashion, music, the Deadly Awards and more. If you are interested in our Indigenous women or if you have contact with Indigenous youth, tell them about this magazine. It is attractively produced and has articles to interest a wide group of people.


Wave Hill Strike in October

Protest spokesperson John Leemans says the community is sick of being bullied by the government and wants control of local employment, housing programs and Aboriginal Land handed back to the community:

“Prior to the Intervention we had nearly 300 CDEP workers employed in municipal services, construction and maintenance roles. When the government took over and abolished the community council and CDEP everything came to a halt. We went two years without regular rubbish collection because the truck was seized. Houses and buildings are in desperate need of repair but there’s no funding for workers or materials.”

“If you go out to Dagaragu you’ll see the evidence these cuts have had on our people. Everything we built has gone - the old CDEP office, the brick making shed, the nursery, the health clinic, the old family centre. Soon we may lose the bakery. Houses that are now under Territory Housing control are overcrowded and falling apart. The damage is just overwhelming.”

“We now we have around 40 workers left on CDEP and training programs. Many are working 35 hour weeks but under the new laws they’re working for nothing but a Centrelink payment. It’s worse than working for the dole, because half goes onto the BasicCard and can only be spent at approved stores. History is being repeated here, with our people forced to work for rations again.”

Representatives from trade unions and residents of neighbouring communities will join with the Gurindji people on October 20th.

Many Gurindji will also travel to Alice Springs to join national rallies on October 29th calling for ‘Jobs with Justice’ for Aboriginal workers and an end to the Intervention. These protests are being supported by numerous organisation including Unions NT, the CFMEU, Tangentyere Council and the National Association of Community Legal Centres. 

“The government has got to listen to the Australian people, the churches, the unions, the UN. Everybody around the world is condemning this intervention and the government can’t ignore the world. They have to demolish this law”, concluded Mr Leemans.

The protest will begin outside the store at Kalkaringi at 11am on Wednesday October 20


A delegation of Indigenous people presented a submission to the United Nations committee on the Elimination of Racial discrimination in Geneva.

The submission  in August 2010, outlined the Australian Government's failure to comply with law and human rights in relation to the Indigenous people of Australia. It informed the United Nations of the Government failure to consult the people before enforcing measures that removed rights and introduced discrimination on racial grounds. These measures have not improved the lives of the people in education, employment, housing or health. The government actions have shown disrespect for culture and has resulted in failure to protect the rights of Indigenous people. The delegation have written the following report about meeting the committee.

International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

Report written by Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM on behalf of himself and Rosalie Kunoth-Monks OAM, both of whom attended the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination - 77th Session August 2010

I want to begin by expressing my thanks to the Quaker United Nations Office whose personnel accompanied Rosalie and myself in Geneva.

I also want to thank members of the NGO team, the Australian Racial Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes and his staff, Les Malezer from FAIRA, and the representatives from the National Association of Community Legal Services, Amnesty International and the National Native Title Council, for hearing our story and helping us to put this in our report to the Committee.

I want to thank the CERD committee itself, with the rapporteur Jose Calitzay, for truly hearing our personal experience of what is happening in the Northern Territory (NT) for the first people of Australia, and then sharing that concern back to the Australian Government delegation when they appeared before the committee.

Finally I wish to thank ‘concerned Australians’ who negotiated our appearance before CERD and enabled our travel to Geneva from our communities in the NT.  

It was encouraging for us to meet people interested in our struggle for justice and peace. We were able to meet many individuals personally. They are people who will stand in solidarity against this system that has made us victims.

The trip to the UN headquarters in Geneva was very worthwhile for us because it allowed the world to hear what is truly happening to the First peoples of Australia in isolated communities in the NT, places that have not been represented well by media and government reporting. We have repeatedly tried to bring attention to our cause through the government, and other organizations. This has not been a possible doorway.

We have not received any response from the Government -  this was a good time to go to the UN. The UN was able to hear us express that the NTER and intervention are not a special measures. It shows that what the Australian Government is trying to do is target the First peoples of this country. By going to the UN, we are asking the Australian Government to take our concerns seriously.

I can now see that the UN is the vehicle for the voice of Aboriginal people to be heard.  That is before the highest council in the world. This is the same way other countries resolve issues of race, and discrimination.

The Australian Government has supported the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and must remove the NTER measures from the legislation, and start to look at a more positive ways of working with all Australians. We must be treated equally. This is justice for everyone.

We all agree that children should be looked after, that there should not be domestic violence, that there should not be violence from alcohol. These are issues that affect all Australians. We should not have been targeted as the only people that are affected by these issues. We should be finding the solutions together.

Many Australians are concerned with how the First Australians are being treated by the Australian Government. They can see that this is unjust. Ordinary Australians can see this injustice in a democratic country and know that it shouldn’t be happening. When you share with a body such as the UN – straight away they see that Australia is racist and that the Government does not govern with the spirit of peace and order.The survival for Aboriginal people relies on changes to the Constitution and  the establishment of a Treaty. The treaty needs to be borne out of the people who have a very strong connection with land, culture, spirituality and law. rather than being established by government, or a committee formed by government.  It should be established by the people that maintain tradition because  the necessary tools are already  in place.

Now that we are back in Australia, we want to establish an ongoing forum where there is a relationship between traditional peoples of central Australia,  Arnhem Land and groups like the Human Rights Commission and other interested parties to continue the conversation that has been started.

Visiting the UN has helped me to see that we are not alone in the struggle for human rights. There is a platform for all indigenous people of the world where we can go and share our concerns. Both Rosalie and myself felt great relief at being able to share our pain, on behalf of our people in Central and Northern Australia, in this forum.

I can be contacted for any further information on 0427140232, or by email at and, or at the ALPA office: Ph: 08 8944 6444. Fax: 08 8981 6410. Email:


Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM


Defending Indigenous Rights Conference

Alice Springs 6-9 July 2010.

We the people in attendance at the Defending Indigenous Rights conference held in Alice Springs from the 6-9th July 2010 stand in solidarity with Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory to condemn the NT Intervention. We call on all political parties to call for the abolition of the NT Emergency Response legislation and return rights of self determination and restore control over Traditional lands, including remote communities, homelands, and town camps.

1. Women’s Statement

To Prime Minister Julia Gillard:

We, the women, mothers, grandmothers, aunties, sisters in support of our men who are the shared caregivers of the NT wholeheartedly demand the NTER be abolished immediately.

The media has heralded your promotion to PM as a breakthrough for women. All this talk is a slap in the face for Aboriginal women whose communities are being devastated by this government’s racist intervention.

For three years the removal of our human rights has been justified with lies about protecting women from violence and feeding our children. We are living proof of the damage it has caused to us as Indigenous peoples of the NT who are trying to survive, live and practice our way of life. Shame on you!

We call on you, and Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, to abolish this law that takes away our human rights as Indigenous peoples of this country.

Minister Macklin consistently claims that women support Income Management and the Intervention. This is not the truth. Under current policies we have no choice and no change and now a big cloud is covering our struggle and journey. The Working Futures policy is about closing our homelands and communities. This is damaging and destructive to our families, our language, law, culture, everything that is important to us. This is our identity, passed down through generations, and this is what makes us the oldest unique culture in the world.

Income Management, cuts of the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP), the bi-lingual education ban in schools, compulsory five year leases over our land and housing – all these measures are taking away our control over our lives and our communities. Your legal discrimination against us has given a licence to racists to abuse us in the street, in supermarkets and to attack our kids at school.

We call for the immediate end of the NT Intervention and the resignation of Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin.

  1. Worse than Workchoices: Exploitation of Aboriginal workers must stop! Jobs with Justice now.

The Rudd government committed to halving the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in a decade. But due to a continuation of Howard era policies such as the NTER, the gap is becoming far wider. ABS data released on June 3 shows that Indigenous unemployment has drastically worsened from 13.8% in 2007 to 18.1% in 2009. The employment to population ratio of Indigenous males in remote areas decreased 6% in just one year 2008-09.

Minister Macklin has promised to deliver ‘real jobs’ for Aboriginal communities through the NT intervention. Instead, thousands of CDEP positions have been lost.

At the end of 2010, 500 ‘real jobs’ created to replace some of the lost CDEP positions in remote shire councils face the axe. The Commonwealth is refusing to release the $8.5 million per year needed by the NT government to keep the jobs. Many Aboriginal communities serviced by these shires already suffer atrocious living conditions which shame Australia – 500 more job losses will be devastating.

Worse than Workchoices

Under the new CDEP scheme designed by the federal Labor government, Aboriginal people no longer receive wages. They are being forced to work providing vital services such as rubbish collection, school bus runs, sewerage maintenance, construction and aged care in exchange for quarantined Centrelink payments.

There are cases of people working between 25-40 hrs a week for a base rate of approximately $120 cash and $110 on the Basics Card – that is $4 an hour plus rations. Centrelink is threatening to cut off payment entirely if people do not participate in CDEP. This is far worse than anything the Liberals inflicted on workers under Workchoices.

Minister Macklin has referred these shocking revelations to a departmental enquiry and to Fair Work Australia. But this is not good enough. The gross exploitation of Aboriginal workers must stop immediately. The government is planning to spend $350 million (over 4 years) to expand income management across the NT. This money is desperately needed to create real jobs in remote communities and ensure the provision of basic services.

We call on the trade unions, State Labour councils and the ACTU to endorse this statement, provide funds for its publication and help organise members to attend a national day of action in September to push these demands.

The government must act immediately to:

-Guarantee the 500 threatened Shire jobs

-End compulsory income management

-End current CDEP arrangements forcing people to work for the BasicsCard

-Turn all CDEP positions into fulltime waged jobs

-Provide massive investment in job creation and service provision in all NT communities.

  1. No to Radioactive Racism

The nuclear industry continues to have a disproportionate impact on remote and Indigenous communities in Australia and overseas. Nuclear projects leave a lasting legacy of environmental contamination and adverse social issues. The NT Intervention, NT government ‘Working Futures’ and other regressive and paternalistic policies are stripping communities of funding and resources and pushing Traditional Owners and communities to consider high impact projects like uranium mines and nuclear waste dumps in exchange for essential services which are basic human rights.

The Defending Indigenous Rights gathering calls for full government investment to provide services for all communities. The gathering supports the strong stance taken by the Electrical Trades Union in banning their members from working on nuclear projects and commends the support of the Maritime Union of Australia, Unions NT and the Australian Council of Trade Unions in solidarity with Muckaty Traditional Owners opposing the federal radioactive waste dump.

The gathering supports the upcoming Australian Nuclear Free Alliance meeting and will start work to support delegates to attend the conference.

We commit to immediate and ongoing protest actions in cities/towns and a blockade at Muckaty if the site is announced and the community calls for support.

  1. Defend Aboriginal Languages – Scrap the Bi-Lingual Education Ban

Stop the erosion of Aboriginal language rights. The government is denying Aboriginal people our identity and culture through the Bi-lingual education ban.

The Defending Indigenous Rights gathering calls on the Australian Education Union to pledge support for any teachers who refuse to follow the policy of assimilation being enforced on NT communities - the restrictions on teaching in Aboriginal languages. That all conference participants work to get signatures on the AEU petition against the Bi-lingual Education Ban and works with teachers around the country to build forums and protest actions.


A Good News Story.

Have you see the TV ad that tells us what Indigenous people want to do with their lives? It was made by a group called Generation One. I have been reading more about this group. Generation One, is a non- government organization for ALL Australians who want to ensure health, education, job-training, jobs, and an end to the disadvantage that many Indigenous people face. They want a positive outcome NOW.

So much of what one hears in the media, deals with disaster or tragedy so I am thrilled when I hear good news stories. I am particularly keen to spread positive news about Indigenous Australians.  I meet many people who don’t know any Indigenous people but have taken onboard only negative ideas. Visit the website, and read some of the success stories. Read about Craig Burnham whose life has turned around since he began training in a Land Management and Conservation Program. Read about 20 year old Tarita Collard who is an Envoronmental Data co-ordinator at Woodside Energy. Since she won the  School-Based Trainee of the Year in WA in 2006, she has gone from strength to strength and is now helping in training other employees. Read about Carol Edwards. As a young girl wanting to become a nurse, but there was nobody to support her. She dropped out of training. However now aged 32, and a mother of three, she is working full time for Oxfam as Health Promotion Officer in Australia’s Gulf Regional Health Service. She is changing lives through her work.

Gary Lang works in a completely different area. He is artistic director or the Northern territory Dance Troupe. He says when people get a chance, “it changes their whole outlook on the world. Especially with the men it really makes a difference with their personal wellbeing. They change from just existing to going from strength to strength.” There are a host of good news stories you can read on the site.  

At the moment Generation One is taking a roadshow around the country by bus. They are inspiring children and families everywhere they go. They are showing communities what Indigenous people can do, and telling local people how they can help turn around people’s lives. If you live in a town where the roadshow stops, visit the bus, watch their show, see what your community can do to help Indigenous kids have a bright future.


New poll delivers scathing verdict on Government’s handling of Indigenous policy

2 SEPTEMBER 2009, 11:13AM

A new opinion poll conducted for Amnesty International has found that 70 percent of Australians believe improving the living conditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be a high or very high priority for the Federal Government.

However, the survey also found that over half of all respondents - 58 percent - said Australian politicians do not know enough about Indigenous history and culture to develop effective policy for Indigenous people. Slightly over half of those surveyed - 52 percent - said Australian politicians had not learned from past successes and failures in Indigenous policy making.

The Nielsen survey was conducted nationally from 13-15 August with 1,400 respondents aged 18 and over.

“These are really important findings which show clearly that most Australians want to see the Federal Government take a new approach to improve the situation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country,” said Rodney Dillon, Amnesty International’s Indigenous Rights Coordinator.

“The poll shows that most people simply don’t have faith that politicians know what they’re doing when they devise policy on Indigenous matters. This reinforces our view that the only way to make effective policy in this area is through real knowledge and understanding of Indigenous culture, and real partnerships with Indigenous people themselves.”

The Amnesty International opinion poll also found that only about a third of those surveyed - 36 percent - believed the Federal Government was doing enough to close the health, housing and educational gap between Indigenous and other Australians. Access to such services is a fundamental human right.

More than half those surveyed - 57 percent - felt that the living conditions of some Indigenous people is negatively affecting Australia’s reputation overseas.

“Just last week the United Nations said once again that Australia was not living up to its international human rights obligations regarding Indigenous people,” said Rodney Dillon. “This opinion poll shows that most Australians are aware of the huge gap in living conditions between Indigenous people and others in this country and of how this is being seen overseas.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous people, Professor James Anaya, last week completed a 12-day visit to Australia. In his preliminary findings, he noted that a more holistic approach is needed to effectively address Indigenous disadvantage in this country. He also said that a real partnership is required between the Government and Indigenous people, one that ensures meaningful, direct participation of Aboriginal people in the design of programs and policies that affect their lives.

“The Amnesty International opinion poll clearly reinforces the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur and makes it clear that the Government has to use a new approach to addressing Indigenous issues in this country,” said Rodney Dillon. “People have seen though the flawed, failed way governments have operated in this regard in the past.”


More Intervention in Aboriginal communities

Last year the Federal Government rolled out an intervention program designed to provide safety for Aboriginal children, police to protect communities, housing, health and education services. It was controversial in many aspects. For example, the government took five year leases of town camps at Alice Springs in order to build houses quickly. However no houses are under construction yet and community people have been told that no housing will be built until long term leases are secured. That means up to 99 year leases! There is much dissatisfaction over this. Alice Springs has a population of 22,500 people and 3,500 of these are Aboriginal. Of these 1,000 live in the camps. Community Elders say this land is essential so that children can be taught about their culture, so that the people can support each other in traditional manner. The people have already set up a Central Australian Affordable Housing Company and want the government to work in partnership with them. In this way the people will have a say in what should be provided, their rights will be respected. One aboriginal Elder has challenged the government in these words:
"Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory was granted in perpetuity to communities. Perpetuity means 'forever'. And now you are trying to force us to give that land back in return for promises to build houses, promises that have not been kept, to add insult to injury.It's not blackmail, it's whitemail!"

The Racial Discrimination Act (1975), that ensures Human rights for all, has been suspended in relation to Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. They want this law reinstated.

The community elders say:

“We need to keep the traditional ties to our land. People are healthier and stronger living on homelands.  Eating traditional foods.   It’s the right environment to raise kids.”

Surely people everywhere have the right to teach their children about their culture on their own land and choose their own priorities? Working together is better than forcing people to assimilate into a different way of life. Here is a link to those of you who would like more information. It is vital to hear the Aboriginal point of view over something so important.


Rallies demand justice for Mr Ward -This report was on ABC's four Corners program

 Alex Bainbridge & Annolies Truman, Perth

20 June 2009

In the wake of the inquest into the shocking death in custody of Aboriginal elder Mr Ward, more than 1000 people rallied in Perth in rainy weather on June 20. Ward was roasted in a prison van on a four-hour journey on a 42ºC day.

The rally was widely supported by members of local Aboriginal communities, union leaders, Green parliamentarians, and progressive campaigners.

Teddy Biljabu, representing Ward’s family, expressed relief that so many white people were in attendance, which showed the family is not alone. He said the family would continue fighting for justice until the systematic racism that led to Ward’s death was fixed.

Associate professor Ted Wilkes said this was more than just a death in custody issue. It was a broader issue of injustice and racism. The “gap” in life expectancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians is greater in WA than the national average.

Marianne MacKay got a rousing cheer when she called for programs to help keep Aboriginal people out of jail.

Other rallies took place across the country to mark the second anniversary of the announcement of the racist intervention into Northern Territory Aboriginal communities. They also acknowledged that the attacks on Aboriginal people are not restricted to the NT.

In Sydney, Emma Murphy reports 150 people gathered in pouring rain to hear speakers including Maurie Ryan from the Central Land Council in the NT, professor Larissa Behrendt, Dootch Kennedy from the Illawarra Aboriginal Land Council, Adam Kerslake from Unions NSW, Geoff Scott from the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and journalist Jeff McMullen.

McMullen slammed the government’s “consultation process”, currently underway in NT communities. “You don’t make laws and then consult the Aboriginal people”, he said. “You talk to them first.”

Behrendt slammed the government’s ongoing justification for continuing the policy: “[Aboriginal affairs minister Jenny] Macklin should be able to come up with laws that protect women and children without being racist”, she said. “It’s not that hard.”

In Melbourne, Chris Peterson reported that 100 people attended the protest. Speakers included Aboriginal activists Gary Foley Robbie Thorpe, and Aletha Penrith from the NT.

The rally also heard music from Shiralee Hood, Indigenous hip hop artists Payback Records, Little G, Mr Morz Alter Egoz, Tjimba and the Yung Warriors.

Fifty people rallied in Brisbane, Jim McIlroy said. Murri activist and Socialist Alliance member Sam Watson addressed the crowd. He said while it was important to rally on the second anniversary of the intervention, but there were many other issues facing Aboriginal people around the country.

Watson pointed to the recent decision to re-open the coronial inquest into the death in custody of Palm Island man Mulrunji Doomadgee, and said the campaign to stop black deaths in custody must continue.

From: Australian News, Green Left Weekly issue #799 24 June 2009.


 A Christian School in the Outback

I have just read about the struggle of an Indigenous community to staff and run their Christian school in the Northern Territory on Australia. This is a story of injustice and inequality. How can this still be happening?

Before the residents of Mapuru were able to access any educational services for their children, they first had to construct a school building and find a teacher who was willing to work without pay for six months. This was and still is called the 'trial' period before becoming an acknowledged Homeland Learning Centre. In1982 Mapuru parents saved their money and built the school house, then for six months operated a school program without pay and minimal assistance. Not much later Jackie began working as the teacher at the school. While Jackie has no formal teacher training he is extremely committed to the children in his care. Since 1995 people in the community have repeatedly asked the Northern Territory Department of Education for a permanent English speaking teacher to be based at Mapuru but requests have been ignored.

Mid 2007 the community told their story to the ABC. Jackie said "the children are starving for English, they are starving for maths." Yingiya said on the same progam, " we only want what every other child in Australia has, (a school)". The Education Minister at the time Paul Henderson said, "these children are doing as well as any children they don't need a full-time teacher." Then in early 2008 they approached the Northern Territory Christian schools Association (NTCSA), their goal being to become an Independent Christian school. A detailed application was prepared and sent to the Northern Territory Department of education in July 2008. After months of delay Mapuru residents heard in October that their application has been rejected.

There are over 40 children attending the school at Mapuru. Every day every child goes to school. A co-op in the school was begun in 2003 so children could learn about real money, ordering and bookkeeping. Two years later this food co-op was awarded the National Heart Foundation award for a Small Community Initiative. This year Jackie won a NT government Innovation in Research and Technology award for his skills in using technology and teaching Mapuru residents to run the co-op, use internet technology to order and pay for goods, internet bank and use eftpos technology.

The women of Mapuru have been successfully managing and operating an ecotourism business for 6 years. (See:

Jackie, the teacher who has worked at the school for 25 years, has never been offered career development by the Northern Territory Department of education. There has never been alcohol at Mapuru, and the women claim there is no domestic violence and no child abuse.

Mapuru residents are determined to live on their homelands where they know their children will have a future, and are safe away from the dysfunction of the nearby large townships and the negative impacts of Western culture.
The community fears that homelands/outstations are going to be de-funded and people moved into larger communities or dysunities as they know them by. Mapuru community have requested that we ask Australians to hold the Mapuru community in their thoughts and send messages of hope for them to be able to achieve their aspirations.

What elsecan we do about this? Write to the Jenny Macklin, Kevin Rudd and the NT government to support their Independent Christian School application.


Providing for Indigenous children

The safety, health and education of children everywhere is of prime importance. Government is a key player to achieve this. In Australia there has been much concern over these matters for Indigenous children. A review has just begun of the government intervention action taken to stop child abuse and to bridge the gap in health and education in outback communities.

So far 11,000 children have received health checks, and some hundreds of these have received follow up treatment. The intervention was controversial as it occurred without consultation of the Elders from the communities and was carried out by the army and police. Now, some people say that conditions have improved with less alcohol being consumed and fewer assaults taking place. Others say that the measures have had unfortunate results, especially as all communities have been treated the same. Indigenous people feel they have been demonised and have lost all control of their lives. Many feel that children are no safer than before. Income quarantining has had some benefits but some disadvantages, with unfortunate economic effects on small business owners.  

During June there were both radio and TV programs about education in remote areas of Australia. Any child living in the outback, faces big challenges in gaining an education equal to that available in towns and cities. Hundreds of outback children receive their schooling via satellite, supervised by parents, usually the mother. This type of education seems to be very rare for the Indigenous population. Instead, there are small primary schools in remote communities. Attendance is often poor. When children finish primary school, non Indigenous children are sent away to boarding schools, but most Indigenous children drop out of the education system. Concerned at the low level of literacy and numeracy, the Government is now funding boarding schools, in key locations to cater for Indigenous children. Will the outcomes be good?


Mr Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia on Wednesday 13th February 2008,

 moved that:

'Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations-this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degredation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.'

The motion was carried unanimously.


Sorry - February 13th 2008

Bob Brown, Green’s Senator, said he looks back in horror at the fact that thousands of little girls and boys, many only babies, were taken from their mothers and fathers by strangers in the name of the Australian governments, ‘because they were Aboriginal; because they were black, and therefore not understood or valued by the perpetrators.’ He continues that ‘It does not matter what the reason was, personal or official. Governments not only allowed but directed this racist separation of the innocent Indigenous infants from their powerless, numberless parents in unaccountable fear and agony – an agony that would not, for all of life, let go its grip.’


Message from the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action

December 2007-12-04

FAIRA is writing to you about self-determination for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders.

We were very excited when the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to adopt the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Now the Rudd Government is committed to signing on to this Declaration. But what happens after that?

The answer lies in us taking control of our lives and futures, through the pursuit of greater autonomy and decision-making powers. The incoming government is deciding what to do about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs. The government will be inundated by thousands of experts, leaders, interest groups, opponents. If there is not a clear message the government will inevitably make its own decisions.
FAIRA proposes these four basic elements as the foundation for self-determination in Australia:

(1) OUR RIGHTS ARE GUARANTEED We must have a change to the Constitution or a treaty to entrench our rights as first peoples. Only this way can we get a proper partnership.

(2) WE HAVE A STRONG VOICE We need an improved and accountable representative structure at the national level. Let us build on the experiences of DAA, NACC, NAC, ADC and ATSIC, by keeping the good parts and changing the bad parts. We do not need another experiment.

(3) THE GOVERNMENT IS COMMITTED TO A FUTURE PLAN The government must have a future plan, developed in partnership with our community, which sets out national targets, benchmarks and accountability mechanisms.

 Economic Development' is about generating an sustainable future for our communities, our culture and families. We have the right to utilise our lands and our resources for our benefit. We also have the right to restitution for dispossession, and to share as equals in the many benefits for Australians.

 FAIRA thanks you for taking the time to read this message. We hope that you can agree and are willing to sign on to our campaign for unity and self-determination. We will be sending out more information about lobbying for positive and meaningful changes.

Please circulate this message to others and remember, in any communications to government, that we demand these prerequisites for self-determination.

 Les Malezer, Chairperson
 Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action Post Office Box
37 Balaclava Street


Changing the constitution

On 12th October the Prime Minister, John Howard has announced that if his government is re-elected, there will be a referendum to change the constitution to recognise Indigenous people. This is his way forward towards reconciliation. He still says that saying sorry for past wrongs is not appropriate. People are most surprised at the P.M's announcement as he has been most negative in all attempts at reconciliation during his ten years in office. However, it is seen by most as a beginning. Some say that saying sorry must be the first step but others say any step is welcome but once again it must be done through consultation with Indigenous groups.

Indigenous literacy day -September 2007

The first week of September is Literacy and Numeracy Week in Australia. During this week Wednesday 5th September, will be Indigenous Literacy Day.  Why is there a special day for Indigenous literacy?  Many remote Indigenous communities have almost no books at all and many people there cannot read. This means they cannot read instructions on medicine; they can’t read newspapers or magazines or recipes or safety information or even the TV guide. They are also missing out on a whole area of enjoyment. Every person has the right to learn to read. Can you imagine a world without books?

This special day grew from the Australian Reader’ Challenge in 2006 in which participants had to read at least 10 books. 14,000 people took part and raised $80,000. Tara June Winch, an Indigenous author who wrote 'Swallow the Air', said this project ‘helped make a path to the merging of two worlds, two languages, two people’.

‘The readers’ challenge is not only an act of charity; it is an act of reconciliation. It is a healing path, which you all have paved’.

‘If you’re going to be a writer you have to come from some place” and “If you’re going to be a writer you have to be a reader first’. You can read more of what Tara said at

The money raised will go to the Fred Hollows Foundation to buy books and other literacy resources for Indigenous communities. This year it is hoped that $100,000 will be raised. Learning to read helps to give people a voice and our Indigenous people need much more voice. It is not only remote communities that lack books and reading skills. All over Australia Indigenous people need to start reading or keep reading. We need more of their people to write to express their ideas, to spread an understanding of their culture, to make them a proud people who fully participate in all levels of Australian life.

Even if you don’t read this before 5th September, you will not be too late to participate. You can buy a book, organise an event at a school, a pre-school, a library, or send a donation to the Fred Hollows Foundation. Here is the address

The Indigenous Literacy Project
c/o Karen Williams
Level 1, 300 Bronte Rd
Waverley, NSW 2024.

All donations over $5 are tax deductible. If you send a stamped addressed envelope, you will receive a receipt.

Where I live, several authors and storytellers, including Indigenous storytellers, are visiting schools, and there will be a fun event at the library in the late afternoon. It should be fun for all.


Thursday, 23 August 2007
A new black leadership group says a decade under Howard has been a living nightmare

By Chris Graham

A new coalition of Aboriginal leaders from around the nation has released its first public statement since forming a fortnight ago.

Describing the past decade under the Howard government as “a nightmare” for Aboriginal people, the group attacks both the Liberal and Labor parties for creating policies which “blame the victims”.

The group includes former senior public servant Pat Turner, Olga Havnen (ACOSS and ANTaR), Naomi Mayers (CEO, Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service), Dennis Eggington (WA Aboriginal Legal Service), Sam Watson (Murri academic and activist), Bob Weatherall (FAIRA), Michael Mansell (Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre), Michael Williams , Gracelyn Smallwood (North Queensland), Nicole Watson and Larissa Behrendt (both Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, University Technology Sydney) and Bradley Foster (community leader from North Queensland).

It formed a fortnight ago in response to the federal government's 'emergency intervention' into Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory.

“A decade under John Howard has seen native title made harder to get with his 'bucket loads of extinguishment' legislation,” the statement reads.

“The elected body ATSIC was sacked; the Reconciliation Council dumped; paternalistic funding conditions imposed, such as being asked to wash hands and attend school to get Commonwealth monies.

“The Northern Territory Land Rights Act has been amended to increase access for mining and now vulnerable Aboriginal communities in the NT are invaded by troops.

“It has been a nightmare decade for Aboriginal people.“We have been reduced to beggars in our own country.”

The group accused the Howard government of selective listening when it came to hearing Indigenous people.

“Any dissenting voice is ignored by a Government that selects "yes" people to promote its own agenda, and the select few are tragically held out as the voice of Aborigines,” the statement read.

The group accused both the Coalition and the ALP of 'blaming the victims' and launched a scathing attack on the NT intervention plans, which are endorsed by both major parties.

“The Howard and Rudd response to policies that have kept families and whole communities destitute is to blame the victim.

“Those victims, long denied a real chance to make a go of it, will now have their income stolen and must go to the local store with food vouchers: those vouchers will have a list of purchasable items on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

“The balance of family incomes will never be seen by the "beneficiaries" because the bureaucracy keeps it to pay "other" costs.

“This demeaning approach will create greater dependency and strip the last form of human dignity from those subjected to a destructive policy.

“The increased police presence in community areas with "dob-in desks" is designed to humiliate, not rehabilitate. Portraying all Aborigines as paedophiles and drunks, and taking land away, undermines the remaining virtue we have: our dignity.

The group says the new coalition will seek to “represent the unrepresented Aboriginal communities” from around the nation and it promises to never align with any political party.

“We believe we bring experience and sincerity to the national political landscape.
In our quest, we will not favour any political party as we see Aboriginal issues as being above party politics. Our single aim is to improve the lot of our people. We see our culture and people as an asset, not a liability.

“If we cannot persuade governments, then we will take our case to the court of public opinion - to the Australian people, to give us a chance to create a better future.”


June 2007


Violence in remote communities

JUDY ATKINSON has been writing about violence in remote communities for two decades. Here she responds to measures announced by the prime minister last week

I WOKE up this morning with a sense of doom. What was wrong? Yes. I remember! The prime minister has announced that he is “sending in the troops.” He has declared, in effect, a National Emergency.

Is it a National Emergency? Yes, to some degree it is. It has been, for twenty years. More importantly, it is a National Shame. Why was this emergency allowed to develop to the stage that ordinary Australians are outraged. And whose shame is it? The blame game, which I do not subscribe to, but which I will move into for this specific article, rests with government. How come the average Australian did not know when government have known for many years? How do I know they have known. Because, apart from the reports I have been involved with, I have had ministers say to me: Well, we know the problems. You tell us the solutions.

I therefore must assume they knew the problems.

I have been looking for solutions since 1992.

This morning I asked myself: If I were prime minister, with all his powers, what would I have done? Firstly I would understand and respond accordingly to the fact that this is not an issue isolated to “Aboriginal Lands” in the Northern Territory.

In the short term

In the short term, I would focus on a child centred approach to building child centred, child safe communities.

A child centred approach: My first question would be to ask what child safe places are already within communities. How can I support them? Often the safe house in the community is inhabited by a grannie on welfare, who opens her door to any child in need. She is someone who, somehow, like the miracle worker with loaves and fishes, can feed many children from her welfare cheque. I would support those people who are already doing hard jobs with little or no resources.

Secondly, I would ask for Aboriginal peoples living in remote Aboriginal communities, rural towns and urban centres to put up their hands if they wanted to be involved in a long term approach to building their futures, from within a child centred–child safe infrastructure. I would then, in the short term, begin to work with select communities from each region across Australia, to help build their capacity. I would do this with an understanding that each community I worked with, supported and resourced, would be obliged to work, in turn, with others near them.

In the short to medium term I would provide educational opportunities to increase skill development which could be piggybacked from one community to another.

Third, following from my child centred approach I would immediately start to build networks of workers, already out there, on the ground, and I would build from their knowledge and expertise, resourcing them to do their jobs without the stress levels they live with, on a day-to-day basis.

I would provide educational opportunities to workers so they feel capable of working with the child, who as described on page 67 of the Northern Teritory report, saw his mother shot in the head and had to clean her brains up of the floor. I would ensure that workers have clear child trauma counselling skills by providing short courses for culturally safe crisis intervention.

These are both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal workers who have, as their fundamental work ethic, the rights of the child to live and learn in child safe, child friendly environments.

These workers would include police who are legislated to protect children from harm. Hence restricting access to alcohol and other drugs is an important part of their work responsibility. Social workers, and child protection officers who see the damage pornography does to the developing child would be encouraged to work with police to help restrict access to such material. I would charge mine workers, and mining companies for the behaviours of their employees, and others such as mechanics, school teachers, builders, who are found with such materials, on Aboriginal lands, in Aboriginal communities.

I would expect school teachers to embed in their class curriculum, modalities and activities which heal trauma.

In the medium term

In the medium term, if I were the prime minister I would build into all that I do, a community strengths based approach, grounded in advancing education at all levels. The strengths based approach would provide educational opportunities for Indigenous Australians to acquire skills so they can work with their own people, and others, for healthy early childhood development; education for life long learning, and education for healing.

Such educational packages would be both community based and tertiary delivered. They would have formal accreditation so that graduates could work in any field that helps build a society where children will always feel and be safe. This approach is an Indigenous employment strategy, and I would build that into my government’s employment and enterprise strategies.

A long term approach embedded in education and quality research

In the longer term, if I were the prime minister, I would embed in all that I do, research on the ground. Those researchers undertaking professional doctorates, with scholarships for Indigenous Australians, would work with those working on the ground, and would document the activities and processes, so that in five or ten years time, I could show the Australian nation what works, why it works, and how it would work in the towns and regions of Everywhere.

I would expect then that we would be able to work together, all of us, to build a future for all people in this country. I would then be able to say to my senior bureaucrats: you now have the practice based evidence. Support these approaches, on behalf of all Australians.

But I am not the prime minister.

And I am sorry that I am not, for if I were this prime minister, I would ask of myself: am I now willing to say sorry for my government’s inability to respond to this long term “emergency,” an emergency that has existed over the ten years that I have been prime minister of this country? Am I willing to say sorry on behalf of my ministers, who have known of this crisis for many years, for their lack of will to do their jobs? Their inaction has profoundly deepened this so-called emergency.

If I were the prime minister I would sit in deep soul searching about my lack of leadership in response to these critical needs, and I would acknowledge that in my mandate on behalf of all Australians, I have failed Aboriginal children today. And I would say… Sorry.

Judy Atkinson is director of the Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples at the Southern Cross University.

 Communities overboard

by Andrew Biven

Picture sixty Aboriginal communities in the NT floundering in the sea of national indifference for decades.  Suddenly, in a time of political crisis for the ruling party, an emergency that has been slowly emerging during those decades is grasped and radical,  ill conceived  (and some would say entirely cynical)  measures are imposed with expressions of general self righteous indignation and  opprobrium at the behaviour of those communities in flinging themselves and particularly their children, into the waters of dysfunction.

Shame and blame are two powerful weapons of the dominant culture and can only spell a further deterioration in the conditions for Aboriginal communities. I urge you to contact your local politician and in all other ways help to bring to light the ill-conceived nature of the responses Howard and Brough announced last week.

Few would question some of the desired outcomes – protection of children, greater participation, motivation and self-esteem.  However, what has been proposed is short-term, imposed, misdirected and unsupported by decades of evidence of what works and particularly, what patently doesn’t work.  To make impositions on functional as well as supposedly dysfunctional communities make even less sense.

It is, of course, difficult for anyone to speak out as it is so easy to brand them as indifferent to the plight of abused children.  It is also so easy and convenient to trample the rights of whole communities in the scramble to remedy a situation that has been known and ignored for at least the last ten years and has it origins 200 years ago.

Let’s leave aside our cynicism about why this issue suddenly needs such focus and closely examine what is being proposed to see if it can be done and if it will work.  First though, a word about situations where perceptions of child sex abuse may in fact be children exposed to sexual situations leading to assumptions that the kids are directly the targets.  This is not to minimise or deny that there are not situations of direct physical sexual abuse of children as outlined so disturbingly in the 'Little Children are Sacred Report'.  Nor is it to argue that nothing needs to be done.  However, the more common situation may be less shocking. 

The average household occupancy in this community is 17 people. Houses are small, miniscule by McMansion standards.  People mostly sleep on foam mattresses scattered around the floors with two, three or more to a mattress.  People don't like to be alone anywhere - you don't go out without a couple of family or friends - too scary.  Privacy is rare and children from their first years no doubt witness sex occurring in all its manifestations much as they do in all societies where there is communal sleeping.  Therefore, the knowledge even very young children have about sexual acts is very much greater than in our one or two person per room culture.  In those circumstances it would be understandable that some young children might play act scenes they witness from time to time.  Its also pretty lively in these homes at night  with lots of people coming and going, tvs on, card games, lots of conversations and laughing. Kids don’t get a lot of sleep sometimes.  And it is pretty exciting with half a dozen brothers, sisters, cousins in your room.  If some of those brothers, sisters, cousins happen to be at the age of sexual awakening naturally there will be lots of ‘investigation’ and that may involve very young children.  Not a good thing at all, but when you see how and why it arises you have an insight into how to begin to address it.  It’s hard to see how medical examinations will help, easy to see how improving housing will.  Certainly pornography doesn’t help yet we have been slow to do anything about it anywhere.  Parent education and support is a big one too – the collapse of communities has eroded parent’s knowledge and authority.  Dysfunction is passed from one generation to the next.  Alcohol and other drugs are in the mix and need addressing – see below.

So what are the proposals for this emergency of the last decades?  Will they work? And if not these proposals, what?

1.Compulsory health checks for all aboriginal children under 16.  Doctors and health clinics currently struggle to cope with the burden of chronic disease and primary health care needs.  There are severe shortages of all medical staff in remote areas, just as there are in most rural towns across Australia.  To draft in the legion of extra staff to conduct these tests requires simple things like accommodation – there are no hotels, motels, no available rooms so it will require a building program or a tent city – a building program is hardly within the emergency response time proposed.  If its hard enough to attract medical staff with current incentives, the prospect of tent city is an unusual strategy to incline minds towards volunteering.  So send in the army for maximum publicity, minimum impact.

Medical examination is one tool in identifying sexual abuse, patient and sensitive inquiry a more likely successful one.  In many NT communities English is the second, sometimes third or fourth language spoken and not  well understood by most people.  Effective inquiry requires that the 'investigator' not only speaks the primary language of those being investigated, but speaks it so well and understands the cultural environment so well as to be able to interpret the nuances of oral communication.   And what do we do on discovering evidence of possible sexual abuse/activity?  Remove them from these situations? – our foster care system for indigenous children is already at the point of collapse due to lack of places.  There is no foster care in remote communities – another branch of the family steps in – but there are 17 or more in their household too!   Do we reopen Colebrook and similar institutions of the past?  Probably not a good idea.  Intervene in the family situation?  Ah counselling -  well yes Mal and John, do we have legions of culturally attuned social workers able to speak an Aboriginal language (at least one of the 13 dialects in this community) and ready to fly in to remote communities with sufficient on-the-ground knowledge to be able to understand the dynamics of the family and to know the best option for the child, motivated to stay in a tent city, and self-assured enough to feel protected from the anger of parents and relatives?

2.Linking welfare payments to school attendance – in the long run not such a bad idea but to simply impose it in a short time frame ignores the inability of the education system to cope and the reality of many children who are not attending for very understandable reasons – if you don’t get much sleep the night before because of all the people partying in your room, if you are too shamed to go to school because you don’t have adequate clothes compared to those who are at school (because you share all your clothes with everyone else your size in the house), if you’re hungry in the morning and there’s nothing in the house ‘cause all those people eat anything as soon as its bought and anyway you can’t store it if the fridge isn’t working and no-one is around to fix it.  And your parents don’t understand the importance of school – they never went either.

Who will act as the truancy officers?  The teachers – great for building trust and rapport and great for personal safety too.  The police – they are going to be both very busy and very unpopular and at the moment community police spend a lot of their time cultivating trust and cooperation as they know that force will never control a community.   Well then, let’s employ truancy officers – that would be a popular job likely to attract very suitable characters into a traumatized community wouldn’t it?   Don’t fantasize that you could get community people to do this – they would be even more at risk of reprisal than would an outsider. 

If all school-aged kids did all turn up on the same day here, there are nowhere near enough classrooms, chairs, teachers and education resources. The school would need to double in size overnight.  Right John, lets fly in a whole bunch of teachers – but where do they stay?  Tent city?  And where do they teach?  And where are they now because the education system has been trying to recruit them for the last 10 years.  Lets getting cracking with the building program, the training of teachers who want to work out here, the support for them doing what must be the most challenging teaching job in Australia.  We might get somewhere in about 5 years minimum.

Education is central to improving Aboriginal communities.  At present many community organizations struggle to find Aboriginal people with the skills and commitment to work in them.  Sadly, after 50 years of schooling, training and apprenticeshipping there are very few young local Aboriginal people working in full wage paying jobs – most are in work-for-the-dole CDEP positions and earning a ‘top up’ for extra hours worked beyond the required 20 per week. CDEP  promotes underemployment and it successfully disguises the high levels of unemployment in communities so Mal and John can quote a figure of only 13% unemployment for Indigenous Australians – those of you who have visited remote communities - do you believe that?  There are some older Aboriginal people who trained in the seventies and eighties who do have the skills and are the Health Workers, Rangers, Works Supervisors of the community.  However, they are retiring, getting sick, dying from the burdens of responsibility for their communities.  There are so few younger ones coming through to replace them.  In this community there are training positions leading to full paid work in most organizations – health, council, services, retail, industry and all struggle to get anyone local to apply, let alone complete.  Balanders (whitefellas) do most of the work. Again, the reasons are complex and require long-term solutions.  Attending, prospering in and completing schooling is the key.  Blaming is no solution and only serves to undermine any remaining self-confidence a community may have. Force simply will not work. 

3. Banning pornography – not too many arguments there, but hey, that opens up a good black market doesn’t it and with the roads open due to abolition of the permits system, there looks to be a few bucks to be made there.  And let’s not believe trafficking in pornography will be done only by Aboriginal people - there are plenty of very dodgy whitefellas in the Outback and Top End – frontierland seems to attract them. 

4.   Banning alcohol – on the surface it looks promising but our experience over the last half century of dry communities is that:-

·        People leave to drink in towns and cities, sometimes leaving children to be looked after by already overburdened extended family.  Those who leave are often young to middle-age and who should be the backbone of the community.

·        Black markets for alcohol, gunga, kava, petrol and other drugs quickly develop.

·        Alcohol remains that elusive substance to be consumed in as great a quantity and at as great a speed as possible because it is expensive, precious, illicit and it does quell the physical, emotional and spiritual hunger, if only briefly.

Rather, we need programs that encourage responsible consumption of alcohol, where there are rewards for sensible drinking and sanctions for irresponsible drinking.  We should also encourage (not impose) non-drinking as a best option (wouldn’t that be a challenge to the alcohol industry in mainstream society). This community has one of the best models I have seen – it would of course be a lot better if it had resources to back it up.  Here, you can apply for a permit to drink – up to two cartons of beer a fortnight, or 8 bottles of wine (for us balanders).  You start off on light beer and if you go OK on that you can apply for full-strength after three months.  If you bugger up – any violence, breech of other rules (such as sharing with people on a ban), neglect, missing work too much, etc., you lose your permit for three months and have to reapply – a committee of balanders and locals make the decisions.  It’s not perfect but is a realistic attempt to encourage responsible patterns of drinking.  It’s a long-term process – at the moment the role modeling around alcohol consumption is very negative – how can kids grow up with a different relationship to alcohol when all they see is binge drinking or their parents leaving them to go and drink in town.  Alcohol is not going away anytime soon so somehow and sometime Aboriginal people are going to have to learn other ways to deal with it.

5.  Taking control of Aboriginal land and abolishing the permit system – ahah, are we finally getting to the real agenda?  Many Aboriginal people believe so and the evidence for them rests with the decision to abolish the permit system.  It makes no sense to them to open communities up to a whole lot more people wandering in and out.  Trafficking in alcohol, drugs, pornography and sex suddenly becomes a whole lot easier.  It certainly makes no sense if indeed it is a “crisis” – normally, in a time of crisis, restrictions are imposed, not lifted. Look at our response to terrorism.

In their announcements Johnny and Mal talked vaguely of removing some of the rights of Traditional Owners, instituting different rent arrangements in remote communities (as distinct from outstations or homelands), moving towards individual land ownership.  We all know that relationship to land is the defining difference between Indigenous and mainstream culture.  There may be a case for changing some land arrangements in some places.  However, there is little evidence available to encourage Aboriginal people to trust Johnny on this one.  And there is ample evidence of the conservative agenda to deny the special rights and place of Aboriginal people in Australia.

One would hope that they will treat each community individually as there is such a diversity of experience and relationship in the different parts of Australia – some communities may lend themselves to conversion to individual landholdings, in others it could spell the destruction of all traditional relationships and cultural values.  Communities in Arnhem Land are very different to Noel Pearson’s home community on Cape York.  The Queensland Government of the past had a conscious and largely successful policy of eradicating language and much cultural heritage.   What may work on the Cape may not work elsewhere.  Here, language is alive, culture is practiced every day.  I am a foreigner and happy to be.

The latest calls to arms for volunteers send shivers through communities - the last thing needed are ill-informed, ill-prepared and ill-supported hordes of volunteers descending on these communities, some to peddle their own brands of concern, judgment and condescension.  You can't say this situation has not been known about for years - genuine volunteers are, or have been, here already. 

There are solutions – you have no doubt picked some of them up in the course of reading this.  There are many more suggested by others more knowledgeable than me.  Solutions require patience and co-operation, are long-term, difficult, expensive and achievable. We need a national commitment beyond the electoral cycle. 

Please note these thoughts of mine follow barely a month in residence here in an Arnhem Land community– I don’t profess to have all the answers and some of what I say may well be misinformed but I, at least, am prepared to stand corrected.  These are my views alone.  I have chosen not to identify the community I am a resident in as I do not speak on behalf of the community or any organization in it. 

If you are in a position to speak out about this situation or to inform others, please grasp it.

Andrew  Biven     Email:


Boots on the ground cannot replace faces in a community


By Jack Waterford

More than 30 years ago a task force was commissioned by the Commonwealth to tackle a national disaster among Aborigines, which, particularly in remote areas such as the Northern Territory, was robbing young Aborigines of their childhoods and scarring them for life.

It was no mean expedition. Before it was over it had visited more than 600 Aboriginal communities and country towns in all parts of rural Australia, and seen over 110,000 people, including 60,000 Aborigines, at least once. Task force teams drove about 100,000 km. Each had had a substantial medical examination. From the results of the initial examination, about a fifth were given an more intensive specialist examination by some of Australia's most skilled doctors. Nearly 2000 people received surgical operations, a good number in special army hospitals in the middle of the Australian desert, and another 6000 mostly older people were given glasses.

Around 30,000 people in the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia were involved in the month-long mass-treatment programs.

There had been no expedition on this scale before, and there has been none since. The model of its organisation, and its practical findings, were widely admired, and the model and the experience was later used overseas.

The task force approach was the National Trachoma and Eye Program, led by Professor Fred Hollows. It was focused on blinding eye disease, but neither the conditions it encountered nor the instincts of Fred Hollows limited it only to looking at eyeballs. Every person the program saw was given a general health examination, and, in particular areas visited, the program made extensive additional studies of particular problems being encountered, including the incidence of sexually transmitted disease, respiratory disease, skin infections and infestations, middle ear conditions, and diabetes.

The program was the genius of Gordon Briscoe, now Australia's most senior Aboriginal historian, who had earlier played a key role both in establishing the Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service and in recruiting the wild and irascible Fred Hollows to be its foundation medical director. Its establishment was also funded by a challenge that a bright doctor-come-politician, Peter Baume, threw at the various Australian medical specialist colleges – that, if they really were about the public interest rather than their self-interest, they ought to prove it by getting involved in improving Aboriginal health.

The College of Ophthalmologists took up the challenge, and not only with a tight salaried task force, but with the additional and unpaid assistance of hundreds of ophthalmologists who volunteered. Many of these are still involved in providing ongoing services to Aboriginal communities.

The program cost the Commonwealth about $4 million in 1979 dollars. At various stages, when, for one reason or another funding was in the balance, government was given to understand that, if needs be, the program could carry on by bulk-billing the Commonwealth a GP fee for each examination, and a specialist fee for each specialist examination, as well as surgical fees for all procedures. Had we operated on that basis, the cost to the Commonwealth would have been at least $8 million.

My wife and I worked several years with the program. I first became involved, as a reporter, during funding negotiations in 1975, and, once the program began operating spent a month reporting (and pitching in) with task force teams the next year, inter alia recording Fred Hollows' memorable phrase that "if the health services around here were organised for animals rather than Aborigines, the RSPCA would prosecute'".

I was so bowled away by the disaster of Aboriginal health that I obtained a two-year leave of absence from the Canberra Times and went to work with an Aboriginal medical service in Central Australia, helping to set up new services. Then I went to work directly for Fred as an organiser, dogsbody and report writer. My wife, Susan, whom I met on the program, organised surgery programs in the wake of the main teams' progress, and mass treatment programs.

Trachoma is still around, but neither with the intensity and severity of old: in 1976 virtually every Aboriginal child in three quarters of geographical Australia had the infectious, conjunctivitis, stage of the disease, and about one in four old people (people aged 60 or more) were blind from trachoma, corneal eye disease or cataract. There is still too much Aboriginal blindness, but the likelihood of old-aged blindness among the middle-aged remote Aborigines of today (who were kids or young adults then) will be but a fraction of what it once was.

As now, the root of trachoma, and almost all the other illness we saw, was living conditions. Poor and over-crowded housing, if it could be called housing at all, inadequate water supplies, an inability to separate garbage and sewerage from the living environment, and poor diet. Inadequate or non-existent medical services made virtually every Aboriginal the host of what Dr Peter Moodie called "a wardful of diseases in each body''. Treatment helped, but exposure did not create resistance, and those 'cured' were quickly sick again.

There were times when, in describing what we saw, we used phrases such as 'national disaster' and compared the national mobilisation to help the 1974 Darwin cyclone victims with the resources going into Aboriginal affairs. We made use of the army too, and had high praise for its style of operation. But the army's help, and what was needed, had very little in common with the impatient 'boots on the ground' approach and coercive methods which seem to be favoured by Mal Brough, the former soldier turned instant expert on Aboriginal affairs. Indeed it was as much the failure of Brough-style authoritarianism as the lack of investment which had created the mess with which we were dealing.

What made us different? We consulted, liaised, talked, reported back, and, so far as we could, we delivered too. Even in 1976 we found Aborigines weary of "yet another survey" and "yet another lot coming through, making promises, never to be seen again".

The program employed Aboriginal liaison officers who went into communities, long before the teams arrived, to explain what we were doing and why, and to negotiate assistance. Local liaison officers were appointed to help organise the actual visits. We did not wait for people to come to clinics, but went out and looked for them in the camps. In one community, which had been the subject of regular visits by an eye doctor, (of his own initiative, free, but based on people presented by a clinic sister) the doctor told us that, because of his regular visits, there were no blind people here. We saw 30, from the camps, in one afternoon.

Some of the meetings we initiated metamorphisised into standing groups, not least the Pitjantjatjarra Council, which was first convened, from Pitjantjatjarra groups in South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, in response to our request to discuss what people could do about our findings.

We worked hard, in short, to make the people partners in our program, and to give individuals, families and groups a strong sense of ownership. Most of the time, of course, we were heavily self-critical, thinking that we could have, or should have, done it better, but that we were doing it better than it had been done before we were always pretty confident.

I wish I could be as confident about the task forces starting out – first with cops, then with army officers, then some doctors not yet consulted or organised, with alienated state infrastructure and no sense of engagement with the service providers on the ground, let alone the objects of the attention. Complete with abuse by the minister of the people whose cooperation he needs, and the general implication that anyone who stands in his way, or doubts his good intentions, is an apologist for child molesters.


Curriculum review

The Federal Minister for education, Christopher Pine, has appointed people to oversee a review of the national education curriculum, stating that he wants more emphasis on Western civilization. He thinks there is too much focus on Aboriginal culture and history. The NSW Education Department says that Aboriginal history and culture are essentials in any national curriculum. The Department of Education, the Association of Independent Schools and the Catholic Education Commission have written highly critical submissions to the review board. It took many years to get Aboriginal content into the curriculum and cutting it will not only be a blow to Aboriginal people, but make the education of all Australians poorer .



ANZAC Day is just over and it marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War 1. Many people don’t realize that thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people served in the armed forces in both World Wars and there were at least 33 Aboriginal soldiers at Gallipoli.

Earlier this year a play, Black Diggers by Tom Wright,  telling the stories of 100 Aboriginal men who fought in World War 1, was performed at the Sydney Opera House. Nine Aboriginal actors took the parts of those soldiers. An exhibition of photos of some of the Aboriginal war heroes was on show at the Opera House at the same time. Although Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander soldiers were treated as equals while serving in the forces, it was a different story when they returned home. Many RSL groups refused them entry into the clubs and some returned home to find their land had been given away as soldier settler blocks to white returned soldiers. Although significant efforts have been made at reconciliation between black and white people in the last decade, there is still more to be done. This is a good time to let school students know that Aboriginal Australians have served in all the wars in which Australians have been involved and are a part of the ANZAC story.


National Sorry Day

As I write this, it is 26th May and National Sorry Day. This day is observed each year in Australia to bring together both Indigenous and non indigenous Australians to help reconciliation for the harm done by the Stolen Children policy. The federal government in previous times forcefully removed mixed race children from their families and put them in institutions or had them adopted out to non Indigenous people.

Many schools have special ceremonies to mark Sorry Day. The Aboriginal flag will be flying in many communities and there will be reconciliation walks, barbecues, concerts and signings in Sorry Books and displays of coloured hands.

However, there will also be many protest meetings because children are still being removed from their families by welfare groups. Groups such as Grandmothers Against Removals and the Indigenous Social Justice Association are forming a national network to call for a national people’s movement ‘to build the grass-roots pressure to stop the ongoing Stolen Generations and fight the systemic disadvantage facing our people. We demand resources to lift our communities out of poverty - the real “neglect” that is used to justify taking our children.’

In NSW, ten percent of Aboriginal children are in “out of home care”. Mostly these children are placed with non-indigenous families. Across the country, it is almost six percent of Aboriginal children, more than ten times the non-Indigenous rate. This is clearly unacceptable.


The Wall of Hands again

Every year I donate to the Wall of Hands organization. This organization raises funds to help improve the literacy and numeracy skills of Aboriginal and Torres Strait kids. At present only 1 in 5 Indigenous kids living in remote communities, is able to read at the minimum level. Two of the best ways to help these wonderful Australia children are by donating to the Wall of Hands and sending a book to the Share-a-Book program. You can donate on my section of the wall here The Australian Literacy and Numeracy foundation is helping one community at a time. This year they are helping kids at Indulkana and Mimili located about 400 km south of Alice Springs, but will continue to help kids in the other communities where programs have been set up. Most people reading this will have books in their homes and know how vital reading skills are. If you have a pre-loved book in excellent condition, you can donate it to Alnf and it will be sent to an early childhood group.  Go to


Sport in Remote communities

This year the government in the Northern Territory is providing special funding for remote schools so that children can learn to swim or develop other skills such as safe bike riding, gymnastics and horse riding. Funding will also be available for children to attend sporting or cultural events in larger centres. Last year more than 20,000 children in remote areas were given vouchers to benefit from a similar program.

Unfortunately these programs are limited to a few days or weeks. Preschool children cannot learn to swim in a few lessons and most remote centres have no access to safe water to continue a water safety or learn to swim program.

The same applies to other sports as it takes a trained gymnast to teach and the right equipment and resources for each sport. It must be frustrating for teachers to have such limited access to funds and facilities that benefit the children in so many ways. Perhaps some of those schools have access to virtual pools, virtual riding schools and gymnastic equipment so can keep learning. The marvels of modern technology amaze me.


Copyright 2008






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