Monday, 23 July 2012


Australia is generally seen by foreigners as a pretty good place to live, although some think we, its inhabitants, are a bit brash and far too smug - but, then again, on the whole, we have a fair bit to be smug about.

Except in one area, that is - and it's a big one. Less an area than a stain, really: it is the situation of our contemporary indigenous population.  As I've mentioned before, looking at the statistics relating to Australian indigenous health and life expectancy, it would be easy to assume we are all uncaring racists, but things are much more complex than that - few people, in my experience, feel anything but a hopeless, helpless, hand-wringing goodwill toward the original peoples of our island. Vast sums have been spent trying to make things better. The outcomes have rarely been lasting or particularly good.

It would be easy to ignore quite how appalling things remain, but there is one journalist, Nicholas Rothwell, who, writing, (perhaps surprisingly, given the recent criticisms of all things Murdoch), for The Australian, a News Limited paper, reports regularly on the subject, describing with compelling clarity the social disasters in Central Australia and the Top End that most of Australia's population never see.

His latest report tells yet another dreadful story - or perhaps provides yet another dreadful episode in the one long grim story. Once again young Aborigines are ruining themselves through petrol and deodorant sniffing. This is a continuing tragedy. Money has no effect. Good intentions have no effect. What on earth can be done?


  1. Maybe nothing can be done. Maybe there is no recovery from having been pushed aside in one's own ancestral home. Our Native Americans are in a similar place and it never seems to get better, no matter how many sympathetic documentaries are made or how many funds are set up. So sad.

    1. It can't be beyond us to sort things out. I wish I was clever enough to do it.

    2. I wrote what's below almost a week ago and then decided it wasn't worth posting, but this morning I looked at it again and thought, what the hell. May as well put it out there....

      23 July. A couple of hours ago I wrote a few [badly expressed, I see now] comments on Mister Pip. I almost put in it that what the copper mine there has done is rather like what white settlement has done to Aboriginal people, but it's not really the best comparison. White settlement here has a scale Bougainville can't match.

      It must have been 15 years ago that I decided that one small thing I could do was to set up and lay out the newsletter for Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation [ANTaR] here in Armidale. This was quite a big job and each issue's preparation came round surprisingly quickly. I didn't want to do anything else. I never went to an ANTaR meeting but met Aboriginal friends and acquaintances in other venues which I preferred.

      This went on until my health problems precluded continuing, but I was ready to give it up anyway. Why? Because in all that time, not one Aboriginal person did I meet who was involved in the editing of articles and photos.

      This is a long way of exemplifying that in retrospect it would have been better for me to have been on hand for an Aboriginal person to do the job, not do it myself. I regard the whole thing as little more than to make whites feel they're doing something.

      In the end if there's no true Aboriginal involvement, then it's a refusal to accept that Aboriginal people must be allowed to take full responsibility for things that affect them deeply, or that organisations like ANTaR are fundamentally irrelevant for most Aboriginal people.

      Paternalism doesn't work. As long as the 'Here, let me help you. Wait, let me do it for you' mentality exists, there is no progress. Treat people as helpless children with no other option, and most have little choice but to accept the role passively.

      And yet, without seeding money for genuinely dynamic projects that can change things, there is no progress either. From this distance, the Sir Humphrey Appleby model seems to prevail.

      The one thing I do know is that it is Aboriginal success and responsibility that breeds positive change further down the line.