Thursday, 20 June 2013

A tribute to Gurrumul and his uncle, Mr Yunupingu

On June 2, Dr M. Yunupingu, former Yothu Yindi front man and Gumatj clan member, passed away at his home community of Yirrkala, in North-East Arnhem Land.

It’s often the case that we learn more about somebody’s life only after they die. As it happened, the week Yunupingu died, I had bought a copy of a beautiful new biography of his nephew, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, known more commonly just as Gurrumul.

Reading the biography, and seeing the tributes flow for Yunupingu when he died, I became acutely more aware of the role musicians such as these, bands such as Yothu Yindi, have played in the struggle for recognition, appreciation and respect for Aboriginal people, and their languages and cultures.

There is, of course, the obvious. “Treaty”, for example, catapulted the demand for recognition to an international stage. As Robert Hillman writes in the new Gurrumul – his life and music, “All these issues had been spoken of in a politely insistent way for a long time, but the Yothu Yindi people were different – louder, ruder more exuberant than anyone who’d come before them.”

But an Aboriginal musician reaching international fame, singing songs in his own language – like uncle and nephew both – that has had an impact on Aboriginal audiences that is perhaps not obvious to not-Aboriginal, English-speaking fans. Merrkiyawuy Ganambarr, another relative and Yothu Yindi band member, says that Yothu Yindi paved the way for Gurrumul’s acceptance by an international audience as a solo performer.

In Yothu Yindi, he played the drums and then the guitar and keyboards (all of which he taught himself). He was never the front man like his uncle, but widely recognised as the musical strength of the band.

When he went solo, Ganambarr explains the impact his music (performed in a number of his native Yolngu languages, with smatterings of English) had on her, and presumably not just her: “When that first solo album of his came out, I cried. [He sings in a way] that makes them appeal to a white audience. But the expressions he uses in those songs, they’re the expressions we use in traditional songs … People don’t have to know what the words mean. All that they listen to is the voice, and the impression the voice conveys. And when Yolngu listen to it, we understand every word, and the meaning of every word. It’s so powerful.”

Indeed, there is something very powerful and poignant about the international accolades being showered on a Gumatj man, singing in Galpu, Gumatj and Djambarrpuyngu – three languages that, compared to other Australian Aboriginal languages are probably quite healthy, but are still considered critically endangered.

Hillman writes that Gurrumul’s songs don’t touch on politics much – quite unlike his uncle, for example, who when he wasn’t singing “Treaty” was advocating for bilingual education and becoming the Northern Territory’s first Aboriginal principal.

But perhaps there is something inherently political about an Aboriginal musician – from the strong, proud people who famously sent the bark petition to Canberra 50 years ago -- taking his language and culture to Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, to Paris and London. Writing of Gurrumul’s performance with Sting, in France 2010, Hillman writes: “The Gumatj language, the sacred repository of a culture and history older by far than that of France or any country in Europe, older than the entirety of Western civilisation, [was] about to be plaited with the younger, mongrel language of English.”

But mixed up with Hillman’s sublime observations of language and culture are light-hearted sketches of Gurrumul, down-to-earth, irreverent, utterly uninterested in fame.  The song he was meant to perform with Sting was Every Breath you Take, but “Gurrumul, relishing the swanky hotels booked for the tour … is having too much of a good time to commit himself to a whispery song with lyrics that deal ambiguously with love and longing.”

He did, in the end, do the duet, after a few frantic email exchanges between Paris and the far north Australian Elcho Island, where Gurrumul’s relatives translated Sting’s lyrics into first one, then another, of his languages, until they came up with something he was satisfied with.

Gurrumul grew up on Elcho Island, in the community of Galiwin’ku. While in recent years there has been much media focus on the conditions in Aboriginal communities, and particularly the experience of Aboriginal children there, there is something to be said for Aboriginal’s people’s approach to what the rest of us think of as disability. Gurrumul was born blind, but it didn’t hold him back: as a young one, he would ride his bike down Elcho’s famously steep hill, with family members lining the road yelling “go left! Right! Watch the pot holes!”

His family took it as given that his lack of sight would be made up for with other skills, and were not surprised when he taught himself a variety of instruments at a young age. As a left-hander, he famously plays the guitar upside-down, presumably because he had never seen it be played, so just took it as he found it and adapted to suit himself.

 His was a life seeped in an ancient language and tradition – which comes out in his music and continues to move audiences around the world to tears, although they don’t understand a word he is saying. “We come away from listening to Gurrumul with the word ‘beautiful’ on our lips”, Hillman writes, “but where that beauty comes from, its richness and complexity – that’s the wonder…

“The languages of Indigenous Australians, once numbering in the hundred, have roots in even more ancient languages … What listeners to Gurrumul’s voice and music hear is not simply ‘beauty’ but something that is the sound of life itself being honoured.” And surely, that honour is deserved, given the tenacity with which Gurrumul’s languages have survived, against the odds.

Gurrumul – his life and work, takes the reader on a whirlwind rock star tour of hotels and concert halls across Australia, Europe and the United states, as experienced by a blind man from a remote community, from one of the oldest living cultures on Earth. The story is often told from the point of view of his non-Yolngu band members and friends (as Gurrumul does not talk to journalists), who act as his some-time carers, some time cross-cultural guides.

At times verging on hilarity (he may be blind, but he adamantly refuses to wear white socks, leading to some last-minute panics), Hillman’s narrative is broken up with well-researched short essays on aspects of Yolngu language and culture, and stunning photography.

Poignantly, describing a time in 2010 when Gurrumul was dangerously ill, Hillman writes: “Any black Australian who becomes seriously ill in his late thirties has a very remote chance of reaching his late forties. A frightening number of black Australians – both men and women – lose their lives to renal failure, heart disease and liver disorders at about the age Gurrumul is now – almost thirty-nine – and many who are spared succumb ten or twenty years later.”

And so it was for Gurrumul’s uncle, fellow Gumatj, fellow trailblazer.  Mr Yunupingu was 56 years old, and he died of kidney failure.

In her June 5 obituary on The Drum, Tracy Hutchinson wrote: “I doubt there has been a more profoundly moving induction into the ARIA Hall of Fame than Yothu Yindi's last year.
And I doubt there is a more shameful indictment on us all that Mr Yunupingu died from a treatable illness in Australia in 2013. There are no cheap words to describe the magnitude of that.”

There are no words to describe it, and of course, Aboriginal people don't need words - they are living it. 
And the grieving for this particular man will last a long time. But thanks to his work, and also to technology, Aboriginal people from Arnhem Land and across the country can still watch him, painted up in ways that only they fully understand , singing "Treaty" to the world. Yunupingu's legacy is the voice and pride he gave to his people, and that legacy lives on in Gurrumul and others.

World Refugee Day Darwin

About 40 people gathered in Raintree Park, Darwin, to mark World Refugee Day on June 20.

Larrikiah woman June Mills opened the gathering with a rendition of Arafura Pearl, and an explanation of the Aboriginal practice of welcoming strangers to their land. Other speaker included Greens councillor Robin Knox, Tamil-Australian lawyer Kajaliny Ranjithkuma and Reverend Basil Schild.

A minute’s silence was held for the 62-year-old refugee from Afghanistan who was found dead at Darwin’s Wickham Point detention centre on June 15.

The rally was organised by the Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Alcohol. Enshrine it in Territory life! but only in pubs - not parks!

At the Australian Hotels Association award night on May 22, Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles said said  the NT's drinking culture was a "core social value", The ABC reported on May 23 that Giles said "'having a coldie' in a pub should be 'enshrined' as part of Territory life."

Alcohol indeed is a disturbingly  central part of life for many Territorians. The NT has the second-highest alcohol consumption rate in the world, and the highest rate of alcohol-related deaths in Australia.

Alcohol is a serious public health issue, and should be treated as such. International evidence consistently shows that the most effective policy approach to alcohol-related harm involves taking on the powerful liquor lobby: introducing price controls, limiting  take-away opening hours and licensing.

But the NT government has recently taken retrograde steps that will instead punish people who have alcohol addictions, effectively criminalising drinking by allowing police to ban people from drinking for three months at a time.

The new policy, announced on May 10 (and outlined in last week's Green Left) has been roundly condemned by health and Aboriginal justice experts.

So has the CLP done an about  face on how it views alcohol consumption in the NT? Is it a problem, or a fundamental human right?

The answer may lie in the different drinking patterns and places of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Because of complex historical and cultural factors, Aboriginal people in  the NT are more likely to drink outside, such as in parks or on the beach. than in hotels.

So, while a "coldie in a pub" might be an important part of NT life, according to the CLP, its tough-on-crime, clean-up-the-streets approach to alcohol means Aboriginal people will overwhelmingly be targeted by its harsh new measures.

In case there  was doubt about where the CLP stands in the debate about alcohol supply measures, the ABC reported that Giles told the awards night "the Government would do its best to support the liquor industry".

Saturday, 11 May 2013

On the perils of writing a glossary

So this year I have landed a contract doing a technical writing job, about which I was rather excited.

We are in the home stretch now, as we get ready to print, and I spent three days this week writing the glossary.

I've never really thought about glossary writers before, although I was involved in writing a dictionary once and found it definitely appealed to my OCD tendencies.

But now, after my experience this week, I would like to talk to someone who writes glossaries for a living. I want to ask: how do you stay sane? What OHS policies do you have in place? Can you still spell?

Here's how my three days went.

I was initially pretty excited about the glossary, being quite a lover of lexicography. "An excuse to read dictionary definitions", I thought happily to myself. "And get paid for it!"

I decided I needed a system. I already had the words that needed to be in the glossary. I read a few "how to write a glossary" articles. My sense of excitement increased. It dawned on me that I would need to read numerous definitions of the same word in multiple dictionaries, to make comparisons and then craft my own Plain English summary. "Wacko", I thought. "I usually do that for fun, and people think I'm crazy. Now it's my job!"

I selected the different dictionaries I would use, a variety of online  free dictionaries, dictionaries I subscribe to and the good hardcopy book variety.

And I began. And I loved it!

For the first afternoon.

By the second day, I was having trouble differentiating between nouns and adjectives.

Oh, and you know that thing you get when you've been looking at a word for so long it starts to appear kind of weird, like it must be spelt wrong?

At the end of the second day of glossary writing, Pete seemed to sense it would be good for me to get out of the house. I went to aqua aerobics. It was the most exciting thing I'd ever done. There was  the horizon! Movement! People! Wet water splashing around in a wet fashion! I laughed a lot in that aqua class, much to the concern of my fellow splashers.

Day three. I was beginning to waver. Each time I made a glossary entry, I'd first been checking to see the context in which  it was used in the document - verb or noun, for example. By day three I was getting a lot better at re-writing sections of the book using plainer English, to avoid having to make a new entry in the glossary.

I started to be  personally offended when one of the dictionaries -- the one I'd decided was my favourite -- let me down. (Yes, that's right, it was letting me down. After we'd been through so much together.)

I took a break at noon to go to a refugee rights  rally. Someone handed me a letter from a detained Tamil man, asking me if I would read it to the gathered crowd.

I looked down at the bit of paper. It had words on it. So many words. They didn't, it didn't .... I couldn't... "No", I said. "I'm sorry. I feel a bit sick. Can someone else do it? It's not even alphabetical order."

After the rally I came home to crank through another letter.  I was up to "m" when I'd gone to the rally. By "p", this is how it looked:

a discount or amount of money that is returned or given back after something has been paid for. For example, if you have to buy a uniform for work, you might get some of the money you spent back as a tax rebate
this word must die


this word can go to hell


yeah right

soccer? ole ole ole?

I remembered a book I read a while back called Reading the OED, about a man who - yes, that's right. The whole thing. How did you guess? I remembered finding it entertaining reading  about what it did to his health and sanity.

When Pete got home at six, something happened. I guess I had a slightly wild glint in my eye. Or maybe he'd been there longer than I realised and overheard my end of  the heated conversation with the Merriam-Webster. Whatever. He was clearly concerned. And that was before I looked up at him and started to giggle hysterically, while also sobbing, and gesticulating towards the dictionaries.

I decided it was knock off time.

It only took me a few hours to recover, which bodes well for next week when I crank through s-z. Or so I thought. Tonight I'm wondering if perhaps the whole experience has enhanced my OCD tendencies somewhat...

We recently moved house, and today I bought one of those things you hang in the shower to keep soap, shampoo etc in.

When I was having a shower tonight, I realised that- unless you are very careful about how you arrange said soap, shampoo etc - it hangs at an ugly angle. I spent a fair bit of time working out the best way  to make it all hang nicely (don't worry- when I realised this was going to take some time, I turned off the water so as not to waste).

When I realised what I was doing, I laughed at myself. Well, giggled, actually. Rather hysterically, crouched in the shower stall. And thought about looking up the word "balance" in the Macquarie and Collins...

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Anderson blames violence on welfare dependency

[Article written by Emma Murphy for Green Left Weekly]

The Northern Territory women’s policy minister, Alison Anderson, told a gathering at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne that “domestic violence has reached a crisis point”, the ABC reported on April 4.
It is unclear when Anderson thinks this crisis started. Certainly it is not new. The 2007 Little Children are Sacred report, which the then Coalition government used to justify the NT intervention, found “combined effects of poor health, alcohol and drug abuse, unemployment … poor education and housing, and a general loss of identity and control have contributed to violence and sexual abuse in many forms”.
Reports since the intervention have shown many social indicators — including family violence — are on the rise, as a result of the stress, confusion and disempowerment associated with the intervention.
Domestic violence is indeed a problem in Aboriginal communities — in fact there are unacceptably high levels of domestic violence across the whole Australian community. Tackling it will require policies that empower communities, and women in particular, and address the appalling social indicators we see in Aboriginal communities.
But according to the ABC, Anderson has a different analysis of the causes of violence. “Ms Anderson said the root of all evil in remote communities was welfare,” the article reported.
Anderson said that in communities near mines, nobody should be unemployed. “[Centrelink] should say to people in that area: OK, there's 2000 jobs there, nobody will be unemployed … You get out and get yourself a job, and earn yourself real money instead of being a burden on the taxpayer, just to wait for your $375 [welfare]."
Anderson is part of the Country Liberal Party government that came to power in August last year on the back of a strong bush vote. She is one of an impressive number of Aboriginal MLAs and ministers. This includes the Chief Minister, Adam Giles, who recently ousted Terry Mills to become the first Indigenous head of an Australian government.
But so far, there hasn’t been a lot for Aboriginal people to celebrate.
Anderson’s comments at the Wheeler Centre were in keeping with previous comments she has made, which must be like music to the ears of neo-conservatives around the country. She launched the Homelands Policy on February 25, which contained an unlikely combination of supporting her people’s connection to the land and demanding they open it up to private ownership.
She said: “Private ownership of housing is good because it encourages people to take out mortgages … Once you start to think about it, having a mortgage means you can build a better house for yourself and your children. It means you have to get up in the morning and have a shower and go to work to earn the money to pay the mortgage.”
As Jon Altman has written on news website Crikey, Indigenous people are overwhelmingly resistant to the idea of private home ownership.
Meanwhile, Anderson’s proposed solution to domestic violence — ending welfare in communities by forcing everyone to work in the mines — ignores the reality of Aboriginal employment trends. According to the 2006 Census, 176 Aboriginal people in the NT were employed in the mining industry, compared with more than 4000 in public administration and safety, and 2000 in health care and public assistance.
It is difficult to know whether the low numbers of Aboriginal workers in the mining industry reflect discrimination, Aboriginal people’s choices about work or the relatively limited employment opportunities created by mining. Certainly Anderson ignores the campaigns that Aboriginal communities have waged in resisting mining on their country.
Fifty years ago Yolngu people sent a bark petition to Canberra to protest Nabalco mining bauxite on their land. They lost the fight and the mine, now operated by a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, is still at Nhulunbuy.
Today, the people of Maningrida are fighting against an oil exploration application over their country.
Is telling these strong fighters and custodians of country to get off welfare and into the mines really the best thing the CLP government has to offer?
In her Wheeler Centre address, Anderson also lamented the poor NAPLAN test results for Aboriginal primary school children in the Northern Territory.
She was clear about who was to blame for what others might describe as a systemic failing of Aboriginal people: “The younger generation are not forcing their children to go to school … They don't see the importance of a good education, they don't see that education is the key.”
However, the 2008 12-month review of the NT intervention found that parents and elders in communities were concerned that the next generation was not reaching national standards of English, and they were worried about “the impact this [had] on individual and community capacity”.
The report highlighted a sense that schools were not “important … for social and cultural development” because of “Aboriginal language and culture [not being] seriously incorporated into the formal school curriculum”.
To make schools more relevant, which would increase attendance and outcomes, the CLP government could re-introduce bilingual education. But that does not look likely any time soon.
On October 25, the ABC reported Anderson as saying she believed “Indigenous children should be taught in the same way as students in Sydney … ‘I am not suggesting we abandon our traditional culture or language but teaching them should not be done in schools, it should be done after school and on weekends, and during the holidays,’ she said.”
For Aboriginal Territorians dreaming of an English-only future of working in the mines and being tied to a mortgage, the CLP government might just have the answer.
But for those who value the linguistic and cultural diversity among the oldest continuing cultures on Earth, and for those Aboriginal people who believe they have the right to pursue different values and different ways of being — on their own country — it seems the struggle did not end with the arrival of black ministers in the NT parliament.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Another post for the long-grassers out the back

This year I am taking postgraduate studies in Aboriginal policy.  Today, national Close the Gap [on Indigenous Health] Day, I spent immersed in reading about child protection policy: a history, with particular focus on Aboriginal child welfare.

It's poignant reading that  stuff when you live in the NT - where the pointy end of neoliberal approach to Aboriginal policy is playing out, where a "national emergency" in Aboriginal communities  was declared, supposedly in response to child abuse, and Aboriginal affairs was set back 40-odd years.

I read all about the ongoing legacy of the years of taking Aboriginal children away: intergenerational trauma, imprisonment, drug and alcohol abuse ... you name it. And how fraught any new child protection policy is going to be, given the such recent memory Aboriginal families have of police coming into town and taking babies out of their mothers' arms.

And how, despite the Bringing them Home report, the Report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in Custody, the apology, and everything else that has acknowledged the wrongs, the rate of Aboriginal children being removed from families continues to rise.... It is a form of genocide, this taking of black kids and placing them with white families.

Anyway. Today, while I studied at home, the long-grassers in the park out the back got themselves a ghetto blaster, and all day as they had their drinking session they were listening to awesome Aboriginal music: Blakbala mujik, Gurrumul, East Journey. They got pretty raucous for a while there, but it sounded like they were having fun, and I appreciated the soundtrack to my otherwise fairly heavy day.

Some time later in the day, though, it sounded like things might be getting out of hand. I went out to make sure everything was ok. And it was - the widely respected Larrakia Night Patrol workers were there, chatting quietly to the women separately, calming the men down. It was all fine. I don't know what will happen after June 30, when the night patrol is due  to lose its funding. I guess the police will turn up instead, and cart people off to the mandatory drying-out centres and work farms for "problem drunks" the CLP keeps talking about.

As I turned to go inside, I noticed that the song blasting out from their cheap tinny speakers had changed. It was Archie Roach's Took The Children Away.

This story's right, this story's true
I would not tell lies to you
Like the promises they did not keep
And how they fenced us in like sheep.
Said to us come take our hand
Sent us off to mission land.
Taught us to read, to write and pray
Then they took the children away,
Took the children away,
The children away.
Snatched from their mother's breast
Said this is for the best
Took them away.

The welfare and the policeman
Said you've got to understand
We'll give them what you can't give
Teach them how to really live.
Teach them how to live they said
Humiliated them instead
Taught them that and taught them this
And others taught them prejudice.
You took the children away
The children away
Breaking their mothers heart
Tearing us all apart
Took them away

It was pretty hard not to cry, after everything I'd been reading and thinking about all day.

I guess what I'm saying is, go easy on these survivors of [ongoing] trauma. Be gentle and understanding of the sometimes unhealthy, unhelpful ways they express - or escape from - the pain of what they've been through.

Friday, 1 March 2013

What's been happening in the NT?

... Certainly enough to keep us busy.

The Country Liberal Party government has done a deal with Rio Tinto to keep its polluting alumina refinery open at Nhulunbuy, byguaranteeing a gas supply, at taxpayers' expense, so Rio can make the switch from diesel to gas. Great to see the government locking us in to another non-renewable energy source for the near future.

Will this put even more pressure on nearby Aboriginal people to say yes to shale gas mining on their land?

The Environment Centre NT  has been doing some great organising around this issue, which kept us busy for a while - and hopefully will continue to do so if we can get  a community campaign happening.

Meanwhile new mandatory sentencing have come into effect in the NT, at the same time that diversionary programs such as Larrakia Nation's Night Patrol are being defunded. Presumably, though, this is all a good thing because according to CLP MP Bess Price prison is good for Aboriginal people.  They get three meals a day, sober up and  come out a lot healthier, she says. Well... yes, either that or they, you know, don't come out at all.

According to the NT News, the monsoon is finally arriving. Although it's been reporting that for most of  this horrendously hot, dry "wet" season.

And here's a pic of smoko time at the home office.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Soon I'll write a positive story...

But possibly never about what the CLP government, or for that matter the federal Labor government, is doing to Aboriginal people...

* * *

A recent Deloitte Access Economics report recommended state and territory governments focus on treatment and rehabilitation, rather than imprisonment, of Aboriginal people facing drug and alcohol-related charges. The report found governments would save up to $110,000 per year for every person kept out of prison.

These findings are not new, and in fact – cost considerations aside – there are significant social justice reasons to keep minor Aboriginal offenders out of prison, as outlined in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which reported in 1991.

In the Northern Territory, Aboriginal people face increasing imprisonment rates. Since the NT intervention (now called Stronger Futures) was introduced almost six years ago, alcohol-related police “incidents” have risen from 3239 incidents in 2007-’08 to 4870 in 2011(NTER Monitoring report January 31). At June 2011, the overall imprisonment rates of Aboriginal people in the NT had risen 40%.

The Northern Territory now jails Aboriginal adults and children at rates higher than anywhere else in Australia.

But the Deloitte report has been dismissed by NT attorney general John Elferink, who said on February 4 it wouldn’t influence the NT Country Liberal government’s policies. “ This Government is not going to make excuses for people who commit violent offences while they're drunk”, he said.

Earlier this year, in response to Warren Mundine’s call for a national summit to address soaring imprisonment rates, Elferink had said: “"Well, no, it isn't the government's role to fix these problems, the role starts with the parents."
But a glance at changes the CLP has made, or promises to make, since coming to power in August, suggests that government policy can and will impact greatly on the number of Aboriginal people behind bars. And the government is heading in the wrong direction.

On February 6, during the annual Closing the Gap statement to parliament, Prime Minister Julia Gillard attacked the CLP for “retrograde steps” being taken by NT and QLD governments, which she said meant “rivers of grog” were once again wreaking havoc in Aboriginal communities. She said: “We're hearing worrying reports about the rise in admissions in the emergency department at Alice Springs Hospital due to alcohol-related accidents and abuse."
She attributed this to the CLP’s scrapping of the controversial Banned Drinkers’ Registry last year. The BDR, introduced by the previous Labor government, required photo ID to be displayed when purchasing alcohol, so banned “problem drinkers” could be refused service.

But Gillard didn’t acknowledge that alcohol-related police incidents, domestic violence rates, suicide attempts and aggravated assaults have steadily increased over the entire period of the intervention and Stronger Futures.

Nor did she criticize the CLP for scrapping other programs, run by Aboriginal organisations, which were known to be effective in supporting Aboriginal people and minimizing their contact with police.
Aboriginal organisation Larrakia Nation runs a widely respected Night Patrol program, which gives Aboriginal patrollers a central role in protecting their people from the harmful effects of drugs, alcohol, and violence – and dramatically reduces their contact with the police.

Late last year, the territory government announced it would cut funding to the Night Patrol in June. Larrakia Nation and police representatives have slammed the decision alike. Vince Kelly, president of the NT Police Association, said in December that the decision might mean “an increase of people in police custody who are intoxicated and drunk, or at the very lowest place in their health … We have seen exactly what tragic outcomes can happen when that occurs."

Larrakia Nation’s return-to-country program, which lends Aboriginal people money to return home to remote communities, will also be scrapped. About 4600 people benefit from this program.
Defending the decision to cease funding, corrections minister John Elferink described the program as a taxpayer-funded service for people to “get on the turps … If you come to Darwin we have an expectation you will behave in a certain way...or you'll be charged with appropriate criminal offences or alternatively you'll be taken into custody”, he said in December.
The Nation’s CEO Ilana Elderidge responded to Elferink, telling ABC local radio on December 6: “For the Minister to suggest that everyone who comes to Darwin is only coming here to get drunk, I'm just appalled anyone could make such a disgusting suggestion … The impact will be people will still come to Darwin, because they have to [for medical care and other important services], and then they will be stranded here."

Meanwhile, hospital-based domestic violence services will be cut, as will the SMART court and Alcohol and Other Drugs Tribunals – two initiatives meant to help keep people arrested for drug and alcohol-related crimes out of prison.

The North Australia Aboriginal Justice Agency has slammed the cutting of SMART court and the night patrol as “short sighted” and having “serious long-term consequences”.

NAAJA Principal legal officer Jonathon Hunyor said on December 4: “The cut to night patrol funding flies in the face of the recommendations on the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which emphasised the need to minimise contact between Aboriginal people and police. This decision … is a recipe for disaster.”

Friday, 25 January 2013

Survival Day: White Australia has a Black history

White Australia has a Black history

As often happens at this time of year, in the lead-up to January 26, commentators and activists raised the suggestion that Australia’s national day be moved to a different date.

Writing in the January 21 Sydney Morning Herald, Aboriginal MLA in the ACT legislative assembly Chris Bourke said: “Which nation celebrates its national day on the date it was invaded by a foreign power? … The answer, of course, is Australia.”

January 26 marks the day that Europeans arrived in Sydney Cove in 1788 . Aboriginal people around  the continent – especially in the North - had been receiving visitors from abroad and engaging in trade long before then. But there was something different about Captain Cook and his mob. They weren’t here to trade, they were here to stay, to build a colony on behalf of the British Empire. Aboriginal people were in the way.

Each year on January 26, there is an outpouring of national pride and nationalism. Mainstream politicians  spruik everything that is “great” about Australia.

But, while some may ignore or downplay the ugly side of Australia’s history, there is no escaping the facts: January 26 is the day Aboriginal dispossession began. It marks the beginning of a process of genocide, of land-grabbing, unpaid wages, and the smashing of traditional cultures to replace them with what we now know as Australia. 

Is that worth celebrating? If so, it reveals something of the racism deeply imbedded in Australia’s history.

In Darwin, the Aboriginal Rights Coalition will mark January 26 with a screening of Murundak: Songs of Freedom. In Australia’s north, where colonisation happened much later, many Aboriginal clan groups have been able to hold onto some, if not all, of their land, languages and cultures – although these languages face the serious threat of extinction due to lack of government investment. 

It is perhaps appropriate that in Darwin, January 26 is known as Survival Day, and will be marked with a  celebration of Aboriginal resistance through music. For, indeed, much has survived. Despite all explicit and implicit government attempts to the contrary, Aboriginal Australia remains proud and strong.

In Sydney, where the invasion began, it’s known as Invasion Day, and is commemorated with the annual Yabun festival.

In Hobart this year, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre is organising a rally to call for a new date for Australia Day.

But whether survival or invasion is the theme, if January 26 is to remain a significant date, it should be the day we formally acknowledge that this country was – and is - built on racism.

Australia is a wealthy country because resource-rich Aboriginal land was stolen ; Aboriginal people were forced to work for little or no wages to establish a booming pastoral industry; rent was never paid and the Stolen Generations never compensated. No wonder the federal government can afford the hundreds of millions of dollars the racist Northern Territory intervention (now insultingly called “Stronger Futures”) is costing.

Bourke pointed out: “We cannot change our history, as much as we might desire it. We cannot ignore our history, because it has made us. But we can change our future.”

Changing the date of the national celebration is an easy, important first step, but there is no indication either of the mainstream parties wants to change Australia’s future, build something we could genuinely be proud of and celebrate.

Dispossession didn’t ever end – January 26 is not simply an historical anniversary, it is a painful and sobering reminder of the racism entrenched in mainstream Australian politics today. 
Aboriginal people are imprisoned at some of the highest rates in the world- rates that are rising as a result of federal and territory government policies in the NT. 

The health burden carried by Aboriginal Australians is shameful: in some communities, Aboriginal people are dying from diseases otherwise eradicated in this First World nation.

Aboriginal men and women die, respectively, 11.5 or 9.7 years younger than their non-Aboriginal  counterparts.

These appalling statistics, and many others like them, are deeply entwined with white Australia’s history: they are the result of what started in 1788 and continues today.

There is an alternative future, one that sees genuine engagement with Aboriginal communities – on their terms: treaties negotiated, reparations paid, original languages and cultures celebrated and protected. It is possible to imagine a future that brings true justice to Aboriginal people. 

But it won’t come from a society that celebrates invasion and dispossession as its national day - and that won’t change unless we, the people with the alternative vision, make it happen.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Indian women say it's time for change

When I was in India 3 months ago, I was quite confronted by the utter male domination of public space. I would often look around a busy street and think "I am the only woman in sight!". When checking into hotels, ordering food etc, I noticed that men (it's always men!) would completely ignore me, talking just to my father, even when I was the one paying, ordering etc.

People tried to assure me it was a sign of respect.

Well, it turns out, a reason Indian women may stay off the streets is because of the alarmingly high risk they face of being raped, murdered, set on fire etc etc. 

According to the all India Progressive Women's Association, while only 50% of rapes are reported, rates of rape have increased 791% since 1971. Meanwhile, conviction rapes for rape have dropped from 41% to 27%.

They have this outrageously demeaning and unscientific procedure called the "two finger test" , which defence teams use in rape cases to argue the survivor was "habituated to sex" - apparently it therefore goes without saying that she consented to the assault.

If that's not enough to dissuade someone from making a report, I don't know what is.

The recent unspeakably horrific gang rape and torture of a  young woman in Delhi, who later died as a result of her injuries, has brought women - and their male suppporters- out onto the streets in their thousands.

Kavita Krishnan, from the All India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), recently posted on Facebook:

"What will be the touchstone for women's rights in this country? In the vocabulary of some of the media, those for death penalty/castration for rape are pro-women, and those against death penalty/castration for rape are anti-women! That makes the vast majority of women's movement organisations in the country, working amongst thousands of affected women, 'anti-women' by definition, while the BJP which nurtures goon gangs to police the morality of women wearing jeans or celebrating Valentine's Day become 'pro-women'! 
Gender justice needs to be brought and kept in the centre stage of the debate - not 'death penalty vs no death penalty.' To begin with, as Pratiksha Baxi suggests, let us demand that the govt pass an order to get rid of the obnoxious 'two-finger test' that is common in medical examination of a rape survivor, to establish whether or not she is 'habituated to sex'! Get the institutionalised gender bias out of the laws and the investigation mechanisms, and expand the laws to recognise the wide variety of crimes and sexual violence that women face, and usher in stringent punishment for each of those crimes - these will go a much longer way to ensuring justice in every case of rape and sexual assault."

The AIPWA blog has some incredibly beautiful and inspiring photos, posters, placards and poems from the string of protests and vigils that continue to take place across the country.

To all the Indian sisters, thank you for your bravery, strength and fighting spirit. Your struggle is our struggle.