Ten years of “practical reconciliation” leads to calls to “bring in the troops”

20 May

Certainly that is one spin that could be put on recent revelations about appalling goings-on in some Aboriginal communities. The Australian is running with the story at full tilt, and it is of course shocking. See Male rape rife among Aborigines and a clutch of related stories and op-ed pieces in this weekend’s edition.

But make sure you read the letters pages too.

I REFER to your article “Raping children part of ‘men’s business’ ” (16/5).

I challenge, in the strongest terms possible, any suggestion that Aboriginal culture is to blame for endemic levels of sexual violence against children in Central Australia. It puts down the cultural values that I grew up with.

I’m a 70-year-old Western Desert woman. As a child, I was indeed promised to a husband older than myself, but I never experienced the aberrant abuse described in your article.

I would like to make the following points:

Men’s business was conducted under strict laws over a prolonged period of time. Men who’d been dealt with under those laws remained under the authority and control of the Elders. Any violation of the strict code of proper behaviour was immediately punishable by sprearing or worse.

Sexual relationships were strictly regulated and could occur only in the context of prescribed kinship and generational relations. There never was a sexual free-for-all whereby initiated men could abuse or molest women, much less children and infants.

A major difference in men’s business nowadays is that the effective control of initiates by older men has largely broken down. The authority of older men has been undermined since European contact.

The situation is made worse when young men go through law in an area other than their own and return to their country with no effective controls in place. They may then indeed feel they are a law unto themselves.

It is true that the custom of payback can lead to the intimidation of witnesses and victims of abuse. Adequate policing would offer one measure of security and possibly pre-empt violent behaviour.

The whole fabric of Aboriginal society on the lands has been challenged from within and from without. Substance abuse and pornographic and violent vidoes and TV have challenge the authority of the Elders and led to the disempowerment of women, contributing to the current state of dysfunction in some communities.

Violent behaviour is not acceptable in the communities but the capacity to do something effective is lessened by confusion over authority, such as two systems of law and the non-recognition of indigenous approaches, voices and solutions.

We may well suffer from “tragedy fatigue”, but this does not mean that our voices are muted. We challenge the Government to hear and listen to our voices.
Mona Ngitji Ngitji Tur
Croydon, SA

I LIVE in and work for a remote Aboriginal community. In considering the debate about social dysfunction in communities such as mine, I ask you to consider how you would cope living like the people here have to live.

Take at least 10 people from your extended family – children, the frail elderly, relations with addictions or mental health problems – and then imagine them living with you and your family in a small, three-bedroom house. Imagine that maybe only one, or two, if you are extremely lucky, has some sort of part-time paid work. Imagine that there is no cinema, no restaurant, no shopping centre – no form of family entertainment to allow you to get out of your crowded house. It is 150km of dangerous, car-destroying dirt road to the sealed road and another 300km to a town with such facilities. Fuel costs $1.70 per litre.

Imagine this for a year, two years, for your lifetime. Imagine the impact on your children: how can they do any school homework, get a good night’s sleep or get your undivided attention, even for a moment? How would you personally cope with the noise, the mess, the unending chaos of such a household?

We need to tackle the fundamental problems that cause social dysfunction in remote communities, and in this town we need to start with housing and community infrastructure. I was angry to hear Mal Brough say that this isn’t the issue and I challenge him to try living like the brave people here do and see for himself how it feels.
Kerry Shegog
Ernabella, SA

OUR smirking Treasurer proclaims that we are debt-free. The state of Aboriginal communities tells us otherwise: we have an enormous debt to repay.

Expessions of concern from politicians seem hollow when so little of the budget surplus is used to address indigenous disadvantage and misery. The problem culture is not traditional Aboriginal culture; it is the culture of neglect and blame-shifting that is pervasive in both commonwealth, state and territory governments.
David Scrimgeour
St Peters, SA

And travel from Murdochville to The National Indigenous Times before the propaganda campaign quite blows you away.

Fact is, if those “symbolic” acts like an apology or better yet, a treaty, were in place now, as they should have been, we really might be better placed to tackle these issues from a morally secure position. Instead, we have had a Brunton and Windschuttle inspired approach to these matters for a decade now, under the regressive Garden Gnome, and look what it has delivered.

Yes, I know it hasn’t all been bad for a decade; but my argument is it could have been, should have been, a hell of a lot better.

See also my Indigenous Perspectives page.

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2 responses to “Ten years of “practical reconciliation” leads to calls to “bring in the troops”

  1. Afterthoughts on this post

    May 21, 2006 at 7:31 pm

    Look for the following items that were mentioned in conversation with Lord Malcolm on Sunday 21 May; Malcolm is very well versed in Aboriginal culture and issues.

    1. G-G heads outback, including a stress on positive achievements in Aboriginal communities. “The Governor-General, Major General Michael Jeffery, spent nearly a week travelling along the iconic outback stock route, the Birdsville track. A boy from the bush himself, he had a message to deliver to the many people who live and work along the track, a message he says he hopes city people will pick up on.” (Transcript soon available.)

    2. Noel Pearson: Priority Papers — especially: “When welfare is a curse”; “Underlying Principles of a New Policy for the Restoration of Indigenous Social Order”; “When welfare is a curse”. But also see Megan Davis (an aboriginal lawyer and Senior Research Fellow, Research Unit, Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, University of Technology Sydney) Aboriginal leadership and welfare reform: you’re not the first, Nöel.

    3. Davis also disagrees with the first Indigenous Australian ever to lead a political party, Warren Mundline, president of the Australian Labor Party. See With friends like Warren Mundine and the ALP ….

    On the current issues, Mundine has backed the possible role of the Army and the removal, in some circumstances, of children. See Mundine urges Govt to address basic Indigenous services.

    The Federal Government is calling for a national summit on violence and sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities.

    Mr Mundine says he supports the summit but says there are underlying economic problems in many settlements.

    He has told Channel 10 there needs to be more money spent on at least providing basic services.

    “We have to get mental health workers in there to fix the lives of the women and children who have had their lives broken,” he said.

    “We have to make to these communities economically viable, otherwise they are just going to implode and collapse, there is a wide range of issues that need to be done.”

    Mr Mundine says there could be a role for the Army to play in improving the infrastructure and basic services in remote communities.

    “It’s not a bad idea – I don’t think at this stage we should be chucking ideas out, bring them all in look at them and then start formulating plans to drive forward in this whole issue.”

    But Mr Mundine says Indigenous people should not be forced to move from their communities…

    Mr Mundine says it will take time and courage to address the issues of paedophilia and domestic violence within Indigenous communities.

    “It is entrenched, it’s a generational thing, it’s been going on for several generations now and you do have a high level of violence in these communities and if you do speak out you are challenging that and it takes a lot of bravery,” Mr Mundine said.

    “What we’ve got to do is people from the outside [the communities], the police, the authorities have got to put the support mechanisms in there so people can trust the police and trust the authorities and then feel comfortable about reporting all these instances and then making things improve from there.”

    On the issue of alcohol restrictions Mr Mundine says while he supports restriction in communities he does not feel that banning alcohol will solve the problems with abuse….”It is about how to deal with it, and in some cases it will be the banning of alcohol, but you have to still face the underlying issues about the paedophilia, about the sexual assault of under-aged people, about the bashing and sexual assault of women, you have got to deal with those issues.”

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