A 13-year-old girl dies in a wretched motel where her teenage pimp had forced her to service one more of many clients, a man in his 50s.
She dies in agony, having injected herself with heroin laced with battery acid.
A few miles away a 14-year-old girl is hanging out with her friends. To deal with their anger and boredom they go to a park where, unconsciously echoing a scene in A Clockwork Orange, they start “bashing a derro”. Screaming in terror, he falls to the ground, where she joins in kicking him. Until she recognises his bloodied face. It’s her father.
These scenes did not take place in remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. They happened in the inner suburbs of Melbourne. This column has reported many similar stories – concerning kids known to John Embling and Heather Pilcher in their work with the Families in Distress Foundation [of which Adams is a director], which was funded by readers for decades. Horrors like that, combined with worsening health, forced my heroic friends to retire. Like the thousands of children they helped, John and Heather were old beyond their years.
When the kids knew their fathers, they were in and out of prison. The father of one of the boys we took in was a criminal who became a celebrity, much admired by middle-class voyeurs who should be ashamed of themselves. The young mothers were almost invariably on drugs.
The kids were chronic truants. Why go to school? Even if they made that effort their job prospects were next to zero. Their future lay in criminality, in the black economy of Australia’s underclass.
John described their destinies in his book, Fragmented Lives. Here were boys “on their way to homicide or suicide”, girls on their way to that motel room.
Sexual abuse is just part of the problem. Violence, addiction and psychological abuse is just as bad. And the scale of these problems in white society is staggering. This month I talked with a prosecutor working in the NSW courts. “There’d be more kids suffering like this in the PM’s electorate of Bennelong than in the entire Northern Territory,” he said.
Asia has its child labor, Africa its child soldiers. Australia has countless children, in every suburb and ethnic group, living in danger – but not necessarily in squalor. A while back the mother of a young boy phoned me seeking help. Her son, grieving for his dead father, was being targeted by a middle-aged man with kids of his own. Forcing him to come to my office, I threatened to destroy his career. He was and remains a respected Melbourne barrister.
This sort of abuse is happening in your suburb, perhaps in your street. Visit your local court on what’s called “ladies day”, when the women queue for AVOs – apprehended violence orders. The scenes played out in NT’s remote communities may be being played out behind the blinds in the house next door. And remember that 99 per cent of sexual abuse takes place within the family…
I feel that restores a necessary sense of proportion, even if the Embling book is now quite old and Adams is writing — or dictating, as apparently he composes orally — off the top of his head as usual. However, I found the following on The Book of Sand:
“Imagine a dream in which you are lost. All familiar landmarks are strange and terrifying. The faces of people you love are evil. There is no shelter for you anywhere. You are thirteen. You cannot wake up. The dream is true.”
From Fragmented lives, by J. Embling
More on reconciliation
There is an interview in — of all apparently unlikely places — a newsletter for the Portland (Oregon) area Didjeridu player in March 2000 with “an educator in Australia who is very aware of the social, political and ecological importance of reconciliation in his home country.” See Reconciliation, an Interview with Geoff Eagar.
[Ed] What exactly is reconciliation? What does it mean to you and what does it mean as an official policy? And finally, does the popularity world wide of the didjeridu lend any support to the goal of reconciliation in Australia?
[Geoff] Defining Reconciliation is a little like defining the length of a piece of string. It is a very complex and involved issue…certainly too much so for me to be confident and happy to be an authoritative source here. It’s a very appropriate question to ask and for the official line visit this site where you can get a handle on where we’re up to now:
My dictionary defines reconciliation in this way: 1. to render no longer opposed 2. to win over to friendliness…to bring into agreement or harmony. Clearly Reconciliation in this context is a much broader and more complex issue though the definitions above are still true. It means starting by acknowledging that “White Australia has a Black History.” A shared history. I think that when we as a nation take this on board there is a way forward. History is about finding the truth of what has happened, squaring up to those truths no matter how awful and then walking on together.
More up-to-date information may be found on Reconciliation Australia; however from the older site Geoff refers to I would like to quote this:
Speaking with one voice, we the people of Australia, of many origins as we are, make a commitment to go on together recognising the gift of one another’s presence.
We value the unique status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the original owners and custodians of traditional lands and waters.
We respect and recognise continuing customary laws, beliefs and traditions.
And through the land and its first peoples, we may taste this spirituality and rejoice in its grandeur.
We acknowledge this land was colonised without the consent of the original inhabitants.
Our nation must have the courage to own the truth, to heal the wounds of its past so that we can move on together at peace with ourselves.
And so we take this step: as one part of the nation expresses its sorrow and profoundly regrets the injustices of the past, so the other part accepts the apology and forgives.
Our new journey then begins. We must learn our shared history, walk together and grow together to enrich our understanding.
We desire a future where all Australians enjoy equal rights and share opportunities and responsibilities according to their aspirations.
And so, we pledge ourselves to stop injustice, address disadvantage and respect the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to determine their own destinies.
Therefore, we stand proud as a united Australia that respects this land of ours, values the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage, and provides justice and equity for all.