Boy at Wuppa Camp, Tennant Creek, NT.
By international photographer, John Hulme,
taken from this series shown here.
The camps have no recreational facilities for anyone, let alone the children and the youth. It is rare to find a functioning community centre, that is if there is a building from which one could operate. I am frequently reminded of the definition of democracy - government with the consent of the governed - and I ask myself who ever historically or in the present has asked the consent of Aboriginal people. And, if Aboriginal people have never been formally consulted to formally give consent, why should they feel included?
The Intervention (Northern Territory Emergency Response) occurred without any consultation. Such consultation that has happened since under both Howard and Rudd governments is flawed.
“All this is part of the government’s non-consultative, almost colonialist, approach, where health workers and people on the ground are just not asked what they want or what should be done. There have been all sorts of delegations to [Minister for Indigenous Affairs] Macklin, but she only acknowledges those who are for the intervention. If you’re against, you’re just ignored.”
Quoted from here.
Few Australians live in the desert of inland Australia. Aboriginal people have lived there for 40,000 years. Few non-Aboriginal people stay there for their whole lives or great lengths of times. Most of us are transient. Some, like me, continue to return. Yet most Australians feel they have to do the road trip to the NT or the tourist jaunt to Alice Springs and Uluru. They travel up the Stuart Highway and I would suggest that most see but don't understand and continue to wonder how people live there
Tennant Creek, five hours north of Alice Springs and ten hours south of Darwin, and nearly six hours west of Mount Isa is very much a cross-roads town. It was the site of Australia's last gold rush in 1934. It is a wonderful community but is very much despised by many in politics and bureaucracy who could advance its interests.
Tennant Creek has one supermarket operated for decades by the Drummond family and now part of the chain of Outback Stores servicing Aboriginal communities in northern and central Australia. There is one chemist shop. It used to be in a nice mainstream shop in the main street but now operates, unseen from the main street, from the rear of the one newsagency.
Women can no longer give birth to their children in the Tennant Creek Hospital. Tennant Creek does not even have a cinema. It does have some sporting facilities: a swimming pool, lawn bowls, tennis, football. Youth programs, when they operate, stagger along. The schools, the pre-school, primary school, and high school do wonderful work. Aboriginal people put a huge amount of effort into Night Patrol, Julalikari Council, Anyinhingi Congress.
Governments need to give more thought and focus to Aboriginal social needs but urgently need to turn a spotlight on the development of Aboriginal economies in the towns and in the communities. Inclusive economies, self-sustaining economies can mean a world of difference. When I think of how John Howard turned unemployed people into market-driven business and Kevin Rudd and his wife Therese became millionaires off the backs of the unemployed, I wonder why some creative economic thinking cannot be brought into play for Aboriginal communities and remote towns in the Northern Territory.
Most Aboriginal communities outside the major centres in the Northern Territory do not have all weather roads. This means that, in The Wet, there can be limited or no access to professional services such as health care. If anyone were to attempt to establish business or commerce, how can this be done without guaranteed access all year round? I don't hear people talking about this, don't hear them talking about roads. I only hear of land grabbing. I only hear of pleas for appropriate and sufficient housing to ease the social burdens of extended family life and to come to grips with lousy intergenerational health conditions.
Australians at this point of history are - by and large - full of good will to Aboriginal people and the difficulties in which they live. However, I don't see or hear Australians saying that they are willing to forego some of their own privileges and lifestyle to free up resources to as to bring about significant change for Aboriginal people. Somehow, governments are to find the money and get the job done. Australians don't really care how it is done as long as it is done and doesn't become a bottomless pit absorbing money for no result. But then most Australians, not even ones of great good will, do not always understand the realities of the factors governing life in Aboriginal Australia or what Aboriginal people themselves put forward as solutions.
And while all this happens or doesn't happen, there are deeper things undealt with which are ignored. Things like sovereignty, treaty, meaningful self-determination. While governments think they can overturn the Racial Discrimination Act to suit their own whims and policy directions without meaningful listening and communication, none of these major underlying factors will be addressed.
But do mainstream Australians ever consider what black Australians might be talking about among themselves? When they get into conversation among themselves around a kitchen table or a camp fire, ever think about what they talk about, ever think about how they imagine things could happen for themselves? They think of what might have been or could have been and think of how they were once self-determining without interference in their own land, this land. They think of how we, the new settlers, got in the road of all that and the horrors and sadness and deprivation this has caused them. And they think of what might be done...
They now vote. Many of them have entered the professions after a university life. But so much promise is left unfulfilled. If they were truly self-determining once again, what would happen?
This is where talk can turn to the sovereign nations of the First Peoples of this land: over seven hundred of them. Who among them ever formally ceded sovereignty or land or nation-hood? Time to stand up again, time to do what should have been done...negotiate a treaty. Time to sort out how decisions are made in this country.
My dear friend, Patricia Corowa, has summed it up so well to-day: