Why should we as Australians care about our First People? There are many reasons including good logical ones that should even appeal to our self-interest and survival. However, there is something more important that starts at a heart level of respect that embraces our most important defining Australian culture and spiritual connection with the land that Aboriginal people hold. For all Australians to heal the dark suppressed wound of our recent past, we first need to embrace and honour Aboriginal people and culture. If we continue to deny the truth of our past we will of course be condemned to keep repeating it.
As a result of the Stolen Generation, I have an Aboriginal foster brother Jungala and sister Nungala who are part of my family and so now I am honoured to be part of their Warlpiri family in the Northern Territory also.
Over the last ten years I have been associated with Mick Woiwod as we founded the Nillumbik Reconciliation Group. Mick’s historical studies of Melbourne’s recent European settlement and particularly his book “The Last Cry” have provided valuable insight into the area’s traditional owners, the Wurundjeri people. Meeting Wurundjeri people through our local reconciliation group has given insight into the impact of displacement and contemporary issues for Indigenous people in urban communities.
Speaking with Aboriginal people living in remote communities, towns and urban areas there are many common themes arise in these diverse settings. Common issues are about; displacement from traditional lands, the resultant economic disadvantage, education, self-determination and loss of traditional culture.
Over the last ten years there has been a noticeable shift in the welfare of indigenous people in Australia in the wrong direction. A process of under-funding and removal of power for self-determination has been occurring on a systematic level just below the radar of public perception, and then the worst symptoms of this systematic neglect and disrespect at a federal level are paraded in the media as being the fault of the victims themselves. The extraordinary use of the media glare over a military response to a social and economic crisis is yet another attempt to humiliate and diminish Aboriginal people in the eyes of middle Australia.
If any group of any race is neglected, socially and economically disadvantaged and marginalised and treated with disrespect, the result will be depression, substance abuse and human abuse. Health care workers and law enforcement agencies deal with this in all parts of Australia, across all cultures, all the time and it is appropriate to intervene when people are at risk. Those same professionals who deal with these tragic situations would agree that you do not set out to humiliate the victims, that the vulnerable should be treated with respect, discretely. Strong Government support for housing and health services and economic development for those same people is essential to break the poverty and/or abuse cycles.
The Aboriginal people I know in cities, towns and in remote areas do not fit the image that the media portray in the ‘hot spots’. The systematic removal of support structures, under-funding and the removal of power for self-determination and economic development seem to be on the agenda of the Federal Government.
The latest so-called ‘taking control solutions’ are quite clear in their intent: to take back any control that Aboriginal communities may have over land and culture and lifestyle. To further suggest that removing the permit system to enter Aboriginal land will solve social and health issues is clutching at very thin straws of credibility. It sounds like an almost desperate grab for every last bit of power that Aboriginal people retain.
A personal account
Indigenous Australians are not much better off now than compared to times past in many ways. It seems the only option favoured by our current Federal Government is one of: “Get them out of the bush, integrated into whitefella life in cities and all our problems will be solved”. The hidden agenda here is that the valuable minerals and land that they seem to want to hang on to will be much easier to access and exploit if we “turn them into ordinary Australians”.
However, a more sensitive, comprehensive view is that the Traditional Owners of Australia are extraordinary Australians, custodians of secret important lore about this country that needs to be preserved and understood for the future of all Australians. Surely we can do better than just using their land as a mineral-rich resource and suggesting that they all come to town and fit in.
Over Easter this year, I took my son to see our Aboriginal relatives in Alice Springs. We went to one of the beautiful bush blocks northwest of Alice Springs where my brother Jungala has started his own eco-cultural tourist business as a Traditional Owner. We spent the day getting bush tucker including digging for honey ants with the elder women. While we were there, one of the women mentioned that the Federal Government ministers had been there to persuade them to locate the nuclear waste dump for Australia over the road from them. Their other Native Title Land at Central Mount Wedge is a potential uranium mine site. According to the Federal Government there is no-one significant there; the land is uninhabited. Is that Terra Nullius? On the same Federal Government whirlwind ‘meet and greet’ tour, it was proposed that the Federal Government take back the land around Alice Springs that Traditional Owners live on and then lease it back to them. The elders saw through to the Federal Government’s intentions about a land grab and have since rejected the Government’s proposal to take back the town camps.
Jungala’s project to bring self-determination to his family and people through eco-cultural-tourism employing his own family members is already successful. Jungala Enterprises runs tours to bush locations and provides real interactive experience with Traditional Owners while hunting for bush food, learning about culture and performing other ceremonies.
Jungala has had to deal with so many things even to get as far as he has with the cultural tours, including dealing with the many structures that have been created allegedly to ‘protect’ Indigenous Australians. However, in Jungala’s view, many of those same Government-funded organisations only continue a dependency. The current system that seems to focus on social welfare to fix problems, rather than economic development and self-determination, will just produce more of the same. Perhaps there is a better way that will get more money through to the people? David Jungala Kriss says: “Support for economic development and self-determination are the only way forward”. To this end Jungala has educated himself in the tourism industry including making several tours of Europe, selling and promoting indigenous art to the Europeans. His current tours in the Northern Territory take groups including school groups out for an authentic educational experience. Jungala Enterprises is an Aboriginal-owned and operated private business corporation that he has created himself.
Bessy Nungala Kriss, who has raised a family herself and is now a grandparent, continues to work for indigenous Australians mentoring and teaching numeracy and literacy at school in Alice Springs. Nungala (Aunty Bessy to the kids) says “Education is the key to the future of Aboriginal people in Australia”. [Bessy’s story follows this one – Ed.]
Historian and writer Mick Woiwod contends that we still do not fully understand the impact that European settlement and displacement of Traditional Owners throughout Australia has had. It is clear however that displacement of Traditional Owners in our valuable city centres has created ongoing multi-generational problems of disadvantage.
Everyone who knows the truth of indigenous Australia would agree that the way forward is to ‘Start again with respect’, creating a meaningful dialogue with Aboriginal people that is inclusive of health, culture, education, housing, economic development and self-determination. There are many good people, both indigenous and non-indigenous, who are already doing this.
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