Indigenous Australia should be angry

Indigenous Australians have a lot to be angry about, much more than Tony Abbott’s ill timed call for indigenous Australia to ‘move on’ from the idea of the tent embassy.

While Abbott’s choice of Australia Day / Invasion Day (and the 40th anniversary of the tent embassy’s erection) was poorly considered and rightfully attacked, there are much larger issues for indigenous Australia to be angry about.

Indigenous Australians should be angry that the life expectancy of indigenous people is 15 – 20 years less than that of non indigenous Australians.  They should be angry that the disease rate of indigenous people is 3 times higher than non indigenous people.  They should be angry that indigenous people are 25% of the nation’s prison population, despite making up only 2.5% of the national population.  They should be angry that 29% of young indigenous people are not earning or learning, compared with 9% of non indigenous people.  They should be angry that indigenous people earn 62% of what non indigenous people earn.  And they should be angry that they can be kicked to death in police custody, tasered 41 times in police custody and have the army sent into their communities, to be used as a political tool of a federal government.

Indigenous Australians should also be angry that alcoholism is rife in their communities.  They should be angry that domestic violence, drug abuse and sexual abuse are problems in their communities.  They should be angry at the state of housing, education, health and work ethic in their communities.  And they should be angry that their children are growing up in these environments.

They have much to be angry about – at both white and black Australia.

Setting fire to the Australian flag on the steps of Parliament House is one way of expressing that anger.  It is not a particularly beneficial or smart way of expressing anger, but it is understandable when coming from a teenager, who may or may not have been raised with the disadvantages mentioned above.  More importantly, the action is not supported by or representative of, wider indigenous Australia, as some would have you believe.

A better way to express anger would be like Senior Australian of the Year, Laurie Baymarrwangga, who has dedicated her life to improving the lot of her people.  Other ways would be to help those in need in indigenous communities, come out against men who beat their wives or abuse children or abuse grog, stand up to racists, dedicate yourself to school or any chance at education you get, join or start a community group, eat healthier, don’t allow your cause to be hijacked by career protestors, get organised, become an activist / advocate / politician, lobby politicians, write a blog, study and promote indigenous languages & culture, play sport, lead by positive example and so on… then positive changes will come to the lives of indigenous people and their communities, as shown by Laurie Baymarrwangga.

The tent embassy, 1972

So what of the tent embassy?  The land rights struggle, that the tent embassy was largely set up for, has been over since Mabo, Wik and the Native Title Act of the 1990’s.  The embassy does not carry the political significance or power it once did and its contemporary importance amongst young indigenous people is questionable.  Additionally, important symbolic steps have been taken to reconcile indigenous Australia with mainstream Australia, most notably Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology in parliament.  Nevertheless, it should remain.

Whenever time is called on the tent embassy it should not simply be packed up, swept away and forgotten about, like the Occupy protest camps of last year.  It should be permanently commemorated and be closed voluntarily, because the problems mentioned above are nothing more than a distant memory for indigenous Australians.

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Categories: Beliefs, Morals, Health, Medicine, Politics, Law

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21 Comments on “Indigenous Australia should be angry”

  1. James Hill
    January 30, 2012 at 11:41 am #

    What other segment of the population could threaten the Prime Minister and opposition leader with impunity and not expect a response from the police? Certainly not the mostly white and middle class Occupy movement, which saw heavyhanded police involvement after 40 days of totally peaceful protest.

    The Australian government is damned if they do and damned if they don’t. When the aboriginal communities are left to their own devices, the government is accused of letting alcoholism and sexual abuse run rampant. When the government steps in at the request of tribal elders to assist with these problems, the government is accused of being heavy handed and condescending.

    There are vast, systemic problems in these communities but I fear our current way of handling it has simply bred a culture of entitlement and welfare dependence. There is something very wrong when aboriginal activists feel comfortable spitting on the Australian flag: it’s a sign that they feel no sense of engagement with the Australian community at large.

  2. Jimbo
    January 30, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    Seems to me that Indigenous Australians need to be angry at them selves for not following the example of people like Laurie Baymarrwangga! They need to shake off this culture of entitlement and self victimisation and take responsibility for them selves!

    The Australian government is damned if they do and damned if they don’t. As James rightly pointed out. Indigenous Australians need to break free of this cycle of blaming others for not solving their problems. The Australian community will be happy to support them if they start taking responsibility for their own future.

  3. Jimbo
    January 30, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    “They have much to be angry about – at both white and black Australia.”

    I have two problems with this sentence.
    1. It is this kind of rhetoric that creates and helps maintain divisions in our community. The old us and them mentality.
    2. I take exception at being blamed for my neighbours inability to keep a clean house, look after their children or their own education and welfare in general.

    • James Hill
      January 30, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

      The left wing elite of this country operate with the unconscious assumption that the aboriginal community is not capable of self control or any kind of personal development. It’s why everybody just takes it on faith that there will be a race riot if anyone dares question something like the tent embassy. It’s why we hear a stat like Aborigines are 2.5% of the general population but 25% of the prison population– despite the fact that many communities have their own Koori courts that pass on far more lenient sentences than traditional ones would– and our first response is to blame the government.

      We’re in this situation where it’s racist to hold all Australians to the same standard of behaviour and anything less than throwing money at the issue is considered bigotry. The left accuse mainstream Australia of ignoring the problems of the Aboriginal community but the real problem is that the left are unwilling to acknowledge that their solutions simply aren’t working.

  4. January 31, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    The only way to deal with the Aboriginal question is cultural integration with the rest of Australian society. End all affirmative action programs and take whatever actions are necessary to make sure their children attend school. The alternative is setting reserves and ignoring them, even if all hell breaks loose inside them. There is no path of peace and happiness, or self-volition. I know that’s hard, but the longer we put it off the more people will suffer in the meantime.

  5. January 31, 2012 at 10:30 am #

    I actually largely agree with this article. It is one of the most controversial Australian topics, and it automatically angers and divides a lot of people. You could certainly predict when this was published it would cause a barrage of comments on “dealing with Aborigines who don’t want our help”, yet the problem is not that simple. Aboriginal Australia is a nation unto itself, and White Australia integrating them is as appropriate as Australia trying to integrate, well, Papua New Guinea.

    I agree with Jimbo that Aboriginal Australia need to take responsibility for themselves, yes. I also agree with James that the police presence on Australia Day was fair, …if a little “overkill”.

    The fact remains though that Aboriginal Australians want to live in a separate culture from white Australia and so they should receive our blessing to do so. I’m not talking about the drug-sniffing criminals, but if, inherently, to live the “ideal Aboriginal lifestyle” comes with a lower level of education and lifespan, well, so be it. Why not? Why are we measuring against the Western standard anyway, and why would Aborigines be angry that they don’t have our standard? I actually think that many of them wouldn’t mind, if only they had the land rights in which to live within their own culture, not constantly compared to educated Western Aussies. As far as I’m concerned it’s as irrelevant to compare the statistics between the two as it is to compare Australia with the Middle East.

    It baffles me that in 2012 so many Australians still miss the point that we’re not supposed to be trying to “solve” or “save” the Aborigines by coaxing them into integrating more and more with Western luxuries. They are their own people with their own culture and always should be, as far as I’m concerned.

    • Jimbo
      January 31, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

      “Aboriginal lifestyle” comes with a lower level of education and lifespan, well, so be it. Why not?”

      To me this is a terrible notion to have! I believe that better education is the key. Getting kids into schools and better education programs for adults in regards to health and prospective employment etc. Giving Indigenous Australians the knowledge and tools to improve things for them selves will in my opinion lead to a natural desire to improve their own situation in their own way.

      Also, “Why are we measuring against the Western standard anyway?”

      Because we are all Australians (being indigenous or otherwise) and Australia is a first world Western country. Again this us and them mentality rears its head. With Western standards comes a high level of health care and Education. We should strive for all Australians to enjoy the same standards in this regard. As for Indigenous Australians once this is achieved the rest is entirely up to them.

      • James Hill
        January 31, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

        Let’s rephrase Andrew’s question: How do you intend on providing Western standards of living to a community that lives a tribal lifestyle in remote bushland? Your end goal is contradictory, you want to drastically change the quality of life aboriginal communities lead without changing their lifestyle in any meaningful way.
        Western standards of care require a Western lifestyle, which includes moving into relatively populous area, and adopting western attitudes to formal education and career progression. It will never happen as long as aborigines as live in remote tribal communities trapped in an endless cycle of welfare dependence and alcoholism.

        • Jimbo
          January 31, 2012 at 7:56 pm #

          Perhaps you’re right and therefore perhaps Jason is right as well. Now that I think about it, how can indigenous Australians achieve any parity with the rest of Australia if they are not willing to alter their life style? A lifestyle that I’m sad to say, under their own ideal circumstances seems akin to a stone age civilisation.

        • February 5, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

          Of course “western standards” of health care can be provided to remote communities, I’m really quite shocked that you think otherwise. “Western standards of care require a Western lifestyle, which includes moving into relatively populous area”… that’s a grossly ignorant statement.

          What’s needed is a commitment to one’s own health and the health of one’s family. And that means eating healthy foods; maintaining personal hygiene, including regular bathing and washing of clothes; maintaining a clean living environment, including disposing of rubbish appropriately, regular washing of bedding, not allowing animals to defecate in the house etc; limiting alcohol and drug use; following through on medical issues and appointments, not ignoring problems; and the list goes on… all of these things are abused and ignored by many people living in Aboriginal communities. You don’t need to move to the city to look after your own health.

  6. Jimbo
    January 31, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

    Can someone please explain to me why Indigenous Australians feel so oppressed?
    From what I can tell they have every opportunity that every other Australian has with the added bonus of getting special consideration at every turn… Or is that the problem?

    • February 1, 2012 at 10:13 am #

      I read this on another forum and thought I’d share:

      Wiininiskwe Ajidamoon said: “When it comes to us Native Americans demanding sovereignty rights here in North America, we aren’t asking that all others return to their ancestral homelands…..we are wanting the right to control the lands we do still own, how we see fit, independent of government interference. Its likely that the Aborigines want the same thing….respect, understanding, attempts at assimilation stopped and the rights to control their own lands. “

  7. February 1, 2012 at 10:18 am #

    This is also an essential list to read. 8 very reasonable (in my opinion) recommendations they want from government.

    What do Aboriginal men want for their health?

    Some of these are so reasonable that to not grant them leaves me convinced that Aboriginals cannot be “the most compensated people in Australia” like some like to claim. In terms of rights and recognition, the compensation just ain’t there folks…

    At the end of the day we’re talking about throwing money at 2.5% of the population. Everyone likes to have a whinge about how much “they are costing us” but we spend 100 times more just on our roads! Get it in perspective.

    • James Hill
      February 1, 2012 at 11:33 am #

      What’s more likely is that the government has tried to provide these outcomes many times over at great cost and has failed dismally. Here’s a demand that stuck out to me:

      “The start of an Aboriginal education revolution, including redesigning education curriculum to include and value traditional and cultural ways of learning includes the establishment of community, regional and state/territory Aboriginal education consultative groups for schools with large populations of Aboriginal students. Increase the participation rates for Aboriginal men in teaching professions, including building the capacity of Aboriginal teacher’s aides to become fully qualified teachers.”

      It’s another example of the community wanting a Western outcome using tribal methods. The real issue though is that it doesn’t matter how much money you throw at education, if the community itself doesn’t value education the money will go down the drain. I worked with a Vietnamese pharmacist a few years back who was purchasing her 3rd pharmacy in three years. Her family were boat people that came to Australia when she was very young. How did her family go from being refugees to upper middle class in a single generation in what is allegedly a very racist country? Her family obviously placed great emphasis on education and work ethic. It’s these cultural values that underpin success in the western world and for whatever reason we’re terrified of trying to instil these values in people any more. So instead we subsidize a very toxic, harmful lifestyle.

  8. Laura M
    February 4, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    Andrew asked me to comment on this article as someone who lives in an Indigenous community. When I first read some of these comments I was so upset I couldn’t comment. Why? Because these accusations are full of false information and stereotypes. I can’t get angry with people because I myself didn’t, and still don’t, fully understand the issues with Indigenous communities.

    Now I will preface this to say that not all Indigenous people are perfect. There are some major issues in Indigenous communities that need addressing. Domestic violence, lack of pride in housing, drug and alcohol abuse etc. The problem is that that cause of these problems needs to be addressed. Now I am commenting on this with the perfective of the community I am living in, every community is different and this needs to be understood. What is happening in Wadeye is different to what is happening in other communities. But I’m telling you, Wadeye is a wonderful place to live. It is a beautiful community and the things happening here are inspirational.

    Okay – first issue – education. This is the big one.

    “The only way to deal with the Aboriginal question is cultural integration with the rest of Australian society. End all affirmative action programs and take whatever actions are necessary to make sure their children attend school. The alternative is setting reserves and ignoring them, even if all hell breaks loose inside them. There is no path of peace and happiness, or self-volition. I know that’s hard, but the longer we put it off the more people will suffer in the meantime.”

    What a lack of understanding you have Jason. I am sorry but it is not that simple. “How easy! Get the kids to school.” You want to know why this won’t work? It’s simple. The school I teach at does not have the resources to deal with every kid in this community coming to school. My class roll has 32 students on it, I have 20 chairs and tables. That’s right. 20. Why? Because the school doesn’t have funding for any more. You might say fine then, buy more! But with what money?? Also if all these children came to school we would need at least 2 more classes at each level. Fine, simple! You might say. But these classrooms don’t actually exist, and nor to do the teachers to take these classes. So what happens is that all the children show up, there are 50 kids in each class, the teachers get stressed and have nervous break downs and then there goes the teacher or the kids look around, see the lack of chairs, tables and resources and then go a running! Who wouldn’t?

    The other issue – the classes are taught in English. The kids in this community speak murin-patha. Make them speak English! Of course we will!! But they don’t speak it at home and all the people in this community are Indigenous. Darwin is the nearest “urban” town and that is 400 kms away. In the wet season this town is pretty much cut off from the rest of society. There is no reason to learn English apart from Education and I am telling you it is tough work. There are plenty of Indigenous people here who DO care about Education and do send their kids to school here. The kids try so hard to learn but they are speaking a foreign language, writing a foreign language. It is so alien to them. I have been walking around this community all week and kids have been walking up to me saying “School starts Monday? Yes?” They just want to get back to school. They love it! It’s a safe place where they can learn and get fed.

    This school also is staffed by both Indigenous and Anglo Saxon teachers. These Teacher Assistants work so hard. They have been here all week helping to set up. They are trying to learn with with kids too. Education is important to this town and they are trying so hard to help their kids get a better life. It breaks my heart that so many people think differently. And you can’t tell me I am wrong because quite frankly you are not here and have never been here. I am sorry, but unless you are here in Wadeye you can’t comment on what is happening because you don’t know.

    You want to fix things? Come here. Come to an Indigenous community. Listen to the people. In Wadeye there used to be an Indigenous council running the town. These people sat down and worked together to stop the rioting, get kids to school and get jobs. Then what happened was the NT government came in and dismantled the council replacing it with the Victoria Daly Shire whose headquarters is in Katherine! The worst thing about this is that there is no road from Wadeye to Katherine or flight from Wadeye to Katherine. This means that the people of Wadeye have no say in what happens in their town. One thing they do have though, which is amazing, is a multi-million dollar corporation run entirely by the elders of Wadeye that runs all the housing, plumbing, community centres etc in Wadeye. They started this up themselves when their council was dismantled. They were laughed at and told it would never work, but it does.

    The other things that is happening in Wadeye is that they are suing the NT Government at the moment for millions of dollars in lost funds that were supposed to go to the school. Only 57 cents in ever dollar that was supposed to go to OLSH Community School from the Government since 1974 has got to the school. Do the Maths. That’s a lot of money that hasn’t made it. Think about how many buildings, chairs, tables, teachers that is over the years. That wouldn’t happen in any other school. So the people of Wadeye don’t care about education you say? Well I would say that the government don’t care about Indigenous Education because where is that other 43 cents?? Not with the Catholic Education Office I am telling you. They have traced some of it to building projects in Darwin etc, but other stuff seems to have just fallen through the cracks. It makes me want to cry because some of these comments people have made are just so wrong. Argue with me all you like, tell me I am wasting my time here, but I know I am not. Sadly I know this comment won’t change anyone’s mind, you will all still think you are right and I am wrong, but I hope maybe someone will realise that the solutions here aren’t simple. It’s not a black and white issue. This community is so different to anywhere else. So isolated. Look up Wadeye on the map. See where it is.

    If you don’t take anything else from what I have said – just take this – there is no simple solution to this problem, but brushing it under the carpet or saying to just forget about these people will not help anyone,

  9. Laura M
    February 4, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

    For any information on the case I was talking about see here

    This page will also tell you a lot about the community. The lawyer who is representing the people of Wadeye is a guy called Dominic McCormack who spent 12 years growing up in Wadeye (his Dad was principal of the school) and speaks fluent Murrinh-patha. He is an amazing guy!

  10. February 5, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

    Interesting, Laura. I taught in an Aboriginal community in Western Australia, at a catholic school so a different ball park in terms of funding. I can’t comment on your lack of funding for your school, but that certainly sounds disheartening.

    From my perspective, I lived in a community that was rife with government funding, in every direction you looked. Not in any sort of lavish sense, we certainly wanted for many many things, but in terms of having the tools and the ability to improve quality of life for all of the community’s inhabitants, we were well looked after. Funded breakfast program to feed children before school, funded after school youth program, funded clinic including free medications and travel for health care in bigger towns, funded boarding school for secondary aged students including all flights back and forth throughout the year, all living expenses and all school fees, a constant stream of visiting programs and practices designed to educate and improve quality of life, funded housing and amenities, not to mention “welfare” payments for work programs, unemployment and family benefits (i.e. “kid money). In addition, any families connected to recognised traditional owners of land on which mines were located received regular royalties throughout the year, and I’m talking large sums of money. All sorts of opportunities were given. No one is saying “you must conform to a mainstream white way of life”, rather people were encouraged towards autonomy, to govern their own communities, to stand up and take responsibility. Low life expectancy CAN change. High suicide rates CAN change. High incarceration rates CAN change. Low school attendance CAN change. But it HAS to come from within.

    The general sense of apathy I’ve seen across many communities I’ve visited is the one thing holding these people back, and keeping them in this cycle of despair and desolation. They’re not poor and yet they live in poverty because that’s the lifestyle they know and are comfortable in. Someone above mentioned “tribal/traditional lifestyles”…. I am yet to see this. The communities I know are so far removed from their traditions and culture, desperately grasping on to the few remaining traditions. It IS possible for Aboriginal people to live a life that’s full of culture and rich in tradition, that does not follow a typical mainstream “white-australia” path, yet NOT live in filth, NOT eat the worst kinds of foods, NOT suffer third world diseases that are bred in unhygienic living conditions, NOT put up with drug use and alcoholism and abuse, NOT destruct and destroy property and belongings. And no outsider can do that for them.

    Now, in saying all of this, I don’t mean to ignore the reasons Aboriginal people are in this situation to begin with. Decades upon decades of oppression has led to a cycle that is INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT to break free from. It is SO DIFFICULT for an individual to break apart from their family and loved ones and say “enough is enough, this is not what I want for my life”, when almost everyone they know and almost everyone who has gone before them has accepted this way of life. When they are actively discouraged by their peers to follow a “white way of life” (i.e. get an education, get a job, keep your house clean, talk in “white english” etc). To leave country for any significant period of time (for example, the time it takes to finish school or gain a qualification) is an intensely difficult thing for anyone to do, especially the teens and young adults it is thrust upon. To go to to the city where life is so different and you don’t identify with anyone, you’re scared and lonely and just miss home… No one denies that that is an incredibly challenging thing to do. No wonder so many young people give up and go home.

    BUT… The buck has to stop somewhere. And it HAS to start from within.

  11. S(r)ambo
    February 27, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    Aboriginals have been trying to sit and talk with our leaders for over two hundered years, I would like to hear a better way to gain attention because we all know they have been trying to talk peacfully with no advancement, what are they to do? anyone got an idea? you all say they could have gone about it a better way, Im open to suggestions? we all know campaining and talking has done nothing to get government to engage with Aboriginals, whos got the smoking gun, whats this idea? we all want to know what the solution is or is it a handy excuse to demonise them more, whats couse of action will get our leaders to sit down and sort this crap out, stop blaming Aboriginals when our leaders wont sit and talk, I would protest everyday if I was subjected to such disgusting behaviour by our leader, seems with Australians attitudes we will see more and more protest because everyone ignores the cause of these issues, the good old ignorance is bliss


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