For Aborigines, help feels like a tightening grip

For anyone who have experienced life in australia, Aborigines are simply treated like second-class citizens, sometimes non-citizens…

Even wealthy foreigners are openly best welcomed and treated in Australia than it’s native first inhabitants, called "indigneous" or "aborigenes"…It depends essentially on how hard or soft this untold or unknown apartheid politics is implemented by the central
government in 

For Aborigines, help feels like a tightening grip

By Tim Johnston
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
International Herald Tribune

Australia: When Long Jack Phillipus, at the age of 12, walked out of
Australia’s vast Gibson Desert in 1934 and saw white people for the
first time, he found that he had no rights.

Over the decades,
he has seen his Aboriginal people win citizenship, then the return of
some of their land. In time, as he watched, the authorities in Canberra
promoted self-determination for his people.

Then, last week, at the age of 86, he saw the government abruptly throw the process into reverse. And he’s angry.

"We should be the boss of our land, not that fellow from Parliament house," Phillipus said last week.

land is the sun-baked heart of Australia. His home is in Papunya, 270
kilometers, or 170 miles, from the regional center, Alice Springs, and
more than 100 kilometers from the nearest paved road.

40,000 years his people roamed free across the surrounding red sand
scrub, and ties to the land still run deep. "I am the land, and the
land is me," he said. Despite his age, he still occasionally sets off
into the bush to shoot kangaroos and emus for the pot.

many other towns in the wide reaches of central Australia, Papunya was
set up by the government in the 1950s as a distribution point for the
rations it gave to Aboriginal people. For its residents, there is still
a sense of being an unwilling subject in a cultural experiment.

is a temporary feel to the town, with succeeding generations of
government housing lying derelict. Plastic bottles and abandoned cars
confirm that this ancient society has succumbed to the disposable

Along with the trash, other ills – addiction, domestic
violence, poor health and lack of education – have grown and festered,
magnified by the isolation. Now the government has decided to act.

week, Parliament passed the Northern Territory Emergency Response Bill.
Among other measures, it requires welfare recipients to spend half
their income on food, fines them if their children do not attend
school, bans alcohol and pornography in Aboriginal areas and clears the
way for the government to purchase five-year leases on Aboriginal town

The catalyst for the legislation was a report prepared
for the Northern Territory government this year that uncovered
widespread sexual abuse and neglect of children in indigenous
Australian communities. But the legislation goes far beyond the direct
protection of children.

Critics call it a return to the
paternalistic policies that disenfranchised the country’s Aboriginal
population in the past. They note that the problems it is designed to
address are not unique to indigenous communities and argue that the
fact that it applies only to them makes it racist. The government, they
say, would not dare curtail the rights of white Australians in the same

The bill lists 73 towns in which the legislation will
apply, all of which have Aboriginal majorities. The towns are currently
owned communally by their populations, with control in the hands of the
town councils. But the new law will give the government control of the
land within the town boundaries, as well as any local airstrips and
water supplies.

Prime Minister John Howard has made sure that
accusations of racism will not derail his initiative: the new law has a
clause specifically stipulating that it may not be challenged under the
country’s Racial Discrimination Act.

In the past, Aboriginal
leaders have accused the government of being neglectful at best and
racist at worst. Relations were poisoned by a policy only formally
abandoned in 1969 in which Aboriginal children – the so-called "stolen
generation" – were forcefully taken from their parents in an attempt to
assimilate them into white Australian society.

In part because
of lingering guilt over those practices, the government has been
reluctant to take forceful action about the social problems in
indigenous communities.

"It has always been too hard, there
were no votes in it, and they were scared of creating another stolen
generation," said Alison Anderson, Long Jack Phillipus’s granddaughter.
She serves in the Northern Territory assembly as the representative of
the 35,000 square kilometer constituency that includes Papunya.

indigenous population accounts for 2.7 percent of Australians, and by
almost every measure they are worse off than the mainstream. Life
expectancy is 17 years lower than the average Australian’s. They are 13
times as likely to be incarcerated, three times as likely to be
unemployed and twice as likely to be a victim of violence or to be
threatened with violence. Almost all these indicators have gotten
steadily worse since 1967, when indigenous Australians won citizenship
and the right to determine their own futures.

"It’s good to have rights, but you’ve got to have responsibility too, and I think we lost sight of that," Anderson said.

a society that places little value on accumulating material
possessions, and in which the government provides all the basic
necessities, there is little incentive to join the mainstream
workforce, especially if it means moving away from land and family,
according to many who work with Aboriginal communities.

alcohol is banned in most indigenous communities in the Northern
Territory, alcoholism is a severe problem, and marijuana addiction is
widespread. "As a society we have been normalized to the behavior of
people on alcohol and drugs, and we don’t intervene anymore: this is
one of the things that will have to change," Anderson said. "We’ve lost
one generation to the government, and we’re losing another to drink and

Anderson says Aboriginal leaders, including herself,
have to shoulder some of the blame for not doing enough to help their
people. She is torn about the bill: she says intervention is needed and
applauds some of the measures, but thinks others may be

Even in the dusty streets of Papunya, a
relatively stable community, there is a lassitude that many attribute
to inadequate education and a scarcity of jobs for those who can read
and write. The school has recently been upgraded, but on a recent
Thursday only 25 of the 125 enrolled children turned up.

children are being brought up by their struggling grandparents, because
their parents have moved to Alice Springs – many of them to feed their
alcohol or drug addictions. Of Papunya’s 360 residents, the
overwhelming majority are entirely dependent on government money.

these problems, in places like Papunya, the new legislation has stirred
deep misgivings. "John Howard’s trying to make us into white men," said
Sammy Butcher, a founder of Aboriginal Australia’s most successful rock
group, the Warumpi Band.

Many indigenous leaders say they
weren’t consulted about the bill, and the Northern Territory government
was not told about the plan until after it was announced to the press.
Community leaders believe many of its measures are fundamentally
flawed, designed more to appeal to voters in the upcoming election than
to solve their problems.

They are particularly critical of the
stipulation that the government will purchase five-year leases on town
lands. That issue, they say, has struck a particularly raw nerve among
people whose ownership of the lands their people lived on for thousands
of years was only recognized in 1967.

"I feel very sad that
land is being taken away from Aboriginal society again and I don’t know
why: we don’t have a fight with John Howard," said Long Jack Phillipus.

Gordon, the head of the task force overseeing the government
intervention, says the government needs the leases to build new
schools, health clinics and police stations and upgrade existing
facilities without interference.

"If they didn’t have the lease
of the land there would be too much red tape that would bog down
redevelopment and reconstruction," said Gordon, herself an Aboriginal
Australian and one of the "stolen generation."

Almost everyone
in the Northern Territory seems to agree that significant intervention
is needed, and most are resigned to the fact that it will mean ceding
some powers and rights to the government.

But people like Jane
Rosalski, who has worked with indigenous communities for seven years,
say better legislation could have given the authorities as much
latitude as they needed without inflaming sensitivities about land.

says the risk is that local people will fixate on the land issue,
making it harder to win community acceptance for the measures tackling
child neglect, addiction and educational issues.

Some parts of
the bill are less controversial. The proposal to put more police and
health workers into Aboriginal towns answers longstanding demands from
indigenous communities.

Even the more controversial measures
have support among people frustrated with the lack of progress on
Aboriginal problems. "Sitting down and talking has been tried so many
times before, it just goes nowhere," Alison Anderson said. "Do you want
them to go on living in the conditions they have now? I don’t."

if some of the policies are misguided, she said, having the central
government engaged with the problems of her people is better than the
neglect of recent years.

"We’re on a merry-go-round: every 30 years we seem to get off in the same place," she said.

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Un commentaire pour For Aborigines, help feels like a tightening grip

  1. Joël Didier dit :

    A lone dreamer in the Aboriginal art boom

    By Tim Johnston

    Tuesday, August 28, 2007


    Nelson Tjakamarra, an Aboriginal painter whose easy nature belies his
    stature in the art world, showing works depicting kangaroo dreaming,
    left, and yams growing. (Tony Sernack for the International Herald Tribune )

    PAPUNYA, Australia: Michael Nelson Tjakamarra is trying to stop one of his dogs from walking over a painting he recently finished.
    The painting is worth thousands of dollars – Tjakamarra is one of
    Australia’s best-known artists – but the dog was stabbed in the leg the
    night before, possibly in a fight with children over food, and is not
    moving very well.
    For an icon who helped put Australian Aboriginal painting on the
    global art map, Tjakamarra is supremely uninterested in glamour, except
    possibly for the wraparound dark glasses that shelter the results of a
    recent cataract operation.
    Papunya is a dusty and bland little cluster of houses hundreds of
    kilometers from the nearest town, a pinprick in the middle of the vast
    deserts that dominate central Australia. From this unlikely source
    emerged a revolution in indigenous art.
    It was here, in the 1970s, that so-called dot art started to gain
    wide acceptance. Tjakamarra, with his fellow Papunya resident Clifford
    Possum Tjapaltjarri, is one of its superstars.
    Tjapaltjarri, one of whose paintings recently fetched 2.4 million
    Australian dollars, or $1.98 million, at auction, died in 2002, but
    Tjakamarra has gone from strength to strength.
    Tjakamarra designed the mosaic in the courtyard outside Australia’s
    Parliament house. An 8-meter, or 26-foot, canvas hangs in the Sydney
    Opera House, and other paintings can be found in galleries in the
    United States and Europe.
    He is at once one of the most traditional Aboriginal artists and one of the most innovative.
    Tjakamarra thinks he is about 60 years old. He was born into a
    semi-nomadic community, part of the Walpiri tribe that lived in the
    Tanami Desert, far to the northwest of the central Australian town of
    Alice Springs.
    He remembers walking out of the desert and encountering white people
    for the first time when he was 5 or 6-years-old. "The first time I saw
    a white man, I suppose I was a little frightened," he says.
    "I was a little naked boy running around in the desert. I saw a road
    and thought that it was the track made by a real big snake."
    Tjakamarra learned the skills he later used for painting when he
    lived out in the desert. Most traditional Aboriginal art derives from
    the pictures that were drawn in the sand to teach children how to read
    animal tracks in preparation for the hunt, or from the painting used on
    the bodies and implements used in traditional ceremonies.
    Aboriginal paintings tell a story. They refer to the spiritual
    traditions that firmly anchor people like Tjakamarra to the context of
    the landscape where they were born, and within the symbolism of the
    animals that inhabit it.
    Two weeks ago, he was putting the final touches to a new work,
    "Kangaroo Dreaming." To the untutored eye, the painting looks like an
    abstract layout of symmetrical symbols. But Tjakamarra explains that it
    is a clear reconstruction of the tracks made in the desert sand by a
    kangaroo when it is slowly grazing through the bush.
    The "dreamtime" – the creation story of indigenous Australians –
    provides a stream of inspiration for artists like Tjakamarra, and
    painting reaffirms its constancy and continuing relevance for a culture
    under intense pressure from outside influences.
    Tjakamarra suspects many of the people who buy his art are unaware
    of its significance. "They have no idea: they don’t really know that a
    drawing has a special spiritual dimension," he said.
    A former cowboy and buffalo hunter, Tjakamarra only started painting
    in 1981. But as Aboriginal art gained a new and enthusiastic audience
    across the globe, he has become one of its most prominent exponents.
    He has won a measure of fame, but for a man whose paintings can sell
    for as much as 25,000 dollars, he is uninterested in money. He says he
    has a little in the bank, for when he has to promote his art in cities.
    Otherwise, he says, he gives away almost all of what he earns.
    Neighbors describe him returning to his house in Papunya once with a
    suitcase full of money; within two days, all the cash was gone. "I give
    it all to my family and friends: we don’t get greedy," he said with a
    His generosity, extraordinary by Western standards, is in keeping
    with the traditional Aboriginal culture of sharing material goods among
    the community. He says he approached the government commission to
    create a huge mosaic outside Parliament in Canberra in the same spirit.
    "I’ve done a really good favor for Canberra in that mosaic. I was happy to give them my dreamtime," he says.
    The mosaic, called "Possum and Wallaby Dreaming," shows animals
    coming together and is meant to represent all the peoples of Australia
    congregating. But Tjakamarra says the government has excluded the
    country’s indigenous people. Today, as the government prepares to
    implement a controversial raft of new legislation designed to tackle
    the endemic social problems in many poor and remote Aboriginal
    communities, Tjakamarra says he would not accept a new commission from
    the government.
    "We don’t like that sort of thing, it’s against the Aboriginal people, because this is our motherland," he says.
    "The government people don’t really know what this country means to
    us: they don’t know about the spirits which talk to us in dreams, which
    wake us up."

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