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 softthis untold or unknown apartheid politics is implemented by the central
government in Canbera.
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
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
"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."
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
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.