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Towards equal citizenship for Aborigines.
May 26, 2007 2:54 PM   Subscribe

Celebrations are being held in Australia's capital city Canberra today, to mark 40 years since the 1967 'YES' referendum which gave Aboriginal people the right to be counted in the census. This is the story of that referendum. [more inside]
posted by Effigy2000 (43 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
40 years on since more than 90% of Australians repealed Section 51(xxvi) of the Australian Constitution, feelings over the actual benefits that the referendum has delivered to Aboriginal Australians is mixed. The Australian Democrats say there has been an overwhelming failure across all levels of government to tackle Aboriginal issues head on and activist Neville Perkins says the statistics are still grim. Indeed, this background paper from the Australian Parliamentary Library even says as much. So why celebrate a political event that appears to have had little to no real impact on the lives of a n already underrepresented group of people? Because when a country finally realises that a group of human beings are not actually flora and fauna, that's an important milestone no matter what else.
posted by Effigy2000 at 2:54 PM on May 26, 2007


I think the occasion calls for a little "celebration" despite the shortcomings of the referendum. However, the struggle of native Aborigenes is not over yet.
posted by Yiba at 3:21 PM on May 26, 2007


Where the Green Ants Dream (1985)
posted by acro at 3:32 PM on May 26, 2007


My brother spent a semester in Australia. One of the stronger impressions he got was that most non-aboriginal Australians really don't care for or about aboriginal Australians.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:19 PM on May 26, 2007


OutrageFilter: It's sickening to think there was a time in recent history that the Aboriginals were not counted in the census. yikes.
posted by nickyskye at 4:47 PM on May 26, 2007


Are there any Australian television programmes which feature the lives of aboriginal characters? ~ Canadian aboriginal TV show: North of 60
posted by acro at 4:52 PM on May 26, 2007


Pope Guilty writes "My brother spent a semester in Australia. One of the stronger impressions he got was that most non-aboriginal Australians really don't care for or about aboriginal Australians."

A friend of mine got the same impression during a visit. She observed a lot of casual racism, actually.
posted by brundlefly at 5:36 PM on May 26, 2007


There is a lot of casual racism in Australia. Working in the city I get to see it every day.

Anecdotally, people here have the idea that aboriginals don't want to help themselves. We've given them access to so many community programs and additional services but not many end up taking them up.
posted by Talez at 5:56 PM on May 26, 2007


Section 51(xxvi) of the Australian Constitution, commonly called 'the race power', is the subsection of Section 51 of the Australian Constitution granting the Australian commonwealth power to make special laws for people of any race.

As initially drafted, s 51(xxvi) empowered the Parliament to make laws with respect to: "The people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws". The Australian people voting at the 1967 referendum deleted the words in italics.

posted by UbuRoivas at 6:03 PM on May 26, 2007


Anecdotally, people here have the idea that aboriginals don't want to help themselves. We've given them access to so many community programs and additional services but not many end up taking them up.

That's very similar to the criticisms directed towards Native people up here in Canada; it's by no means a cop-out, but the psychological environment and aforementioned casual racism faced by First Nations people who attempt to further their education, etc., goes a long way towards explaining why many feel discouraged from taking advantage of those services and opportunities.

I had been wondering about the similarities and differences between Aboriginal societies in Australia and Canada lately; thanks for the post!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 6:54 PM on May 26, 2007


My brother spent a semester in Australia. One of the stronger impressions he got was that most non-aboriginal Australians really don't care for or about aboriginal Australians.
Wow! what a powerful statement!! You genius!
I watched an entire series of Lost, Gee Americans are self obsessed wankers.
posted by mattoxic at 7:18 PM on May 26, 2007


Now it's time to count the poloponies.

Old joke. Sorry. Subject serious, humor (?) irresistable.
posted by longsleeves at 7:29 PM on May 26, 2007


Pope Guilty et al, do you care about the Apache, Comanche, Iraqoius and all the other tribes that were dispossessed in the rather brutal colonization of the goold ol' U S of A? I bet you don't.

Do the Taiwanese wear a heart on their sleeves for the Bunon?

Do the white New Zealanders care about the Maori?

No. Don't make pig-ignorant generalisations about what you obviously know very little of.

Plenty of Australian care about the plight of Aboriginal people, and yes we are embarrassed. Large number s of Australians will march in every city today to mark the event, and to demand that this terrible government own up and say sorry for past injustice.
posted by mattoxic at 7:32 PM on May 26, 2007


acro, I don't think so. I guess you could say there have been more characters portrayed in feature films (not that many and probably more in the context of historical reference of European settlement). At the risk of appearing to condone tokenism, Living Black is a pretty damn good weekly show, but it's much more of the here and now, reporting style venture.

My least favourite questions when travelling overseas are the ones that seek opinions of or confirmation of opinions already held with respect to Australian aborigines. I don't like these questions for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I, like I think most reasonable Aussies, are just as upset and depressed and confused by the history and contemporary reality for aborgines as any armchair critic from abroad. The only quick fix solution is for 19 million non-indigenous peoples to leave the country, quietly and quickly, to the traditional owners.

Secondly, it makes me feel guilty because as an Australian citizen I share 1/20 millionth of the blame and that in turn makes me feel impotent and also further guilty for being callously fortunate that my reality and opportunities are vastly different than the outlook is for most aborigines.

Absolutely for sure there is some level of racism here and I'm equally certain that the 'between the words' silent type predominates and is the most difficult form to extinguish from the culture --- the inferences in speaking, the workplace prejudices, laughing or stutting behind hands or exchanging of derogatory stereotyping emails and pub jokes and the like --- most difficult because a lot of it is in a person's outlook and thoughts and ingrained from upbringing.

Once you start going into any detail about traditional land ownership, health concerns, dearth of job opportunities in isolated communities and the spectre of alcohol and petrol abuse, it quickly becomes apparent that there are a multitude of complex social and cultural problems for which there really really really realllllllllly are no fucking easy solutions. It's a 'chipping away' and 'small victories' sort of coping/amelioration/fixing approach and I'm not sure how any blanket or magic injection of anything can make things instantly wonderful.

So I'm prepared to agree with those that say that there is some level (although it's never been my experience that it is a majority thing - those with one semester's experience here forming a sweeping generalisation notwithstanding) of racism here and it should be condemned for its detrimental effects and blatant inhumanity, I'm much much less happy about those that wish to paint my country as some sort of bastion of prejudice with subjugation of aborigines being a sport or national focus or intent. I don't believe that and for anyone who has spent much time here and concluded that we are overall a racist bunch, then I suggest that you hung around and listened to the wrong people. By and large, to the extent that I want to parry about generalisations, we are a tolerant people. I don't believe I'm projecting wishful thinking or imagined reality -- it's my lifetime of experience.

So, despite the bad history and the shock of how short a time it might otherwise be viewed as, I'm happy today to celebrate 40 years of recognition and acceptance and contribution to this funny place called Australia by her traditional owners. Yay!
posted by peacay at 7:59 PM on May 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


Are there any Australian television programmes which feature the lives of aboriginal characters? ~ Canadian aboriginal TV show

I don't know about that but Rabbit Proof Fence was interesting, albeit depressing.
posted by Zinger at 8:05 PM on May 26, 2007


Do the white New Zealanders care about the Maoris.

I think the Kiwis could teach Australia a thing or two on this score.

I've always been impressed with Paheka knowledge of Maori history and culture, which is taught in schools, compared to my experience in Aus. I'll admit that I'm pig-ignorant of Aboriginal culture, and I think I'm poorer for it. As far as I can see this is the norm at least in the South East. I suspect this has a lot to do with the relative successes in resisting the respective invasions... but origin aside, it makes Australia a poorer place - not to mention the barriers it creates for reconciliation.
posted by pompomtom at 8:05 PM on May 26, 2007


OK, I was wrong

I've never seen an episode of Lost.

RE indigenous actors, Arron Pedersen is pretty main stream with staring roles in the gritty cop drama Wildside and the medico-legal soap MDA. There are plenty of others, and not just cast to add colour- kemo sabe.

My point, though probably hastily made is that racism is endemic in most societies that have colonial roots. To cast me as a racist, merely because I am an Australian citizen is pretty lame, and actually a racist statement in its self- if indeed one considers Australian's a race.
posted by mattoxic at 8:25 PM on May 26, 2007


My brother spent a semester in Australia. One of the stronger impressions he got was that most non-aboriginal Australians really don't care for or about aboriginal Australians.

The thing is that most non-aboriginal Aussies actually have very little exposure to blackfellas. They tend to live in country towns in the middle of nowhere, and Australia is a predominantly urban country. In the cities, they mostly live in vaguely ghettoey areas like The Block (Eveleigh St) in Sydney, where most whiteys would never dream of going (note: probably not even 10% as bad as an American ghetto, I think, but scary enough to deter most).

Anyway, for most whiteys, aboriginals probably exist mostly only on sporting fields, or in these places they never visit, so the relationship is really quite abstract, and heavily mediated by what the media choose to show. I feel that there is a strong underlying support for aborigines, but as peacay said, there's also this thing that there are a multitude of complex social and cultural problems for which there really really really realllllllllly are no fucking easy solutions.

It's not as if government agencies, NGOs, charities, lefties, aboriginal councils etc haven't been trying to improve things for decades, but (from an outside point of view) so much of it resembles banging a head against a brick wall, and I think that's a very common perception amongst non-aboriginal Aussies.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:28 PM on May 26, 2007


One of my take-aways from Frank Welsh's epic Australia : A New History of the Great Southern Land, aside from a great deal of dull coming-of-responsible-government minutiae, is that Australia had a different colonist-native situation than I had always understood.

Welsh is a Brit with Aussie family, so his perspective is somewhat skewed. He's very much in love with the idea of Australia as a remade Britain, in a way. He constantly points to ways in which the colonial Australian governments actually acted to protect Aborigines from lawless colonists (although he tends to give short shrift to the corruption which, for instance, granted land rights over vast territories to sheep farmers and the like and created conflict). I found it very paternalistic, and I think that attitude runs much deeper in Australian culture than it's otherwise apparent.

Welsh makes just enough reference to the concurrent situation in New Zealand to show that from the beginning there were marked differences in how the interaction proceeded. The people going to Australia and New Zealand in their earliest years -- colonists, convicts, military and administrators -- shaped the future of these two nations in ways they couldn't have imagined.

Welsh's book is depressing and dull if you want to think of Australia in any kind of diverse modern terms, although he surely saw it as a love letter. He doesn't seem to have a clue about any negative or revisionist perspectives. I don't know if that's sui generis or something he picked up from his relatives. He certainly didn't seem to have much in the way of suggestions from his ivory tower on how to resolve the problems that persist.
posted by dhartung at 9:43 PM on May 26, 2007


peacay makes some good points.

Members of my family have been living and working in outback aboriginal communities for years - doing the chipping away, teaching basic courses, administrating and making sure supplies and medical attention are given to the communities. So I guess I have an odd perspective on many of the issues.

These communities are very isolated. Mostly they are made up of several families. To move away and "assimilate" into a bigger community is a terrifying option for a lot of the young people. There is a serious lack of hope and options - add in other factors of petrol sniffing and alcohol and it all becomes a lot worse. Many communities are dry (no alcohol allowed) but sometimes a group of men will go outside and drink and then come back drunk - and often abusive.

The elders fret that the younger kids aren't taking up the traditions. The younger members of the communities are torn between the traditional life in which they see their parents struggle through - and the shiny life they see on TV, but have no idea of how to get there. Or if they should feel that they want to.

I don't see how this can be solved - certainly it has been badly handled since the first colonists landed and started slaughtering them. It's amazing to think that only 40 years ago they were officially counted as people.

On Australians as racists: this is a comment I've heard a lot and it greatly angers me. I personally know of one Australian who does make racist comments - my 80 year old Grandmother - who is convinced that most crimes are committed by Asians. She has had to rethink some of this since I married an Asian - so now there are good and bad Asians. It's a small step - but it is a step.

So I must compare your hearsay comments from people who've spent a month in the country or heard something from someone to my personal history - I'm a white Australian who has always had friends from a variety of cultural backgrounds, whose family has lived and worked on aboriginal communities for years and who has married a Japanese citizen - and I ask you to rethink who is being narrow minded and racist.
posted by gomichild at 9:49 PM on May 26, 2007


I read an interesting editorial in The Australian yesterday, Hell of Best Intentions by Helen Hughes. It's actually an extract from her book, Lands of Shame.

One of her major points is that the homeland policy, that of pushing Aboriginals toward traditional lives in traditional lands, have helped create the double standard we have today, and have fostered an over-dependance on welfare.

It's worth a read, if only for an overview of the issues at hand. It's a huge problem, it's going to take a long time to fix, and, unfortunately, no-one has the answers just yet.

(As an aside, I always thought one of the significant differences between the Maori and the Aboriginals is that the Maori were one cohesive people, with one language and one culture, whereas the Aboriginal were many thousands of scattered groups, each with individual culture, customs and language. I think in terms of education and integration, it makes it significantly more straightforward if you're dealing with one group exclusively. The bilingual signage that NZ has adopted, for example, would not work in Australia as there is no one Aboriginal language. That said, I've never read into it closely, so I could be completely wrong)
posted by Mil at 10:06 PM on May 26, 2007


PRIME Minister John Howard has been accused of genocide at a function to mark the 40th anniversary of the referendum that handed indigenous Australians the right to be counted in the Census.
posted by acro at 10:19 PM on May 26, 2007


Big dif between NZ and Australia is that Maori are 15% of population which is a much bigger slice than Aborigines who make up 2%. I wouldn't say Australians don't care/aren't interested in Aboriginal culture, but plenty of Australians have probably never even met an Aborigine.
posted by dydecker at 10:27 PM on May 26, 2007


Just my 2 rupees worth here, The independent puts the significance of the occasion in blunter words. Mayhaps the motherland is far more conscious of the colonial omissions than the current Australian govt/media? After all, aren't they totally part of the coalition of hte willing?
posted by infini at 11:57 PM on May 26, 2007


I think the Kiwis could teach Australia a thing or two on this score.

No doubt we could, but I wouldn't attribute that to any great virtue on our part. The Maori had the great good fortune to a) have a more sophisticated material culture with more spare food around b) have a long tradition of intertribal warfare which left them ready and able to adopt and use guns effectively when they got them and c) be pretty much the last native people colonized by the British, who were developing some scruples by then. So the Maori were in a stronger position to preserve their culture, their land ownership, and to adopt new technology into their culture, which in turn meant that successive NZ governments have had to engage with Maori politically far more than Australian ones have with Aborigines. And these things are relative - compared to indigenous peoples in colonies elsewhere, we all do quite well in NZ, but in absolute terms, Maori have lost most of their lands, their political power, their culture, their language, and their material welfare. Sometimes I think that having the lamentable Australian example next door makes Pakeha a bit too smug.

One thing that we have really only very recently come to grips with is that programmes to assist indigenous people don't work very well if they are premised on assimilation into the majority culture, are seen as an imposition on their ostensible beneficiaries, or don't take the indigenous peoples' values into account. There are still big gaps between Maori and Pakeha levels of well-being in New Zealand but I am sure we are not doing as badly as in the days when children were sent to native schools, taught manual trades and punished for speaking their own language.

the Maori were one cohesive people, with one language and one culture

That's much more true now that it was two hundred years ago, when Maori only saw themselves as part of their own tribe. It took a long time for any sense of cultural or political unity to develop, and that only happened after European settlement provided an "other" to demonstrate the similarities and common interests of the tribes. Plenty of Maori tribes allied themselves with the settlers' government against other tribes when it suited them.

On the racist Aussie debate: my sense is that Australians on the inside are no worse than anybody else in the world, and quite possibly more prepared to give you a fair go than the average world citizen, but on the outside, many are startlingly uninhibited about voicing what prejudice they do have. When you couple that with a native tradition of teasing and insult among friends it creates a very unfortunate impression on the outsider.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:16 AM on May 27, 2007


I read a fascinating account of David Gulpilill which demonstrates some of the cultural issues Australian aborigines face.
posted by b33j at 3:28 AM on May 27, 2007


on the outside, many are startlingly uninhibited about voicing what prejudice they do have

I'm very interested to hear your perspective, not least because we're neighbours, but I wonder when I see a comment like that if it isn't the case that you, and perhaps people from further afield as well, aren't just pretty well only exposed to the negatives (or maybe I'm misreading you slightly and this is alls you are suggesting anyway) ?

If you walk through a few towns or whatever in different areas over a few weeks, are you going to hear or observe any positive things? I'm just suggesting that any reach for a blanket portrayal on this topic gets coloured (cough) by the fact that negativity sticks out like a sore thumb and positivity is more likely silent or less obvious to a casual observer. And that's not to say I'm disagreeing with you, just that these stereotypes or pigeonholing or generalisations seem to me to often come about because of a perception bias, which is of course not just reserved for Oz or aborigines.
posted by peacay at 3:46 AM on May 27, 2007


interesting read spleen.

the unapologetic and paternal john howard has held things up this last decade though. as a much younger politician howard took nourishment from the white australia policy and it shows, even today.

immediately before john howard there was paul keating leading our house of representatives - an infinitely more decent person. i'd wager 92% of australians loved what keating was saying then.

maybe we'll get back on track after our next election.
posted by de at 3:55 AM on May 27, 2007


They tend to live in country towns in the middle of nowhere

Many rural centres have larger per capita Indigenous populations. However, in terms of absolute numbers, most Indigenous people live in capital cities and large urban centres.

In the cities, they mostly live in vaguely ghettoey areas like The Block (Eveleigh St) in Sydney, where most whiteys would never dream of going

The areas of Sydney with the largest numbers of Aboriginal people are Liverpool, Campbelltown and Bankstown. (You could slice the data a little differently, in which case you'd get Blacktown, Campbelltown and Penrith.) There are also large Aboriginal populations in Woollongong and Kiama. I wouldn't characterise any of these places as even 'vaguely ghettoey'.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:53 AM on May 27, 2007


Another anecdotal data point - I've known many middle-class, urban-dwelling Aboriginal people. If I think about it the proportion of indigenous people in my (30, white) life is probably more than the proportion of the population would indicate. I grew up in Canberra and Brisbane, and work in the social services, and I can't think of any arena (work, school, uni) where there hasn't been any blackfellas. My best friend in early high school was a girl from Moree whose parents were senior managers in different Commonwealth departments. One Australian History seminar class I took at uni was 60% black students. I've known many social workers and health and education professionals who are black, and law also seems to be a common profession. One thing I have noticed is that middle-class Aboriginal people are very likely to work in Aboriginal-focussed services and positions, which makes sense but can be perceived as reinforcing the barriers. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that they're not all sitting in the parks and in the river beds drinking flagons, as some of the comments here imply.

One major difference between the situation in New Zealand and that in Australia that hasn't yet been mentioned was the impact of disease when the Europeans arrived. It's hard to fight back when 95% of your population has been destroyed by smallpox, as some historians have surmised happened to the Eora people of Sydney. I haven't heard of smallpox being a significant problem at all for the Maori.
posted by goo at 7:31 AM on May 27, 2007


little disappointed a "Yes referendum" doesn't have something to do with the band. for a second i hoped someone somewhere had the smarts to make the entirety of either "close to the edge" or "fragile" the national anthem. i'd stand for that at a ball game.
posted by andywolf at 11:11 AM on May 27, 2007


peacay: that observation comes from short stints working in Australian head offices in Melbourne and Sydney, some social visits, and an academic conference or two. In general, all middle-class, white-collar settings, where people (mostly the men) would unselfconsciously say things that I would not have expected in the equivalent setting in Auckland or Wellington. Note, you can hear vile sentiments from the lips of New Zealanders any day of the week if you're in the right place, but I think something, maybe workplace harassment legislation, maybe something else, has curbed people's tendency to voice racist or sexist sentiments lest they offend.

You're right that since non-racists don't say those things at all, they are not salient, and so skew ones perception of the group at large.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:18 PM on May 27, 2007


I've heard the most vile, hateful things spew from the mouths of people regarding Aboriginies that I once viewed as open-minded, caring, considerate tolerant people. I used to think that this was a minority but as I encounter more people I have begun to notice this growing resentment towards them that stem from absolute ignorance learned from either their parents or some other outlet. It's not something they'll bring up on their own, but if the topic is raised they'll have more than enough to say about it. What do I blame? Lack of education. Our school ran an elective called American History but where the bleedin' hell was one on our own history? I remember well enough learning about the Middle Ages in Europe but the only thing I picked up in class about Australia was about the Gold Rush.

There is very much the atittude of "they don't want to help themselves" that infects every class and every race around Australia. I've even heard it from the mouths of part Aboriginies who simply do not give a shit. They resent them for getting the hand outs, for having so much leeway, for being pressured into saying "sorry" for something they feel no responsibility for. It's enough to make me want to pack up and leave the freakin' country! I once used to feel so proud, and so lucky to live in this beautiful place but my feelings cannot be restored until something better is done not only to help the Aboriginies but to help ourselves, as well.

Do I know what the solution is? I have no freakin' idea. But it has got to be better then what we have now. At least I hope to high hell that it is.
posted by liquorice at 3:38 PM on May 27, 2007


Many rural centres have larger per capita Indigenous populations. However, in terms of absolute numbers, most Indigenous people live in capital cities and large urban centres [...] The areas of Sydney with the largest numbers of Aboriginal people are Liverpool, Campbelltown and Bankstown. (You could slice the data a little differently, in which case you'd get Blacktown, Campbelltown and Penrith.) There are also large Aboriginal populations in Woollongong and Kiama. I wouldn't characterise any of these places as even 'vaguely ghettoey'.

Thanks for the correction. It seems my perceptions were wrong, but I think they are also widely held.

Hm, Liverpool, Campbelltown, Blacktown & Penrith, hey? Last time I was in Liverpool after dark it felt something like I imagine the Bronx to be. I feel much safer on The Block. Campbelltown, Blacktown & Penrith are OK, if not the most desirable places to live, but there are some suburbs around those you mention that definetely *are* not even vaguely ghettoes. Raby springs to mind, but there's another that's far more notorious as a social disaster, whose name escapes me. Places with 80% unemployment, 10% dual-parent households, massive drug & alcohol problems etc, no?

I've known many middle-class, urban-dwelling Aboriginal people.

I've gotta say I've known almost none, and that's using the broad definition, whereby anybody who is even 1/8th or 1/16th aboriginal but who self-identifies as aboriginal is so from a legal perspective. Partly, this might be due to growing up in The Shire, but my high school had something like 92 different nationalities represented, and I work in Redfern, of all places. Even so, I could probably count the number of middle-class, urban aboriginals I've encountered all the way through school, uni & work on one hand, if I try really really hard. I imagine that many other Aussies would be in a similar position...?

As far as racism in general goes, I feel that even though certain communities have been demonised from time to time (most recently, Lebanese "gangs"), most Australians have always been exposed to heaps of people from different backgrounds, starting with the Mediterraneans after WW2, in particular, and more recently, Asians. It's hard to hold a serious racist perspective when every day you deal with great people of a few dozen backgrounds, at least. Just no aboriginals...
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:29 PM on May 27, 2007


Do I know what the solution is? I have no freakin' idea. But it has got to be better then what we have now. At least I hope to high hell that it is.

It is really really difficult to find a "solution". Not least because you're not dealing with one problem, you're dealing with many different problems in many different places. Wadye needs different solutions than the Aboriginies in Tasmania. Redfern faces different problems to Port Augusta or the Alice Springs town camps.

And you're dealing with the bridge between two cultures. Aboriginies have the absolute right to live the way they have lived for the last 50,000 years - us whitefellas are the ones who came and messed things up, took away their land, their children, their language. So as far as I'm concerned, we've got no right to tell them to go get jobs and mortgages.

At the same time, all Australian citizens do have a right to education and opportunity and free movement, so we've got no right to tell the blackfellas to stay out there in the bush and keep to themselves, either.

And a large part of the problem is, our culture is now so ingrained in Aboriginal culture, that it's almost impossible to go one way or the other. What hope does a young blackfella from Wadye have to succeed in "white" society, when he's coming from a culture that has been completely fucked over and dispossessed? What hope does a young person have to continue a traditional lifestyle, when the clan elders are alcoholics, his peers are sniffing petrol, and the major cultural input he's exposed to comes from the Wu Tang Clan?

But there are functioning communities. I recently met someone who was travelling in Arnhem Land, working with Aboriginal people there. A circumcision ceremony was taking place, and one of the elders wanted a DVD of the ceremony made, so they could preserve their culture and show the kids of the future what took place. The elders initiated the guy into the community so he was allowed to watch and film the ceremony. The ceremony went on for days, and each night, there was a group of three vibrant young men, in traditional dress, doing dances with vigour and certainty, for four hours at a stretch each night. When he was finished and he left the community, he saw the same three young men on the community's basketball court in 50 Cent t-shirts shooting hoops.
posted by Jimbob at 5:51 PM on May 27, 2007


(In terms of people dealing with the issue, there also appears to be a big gap between the PC-minded city folks who "care about the indigenous people", and other people who are actually involved in the communities in a practical way. I attended a lecture given by an economist who worked in Aboriginal communities in the NT - it was very interesting and offered hope, he spoke at length about the economics of the communities, the practical problems they faced, potential solutions, the relative health of people living on country compared to those in towns. At the end of the lecture, a woman stood up, angry, and said she objected to his use of the terms "whitefella" and "blackfella" in his speech.)
posted by Jimbob at 6:10 PM on May 27, 2007


(blackfella, whitefella, yellafellah, any fellah, it doesn't matter what your colour, as long as you a true fella...)

Jimbob: I think we've been through this before, but did you know my sister & brother-in-law (PC city folk if ever there were any, but with a preference for the bush) were doctors-in-residence for a couple of years on Elcho Island (Galiwinku), just off Arnhem Land, in addition to working out of Royal Darwin, visiting communities all over the north? From their reports, the culture is alive & well on Elcho, not least of which is because - being an island - the elders can enforce the no-alcohol rule more easily.

I'd have to quiz them more thoroughly for details of what's going well & what isn't, up there, but you'd be quite right in what you say about the gap between the city lefties & those actually doing work in the communities.

For example, almost the only way of getting to various places up north is through the Mission Aviation Fellowship, who I call the Royal Flying Priest Service. The pilots are all priests, as I understand it. The transport people & supplies around to communities that no strictly commercial operation would give a rat's ass for, and try to impart a bit of soft-touch christianity while they are there.

However, I think a lot of city folk would be appalled that *gasp* missionaries are in operation with the blackfellas, but in many cases the missions have been there so incredibly long, that these are the whiteys who know the most of anybody about the blackies, and are doing the best & most constructive work, with sensitivity, to improve the lot of the people & preserve their culture (even if this involves things like translating the bible into Yolgnu Matha...)

(i impart this wonderful wisdom to you as a proudly initiated (by relation) member of the Yolgnu Mob...)
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:44 PM on May 27, 2007


Jimbob: thanks heaps for those comments. I see that dilemma playing out here in NZ too, not just in Maori communities but in the Pacific Island diaspora too.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:51 PM on May 27, 2007


From the Mission Aviation Fellowship homepage:

MAF is a not-for-profit team of aviation professionals providing air transport in places of deepest human need - remote places where flying is not a luxury, but a lifeline. For almost 60 years, MAF has flown over jungles, mountains, swamps and deserts to bring thousands of men, women and children medical care, emergency relief, long-term development and Christian hope.

It's well worth a look around the site. Plenty of high-adventure & heartwarming stories to be found...
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:54 PM on May 27, 2007


Slideshow from the Sydney Morning Herald today on indigenous Australians in the middle of nowhere (outback New South Wales). [includes music & commentary]
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:08 AM on May 28, 2007


Statistics.
posted by Jimbob at 12:15 AM on May 28, 2007


Yeah I remember you saying you were Yolŋu before. Interesting all that about MAF, UbuRovias, I had no idea. I know that a lot of the "longgrassers" around Darwin often fly in during the dry season, sometimes to visit relative in hospital, and don't have money for the return airfare home and so get stuck here away from their communities.
posted by Jimbob at 4:38 AM on May 28, 2007


Zinger, thanks for the film recommendation... good stuff.
posted by acro at 5:11 PM on May 29, 2007


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