Why (Aboriginal) Australia Will Not Recover From the Intervention
February 1, 2015 1:21 AM   Subscribe

'waiting for a heart attack': Ali Cobby Eckermann writes about her first-hand experience of the Northern Territory National Emergency Response as the Art Centre Manager at Titjikala. This includes poetry based on her experiences and this may trigger upsetting emotional issues for some readers as it deals with fall out of colonisation, alcoholism and domestic violence.
posted by nfalkner (14 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Not just fallout, the direct effects. She's writing about The Intervention that began in 2007.
The United Nations deemed The Intervention as ‘race-based welfare quarantining, racially discriminating, an infringement on the human rights of Aboriginal people living in the NT’. Soon after, the government announced the closure of The Intervention, and announced a new policy titled Stronger Futures. It’s the same policy.

[several paragraphs later]
For me, the real danger lies in the refusal to acknowledge the lack of friendship that exists in Australia. The silence of action or voice by the free, when witnessing the persecution of those who live next door, is a true shame. Personal shame. A national shame. I doubt that Australia will ever recover its dignity, both internally and around the world.

Of course there are friends of Aboriginal people, but they’re a minority. Poetry and songs have been written about this; films have been made. The luxury of hindsight, or the maturity of spent years, will often define this moment for each of us. I cherish the friends who did remain my friends.
It's staggering in its shamelessness. An outright power grab and stamping-down subjugation of those with the least power in a crass attempt to get them to work for corporate interests (mining, uranium waste). Utterly chilling.
posted by fraula at 5:23 AM on February 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

The sun never sets on the colonial mind set.

posted by reedcourtneyj at 5:33 AM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

A very quick Google indicates that this intervention and the background behind it is complex, heartbreaking and difficult, with supporters and critics within and without the Aboriginal people. I would recommend further reading.
posted by alasdair at 6:01 AM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

I remember an (non-Aboriginal) Australian friend who repeated these child abuse allegations to me, and claimed that child sexual abuse was just part of Aboriginal culture. I remember being confused, but also ignorant.

Now I find that the accusations were false. I wonder if he's heard this, or
just continues in his false belief.
posted by jb at 6:29 AM on February 1, 2015

As someone whose family is Australian I feel some responsibility for this - even though many of my relatives there have been active in helping mitigate these problems.

Some of these things are unfortunate structural problems that don't have a clear solution. When I first heard about the idea aboriginal deaths in custody, I thought it was going to be much like the US "deaths in custody" - basically murders by the police. But it's not so simple - most of these are in fact suicides, and not by generally by people facing years in jail, but often people just thrown in jail for an evening.

I didn't really get the problem until I saw this painting...

I'd point out that the National Gallery of Australia is filled with paintings by indigenous inhabitants, and not segregated as "native peoples' art, look at the clever savages" - you'd be hard-pressed to find even one such painting in the National Gallery in the US, this curriculum has exactly one direct or indirect mention of native peoples, "The new nation experienced a shift from a farming economy to an industrial one, major westward expansion, displacement of native peoples," - but no actual art by those euphemistically "displaced" peoples (probably because they were mostly "displaced" into unmarked graves).

That said, most of these issues in Australia stem from active neglect, hostility, and downright contempt toward the native peoples from the interloping Europeans - over generations.

I used to feel Australia was making steady progress on this - but for some reason akin to madness they elected the corrupt, incompetent and right-wing Abbort government (leaving the typo in), and I despair.

The sexual abuse thing is simply an excuse to demonize aboriginals, and I'm sure that the facts are basically irrelevant to the people who cherish such falsehoods as a reason to continue their shoddy treatment.

Isaac Asimov's memory is somewhat tarnished because of his cavalier attitude toward mid-level sexual harassment, but he wrote something brilliant about the racial issue in the US.

I'm paraphrasing - but he first showed that there was no evidence that there were any differences between so-called "races" that couldn't easily be explained by socio-economic factors - but even if science did somehow discover that there was a difference between races and one was inferior, this would actually make America's treatment of racial minorities even worse, as we'd have even more of a moral responsibility to help. As he concluded, the rationalizations are after the fact, and are simply intended as an excuse for egregiously bad behavior - they aren't science at all...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:39 AM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

That's heartbreaking.
posted by jaguar at 10:09 AM on February 1, 2015

I used to feel Australia was making steady progress on this - but for some reason akin to madness they elected the corrupt, incompetent and right-wing Abbort government (leaving the typo in), and I despair.

Eh, Abbot is obviously horrible, but Rudd and Gillard both supported and perpetuated the intervention. The Apology was something, but I'm not sure a PM has truly given a shit about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples since Keating.

And in depressing but relevant news, now Mal Brough, the architect of the Intervention, could challenge for leadership. Ugh.
posted by retrograde at 10:11 AM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was a lurker on MeFi for many years until what I saw happening in my own country made me realise that Australia now qualified as one of those places where the citizens had to get out there to tell the stories that the mainstream media and government were not telling or actively suppressing. To quote from the comments here:

lupus_yonderboy: I used to feel Australia was making steady progress on this - but for some reason akin to madness they elected the corrupt, incompetent and right-wing Abbort government (leaving the typo in), and I despair.

The sexual abuse thing is simply an excuse to demonize aboriginals, and I'm sure that the facts are basically irrelevant to the people who cherish such falsehoods as a reason to continue their shoddy treatment.

And, sadly, jb, my guess is that the person continues in those beliefs.

I wrote something angry about these attitudes on my own blog a while ago, when Australia Day was looming again. It seems apt given some of the discussions in the comments here but the article here stands very well without it.
posted by nfalkner at 2:43 PM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

The personal and cultural welfare of Aboriginal Australians is a huge problem and it's intrinsically very hard to address. Welfare recipients are always in an unequal relationship, but the geographic and cultural barriers that separate many Indigenous persons from decision–makers causes them to be particularly vulnerable to clumsy or officious bureaucratic intervention.

That being said, there have been very real and substantial investigations into physical and sexual child abuse within Aboriginal communities, and there's a whole lot of literature on it (e.g.). I don't think the problem should be dismissed without making at least some attempt to engage with this. Even if the rate of child abuse in Aboriginal communities were no higher than the rate outside (my reading indicates that it's much, much higher) we would still have a duty to do something. Our present solutions might be ineffective, but I frankly distrust anyone saying that no solution is necessary.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:18 PM on February 1, 2015

Why should I trust a government report? They made the Intervention becaude of the allegations, but no arrests have come out of this Intervention. If it's real, show me by prosecuting the offenders.

But already they've used one false report to decimate communities, with the only apparent goal to be to end economic development there. Why should I trust any others?
posted by jb at 5:27 PM on February 1, 2015

The first link I supplied has a bibliography with a whole lot of sources, and those sources reflect lots and lots and lots of reports and studies by known, named, recognised, good-hearted people; ones not associated with any political party; some of them Indigenous. It is simply not plausible that all these people and all these governments and all these institutions that report on different communities are lying "to decimate communities ... to end economic development there". Even if you do reject all of the reports - which I think is being wilfully blind - surely you acknowledge that some level of child abuse in Indigenous communities must exist, and that we need a a way of dealing with it.

I have no idea whether arrests came out of "the Intervention", but the other links give good reasons why a punitive response is particularly difficult in this case: isolation, limited resources, witness intimidation, and a recognition that confinement is particularly damaging to Indigenous individuals and their communities.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:30 PM on February 1, 2015

Of course there will be abuse - as there is in every community.

But the report claiming greater levels of abuse were falsified. All of the measures of the Intervention were justified on false pretences - and have instead led to a situation of greater stress, which only increases the likelihood of violence and abuse (as it would for any community who has had their economy so destabilised).

Also: why fixate particularly on Aboriginal families? plenty of abuse - sexual, physical - happens in middle class (and upper class) white families. If they particularly cared about Aboriginal families, the Intervention would have focused on bolstering families with good employment, not actively undermining them.

And based on historical pattern, if the government sincerely cares about Australian children, the parties most under scrutiny would not be Aboriginal leaders but the Catholic Church and institutions like residential schools.
posted by jb at 8:03 PM on February 1, 2015

If the welfare of children was actually motivating the intervention, there would be some measurement of the welfare of children. There would be consultation with communities regarding what the best approaches would be for them. I have read first hand accounts of women in a few communities being very much in favour of the intervention, but generally it has harmed children and the communities they live in. The stories of its stupidity are breathtaking. This story of thriving local businesses being destroyed by it are repeated across the NT.

Even if there was any truth to the child abuse allegations, the intervention is not a response to it. It's a way of crushing the custodians of the lands in the NT (and beyond).
posted by shonias at 11:56 PM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is excellent, thank you for posting.

I think it was Elleke Boehmner who said that colonisers pile writing on the colonised. The way I see it, nothing has changed in the essential colonising m.o. There are the actions by the army, which non Aboriginal Australia rarely sees or reads about, and there is the bunch of words that metropolitans encounter in the newspaper piling up in favour of taking autonomy away from, and criminalising aboriginal groups. The various arms and levers of the Empire are still working as they always did.

I particularly respect the way Eckermann incorporates a range of genre in her essay. This poem is especially poignant:

Love Magic

there is ilpintji
in the wind
by the singing rock
down the river
by the ancient tree
love in malu
ngintaka and kalaya
love when spirits speak
no human voice
at sacred sites
watch walawaru soar
over hidden kapi
find the love
posted by honey-barbara at 6:00 AM on February 2, 2015

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