Monday, July 18, 2011

issues in alice

This is the same clip I embedded in my previous post, showing some of the problems in Alice Springs.
There are some interesting things appearing in this news report:
  1. Wherever there are Aboriginals drinking, there always seem to be whitefellas drinking too; [it was the same in the NT when I was there 30 years ago]
  2. The Aboriginals in this clip – not representative of all Aboriginals – are simply doing in public what some whitefellas – not representative of all whitefellas – usually do behind closed doors.
  3. Barbara Shaw, the Town Camp elder interviewed in this story, indirectly makes an important point – why is the social dysfunction of some Aboriginals suddenly important when the only thing that has changed is the location?
Two sides to every story

For the sake of balance, I went searching on YouTube for footage about what happens in places where there are more or less no Aboriginals at all. I found plenty, but decided there’s no need for my readers to be sickened like I was.
[Incidentally discovered the reason house values are so tragic in the area where I live. Darn.]

There are heaps of clips of this busker, who seems to be something of a local fixture in my home suburb. Everyone assumes he’s a junkie and he might be – he might also be someone with a mental illness; the sort of people who were once locked away where no one had to deal with them. In the 1960s and 70s, all over the western world we decided to open the doors of asylums because it was the right thing to do, but there are still no support systems in place to compensate.

The Intervention

Opinion about whether the NT intervention has been a good thing or bad is as divided in Aboriginal communities as it is in whitefella discussions.
The federal government has recently decided to impose a minimum price on alcohol but, as with everything they tackle, they are failing to account for human nature. Eliminating cheap grog will do nothing to rid communities of drugs, petrol or glue sniffing, or prevent them resorting to alcohol substitutes. Has no politician ever watched an American gangster movie about the prohibition era?

Community Services departments and organisations in the Territory are, in the nature of most bureaucracies, struggling to find workers who will stay, and squabbling amongst themselves about how to provide consistent care and continuity of care.
Further, they must deal with the widespread and reasonable perception that removal of children is simply the Stolen Generations with a new name. Unfortunately, placing children with Aboriginal families can be problematic for a number of reasons.

The Town Camps

In remote areas like Alice Springs, Aboriginal people tend to live in one or more of the following settings:
  • Mainstream housing;
  • Town Camps;
  • Homelands; or
  • Outstations.
To oversimplify: Homelands are usually freehold land owned collectively by the traditional owners. These might be excised parcels of pastoral leases, or former Mission stations or Aboriginal reserves. Outstations are those isolated areas, near the homelands, where there are sites which have special meaning for Aboriginals.

Town camps in Alice Springs are former fringe camps [slums on the edge of whitefella towns]. These are collectively administered by an Aboriginal land council. Housing in these camps is occupied by groups who are often transient, and the size of the groups can fluctuate widely. For example, there might be one family in a home but when there is sorry business – as there all too frequently is – people travel from all over Australia to fulfil their obligations. Or people passing through just arrive and take up residence with relatives.
Many people move regularly between outstations, homelands and town camps.

The housing in the camps is quite decrepit. The two main reasons for this are that what belongs to everyone is invariably cared for by no one. [Just ask my economics lecturer from Hungary about the Soviet system he hated so much].
The second and most important thing is that the housing is totally inappropriate. It’s design is just more evidence that whitefellas, too often, are incapable of seeing anything other than what they would want.
The government has recently announced a huge slab of money will be going to housing improvements, but I’m fairly confident it will be newer and better but still totally inappropriate.

Samson and Delilah

This movie, which received a standing ovation when it was first screened at Cannes, is a bloody hard movie to sit through. I hadn’t seen the trailer before I watched it and, in amongst the added doodahs that come with DVDs, was an interview in which Warwick Thornton described his movie as a love story. That was a shock to me.

On the other hand, the movie offers everyone a chance to be a fly on the wall, and compare what Warwick knows as normal to what they know as normal.

Warning, parts of this trailer are not pretty:

Aboriginal vs Aboriginal

I’m sure I’ve said elsewhere it’s an open secret that Alice Springs is the stabbing capital of Australia.
The link below leads to a very brief clip of what drugs and alcohol can do to people.

Warning, don’t go there unless you have a strong stomach.

Finally, on a very positive note:

Here’s an example of why it is important the government make services available on homelands and outstations, instead of insisting Aboriginals should move closer to services.

Nothing will change unless the cycle of dysfunction stops for at least two generations*. Whatever that might cost, I think it would be the best investment we can make of our dollars, and of other people’s lives.
This is not political correctness speaking, it’s just realism.

*The two generations theory is backed up by the Biblical story of the Jews wandering in the desert for 40 years after their escape from Egypt. It wasn’t that God needed a GPS [or that they were waiting on a Frankston line train] – it’s just that you can’t make a free people out of a slave generation.

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