Monday, April 15, 2013

here's why part 1


Let me say it: I don’t hate Aboriginals but…
Nah, just kidding.

Facts: A lot of Aboriginals having a drinking problem, a lot of Aboriginals seem to fight a lot, and Alice Springs is the knifing capital of the world [on a per capita basis].

Fact: Some whitefellas get very huffy and judgmental about this, as if the problem is genetic or something. They forget whitefella thugs sometimes mix pills and booze then “glass” somebody else for no reason, or that Australia in general has a culture that’s sometimes a little too focused on getting pissed as if this is something only gifted over-achievers can do.

Fact: Some whitefellas get very huffy and judgmental about people even talking about Aboriginal issues. If we can’t acknowledge that a lot of Aboriginals have a drinking problem, or seem to fight a lot, or that Alice Springs is a great place for nurses to learn about stab wounds, then how in heck are we supposed to help?

My question is this:
Why is it Australia, out of all the world’s successful former colonies, is finding it so hard to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous people?

What follows is not addressed to the yobbos who are just racists. Only an idiot argues with a total idiot. What follows is addressed to anyone who genuinely cares about Aboriginal welfare.

To understand how this situation came about and why it’s so hard to close the gap in such an enlightened and rich country, we don’t need to indulge in a lot of guilty breast beating. In fact, that approach is counter-productive.

Sure, our early settlers were ignorant and horrible and a product of their time, and anyone living a modern lifestyle here – including many westernised indigenous Australians – is a beneficiary of that past.
We need to acknowledge the truth openly and honestly.
But we also need to understand the reality of what is holding us back today – guilt on its own won’t change a bloody thing.

PS From here on I’m going to use the word "Aboriginal" in a politically incorrect way but only because it’s a lot less tedious than typing something like “Aboriginal, Torres Strait Island, Tasmanian and other Indigenous Australian” culture[s].

A whitefella is any non-Aboriginal.

Today’s reality begins with understanding many aspects of Aboriginal Australia’s traditional cultures are totally incompatible with western culture.

It’s all very well to say it would be nice if we protected these cultures and kept them intact, but this is a load of impossible bollocks. Should Aboriginal children be exposed to smallpox because inoculation is not a 40,000 year old Aboriginal tradition?

I’m not for the cavalier eradication of Aboriginal culture, just for considered adaption [or adaptation depending on your own political views]. Better Aboriginal culture should adapt than disappear altogether.

While we are at it, let’s acknowledge that when we accuse someone or are accused of racist callousness because of Aboriginal living standards, today’s reality is being judged by western standards.
In other words, if you want to leave what’s left of Aboriginal culture 100% intact, stop bitching about the gap. You can't have it both ways.

Sometimes the application of western standards is appropriate. Sometimes it’s unnecessary. Personally, I’d rather sacrifice some aspects of remaining Aboriginal culture than accept today’s reality.
As a white person do I have the right to make this decision on behalf of Aboriginals? 
Do I have the right not to?

Cultures, like people, adapt or die.


Fake boomerangs made in China and painted in ridiculous patterns and colours are not culture, they are simply an ugly form of exploitation. Likewise the notion that all boomerangs are supposed to come back, as if they were some kind of pre-industrial frisbee.

My focus here is on Aboriginals in isolated [mainly desert] areas of Australia, on fringe dwellers, and on people from Arnhem Land. These are the peoples who had the least contact with early invaders, and who are the most marginalised today.


Just what is culture, anyway?

Culture is about how we view ourselves in relation to the natural world, and to each other. What are our personal rights or our responsibilities to each other, and what should be our goals in life?

In a totally westernised and capitalistic world, the individual is responsible first and foremost to himself, and for himself. Greed [or at least some advantage] is good. Although co-operation is good, competition is more important. And SAVING is central to all of this.

In a totally traditional Aboriginal context, culture is about the natural world and “our mob” [group]. Co-operation is essential, while saving and competition are suicide.

To understand incompatibilities between Aboriginal and western cultures, and to understand why an understanding of them is essential to closing the gap, we need to understand how each evolved, and look in detail at what each culture really is.

here’s why part 2 = why whitefellas think and live the way they do
here’s why part 3 = why Aboriginals think and live the way they do


  1. Interesting and oh so familiar.

  2. A very thoughtful view, Fruitcake. I was always shouted down (and therefore ended up shutting up altogether) about the fact that their ancient culture was no longer realistically sustainable if we also wanted to 'make amends' and do something to improve the living standards, life expectancy and career options for those living in the outback.

    I spent two very challenging years as an education and training policy officer for ATSI groups (mostly in very isolated communities) in the NT. No-one had any idea how to 'create' jobs once the community garden/sports centre/cultural art group was established, but I didn't dare suggest that 40,000 years ago these people were NOT left to sit and rot in one spot, but had the freedom to roam and make the most of the landscape they found themselves in at any given moment or season. It was sad and ironic that they'd refer to the dole as 'sit down money' and yet there was sod all else to do.....

    1. Firstly Kath, it's lovely someone agrees with me, or at least understands why I get so bloody frustrated about so many things about indigenous issues.

      Secondly, it's lovely hiding behind a keyboard and young Liam's face, because then I don't have to do the "is this a discussion or just an argument?" dance. Blogging has changed my life!
      These days my final word in some cases is simply "Let the records show I strongly disagree". Who wants to play parliament when we might actually listen to and learn from each other instead?

      As for the Mickey Mouse jobs... oh, for heaven's sake!
      Sit down money is exactly what it is, though some public servant somewhere is probably trying to work out how to rename it "sit down and shut up" money without being "offensive".

      You must have gone crazy. Only people who don't care could cope with all that crap.

      You've possibly missed some of my previous rants on indigenous issues.
      Currently, the proposed amendments to the constitution to acknowledge indigenous people overstate the importance of respect for cultures. If enough people vote no to the changes [as I will because they will make it okay for someone to harm someone so long as it's part of their culture] it will be misinterpreted yet again as a case of racism or ignorance.

      Oh bugga, now I'm ranting again. Best get on with part 2.

  3. You are tackling a very complex problem here. I am not really knowledgable on the topic to make an educated comment. However I can express my thoughts. I think there are good and bad characters in all cultures and societies and it is difficult to rehabilitate them or control them. The aboriginals have suffered a huge culture shock over the last 200 years and congratulations to those who have managed to cope and successfully live and contribute to Australian society. However, we too have had to cope with huge changes in our society over the past 200 hundred years. Even today the older generation are having to come to grips with the technology/communication revolution. Immigrants have had to deal with adapting to a new culture and yet maintaining ties with their other culture. I hope your future articles will explain why some aboriginals cannot adapt to our society without falling into alcoholism, child abuse, wife beating etc.

  4. Diane, I think we are on the same page. I agree with most of what you say, including that things like alcoholism, child abuse and wife beating are not solely Aboriginal problems, but nonetheless some Aboriginals are struggling to adapt.

    If I understand you correctly, you also make a reasonable point that everyone else has to adapt to change, so why shouldn't Aboriginals?

    And that question about the difference in ability to adapt was exactly the question that made me curious.

    You don't need a PhD to express your thoughts, especially to a dropout like me. The little I know about the topic was extremely hard to piece together, and I only managed that because I had a lot of time on my hands, and a lot of curiousity.

    It is a complex problem, and I don't want to be insultingly simplistic. But what I think I've decided is that, despite our best intentions, we've been tackling the problem the wrong way.