Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day - Australia's Shame

Blog Action day today and the theme is poverty. Whilst it’s tempting to move into the realm of the third world. I have chosen to look closer to home, to a people that few see or care about, a people who have been invaded, subjugated, stolen. To a people who’s cultural heritage, despite being environmentally and culturally rich was squashed within 200 short years of European occupation. To a people who now need to reconnect with their land, their culture and their social networks as well as assimilate into a very different Australia to the one they discovered 30,000 years ago by our now indigenous population the Coori People.

When Europeans arrived, there were over 250 Aboriginal languages within hundreds of groups. The term 'tribe' does not fit the aboriginal experience, over 400 of these groups populated Australia prior to European settlement. They were people of 'country' and the countries overlapped with multiple clan groups. It was far from the Terra Nullis declared by Captain James Cook when he first set foot on Terra Australis.

For some reason, King George accepted Cpt. James Cook’s declaration of Terra Nullis when he f and unlike other indigenous populations in the Pacific and the Americas – no treaty was formed with the aborigines who were deemed stupid, ugly and savage. After years of attempted genocide (success in the case of Tasmania), marginalisation, failed attempts at assimilation with white society including stealing their children we are left with a marginalised indigenous population beleagued by alcohol abuse, poverty, poor health, geographical isolation, cultural disconnection,sexual and physical abuse, poor education, the list goes on.

  • 2.4% of the Australian population are indigenous

  • On average, Indigenous Australians will die 20 years earlier than non-Indigenous Australians. Indigenous women live 65 years on average, while men’s life expectancy is only 59 years.

  • Indigenous babies are nearly three times as likely to die before their first birthday. They are twice as likely to die at birth or during the early postnatal phase.

  • Rates of infectious diseases are 12 times higher among Indigenous people than the Australian average. Many curable.

  • Diabetes is two to four times more common among indigenous Australians, and they are more likely to die from it than non-indigenous diabetics due to poor diagnosis and lack of access to quality health care

  • In some areas, as many as one in five Indigenous children under seven have serious ear infections, such as chronic suppurative otitis media (CSOM), and many are left with permanent hearing loss.

  • 39.5 percent of Indigenous students completed Year 12

The division between the city aboriginal and the rural aboriginal has widened although poverty is an issue for both.

Disagreement continues on how some degree of cultural self determination and the restoration of self esteem can be restored for this culturally rich race. It is shameful that in the 21st Century, and in a land living high on pilfering natural resources, destroying old growth forest, farming hooved animals, retaining 2% economic growth and 4% unemployment DESPITE the current world economic crisis, we can have among our population a third world minority.

Aboriginal Australia suffers a number of levels of poverty thanks to poor government policy over the prevailing years:

Material poverty – removal of traditional land ownership, income poverty, poor housing and health provision, lack of food, shelter, water, medicine. Alcoholism, STD’s, incarceration

Non Material poverty – disenfranchisement, disconnection from land and language, breakdown of traditional values and customs, forced assimilation and removal of children, high levels of incarceration. dispossession; cultural annihilation; lack of recognition of our prior stewardship of Australia – there is no word in the aboriginal languages for ‘ownership’.

In the past, we’ve focused on ‘income’ poverty but there is so much more that needs to be addressed. Aboriginal agencies also ask whether an income poverty focus is likely to lead to an inappropriate 'welfare' type response. It certainly has so far! A new solution to bringing these communities back from the brink of destitution is required.

Many communities have thrived by being given back their traditional lands and management of traditional and sacred sites, Uluru is just one example of successful community stewardship and a thriving community.

As the Centre for Aboriginal Policy Research claims: The possibility of engaging Indigenous people in the wholesale provision of environmental services on the massive Indigenous estate is likely to generate local, regional and national benefits.

Indeed, Noel Pearson himself advocates for the development of greater community self sufficiency and of internal subsistence economies, but these views receive limited attention in contrast to his view that welfare dependency must cease and engagement with the ‘real’ economy or free market must be given priority.

It would take an essay and more research than this humble blogger can enter into here to explain all the reasons for the aboriginal plight. Whilst I do not accept historical guilt for what my forbears may have done - which was clearly wrong, but typical of the time - we have made a pigs ear out of fixing the problem. We now have a minority marginalised, brutalised, impoverished and uneducated indigenous population with whom few middle class Australians engage. I for example do not have contact with any person of aboriginal heritage. I have just never met one in my social circle, my educational institutions or my workplace and I've lived here for 41 years and I live on Dharuk land!

Middle class Australia has little connection with the original stewards of the land other than suburb and street names or tourist landmarks and destinations. We warble off Woolloomaloo and Turramurra, Parramatta and Warawee with little or no understanding of the names or their meanings. We love Kathy Freeman. We watch Message Stick and Living Black which largely discuss success stories and cultural facets of aboriginal life, not sexual abuse and petrol sniffing.

When there is a success story involving a person of aboriginal descent, we laud them, mount them on a pedestal and sing their praises because ‘what a good job they’ve done to get this far’, so surprising is it to see aboriginal representation in politics, science, education or areas outside the cultural arts and performance.

We need to establish a policy that neither trivialises nor hides the aboriginal plight, which is in accord with the Aboriginal experience, which highlights inequalities between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, and which leads to action to alleviate the devastating situation of so many Aboriginal people.

We came a long way and even managed to say ‘sorry’ late last year. Now it’s time for affirmative action. It’s a long road, there are wounds to heal, trust to be engendered, wrongs to right and services and infrastructure to be put into place. Some initiatives are working wonders such as handing back land to traditional owners for them to manage, employment initiatives, even the ‘intervention’ has at least brought attention to the plight of particularly the rural indigenous population.

Traditional solutions to poverty, particularly in remote Australia will not work.Mainstream solutions will not work on this very non-mainstream cultural group. Things are getting better but not quickly enough. The bottom line is not about litigation, it's not about subjugation it's about reconciliation so let us not drop the ball on this one. Make 'indigenous' poverty history.


Thriftcriminal said...

"Engage in the economy or free market", grrr, why does it have to be on those terms? Why can't they get on with their own existence on their own terms, with some support from the "real economy". Pisses me off that the only way accepted by "conventional wisdom" is free market economics coupled with a "you are either with us or against us" attitude. Piss off friedmanites, maybe they don't want to contribute to your bottom line by your rules, maybe they want to just get on with life.

Bimbimbie said...

Hi Baino I'm going to have to come back tomorrow for a proper read.

Miles McClagan said...

This is where I kind of feel inarticulate or unable to say something meaningful or positive, mostly because as the Christian Childrens Fund geezer used to say, the problems so big, what can I do! about that Youtube? Gotta lot of cool stuff on Youtube...

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

Your post reminds me of the plight of native Americans, the San of South Africa and Namibia and many other "aboriginal" cultures - all dispossessed, all succumbing to the scourges of Western lifestyle - all so incredibly culturally rich and wise. We are a stupid species as "civilized" sorts - and the tragedy is we see the sins of the fathers and we still make a pig's ear of trying to make it right. What are we so very afraid of? That the indigenous peoples might indeed prove how very shortsighted the rest of us are?
Brilliant and powerful post, Baino.

laughingwolf said...

good post... but why not eliminate ALL poverty, worldwide?

then ensure decent housing and proper education... including clean food, air, land and water?

Nick said...

I've met one more Aborigine than you, then, Baino, who gave a talk and played his music in Belfast some time back. He was from the Northern Territory. The idea of aborigines getting involved in environmental services sounds good, but what do they think? Nothing wrong with promoting their culture either, we've got a fantastic aboriginal print in our lounge. Though obviously they should be seriously involved in so many other things.

Not sure that just getting on with their life is the answer, Thrifty, that's what seems to have caused so many of the present problems - which are totally shocking in a so-called civilised country. They need a lot of constructive, sensitive help to lead more fulfilling lives. But most countries seem to fail miserably when it comes to looking after neglected marginal groups.

kj said...

baino, i encourage you to submit and publish this post so that it is widely read. you've written senstively, realistically and thoughtfully and sharing it will be a wise contribution.

i work with marginalized people these days. moving away from a welfare state and toward community/cultural empowerment, insisting on individual responsibility while also respecting individual differences, is simple to say and hard to do. it can be done, but it requires open minds and open hearts. that seems a rare commodity in these times of me-against-you.

Quickroute said...

Seems like the less techncally indigenous population gets the short end of the stick everywhere, Oz, US, South America

Baino said...

That's the way imperialism works Thrifty there's much water under the bridge now. Although the best programs to alleviate their poverty have indeed been culturally driven such as granting of land rights, the arts and stewardship of national parks which built a sense of community pride, provide income and provide a cultural connection to the land.

Miles, true that. I'm not across the whole thing but it seemed a fitting topic for Blog Action Day. It just seems wrong that when we're enjoying 'prosperity' we have a whole race of people living in the gutter.

Thanks AV. It seems whatever we do, we carry the guilt of the imperial invaders. We need to get over that and involve indigenous peoples in their own struggles. The trouble is, we just tend to throw money at them or corrupt organisations who 'represent' them and try to bring them into our way of living. It hasn't worked for 200 years, what makes us think it will work now.

Well Wuffa, that's the plan. This is just my little twist on Blog Action Day because it's close to home and so shameful in such a prosperous nation. Go read AV's post - the west NEEDS poverty, its part of macro economic survival.

Nick, when I said I hadn't met an aboriginal I meant through my social group. the Dharuk people come into schools and are known in the community but I don't have a single 'friend' with aboriginal blood so no first hand knowledge of what 'they' think. The land stewardship seems to work. The NT intervention has not. And even aboriginal activists are divided on the way forward. The difficulty is taking basic services to so many remote communities.

Thank you kj. I agree wholeheartedly that community and cultural empowerment is the way to go and there are people doing just that. I'm all for welfare and a 'leg' up but not dependency on handouts. The battle is with historical injustice, we need to move forward now, 'sorry' has been said, it's time to take action,
the past was the past . . tomorrow is another day.

Quicky True. I noticed riots in India the other day where Christians (converted by the invading British of course) are being murdered by their Hindu counterparts. The damage colonialism did is rife across the globe. On the other hand, uncolonised nations such as China also have their impoverished classes. I don't know what the solution is.

Bimbimbie said...

A big sigh from me Baino, thought provoking piece. Absolute vanilla says it all for how I feel. Through ignorance, arrogance, greed, self-righteousness, our so called civilized forebears laid a map to where we are today, not just in this country and we are still doing it ... Papua New Guinea being the latest in our region.

Paddy Bloggit said...

That's what we humans do ... we exploit those more vulnerable than ourselves ... self-preservation or just pure animalistic behaviour .... whos knows?

Bear Naked said...

Bravo Baino
I am giving you a standing ovation on this post.
Thought provoking, informative and educational.
You really are an inspiration.
Thank you.

Bear((( )))

Baino said...

Bimbimbie, you should go and read AV's post it's more about the psychology of poverty. Very interesting. Look, if we can raise a little awareness at least that's something. I believe that there is an 'intention' to really move forward with the aboriginal condition but it will be a slow process.

Paddy, I can empathise with your urge for a quiet place in the country and some solitude. Man's inhumanity to man on all levels is a constant source of angst for me.

Thank you Mrs Bear there will be a few about like this I imagine.

Megan said...

Great post. I will have to read it again.

Ces said...

The world was populated by aborigines and native people before the settlers came. The Philippines was an island of sultanates and tribes headed by Datus and Datunas. They had a caste system but a princess was allowed to assume the throne, not just the prince. The most famous of the Datus was Lapu-lapu, who beheaded Ferdinand Magellan in the island of Mactan. So much for that, Spain sent more galleons and ships and this time colonized the Philippines for 500 years!

The island where I grew up has its own aborigines, the Aetas or Atis. They are the pygmies and African-looking people who were marginalized and eventually driven to the mountains. I remember they use to come down from the hills and mountains to beg. My Mother who had a knack for languages learned to speak their language and when they came down to the city, the Aetas were stoned because they were black and had kinky hair. Mother gave them refuge at our house and fed them. It became customary for them to come to our house. Since my parents were well respected in the neighborhood and my father was well known in the city, the neighbors discovered that the Aetas came to our house for refuge and for food. Sometimes some devious women called Mother an Aeta sympathizer. I don't know why they were scorned. People thought they were lazy but I think it was because they looked Africans. Mother told them that she will give them rice and viand, clothes and other materials BUT they cannot get them for free. She told them that they had to barter. Since the Aetas had nothing, Mother told them to bring plants or flowers. So they bartered and Mother told us that made the difference between thinking of them as beggars and considering them equal business partners.

Baino said...

Ces that's a fantastic tale! What an interesting childhood you must have had.
If there were more people like your mother, we probably could make poverty history. That's the sort of thing I mean rather than just developing welfare dependency. It's a long road but we're taking baby steps, it's just very frustrating trying to 'undo' the prejudices of the past and replacing a white Australia 'assimilation' attitude with one which embraces cultural diversity!

Bear Naked said...

Could you come over to my blog today (Thursday) I have something for you.

Bear((( )))

Bimbimbie said...

Tsup*!*Happy Blogsversary Baino*!*

What a wise woman Ces's mother was!

Baino said...

Goodness well spotted Bimbimbie . . my ability to remember anniversaries and birthdays is deeply retarded! Fanks heaps.

Indigenous Peoples Advocate said...

Great post. This is the plight of indigenous peoples that we find all over the world. Colonialism caused major problems that we are still dealing with today, and now imperialism continues to rear its ugly head on indigenous lands in terms of natural resource development and the like. We need to continually raise people's awareness as to what is actually going on - especially in their own nations.