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.