Aboriginal Communities: Who may speak?

19 Comments

Reconciliation WeekAboriginal communities have given me life for over 30 years. Yet in commenting on the recent media spotlight on Aboriginal violence, I enter on delicate ground. I am a non-Aboriginal male. Regardless of my history, relationships and experience with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, some may see my comments as ignorant, unhelpful or simply irrelevant. But the issues are important. They affect my friends and they affect the sort of Australian society we want to create and live in.

Despite the suggestons of our government leaders, there are no simple answers. The violence Aboriginal people have been experiencing over generations wears many faces. But it is more demanding and challenging to explore how I, or we as non-Aboriginal people, may be part of this violence. History suggests that the recent media frenzy and government response may actually create further harm.

A few days ago, a group of senior Aboriginal men who over many years have committed themselves to these issues sent out a press release. They condemned the violence absolutely. They acknowledged that many males were trying to make a difference. They recognised that it was time for men to stand up as fathers, brothers, uncles, grandfathers, nephews and cousins to ‘intervene whenever and wherever’. Finally, they called on governments to support men to do this. This would entail supporting the men’s groups and programs which have long been trying, with little help, to address these issues.

The voices of these men, my professional colleagues and friends, have largely not been heard in the recent media coverage. It is easier to depict violence and to stop at the sensational moment. It is much harder to converse seriously with those who are trying to deal with violence and to stop it. It is far more dramatic to present images that shock, rather than engage with Aboriginal women and men about issues that derive from the long history of violence that has been suffered. It is easy to stereotype and pathologise all Aboriginal men. I take great exception to that.



Wadeye Community WebsiteWadeye in the Northern Territory, is one of the communities that has sustained me and given me great life over more than 30 years. It was a mission, called Port Keats, when I first visited in the 1970s. It has, once again, been in the news. It has been evident for many years that this very large community, formed from a mission that gathered together many different language groups, was heading for crisis. Most Aboriginal communities have a much larger group of younger people than we have in non-Aboriginal communities. Wadeye has an even greater proportion. If Aboriginal people are dying much younger than non-Aboriginal Australians, one question has become glaring and obvious. Where are the healthy pathways for the many young men of this community? When housing is overcrowded, unemployment is high, resources are scarce and there are few healthy older people to guide them, what kind of adults can they become?

Let me respond to Minister Mal Brough’s recent emphases. Should we put the full weight of intervention on law and order, or does putting men into prison make them more, or less, violent? Where, in the 2006 Budget for Indigenous Affairs do we find support for Aboriginal men’s groups and programs? What encouragement is given to young fathers and babies, to complement that given to young mothers and babies? Where do we find the conversation, partnership and support for those men who are making a difference?

Whether the issue be petrol sniffing, violence, alcohol or sexual abuse, the media now tend to sensationalise and marginalise all Aboriginal men, and to present all Aboriginal society as violent and dysfunctional. In doing this, we perpetuate an older, colonial attitude. We find it easier to talk about Aboriginal people than to talk with them; we prefer negative stereotypes to the challenge of forming partnerships. We also adopt an older, colonial response when we prefer to be fearful and to inflict violence, especially on the men, instead of risking a relationship with them. In such times, those ancient words of the drover Matt Savage come back to haunt me: 'We did not know what the Aborigines thought about it all. We would never have dreamed of asking them'.


 

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Existing comments

Thank you Brian for a very moving and "spot on" artical. You may not remember me, but I have met you somewhere between Hughneden and Palm Island. After spending 5 years on Palm, I too have a passion for my Aboriginal brothers and sisters who taught me so much and changed so many of my views and attiudes. I have been disgusted by some of the biased releases!I fear we are taking many backward steps..again.
Keep in touch,
Gerry
Geraldine Kearney | 30 May 2006


A very interesting and thought-provoking article. As a non aboriginal I would be interested to know more of how I am part of 'this violence'. Perhaps the article could have elaborated more. Reminding us of our colonial attitude was useful. It would be useful to know more of how we as ordinary citizens can enter into dialogue with the men and how this could be helpful.
Regaards,
Ken
Ken Haddock | 30 May 2006


I'd like to hear more from Brian drawing on his experience, as it is one that has been shared by very few Australians, thus giving him insights that others of us will never be able to gain without his contribution.
Alan Wedd | 30 May 2006


Fr.Brian, it was good to hear a 'corrective' from one who has long been involved with the indigenous people, and who has a high regard for them.
Peter Faulkner | 30 May 2006


Thanks Brian for your call to a more resonant and thoughtful response to what Mal Brough presents as an easy and instant response to the needs of so many hurting people. We sure do need the reflections of 'whities' here too - The gospel response is lost in the media fervour to have 'instant' and usually quite silly reactions to issues in the Aboriginal community. We still fail to recognise the authentic voice of Aboriginal leaders and those of us who feel 'unqualified to speak' for our membership of the colonising powers can too easliy forget our qualifications as humans- something forgotten by the power mongers.
Thanks for setting an agenda closer to the truth.
gerard
Gerard Bennett | 31 May 2006


It would be great if more education programs for youth were to be implemented also more sports programs for youth participation and jobs to be provided by the government for all aborigines.
judy westcott | 31 May 2006


Thanks Brian, this is the first bit of real sense I have heard on this recent debate. Good news yesterday from Toowoomba is that 15 aboriginal men met at the start of a mens group there. Its a tricky zone for non-aboriginals to comment and always painful to be involved with, but so we must. I am trying to work towards a reconciliation here in Central Qld town of taroom -its long overdue. Cheers. Vince
Vince Carroll MSC | 31 May 2006


Very helpful in our work in running a community newspaper in an Indigenous community.
Wilcannia News,
WILCANNIA 2826
Ron Plunkett | 01 June 2006


I read the article in the National Times. I am appalled at the comments the Federal Minister on Aboriginal Affairs made. Federal liberal ministers have forgotten that during the wind back of federal and state funding especially in 1997 when the liberal federal government closed down the social policy of ATSIC this accounted for some 400 mill of grant monies that supported community organisations to do vital community enhancement programs in remote Aboriginal communities across Australia. I am pleased with the "ABC" program for shedding some light on WADEYE and its funding. It actually misses out on approx 80 mill each year compared to a popular electorate in Darwin. compared to Mainstream funding WADEYE is well under serviced in all areas to how a community should be run. I am very disatisfied with how the Federal Minister had handled this in the News and in Public. Who needs Enemys when you have ministers with this mind set running Aboriginal Affairs. Obviously it was a ploy to attract votes for the Howard Government. Keep writing I enjoy reading your articles.
Mike
Mike Turner | 01 June 2006


Thanks also Brian for going on the record and addressing these issues with respect,understanding and knowledge. Like Vince Carroll MSC who commented on 30/5/06 we too have recently formed a Men's Group in Brisbane to denounce the views of the media which are unfortunately popular within society. As Aboriginal men living in Brisbane we are coming together to address these issues and to provide solutions. We are organising a silent Mens March on Friday 7th July denouncing the media reports and to bring further awareness of the real issues. We are going back to our culture, strenghening the fibre of our families by respecting aboriginal lore and culture. WE INVITE ALL AUSTRALIANS TO COME TO BRISBANE ON FRIDAY 7TH JULY TO PARTICIPATE IN THIS MARCH. For further information email scott@musgravepark.org.au. Yours in the struggle - Scott Anderson

Scott Anderson | 01 June 2006


Thanks also Brian for going on the record and addressing these issues with respect,understanding and knowledge. Like Vince Carroll MSC who commented on 30/5/06 we too have recently formed a Men's Group in Brisbane to denounce the views of the media which are unfortunately popular within society. As Aboriginal men living in Brisbane we are coming together to address these issues and to provide solutions. We are organising a silent Mens March on Friday 7th July denouncing the media reports and to bring further awareness of the real issues. We are going back to our culture, strenghening the fibre of our families by respecting aboriginal lore and culture. WE INVITE ALL AUSTRALIANS TO COME TO BRISBANE ON FRIDAY 7TH JULY TO PARTICIPATE IN THIS MARCH. For further information email scott@musgravepark.org.au. Yours in the struggle - Scott Anderson

Scott Anderson | 01 June 2006


These reactive articles of late throughout Australia, in both the print and electronic media, show a real ignorance of issues facing Aboriginal people by some non-indigenous people; they put forward no suitable solution. Yes, the answers will come from Aboriginal people if we care to ask them. We are creating a Kimberley Male Network to properly integrate the thoughts of Aboriginal males into policy and practical application. Surely it must be by Aboriginal people for Aboriginal people.
The positive aspect of all this, is that all of us with like minds are now communicating on an Australia wide basis. Let's keep this great network moving and inform one another what is being accomplished in your own area. Cheers Dermot
Dermot Buckley | 01 June 2006


As a Yamatji man I concur absoulutley with this statement of Dr McCoys, "We find it easier to talk about Aboriginal people than to talk with them; we prefer negative stereotypes to the challenge of forming partnerships. We also adopt an older, colonial response when we prefer to be fearful and to inflict violence, especially on the men, instead of risking a relationship with them."

Relationships is what it is all about, especially in our world.

I to have worked with young Indigenous men for over thirty five years in many settings and I do acknowledge that the offender, perportrators, preditors of abuse / domestic violence are men, thats a given, but the problems is out of control in many communities across the country and a whole race of people, one of the oldest cultures in the world are wipping themselves out at a very frantic rate.

I have been at the coal face /front lines for most of my working life and can say with out any hestitation that many young indigenous men have lost the plot.

They have no respect for themselves, no respect for their kin, no respect for their culture and have lost all respect from the communities they live in... this is a mixture for disaster.

We can talk about it until the cows come home and governments of both sides need to act and act quickly, the actions modeled by these young men are being transferred to the next genreation and they only know what they have seen and heard in their short lives...and its not good.

If the solutions were simple I would fix them myself but they are very complexed and diverse with a gamet of underpinnig issues that are generaltional.

The lack of strong leadership and coupled with the social issues mention in all the editorials over the last few months makes for good "I told you so" reading, but the reality is that women live in fear and are bashed on a regular bases and children are abused,sexually,emotionally and more importantly they do not have a voice to say I need help, I need a safe place or I need food.

These are things most Australians take for granted ?

To engage with the Indigenous communities across Australia will take time and we know what the problems are, there been flogged to death over the past three decades, from the setting up of the National Aboriginal Congress (NAC) to the final abstract( feel good ) notion of "RECONCILIATION" which has only made a small percentage of white fellas in their communitties feel good about themselves.

Most Government Departments preach Social Justice but would not have a clue about how to implement their glossy policies.

We have known for years about all the issues, so lets talk to the right people in these regions at a local level and start rectifying some of the wrongs.



Rod Ogilvie Yamatji Man | 01 June 2006


At the end of the day, all what we have strived for and done, will point to the same conclusion that we will not solve this situation alone. Men such as Mr Brian McCoy a great mentor and personal friend are needed to help us as Indigenous men to stand together to address this critical and major significant issue to restore mighty warriors to their rightful role as caretakers of this land and most importantly our people.
Randal Ross | 01 June 2006


While I recognise the importance of hearing from Aboriginal men, especially from those who are willing to take responsibility for male violence against women and children, I think it is much more important to hear from Aboriginal women. This issue is one of gender, as well as one of race. Dr McCoy writes about Aboriginal men that: 'The voices of these men, my professional colleagues and friends, have largely not been heard in the recent media coverage.' The voices of Aboriginal women have been heard even less. The anxiety of Anglo-Australian culture to make sure that the voices of Aboriginal people are heard on this issue should not blind us to the fact that when it comes to violence against women and children, the voices of Aboriginal women and men are not equivalent, any more than the voices of women and men of any race are equivalent. Yes, by all means, let us listen to Aboriginal men. But let our priority as a nation be to listen to Aboriginal women.
Avril Hannah-Jones | 04 June 2006


As a UK visitor to Australia in 1994 and 2003 I feel the aboriginal race have been forced onto the street. As I saw many times in parts of Sydney. Considering they are the 'real' Australians and just like the indians in America, I find it appalling how these people are being treated and forced into a corner to defend their rights to freedom within the lands they live. Suggest you contact the BBC and get some UK coverage as many UK citzens think Australia is a perfect place to live! Whereas like all places that is not always the case?
Howard
Howard | 07 June 2006


Thanks Fr Brian for you thoughtful insight into the issues, It a pity that the politicans have not got it and I daresay they will not have learn't that the only way is treating the first Australian as equal
Jilpia Nappaljari Jones | 23 June 2006


Caught up with this article rather late. Thanks Brian for it. I was struck by the "..we...they..." perspective of some of it though. See paragraph two for an example. I have seen indigenous Australians described in print as something other than as "Australians", in quite respectable newspapers (admittedly in the letters columns.) In the minds of some there are aboriginals on the one hand and there are Australians on the other. Now Brian would be horrified at such an imputation to himself, I know, and I am not imputing it. But it indicates how much non-aboriginal Australians tend to take for granted that indigenous Australians are somehow other, different, alien, a standing reporoach. Now it is rather difficult being a standing reproach. It cannot be kept up for long.
Can I suggest that all writers on indigenous-immigrant relations (including Anglos-Saxo-Celto-Europeans etc in the immigrant group) ask themselves when tempted to think "we"/"they" what their anthropological perspective might actually be and what it should be. I hope I am not talking hot air. Thanks again Brian, from another Brian.
Brian | 19 August 2006


Thank you for a most insightful article, which I have enjoyed greatly. I have just returned from a lengthy trip to the NT and visited some Indigenous friends in the Wadeye area. I did not think that Mal Brough's intervention had done much for them, apart from quarantining part of their income even though they no longer have any dependent children. Their poverty is pitiful and they are very depressed and needy. In the words of an old friend, not an Aborigine but someone who has spent all of his adult years in Darwin, 'the racism at the moment is the worst it has ever been'. If you have an understanding of how this could have happened, when so many have tried to develop more tolerance and even friendship among all people, please let me know.
Eveline Goy | 06 November 2009


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