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Aboriginal Communities: Who may speak?

  • 29 May 2006

Aboriginal 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 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