Letter: No white conspiracy in TV report on Wadeye youth gangs


Letter: No white conspiracy in TV report on Wadeye youth gangsTo borrow the opening lines from your correspondent, “there are times when we draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough”. I write in response to Brian McCoy’s article, 'Why change Aborigines into images of ourselves?'

As a journalist, to be accused of not understanding Aboriginal culture is one thing, but to be accused of joining in some ill-defined conspiracy to control and dominate Aboriginal people is quite another.

It’s a pity the author couldn’t master a more coherent argument because he does make a valid point that in Australiawe often seem more interested in the plight of Australians outside the country than in that of our own indigenous population. Not so at the Sunday program, which has a rich history of covering indigenous affairsmost recently in our cover story, 'The Gangs of Wadeye, A Lost Generation'. Wadeye is an Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory that attracted national attention earlier this year when gang warfare paralysed the town.

My principal argument with your correspondent is that of laziness. He tries to include our program in a broad amalgam of white bigotry with no evidence to support his theory. My suspicion is that he did not actually watch the program. The only lines he quotes come from the publicity blurb from our web site, and not from the program itself. If he did see it, he must have been particularly sleepy that Sunday morning as he missed one of the essential questions of the program, posed by the locals themselves: what should be done to give the next generation in Wadeye the opportunity to take part more fully in Australian society? He accuses us of superficial and negative representations but ignores one of the most commonly expressed concerns in Wadeye.

Letter: No white conspiracy in TV report on Wadeye youth gangsFor those actually watching the story, the opening lines were these: “The young people of Wadeye are caught between two worlds… the bush lives of their ancestors and modern youth culture…” The notion of being caught between two worlds was expressed by every person we interviewed in Wadeye; elders, young people, men and women. Where is the lack of respect in making this one of the central themes of the story?

And then there is the accusation of our 'fear of difference'; that is, racism by any other name. Your correspondent suggests that along with the Federal Government we are guilty of dredging up ancient stereotypes. He even suggests it is not unreasonable for people to conclude that we are in a conspiracy with the government and its ministers to denigrate Aboriginal culture. He offers nothing from the program to support this, quoting only a line taken from the website introduction, not the program, that we “documented the social and cultural issues at play in the community”. I concede that line may be over simplistic but where is the fear, where are the “persistent and dangerous values” expressed here?

Letter: No white conspiracy in TV report on Wadeye youth gangsOn one salient cultural questionthe surprising popularity in Wadeye of 1980s heavy metal musicI quizzed the federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Mal Brough, during his visit. The minister said the popularity of heavy metal music in Wadeye and the clothes that went with it made him uncomfortable. Isn’t it obvious that whatever you make of that comment, it reflects the minister’s attitudes, not ours? Or perhaps it suits your correspondent to imagine a world where the minister and I worked it all out together before we went?

My first thought was that such a woolly critique didn’t merit a response, except that it does the greatest disservice not to us but to the Aboriginal people it claims to defend, by encouraging them to believe that such a conspiracy could exist.

Our experience in Wadeye was a very rewarding one. I defy anyone who has actually seen the story to come away with such a negative impression of our intentions, or what we achieved.



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Existing comments

I read Brian McCoy's article of 22/08. I respect his credentials & admire his accomplishments. If his treatment of Sarah Ferguson was unfair as it now seems it might have been, I wonder is there anyhting else in his views I should now discount. All writers of opinion pieces would be doing their readers a huge favour if in their articles, they distinguished between what is fact and what is opinion. On a related topic, could Fr McCoy be asked to write on why there are such discernible differences in the atmosphere from one Aboriginal settlement to another in Cape York, NT and WA? I don't expect homegeneity any more than in white societies but why are there such differences between that described at Wadeye and easily observed at say, Warmun.

Tony Andrews | 05 September 2006  

I have written to Brian and forwarded these comments, and of course the article, to him.

James Massola | 05 September 2006  

"It’s a pity the author couldn’t master a more coherent argument..." - I find lines like this particularly bitchy, and unnecessary. If you have a valid case to make, there's no need for you to attack the author personally, however underhanded.

Nina Lowe | 07 September 2006  

Sarah Ferguson (5 Sep 06) accuses Brian McCoy of laziness and failure to watch her TV Program carefully, yet she herself has patently failed to read his letter with attention. He says explicitly, "Personally, I am not so sure there is a conspiracy." He does refer to a reporter going to live in a community for ten tays and thinking she has got the measure of 'the cultural and social issues at play'. That is an unmistakable reference to her. He does refer to her program twice, but to assume that any other reference he makes to the media is aimed at her program smacks of paranoia.

I happened to be visiting Wadeye when there was an invasion by two TV crews. (The few indigenous people I spoke to referred to the town as Port Keats.) I would question that any of the Nine crew actually lived in the Indigenous Community at all. Miss Ferguson may have stayed for that short time in the same town but I very much doubt that she actually lived in the Indigenous community.

I saw a video clip of her meeting with the town council but one of the local people felt the need to translate what had been said, for the benefit of his fellow councillors.

Denis Matthews | 07 September 2006  

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