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  • Marshall Saunders, Cultural educator, chats about: Life after the Cherbourg Boys’ Dormitory

    marshall saundersSH: Where is your family from and where did you grow up?

    My mother was born in Cherbourg and her grandparents came from out Augathella way, while my father was taken from Clermont in central Queensland. I was born in Cherbourg along with my two older brothers and four younger sisters. We lost mum with leukaemia in 1966, when I was quite young and we were devastated.

    She left three sons and four daughters, who were placed in the boy's and girl's dormitories on Cherbourg by the mission manager. This actually divided the family and they could only see each other occasionally. I was 17 years old when I left the dormitory, to live with my aunty where I finished Year 12 at Murgon High. At this time my younger sisters were living with my aunty and my brothers Lewis and Lester had already left Cherbourg. I left Cherbourg in April 1975.

    SH: What was school like for you?

    I enjoyed school at Cherbourg and was eventually sent to Murgon State School due to my good results with the school exams. I was often given homework as a young lad and mum would take an interest and was very supportive. She encouraged me a lot.

    SH: What did you do after school?

    I started working with Murgon Shire Council in 1975 then the Maryborough Shire Council both under a RED Scheme until a job came up with the Department of Aboriginal and Islanders Affair Advancement, which is now DATSIP. The Department has had many name changes over the years. I was on six (6) months training as a junior Liaison Officer in Brisbane. In that six months it opened my eyes to the policy of past practices of previous governments where I had to sign statutory declaration forms. This was so nothing was repeated that was read in the files. Little did I realise 20 to 30 years down the track I will be using this information for my Cultural Awareness and Reconciliation Learning Circles (RLC) training programs.

    SH: What can you tell me about your early life?

    I was in the boy's dormitory in Cherbourg from 1966 to 1972 and it was tough. It taught me a lot about life and how to be humble. I always say there is someone worse off than me and that's been my motto in life. I had to light the three fires; the kitchen, the hot water system and the boilers for the laundry all before the brothers woke up at about 6am. They say we had it good but we never had the freedom to visit families on Cherbourg. I was lucky my nanna was in the Mothers & Babies quarters next door to the boy's dormitory and I could get permission to visit her. She passed away not long after we lost mum. In the dormitory we never got a birthday or Christmas present. There were about 44 boys in the dormitory when I was there and a lot of them were placed there for whatever reason, many from outside of Cherbourg.

    I travelled a lot when I was a young and I left Queensland in 1976 as an angry young man and caught a bus to Sydney, then on to Victoria and stayed one year working as a fettler on the railways. I couldn't understand why we had to sit on the floor during picture nights in Cherbourg, and the white people would sit upstairs, or why I had to have a permit to go to Brisbane for my ear checks or why I was being paid $2 a week. I couldn't understand it, why this doesn't happen to white people. My mum died not knowing what happened to her wages after working on various properties in Queensland.

    I decided to move to South Australia (SA) in early 1977 and stayed there nearly twenty years. This was the place for me and it changed my thinking and attitudes towards white people. In SA you were treated as equal, and I was amazed the Aboriginal flags flying in the main street and on most of the city buildings. I also spent three wonderful years living in Canberra and made many good friends.

    SH: What do you do outside of work?

    I enjoy catching up with my family and watching the Bunnies win. I also enjoy delivering Cultural Education training to NGOs and other interested community groups. In 2000 I facilitated a RLC program for about 20 new Australians. I asked the group who arrived here in Australia before 1967 almost all of them raised their hands. When I told them they were Australians before the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people they could not believe it and most of them started crying.

    I am an active member for Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) Queensland. I enjoy meeting new people in particular members of the Stolen Generation and listening to their stories; it's so sad. We as a family were lucky the mission manager kept us all on Cherbourg as he could have sent each one to a different community if he wanted to.

    SH: What is one message you would give to young Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people?

    Get a good education, be a role model for your family and the wider community. Respect other people's opinions.

    SH: Who were your role models?

    My role models were the late Charlie Perkins and my Elders and listening to them telling their stories and about my family connections. I am inspired by "older people" going back to school or studying at university.

    SH: Who or what are your inspirations?

    People who inspire me are the battlers, older people returning to school or university to further their education. Also, all the Elders, because they fought for what we have today. An Elder once told me, "there is always someone worse off than me" and that has been my driving force to do good for the community I live in.

    I enjoy listening to the old people, telling their story and where they came from. Also, facilitating the RLC program in the wider community, and, helping others who are struggling to make ends meet. In my current role in Queensland Health (QH) I deliver the new Cultural Practice Program and where possible the RLC program. I am now involved in the Ration Shed tours to Cherbourg from the Ettamough pub and it is a good opportunity to tell your story to interested people. What we tell them is what will never appear in the curriculum and/or what they did not learn at school.

    SH: What is your Claim to fame?

    I put the original submission to the Beattie government in 1998 for the 6 months car registration. Therefore, all Qld car owners should give me a dollar every year. In QH, I enjoy sending out valuable information to the Australia wide network.

    SH: What is your most memorable Christmas?

    I returned home to Cherbourg in September 1996 and for that Christmas I drove to Kingaroy and bought a Santa costume and used it when driving Cherbourg people to the Christmas fair in Murgon. During the day I was driving around Cherbourg handing out lollies to kids and hospital patients. Later on that day an Elder said to me, "Thank you for putting big smiles on little faces". I continued to transport people in and out of Murgon. Early that afternoon, I picked a single parent up in the park and said to her, "You're leaving early as the Christmas fair had just started" and her reply was, I got no money for her little baby, who looked about 2 years. So I did a quick U-turn and gave her $20. She couldn't stop crying and thanking me. It hit home how families are struggling to pay bills and put food on the table for their children. All Christmas gatherings are good for the family, but you never know who's struggling.

    SH: What are your goals?

    Hopefully return to Uni and finish writing my book.

  • The BLACK Vote

    i think_its_loveThe outcome of the Northern Territory elections on the weekend points emphatically to the power of the BLACK vote.

    No longer can it be taken for granted that Indigenous people nationwide will vote Labor based on its egalitarianism principal of all people are equal and deserving of equal rights and opportunities.

    The trouble with that outdated Labor principal is, as a voter, you really don't know who's going to be at the head of the party calling the shots: will it be factions from the left, centre left or right of the Labor party? Depending on the factional hat the head honcho wears into the party room will be the bias on what is deemed equitable or not.

    Some might believe that giving the blue collar working class folk a larger slice of the pie than the big end of town is the way the ALP pie should be divided. Whilst others, with a keen eye on the big end of town's donations to the party and of balancing the books with large returns from the mining and business sector might be the way to go; of treating certain sections of the community more equitably than others.

    Unfortunately in the past the Indigenous population were considered, it would seem from all parties, as the social grouping within the broader community who holds limited political sway and to be afforded the leaner slice of the pie.

    The NT election outcome: likely to be Country Liberal Party 14, Australian Labor Party 8 and one Independent, will forever change the way the apparatchik, or those calling the shots on political polling and policy formulations, will view Indigenous voters and their concerns.

    Successful Indigenous CLP candidates, Larisa Lee (Arnhem), Bess Price (Stuart) and Francis Xavier (Arafura), Adam Giles (Braitling) and Alison Anderson (Namatjira) will see to that when they demand a far greater say in the portfolios handed out by their leader Terry Mills. Their crucial votes from their mob in the bush is the reason the CLP is now in office.

    Gone are the days when we used to hear of candidates and party officials, of both parties, going into remote parts of Australia and buying copious amounts of alcohol for the local black voters as a means of rendering them too intoxicated to vote on polling day or to win over favours should they make it to the polling booth.

    The recent Queensland election was the first sign that I've seen of wide ranging discontent amongst Indigenous voters to the ALP when they looked at specific policies that impacted on their communities rather than blindly providing a traditional ALP vote as their parents had done before them.

    I recall Alf Lacey, Mayor of Palm Island, warming to Campbell Newman before the elections because of his comments that he would review the Alcohol Management Plans imposed by Labor that restricted alcohol consumption.

    Alf's view was that the AMP was a violation of his human rights to enjoy a cold drink of whatever he fancied, like every other Australian, after a hard day's work. Some Indigenous leaders looked at the Wild Rivers Legislation when casting their vote whilst many others factored in policies of all parties based on their professional, financial and social standing.

    What is patently clear from the NT elections is that the CLP won office based on a conservative swing of 16% away from Labor in the 'bush vote'. In other words the 'bush vote' or Aboriginal vote, went against the traditional trend of being partial to the ALP. And this is where the water is muddied.

    In the morning after the defeat of the ALP, social commentators in southern states were attributing the former Howard administration's NT Intervention policy, that is now called the Stronger Futures policy under Labor, as the catalyst for black voter dissatisfaction.

    They argue that whilst it was the Howard government that implemented the race based policy, it was nevertheless Labor who condoned the punitive policy and strengthen it through a ten year extension that brought a high level of voter angst.

    That single act of the decade long extension by Labor of a draconian social policy for the NT Aboriginal population was, I believe, the straw that broke the camel's back and caused such a seismic shift in their voting pattern.

    Within the next 24 hours the language of the NT Intervention being the significant factor had been watered down by social commentators to it now playing a lesser role to the "super shires" debate.

    The language was now one of concern for the "super shires" using the CLP's successful Aboriginal candidate Larissa Lee - 28-year-old Aboriginal health worker and mother of four - defeat of popular ALP Minister and high profile Aboriginal leader Malardirri McCarthy in the seat of Arnhem.

    Ms Lee claimed she won her seat in large on the back of dissatifaction with NT Labor shire reform, which centralised control of local government and left the new "super shires" bankrupt. Ms McCarthy presided over the shire changes.

    Whatever the cause of the NT win offered up by commentators, one thing that can be said with certainty is that the Aboriginal vote won't be taken for granted again.

    I believe Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin is too recalcitrant to make any changes to her Stronger Futures policy so hopefully the Opposition will heed the warnings of the NT election and change that oppressive policy.

  • John Waight, Curator and adventurer chats about: Growing up in Darwin and all of life’s little adventures

    darwin art_curatorSH: Who's your mob?

    My biological mum is a Jawoyn woman from Katherine. I was born and bred in Darwin. My mum that brought me up is local and my dad is English ... my biological dad is Greek. Long story ... Darwin history.

    SH: Where did you go to primary school?

    I went to St. Mary's Primary School in Darwin. I hated school back then. I literally grew up near where the Northern Territory Museum now stands ... where I work today.

    I loved the familiarity of my family and friends in my neighbourhood and then when I turned primary school age, suddenly found that I had to travel to the other side of town to go to school with unfamiliar faces.

    I did like the kids at my school but I really missed, during school hours, going fishing and running along the beach where I lived.

    SH: How did you find your secondary school years?

    I've always enjoyed learning and my parents were very encouraging that I should get the best education possible.

    I enjoyed science and the subjects that taught me how the world worked.

    I also had a fascination with science because I've always had animals at home: dogs, cats, turtles, and rabbits ... you name it, I had it.

    Although I said I liked science because I wanted to learn how the world worked ... on reflection I was probably as intrigued about how the teachers could explain to me how the world, through their eyes, worked.

    I also did athletics, cricket and swimming.

    SH: Did you experience racism at high school?

    Yes, like most Aboriginal kids, I got my fair share of name-calling.

    I don't recall anybody getting too smart with me ... because if they did, my big family would've sorted them out.

    I think name-calling with high school kids in particular, is a direct result of them (bullies) looking for any weakness or perceived weakness in others and honing in on it.

    I don't know whether that's kids hormones getting out of sync or whatever, but I can tell you from first hand experience that it's not a pleasant experience to recall.

    What was more off-putting was teachers condoning the insipid, passive teasing by high school kids because of one's colour.

    I found the teachers intervening and getting angry when someone swore, but then sat back and allowed the passive racial teasing to fester. That was quite shocking when you look back on it now.

    The other thing that really cheesed me off in high school was during vocational week or careers week, the teachers would put all the Indigenous kids to one side and put them in wood work or metal work type jobs and let all the other kids go to the businesses, or to doctor and nurses type jobs.

    They never asked us what we wanted to do after school and what experiences we wanted to have during this week ... they all just assumed that we weren't interested in those white collar types of jobs.

    SH: What did you do after high school?

    I left school when I turned 14 and went to Sydney and joined the Redfern Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Dance theatre in the 1980s. Although I didn't finish my final year of dance I learnt a lot of life skills.

    It was really good seeing Aboriginal people who were based in Redfern and just getting on with life. It was so cool just sitting and chatting at cafes without feeling different for doing so.

    When I turned 18 I went overseas ... to Europe for 7 years.

    I worked in hotels, worked in festivals, peeled garlic, waited ... all types of hospitality work to pay my way.

    SH: What countries did you like the most on your time abroad?

    I really liked Germany. The left and the right wing on May Day really got into each other.

    Over there, they were really taught to recognise and admit all the terrible things their people did during the war years.

    They really needed to heal a fractured history and it's interesting to see so much openess.

    In Australia the non-Indigenous people are still living in denial of their atrocities against our mob.

    It took me a couple of years to learn the German language.

    I also enjoyed Scotland and Holland. They were interesting countries ... good fun.

    SH: What did you do when you came back to Australia?

    I came back to Australia when I was 25 and did my high school certificate in Darwin.

    I then got involved in land and sea country stuff ... in particular sea turtle preservation.

    From that job I got myself involved in cultural tourism in Darwin and Sydney.

    Before I got my current job I was with Maningrida Arts and Culture Centre and then had to return home to care for several of my sick family members.

    SH: What attracted you to your job as Curator at the NT Museum?

    I thought it was a good time to be pro-active in the arts industry because I'd spent a couple of decades working in that area.

    I also felt I'd been surrounded by and blessed by working with very good artists and art custodians who taught me a lot about their craft. You don't get to learn all this significant stuff if the old people don't think you high enough to have that knowledge passed on to you.

    It was indeed a great honour for me to have learnt so much ... the intricacies of why art work is done a certain way by certain people in their tribes and the stories or legends behind the stories painted on canvas or bark.

    I'm finding the job of Curator Aboriginal Art at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) fascinating and challenging on a number of fronts.

    SH: What do you do outside of your professional work?

    I absolutely love gardening. Gardening teaches you patience. I love working with bromeliads, orchids, tomatoes and bush medicine plants ... all in pots, as I live in an apartment.

    I love to cook, although I'm not really good. The best cooks in the world have surrounded me with all my aunties cooking for me all the time.

    I love to cook anything that comes from the sea ... if it comes from the sea and has a pulse then I love to cook it and eat it.

    Other than that I love the old Darwin curry and rice.

    SH: Do you like reading?

    I've been obsessed with architecture – in particular appropriate maximisation of sustainable development.

    I find that most of the architecture in Darwin is the same architecture you'd find in Canberra. Why can't those in power utilise our natural resources and unique environment to blend in, rather than designing and constructing things that has no relevance and isn't to be appreciated by locals?

    And I'm most concerned about sustainable and suitable housing for our people.

    You really have to start off yourself and design what you think could work and then go and tell your mob. If they take it on board ... well and good, and if they don't, well you can always say you gave it your best shot.

    So in terms of reading, I like to read anything on architecture to keep myself abreast of things in that field of work.

    SH: What would you like to be doing in 10 years time?

    I'd like to see and be a part of a national institution that is solely devoted to Indigenous artists, engaging with the rest of our communities.

    I can't see why we can't, in Australia, have a GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art) for Indigenous artists.

    I'd also like to see businesses make a concerted effort to employ more of our mob.

    In Darwin you can see more Indigenous art on walls in our five and four-star hotels but yet not see a single Aboriginal face in their hospitality section: front counter or serving in the restaurant.

    With so many good looking Aboriginal men and women around and who are out of work ... you can't tell me that they all don't want a job in the hospitality industry.

    I call it the era of containment. I suspect it's all an active policy of keeping our people down.

  • Boat People solution

    trying new_flagsThe problem with the former Howard administration and now Labor's, under Prime Minister Julia Gillard's watch, is that they didn't have, and still don't have, within their ranks senior Indigenous personnel who they could source for a different perspective on matters of national importance.

    If they did they wouldn't have implemented the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007 or its successor the Stronger Futures Policy passed through the Senate recently which extends the NT Intervention for a further ten years.

    It's not surprising then that the Prime Minister - like her predecessor John Howard - has a callous disregard for asylum seekers who risk their lives on rough seas in unsafe vessels for a better life in Australia.

    Most Indigenous Australians have empathy with asylum seekers as they also know of persecution at the hand of governments of all political persuasions.

    If the Prime Minister had cared to consult with Indigenous leaders - or at least those with standing within their communities - they would've found a more compassionate and cost effective solution than that offered up by former Chief of Defence Angus Houston in his report tabled recently in Canberra.

    Following the eagerly anticipated - and predictable - Houston expert panel report on what to do with the 'boat people problem' the Prime Minister has wasted little time in rushing through parliament a policy reflecting those recommendations to use Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island as new processing centres.

    The Prime Minister said that all boats arriving after 4.45 pm last Monday could be subject to processing at those two centres. As this edition was going to press nine boats had arrived carrying a total of 487 people before the Monday deadline.

    It is expected that the cost of implementing the new 'boat people' solution - which includes repairing, building, maintaining and administering the centres - could cost as much as $4 billion.

    I believe a better solution would be to invite leaders from Indigenous discrete communities or townships with significant Indigenous populations to tender for an opportunity to establish a processing centre on their traditional lands.

    As an example I would support a push by traditional owners of my hometown of Cunnamulla (Kunja peoples), or that of my father's country (Kullilli peoples) that takes in the small township of Thargomindah or my mother's country (Kullilli peoples) that takes in the rural community of Bollon to accommodate a processing centre.

    When I was a teenager growing up in Cunnamulla my most cherished memories were going away and returning home on the Westlander train for school trips and holidays.

    Cunnamulla, like a lot of small regional centres, has seen the government cut passenger and goods train services as part of their cost saving exercise. But what they've effectively done is cut the heart and soul out of those communities by doing so ... that has seen the gradual decline in the town's economy with shops frequently closing and families leaving.

    Setting up a $4 billion processing centre for new arrivals who enter our waters without authorised paperwork would be an enormous economic boost for Cunnamulla.

    Whether Cunnamulla, with its population of 1600, accommodates a mega processing centre of 4000 people, at a cost of $4 billion or the government has 4 x $1 billion processing centres in several locations on traditional lands around the nation, I believe the option(s) is more politically sound than the uncertain alternative of leaving ayslum seekers stranded on foreign soil indefinitely.

    I would foresee Indigenous people performing a myriad of roles at the processing centres from building the centres as tradespeople or their apprentices, doing the landscaping, catering, providing security, counselling services, health services, entertainment, cultural exchanges, education etc.

    We all know the boats will continue to arrive at Australia's doorstep and it makes perfect sense to build processing centres 'on country' to save on costs of shipping them off-shore. The added bonus of course is of the government finally realising long term solutions to the appalling high levels of Indigenous unemployment that continues to rise.

    The government continues to put our mob on training courses after training courses with no real prospects of those skills ever being put into practice - or at least not as meaningful career paths - on their country.

    Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young warns of asylum seekers in offshore processing centres at Nauru and Manus Island would be more vulnerable to self harm, suicide and insanity.

    "We know that detaining people indefinitely, with no (time) limits, on a very remote island, on an island prison, costs people's lives," Senator Hanson-Young told ABC TV.

    She said the policy was particularly damaging for children as any safeguards for their welfare had been "ripped up".

    So far this year 127 boats carrying 8313 people have arrived in our waters - and it's only August.

  • Aboriginal or not?

    olympic fitnessLast week SBS television ran a predictable rating's winner in their show "Aboriginal or not".

    Although many would argue the hour long prime time television show engaged in an important debate we needed to have, I beg to differ.

    I argue that without the appropriate safeguards in place: skilled moderator and experienced guest speakers assuming their place on stage to lead the discussions, the outcome of the show would degenerating into a farce.

    And that's exactly what transpired.

    That show was as predictable as the outcome of the First Fleet of eleven ships that sailed from Great Britain on 13 May 1787 with 348 free persons and 698 prisoners convicts – of which 192 were female – and arriving at leisure on Gadigal land, known as Botony Bay, between 18 and 20 January 1788.

    So brutal was the conquest by the British that within a century of contact, aided by more arrivals from the motherland, our mob was subjugated.

    And with so few white women around for company after hard fought land grabs, and dispite laws against cohabitation with the natives, the natural desires of the forbidden was a desire that was far more alluring for some than the condemnation of that union in the eyes of god or king.

    I'm a descendant of a union by an Irishman and a traditional Kullilli woman (Joseph Hagan and Tella) in 1895 - and by all accounts a relationship that was based on reciprocal affection - and have witnessed the shades of offsprings that followed from their first born, Albert Hagan, from dark to white.

    Do I love my nephew's white sons and daughters any less than my other nephew's darker sons and daughters because their fell in love and married their white girlfriends?

    The answer is definately no.

    And so it was that 224 years after first contact that we have a show on prime time television that is fraught with danger of the rhetorical outburst that would be offered up for those who sit in the too white corner versus those who occupy the space of feeling discriminated against on the basis of being too Aboriginal in appearance in the other corner.

    As I sat at home in rural Queensland waiting patiently for the show to begin I pondered who would occupy the guest seat on stage as the expert voices to shape the debate.

    When the show finally began that perplexing question was answered and I then knew that things would go pear shaped very quickly.

    The three expert panalists: Dallas Scott who experienced personal bias from directors of an Aboriginal organisation who wouldn't issue him with a confirmation of Aboriginality certificate; Tarran Betterridge who was knocked back for a job with GenerationOne because she didn't look Aboriginal enough; and Mark McMillan, a board member of the Trangie Aboriginal Land Council who's had issues of race because he had blue-eyes and fair skin and once had blonde hair.

    The first problem occurred, as it does at all land council or housing committee meetings, when the chair, or host in this instance, didn't adequately expand on the theme or introduce all the panellists before taking comments from the floor.

    Well-known personalities in Warren Mundine from GenOne, and Paul Morris, Metro Land Council, were already interjecting to the Dallas Scott and Tarran Betterridge cases, well before Insight's host Anton Enus, a coloured South African, introduced Mark McMillan.

    At the close of the show there were no winners in this debate. I admired the stoic position held by those who said they've been treated poorly by their own mob for being too white or not Aboriginal enough in appearance.

    They had no say in the colour of their skin and as such have every right to hold their head high and proud of their Aboriginal ancestry without attacks from their own mob.

    Their combatants, on other side of the debate, were unwavering in their attacks on who they perceive as gaining jobs over them because they are more European in appearance and therefore deemed to be more suited to the job.

    One of the speakers in the latter group, Maxine Conaty said she'd been discriminated against because she was visually black. "I've had to forego that many jobs because of my skin, not because I'm Aboriginal but I'm black. I'm offensive to look at.

    When Tarran Betterridge gave a valid and heartfelt story of lateral violence from Aboriginal people for being too white and asked to be treated first and foremost as an Aboriginal, there were people like Maxine Conaty again who claimed that fairer Aboriginals are treated better.

    Maxine Conaty said: "... there are non-Aboriginal people claiming to be Aboriginal, taking our jobs, making our jobs hard for us, live in my shoes and work where I work and you'll notice what the difference is between being white Aboriginal and black Aboriginal."

    I don't know how anyone can change the tone of a debate when that type of argument is prominent in the discussions.

    And neither did the host Anton Enus. And in the days that followed Enus' show the rating's were high, as I knew they would be, and there ends this debate until SBS or a rival show seeks another theme that will be a rating's winner.

    Enjoy the read.

    Stephen

  • Shane Mortimer, entrepreneur and traditional owner chats about: My Ngambri mob and looking after country

    shane mortimerSH: Who's your mob and where did you grow up?

    Whenever I give a Welcome to Country or Cultural Awareness talk, I begin by asking for a show of hands if anyone can tell me the origin of the name of Canberra THEIR national capital.. I generally get one or two very shy responses, because very few Australian's know the origins of the name of their federal capital city. Then when I ask those who do respond what Canberra means, they generally respond "meeting place" – WRONG! All this business about Canberra meaning "meeting place" is a load of colonial contrivance.

    Ngambri..the People that Canberra gets its' name from are my mob Stephen. . Ngambri means cleavage, the space between a woman's breasts (..it's a great place) in our language, which is Walgalu,

    It's ACT government policy to acknowledge another group of which they say we are a "family sub-group", BUT... although we share a border with the Wallabalooah/Boorowa People who speak Onerwal. we don't speak their language. Ngambri and Ngurmal People speak Walgalu! Our languages are as different as Italian and Austrian, yet Italy & Austria share a boarder.

    JJ Moore, the first colonial to arrive in the area in the early1820s, named his property Camberri because he was so inspired by our People. Ngambri People numbered in the thousands on the very place he came to claim, our corroboree grounds. It seems he couldn't get his tongue around the 'Ng' sound. AIATSIS and the National Museum of Australia are located on the site today. I have a copy of a letter JJ Moore wrote in 1826 referring to his property as "Camberri". In 1913 the wife of the Governor Anglicised the name and declared the new capital of Australia to be called "Canberra".

    Ngambri People gathered around Blacks' Mountain and Byalagee (Mt Ainslie), the breasts of the spirit woman in our landscape. The hill that Australia's Parliament House now sits on is the womb of our spirit mother, a valued spiritual place in Ngambri Country. When they desecrated that site and dug it up to put Parliament House on it, they found a mound of white ochre, our highly prized trading commodity. Then they constructed a building that looks like two people sitting back to back - to turn your back on someone is the most insulting behaviour in our culture.

    Norman B. Tindale caused a lot of confusion about the Ngambri People when he omitted the Walgalu speakers from his very flawed and famous 1974 Aboriginal language groups map that governments conveniently swear by.

    Norman Tindale admitted his omission to the SA Museum as below and described our six thousand eight hundred square mile language area, which includes the area known as the ACT as follows:

    Walgalu (NSW) - Location: Headwaters of the Murrumbidgee, and Tumut rivers; at Kiandra; south to Tintaldra; northeast to near Queanbeyan. Parkes obtained some details from a Wiradjuri man at Brungle under the name Guramal or Gurmal. These notes also apply in part to the Ngarigo. Both tribes were to him ['guarai], or hostile people. The Walgalu spent their summers in the Bogong Mountains ['Bu:ga:?] southeast of Tumut. This tribe was omitted in error from my 1940 work. Mrs. J. M. Flood has drawn my attention to Howitt's note saying that the Walgalu went as far as Kauwambal on the upper Murray River, which she identifies as between Mount Kosciusko and Mount Cobberas. It can perhaps be assumed that they extended their bogong-gathering forays by following the highlands along the eastern border of Djilama-tang territory.

    Co-ordinates 148°40'E x 35°40'S

    Area 2,600 sq. m. (6,800 sq. km)

    References Howitt, 1883, 1884, 1904; Queanbeyan Police Magistrate in Curr, 1887; Bulmer in Howitt, 1904; Mathews, 1907 (Gr. 6520), 1908 (Gr. 6570), 1909 (Gr. 6441); Tyrrell, 1933; Parkes, 1952 MS; Massola, 1968; Flood, 1973 verb.

    Alternative Names Walgadu, Wolgal, Wolgah, Tumut tribe, Tumut River people (['mur:i?] = men), Guramal (of Wiradjuri- 'hostile men'), Gurmal.

    This information is reproduced from NB Tindale's Aboriginal Tribes of Australia (1974). Please be aware that much of the data relating to Aboriginal language group distribution and definition has undergone revision since 1974. Please note also that this catalogue represents Tindale's attempt to depict Aboriginal tribal distribution at the time of European contact.

    Collection AA338 Norman Barnett Tindale. Published by the SOUTH AUSTRALIAN MUSEUM ARCHIVES on the South Australian Museum website, 2000. Updated 1 November 2011 http://archives.samuseum.sa.gov.au/tindaletribes/walgalu.htm

    Belmore in Sydney is where I was born, on Christmas Eve 1955, the second son of five children. My sister Lisa followed two years later, as it says on her birth certificate. The reason I say that is because my birth record was destroyed when the hospital I was born in burned down. There is a rumor around that I was born in England because I have a Certificate of Declaratory in lieu of a Birth Certificate. Let me assure you that my Mother has never left Australia and would never go to England if you paid her. Paul was my parents first born. There are two more brothers, Mark being the youngest.

    We grew up not knowing our Aboriginal heritage. Mum didn't identify as Aboriginal, neither did her mother (Adelaide McClelland) who was taken from her mother (Florence Ellen Lowe) at the Brungle Mission with her six siblings prior to WW1. They were put into St Joseph's & St John's Catholic orphanages in Goulburn where they had the Aboriginal beaten out of them. Florence died within weeks of her children being taken away, such was her grief. The girls were then sent to La Perouse in Sydney. One of their brothers was never seen again, the remaining six siblings formed pact never to reveal their Aboriginal background for fear of their children being taken from them and created a story about their great great grandmother being an island princess..

    SH: So when did you learn about your Ngambri Background?

    In 1989, I was working as an independent publicist for small theatre in Sydney and was asked to consider touring the play "Massacre at Myall Creek" by John Summons. I had recently formed a relationship and was introducing my new partner to my family and my young nice Kelly was showing Elizabeth the family photo album. Elizabeth pointed to a photograph and asked, "Who's the Aboriginal Woman?" I said, "That's Auntie Vi" and the page was duly turned and nothing more was said until we returned to our accommodation and she questioned me, "Who's Auntie Vi?" she said. "That's my grandmother's sister" I responded. "But she's Aboriginal!" she exclaimed. She checked with the Director General for Aboriginal Affairs in NSW, who was assisted us to get the Myall Creek story on the school syllabus and he checked out my background, called me and said "Your Island Princess comes from Canberra way". "Australia's a blood big island" was my response.

    The AIATSIS Family History unit confirmed the history and truth has and continues to unfold. We have connected with over four hundred Ngambri relations scattered around Australia and have a nine generation undisrupted matriarchal lineage going back to the Ngambri woman who was given to James Ainslie in 1825 by the neighbouring Wallabalooah/Boorowa People, who had stolen her from Ngambri Country. Ija was told to take Ainslie away, back to her country on the limestone plains. They thought Ainslie was the 'spirit' of a dead black fella because he was white and he had all these little clouds on legs (sheep) and a convict crew. We call her Ija which means mother in Walgalu as Ija is only referred to as Ainslie's lubra in the history books. Imagine how she would have felt being given to a 'spirit'? Put yourself in her shoes for a minute. How would you feel? They headed off...one roll in the sack and she knew he was just another bloke. They had a daughter a year later, Ju.nin.mingo is her name, which means born by the grass tree in Walgalu. The rest is history that has been recorded and kept simply because James Ainslie was in the country for ten years...never mind the tens of thousands of years of my Aboriginal ancestry.

    SH: What can you tell me about your early life – interest, hobbies?

    My father, Jim Mortimer, is a respected motor engineer. When I was a very little fella, about 3 years of age, he had a Neptune service station on Woodville Rd Villawood in western Sydney. Dad would have been about 25 I suppose. Neptune had cardboard masks that little boys prized then. The masks fitted on with a bit of elastic and when you put them on you thought you could frighten people into thinking you were the bearded Neptune. Dad took me to work with him one day, I guess Mum needed a break given my little sisters' arrival and I remember watching the driveway staff serving petrol. I though that looked like a great thing to do, so the next car that came in, I went out to serve petrol, grabbed the hose and pulled the trigger and hosed down the customer and his car. When Dad realized what was going on he raced out, called my name and I turned around with the hose and doused him with petrol too. In those days, people smoked, it was fortunate for me no one was smoking at the time. That was the beginning of my work experience. We lived at Westmead. Dad sold that business and rented a workshop in Toongabbie then bought a freehold Shell Service Station with a house next door soon after. It was more a workshop than a petrol station on the Great Western Highway, Pendle Hill which was just a two lane road then and a small community of Maltese poultry farmers. He sold the Westmead house and we moved to Pendle Hill.

    Ice skating and ice hockey was the first sport I played. Mum was a champion figure skater and Dad was at the top of his league in ice hockey. Skating is a tough sport and hard on the knees. It was a long way to drive for 6am starts at Prince Alfred Park near Redfern from Pendle Hill every Sunday morning and in the evenings during the week for practice, so they gave skating away when I was about nine and we bought a small 12 foot long boat. It wasn't too comfortable for Mum and at that point, with four children and another on the way, Dad found our first small cabin cruiser that we kept on the marina at Cabarita on the Parramatta River. That was the beginning of a long association with boating and fishing. Dad then built a larger boat from scratch out of steel in the workshop. We then joined the Ku-ring-gai Motor Yacht Club and moored our boat there at Coal & Candle Creek near the Hawkesbury River. We progressed up to a larger fiberglass boat that we fitted out ourselves, followed by another larger boat built of timber. Boating was a family lifestyle and a great social interest. It was a privileged life and the opportunity to meet and socialize with some of Australia's most influential business people.

    SH: What memories do you have of your primary school days?

    Hilltop Road Public School was where I started out from Kindergarten to 4th grade. We used to walk to school and back from Westmead to Hilltop, which was quite a distance. We would amuse ourselves by running sticks along fences as we walked. Paul and I had bikes that we used to ride the minute we arrived home from school with our friends. We had great neighbours in the quiet cul-de-sac we lived in, everyone looked out for one another. We used to build billy carts with ball bearing wheels Dad would bring home from work for us. They were fun..needless to say we had the usual lot of bumps and scratched as a result. In 4th Grade I had a teacher named Mr Cole who took a shine to me. He used to get me to run down to the corner shop sometimes to pick up his lunch order. One day he asked me to buy some sliced devon and gave me a one pound note. A teacher's pay was probably about three pounds ten shillings a week then. So one pound was a lot of money. I went to the shop and bought a pounds worth of sliced devon, returned it to the staff room and wondered why he hit the roof. I didn't understand that he wanted a pound (.5kg) of devon rather than a pounds worth! Not long after that incident, we moved to Pendle Hill and I changed schools to Pendle Hill Public where I completed years four, five and six before progressing to Greystanes High School. Pendle Hill Public School is where I met an Aboriginal person for the first time, Shirley Elderidge who was in 5th and 6th class with me. Shirley was brilliant at soft ball. Shirley could out bat any of the guys in the school and was a real achiever in class.

    SH: What was your work history?

    At seven o'clock every morning before school from the age of twelve, I would put overalls over my school uniform and go into the workshop to open up for the day, turn on the lights and the air compressor, make sure the bell hose was put out on the driveway, open the big old roller shutters, park any cars that were in the lube bay, take out the oil bottle racks, fill up and polish the oil bottles, fill the radiator water containers, count the float. Serve any customers who came in early to check their cars in and arrange a lift to work for them with one of the workshop crew if they needed it, hand out the daily job cards to the mechanics then get out of the overalls and go to school, either on my bike or the 8.20 school bus to Greystanes High School. At the end of the day, I went and had a snack, put my overalls back on and waited on the driveway or counter until closing time at six o'clock, then took everything back in that I had put out. That was Monday to Friday. Saturday was only a half day then we would have the afternoon to catch up with friends. Sunday we had a friend, Uncle Keith, to look after the driveway service. I would open up and hang out with him until I had something better to do. He taught me how to thoroughly was a car. Something we did together on most Sundays until the business just wasn't worthwhile staying open on a Sunday and that meant we could go down to the boat and go fishing Saturday afternoon and stay onboard until Sunday night. We had a great time, Lisa always caught all the weird fish!

    I left school in 4th form (Year 10) after my School Certificate and worked full time in the family business running the spare parts department. I had completed one year of a three year part time course at Granville Technical College (TAFE) in business management and automotive replacement parts by then, which I completed in the next ten months by attending two nights per week to get it over with. We moved house to Northmead that year and I had my drivers license and my own car. Dad sold the business and retired that year, he was fourty two! He worked on the philosophy of "If your business interferes with your boating, give up your business".

    Fortunately, an offer to work for Crown Lift Trucks came my way and I started with them as a go'fer..you know, go'fer this and go'fer that. They put me into a new Falcon ute and I would travel between Admin, sales, service etc with the internal mail, making sure the boss's car was fueled up and through the car wash. They saw some potential in me and made me a sales trainee. After a while, they elevated my position to management trainee, a world first in Crown and I spent my time getting to know all elements of the business. Sales, production planning, purchasing, Accounts, EDP (Electronic Data Processing was a big deal) and service, then they sent me to live in Melbourne to get familiar with a branch office operation. Crown is a smart company and way ahead of its' time in appointing agents in Indonesia, Sinagpore, Malaysia, Thailand and Hong Kong, where I was posted to assist the development of Crown's South East Asia dealer network. Initially I lived in Singapore, then I moved to Kuala Lumpur. When this posting finished, I returned to Sydney and was appointed to the position of National Training Manager and I was sent to the USA World Head Office in Ohio, where I met staff from the UK, Ireland, Germany and US Dealerships for formal training and Chicago to familiarise with a dealer operation. Upon returning I spent my time establishing a training facility in the Smithfield manufacturing plant and travelling between branches training sales staff in the technical aspects of demonstrating equipment and assessing the suitability of various models to their applications in the field.

    It was a heady time at Crown, business was booming, they were sponsoring the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard, advertising on television and radio..remember that jungle "There is nothing like a Crown..for picking it up and putting it down" written by my cousin Lorenzo Toppano and his mother Peggy Mortimer. Then a severe downturn in the Australian economy with over twenty percent unemployment made my position redundant! Crown gave me the choice of staying on in Sydney sales or a lucrative payout after ten years service.

    I took the payout and set up business with my cousin producing jingles in Sydney, Hong Kong and L.A. Travelling a lot! That was all great, the family was all together living in a beautiful house on a five acre estate in Dural and kept a large cruiser at the yacht club. Then Lorenzo won the Chile Song Festival in South America, became number one recording artist in every Spanish speaking country in the world and too busy to write jingles..the business was a fizzer. The family became dysfunctional as families do and we sold up everything a bought a farm near Bundaberg, Queensland. That was a disaster.

    I returned to Sydney to pick up the threads and worked back stage for my auntie and uncle at the Manly Music Loft at night, then found work selling conveyor belting during the day. A part time bar job came up at a theatre in French's Forest where I me my partner/wife and we started publicising, producing and promoting plays and theatrical events. We quickly built a very successful and enjoyable business publicising and producing over six hundred plays in seventeen years during which we tour managed the 'Massacre at Myall Creek' play when my Aboriginal focus took over. The play inspired me to attain a diploma in Film Production from Macquarie University because I wanted to get the story to a broad audience in the interest of progressing understanding of Aboriginal issues.

    We moved to Canberra where now I actively participate in Aboriginal and Indigenous pursuits after having undertaking a lot of personal development, a certificate in neuro linguistic programming, Landmark Curriculum for Living, Feldenkrais and now a Cert IV Workplace Training and Assessment.

    In the summer of 2009/10, I co-produced my first feature film with Alan Lock, called 'Vulnerable' which has enjoyed film festival success in the USA. We are presently negotiating a release in Australia. Check out www.vulnerablethemovie.com on the web. You can see a preview and the list of festival credits there. It's a contemporary drama about two young couples that literally meet head on.

    Presently I am working on a thirteen part documentary series on Indigenous grasslands. I have also work-shopped the Myall Creek feature film concept with two Hollywood screenwriters who work with Jodie Foster and they really like the piece, so I am writing the screenplay with the assistance of Alan Lock and research by Paul Hodgkinson. It's a cracker story that will captivate an international audience and really deliver a punch.

    SH: Did you experience much racism as a teenager? If so – what form did it take?

    Racism was not something I really had much of an awareness or experience with growing up. My fathers sister married an Italian guy named Enzo from Broken Hill...a brilliant concert accordionist! Most of the people I mixed with in the area were migrants of some sort, particularly the Maltese. The people we socialised with didn't give the subject a mention. Mind you, people always had difficulty guessing my 'ethnic' background. Generally they would guess Italian or Greek.

    Since identifying and speaking out about Ngambri Country, discrimination is something I certainly experience these days, particularly from the ACT Government.

    SH: Why do you think native title is such a divisive issue within the Indigenous community?

    The core issue with Native Title is that most Aboriginal People have been hoodwinked by so called "experts" (drips under pressure) into confining their thinking to the Federal Government's Native Title Act and don't seem to have their head around the fact that WE already have Native Title - Common Law Native Title. We do not have to apply to anyone to make a Native Title Claim under the Native Title Act. There are great Aboriginal Lawyers and consultants around the likes of George Villaflor who Aboriginal People can trust to give the right guidance on Native Title. The Government's Native title Act, like ILUA's (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) are not worth the paper they are written on! We don't need 'yarraman' (Walgalu for white fellas) telling us where we do or don't belong.

    Here's a case in point: As a Ngambri Aboriginal Elder and Common Law Native Title owner of the land on which the Commonwealth Seat of Government is placed, under s125 of the Constitution, I applied to the ACT Supreme Court for an interlocutory injunction to stop the development of a new suburb by the ACT's Land Development Authority to be known as Lawson in Belconnen and appeared before Justice John Burns.

    I raised three serious questions of law;

    1) I was not treated equally by law under The ACT Human Rights Act (ACT) and suffered direct racial discrimination under s10 of RDA (Cth) as neither the Land Development Authority or the ACT Government have a mechanism to deal with Native Title under the Act or Common Law Native Title.

    2) The High Court of Australia Mabo Decision (Mabo 2) 1992

    3) s109 of the Constitution

    Senior council representing the Land Development Authority (Mr Erskine) chose to ignore my first serious question of law and went on to question my sighting Mabo 2, saying that fee simple (freehold) extinguishes Native Title in the ACT and that the land acquired to establish the Seat of Government under the 1915 Land Acquisitions Act was freehold. Then he stated that s109 of the Constitution has no relevance to the ACT.

    My response was to say that if the LDA and the ACT Government had a mechanism in place to deal with Native Title under the Act or Common Law Native Title, they would not have needed Senior Council to represent them in the Court and they would have sighted the High Court of Australia Fejo Case (1998) the famous freehold case in the NT and as they don't have a mechanism in place for dealing with Native Title they are discriminating against me. The land acquired to establish the Seat of Government was Crown Land, Granted Land or Grant of Sale. The land grants and grants of sale were all conditional and the conditions were seldom met, therefore the sale of those properties was a fraud on the New South Wales Crown.

    S109 of the Constitution clearly does have relevance to the ACT and the High Court of Australia Wudjal Case is all about s109 of the Constitution and the ACT.

    Justice Burns asked me if I was going to make a Native Title claim under the Native Title Act, to which I replied "No..I already have Native Title, Common Law Native Title".

    It's been ten weeks this Friday and there has been nothing more mentioned about my application for an Interlocutory Injunction.

    If, like me, you can read, get your head around Common Law Native Title!

    SH: What do you do outside of work?

    Focus on quality outcomes for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Island People in Indigenous Agriculture and the Arts through the organization I Chair called The AARK Ag-Arts Residence Kenmore Limited.

    Indigenous Agriculture is an untapped business. Restoration of the 488 million hectares of degraded indigenous grasslands on our continent is a passion. Restoration of our indigenous perennial grasslands and soil health, will forge a multi-billion dollar enterprise around food security with Indigenous plant species such as yams, weeping rice grass, wattle, cordaceps (native truffles), quondong, bauple (macadamia) nuts etc.

    Our indigenous grassland plants have been totally overlooked by colonials in the interest of decimating not just the ORIGINAL People, but all things indigenous, as they were advised to do by the United Nations in 1947.

    In 1947, the UN General Assembly set out three possible alternatives for Australia's future development:

    1. Recognise the Indigenous People

    2. Make a treaty with the Indigenous People

    3. Continue to alter the environment in every aspect.

    The Australian government has chosen to adopt the third option and has been pursuing it ever since. The ACT Government embraces it.

    Out of that adversity though there is infinite opportunity and so much to be inspired by that is indigenous to our lands.

    SH: What do you do to relax away from the office that's not work related?

    It would be easy to put everything I do into the work category - it's a fine line. Savoring a quality Irish whiskey and a meal with friends, reading, cooking, sharing stories with friends theatre and travelling, when I get the time and money, attending Art exhibitions can be cause for inspired conversation. Sometimes I get away from it all and indulge in a Bryce Courtenay novel, he's such a great writer.

    SH: Who were your role models?

    My parents Jim & Lesley are the greatest role models a son could want. Both in the 80th year celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary this November, they still live and work together five and a half days per week and in all my fifty seven years I can honestly say I have never heard them argue. They are extraordinary people.

    Graham Innes AM Australia's Disability Discrimination Commissioner would have to be the most impressive and inspiring person I have had the pleasure to meet outside of my immediate circle.

    Bonita Mabo - our beautiful Honorary Patron of The AARK has never let anything faze her. How easy would it have been for her to shrug her shoulders and give up on the Mabo case when her husband Koiki passed away?

    As leaders for their Indigenous People, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed – former Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela for never giving up on their indigenous cause.

    SH: What things could politicians do better?

    Think!

    Implement Real Democracy - Eliminate councils and state governments in favour of a gender balanced group of people taken at random from the broad community (like a body corporate) and seated for a fixed term of five years as a government that represents the interests of every day people rather than big business, unions, churches and other financial institutions.

    Stand aside and make way for the Republic of United Aboriginal Nations with leaders from each Aboriginal Nation to elect our Aboriginal President.

    SH: What is your advice to young Indigenous kids doing it tough at school or in life generally?

    Don't be frightened to get out of your comfort zone – it's the only way to grow. Take action!

    Follow your instinct.

    YOU know right from wrong, do the right thing by yourself and you will be doing the right thing for others without trying.

    Ask questions?

    Go to the Elders and tell them how you feel and ask them what they would do if they were you.

    Do things that challenge you and don't be timid about taking on BIG projects as there's as much work in a small project as there is in a big one.

    SH: What are your future plans?

    Looking after Ngambri Country!

    Short term planning is ten generations ahead – Long term is 1,000 generations. People look at me funny when I make that statement and wonder how that can be done.

    It's simple; Look at what colonial occupation has destroyed on our continent in ten generations. So what if it takes ten generation to put some of it back together! Ten percent regeneration of the degraded indigenous grasslands of our continent will take more carbon out of the atmosphere than has been put up there since the industrial revolution. The great cathedral builders of Europe never saw the foundations of those awe inspiring structures off the ground, yet they had the vision.

    To plan a thousand generations ahead is as simple as putting the seed of one of our indigenous perennial grasses such as kangaroo grass, wallaby grass or microlaena into the soil, as they will grow to create microscopic plant stones that remain in the topsoil for up to 20,000 years as carbon. That's 1,000 generations.

    Canberra has the largest ecological footprint of any capital city in the world. The colonial degradation of the landscape in the last one hundred years, has caused an ecological disaster eleven times the area the ACT consumes.

    Canberra's 2013 centenary celebration can commence by stopping further degradation! That is worth celebrating!

  • Minister Brough?

    jackie jackiesAt the end of last month it was confirmed that Mal Brough, the former Minister for Indigenous Affairs under the Howard government, had won preselection for the federal seat of Fisher in Queensland.

    Despite the controversy that linked Brough to the sexual harassment case involving the incumbent member for Fisher, Peter Slipper, who defected from the party to become Parliamentary Speaker, the way has now been open for his imminent return to federal politics.

    Brough denied any wrongdoing in the Slipper/Ashby sexual harrassment case and immediately after winning pre-selection staked his claim for a frontbench position in a Tony Abbott-led Coalition government by informing the media that he had experience "across a number of portfolios".

    "Whatever I do in life, (Indigenous affairs) will continue to be a priority and a priority to try and change that course of events for the better," Brough told Sky News.

    "The government hasn't moved that debate any further and hasn't taken the Indigenous people in those communities with them.

    "We need things like welfare changes. Do we want to still live within an apartheid system? Do we want to value people's lives as being Australians first and what their culture is second?"

    The fact that Brough started promoting himself so soon after winning preselection - and still a year and a half out from the next federal elections - as the next Minister for Indigenous Affairs speaks volumes of the esteem in which the current shadow for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, is held.

    Whilst Brough is a more conservative man, coming from an Army officer background before entering politics, Scullion, on the other hand was a knock-about professional fisherman before entering politics as the Northern Territory Senator.

    Even when I met with Scullion last year in his Parliament House office I was amazed at how frank he was of his chances of being the opposition's choice of Minister for Indigenous Affairs, should they win office.

    It never fazed him that he would be overlooked for that critical position in government; a front bench position many commentators have called a 'poison chalice' portfolio.

    If we were to go on the current polls - even this far out from an election, and mindful also how the polls read for the Queensland State elections - it would appear a formality for the Coalition to win office in a landslide victory thus paving the way for a change in face in the Indigenous Affairs portfolio.

    It's hard to try and nurture a relationship - irrespective of the form it takes: social or professional - with the opposition spokesperson if they don't rate their chances very high in their party's succession plans in government.

    For all intent and purpose the future Minister in a Tony Abbott-led administration won't be the affable Senator from the Northern Terrirory but one Mal Brough.

    It's hard for me to reconcile a bright future under a Brough-led Indigenous Affairs portfolio as he was the architect of the two worst Indigenous social policies decisions in recent times: the introduction of the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007 and the wind up of the Community Development Employment Program.

    No doubt it was Brough's call to involve the Army, as a former army officer, in maintaining law and order as he, with the backing of John Howard, implemented their grand plan to sort out the high level of social dysfunction in remote Northern Territory Indigenous communities.

    Seeing on television the sight of army personnel being transported into the discrete Indigenous communities in their trucks and then making their presence felt through weight of numbers, took me back to the early contact years when might was the overriding policy over right when taking possession of the continent.

    There was never any consultation with traditional owners about whether they wanted the NT Intervention - now upgraded by an act of parliament to the Stronger Futures policy - or whether it was culturally appropriate to bring in the Australian Army to exert force in the implementation of the policy in the first place.

    One need not look any further than Toomelah to see the end result of the arbitrary decision of Brough to remove CDEP from Indigenous communities. So devastating has been that single act by Brough that it has consigned Toomelah residents to a life of abject poverty and left them with indelable social, physical and emotional scars that they are never likely to recover from.

    I'm yet to be satisfied of Mal Brough's claim to having Aboriginal ancestry (as identified in his Wikepedia site), but then confirming his tribe wouldn't necessaraly make him a better Minister for Indigenous Affairs: a heartless, callous politician does not overnight change to a compassionate person with the corroboration of one's Aboriginality.

    Gerry Georgatos' Big Read feature on the failure of the Aboriginal visitors scheme in prisons is compelling reading.

    Enjoy the read.

    Stephen

  • Anthony Dillon academic researcher, chats about: Doing away with political correctness

    anthony dillon_with_bill_clintonSH: Who's your mob?

    My father's people, Kombumerri, are from the Gold Coast, many of whom now live on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland. My mother, born in Brisbane, has English ancestry. I was born in Innisfail (North Queensland) and raised in Brisbane. Though I currently live in Sydney, I am positively 100% a Queenslander.

    SH: What can you tell me about your early life – interest, hobbies?

    My early life was great. My parents have been my best teachers, each in very different ways. Each parent had a poor background. They worked hard and decided that their children would have better. From them I learnt the importance of work and saving money. I grew up in Brisbane in a loving family with a fantastic extended family. My interests would have been math, magic, puzzles, and brain teasers, interests that have followed me into adulthood (perhaps I have never grown up?).

    SH: What memories do you have of your primary school days?

    Now that I am 46, I have some perspective on which to judge my primary school days. It was fun. School back then was very different to how it is today. I used to go to school bare foot, play footy before school and during lunch. These days, school life for our kids is far more structured and has far more restrictions. When I went to primary school it was the seventies, so I grew up with great music. Seventies music is still my favourite. When I hear seventies music, I think back to my primary school days with fond memories. Interestingly, back then, my sister and I were probably the blackest kids in school. Today the classrooms have a rainbow of different cultures and backgrounds, which is great..

    SH: What were your favourite subjects in high school and what did you particularly like about high school and friends?

    Math and physics were my favourite subjects. I hated anything related to reading, writing, and comprehension. It wasn't until many years after high school that I began to appreciate the arts, reading, and language – something I wished I had appreciated much earlier in life. Today I have great friendships with some of my old school buddies. Overall, I can't say that my high school experience was that great. However, I had some great teachers who have had a lasting impact on me. Without having those teachers, I think high school could have been disastrous. For any teachers reading this, don't ever underestimate the impact your caring attitude can have on your students – they will remember you in years to come.

    SH: Did you experience much racism as a teenager? If so – what form did it take?

    Not really. There was the usual teasing that most kids go through, but I would not call it racism. And I gave back as much as I received – something I am not proud of.

    SH: What was your work history – from your earliest jobs to some more memorable ones?

    After completing university, I stated working for Queensland Health. I spent a lot of time analysing Indigenous health data. This job gave me a good insight into the health problems facing Indigenous Australians. It also gave me a good insight into the politics of Indigenous health, something I believe is still a major problem today. Since moving to Sydney I have worked for the University of Sydney, and the University of Western Sydney. Often my duties in academia have centred on Indigenous issues. I have taught many Aboriginal students, and taught many non-Aboriginal students about Aboriginal issues.

    SH: Tell me about your work?

    I currently work as a researcher at the Centre for Positive Psychology and Education within the University of Western Sydney. Like its name suggests, it is a very positive place to work for. My supervisor, Professor Rhonda Craven is very passionate about Aboriginal people. Therefore, a lot of what we do is about helping Aboriginal people reach their full potential. I am very privileged to work where I currently work.

    SH: What is your main research interest?

    My main research interest is mental health and the trend to increasingly medicalise problematic behaviour. Most people know that mental health is major problem in the modern age. The world we live in is vey commercial and impersonal. We need to bring the focus back to people and caring for one another. To address mental health issues requires a major rethink about what it means to be human, and what are people's fundamental needs. My research also looks at helping Aboriginal people reach their full potential.

    SH: What do you do outside of work?

    Outside of work I entertain as a magician, volunteer at a men's shelter, and try to get my ideas about mental health and Aboriginal affairs into the public arena. The NIT has allowed me to express my ideas, and for this I am grateful. Working with homeless men is very rewarding and very eye-opening. Even in a major modern city like Sydney there is a lot of homeless men (and women). The men I meet are lucky because they can sleep at the shelter, but I know that every night there are many people who sleep in the streets and parks. Performing magic is great. I get to bring a bit of happiness to people. Every year for NAIDOC I am asked to perform – always introduced as "Australia's only Aboriginal Magician". This year I performed at Penshurst West Public School. It was great to see so many young kids embrace NAIDOC. Apart from that, in my spare time there is always lots of reading and study to do in order to try and keep up with my genius colleagues. I do keep very busy.

    SH: Who were your role models?

    I never hoped to copy them, but only ever be influenced by them. My role models were and are Albert Einstein, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr, Jimmy Little, and Bill Cosby. All of them have shown that the first place we should look for when solving a problem, is within. Once we do this, we can then see more clearly what surrounds us. In addition to my role models, there are some people I greatly admire: all my uncles and aunties, Jeff McMullen, Ken Zulumovski, Hannah McGlade, Sandi-Leigh Bell, and Bess Price. You all have integrity and passion. Thank you. My life is greatly enriched from knowing you.

    SH: What is your advice to young Indigenous kids doing it tough at school or in life generally?

    Most importantly, recognise that life is tough being a kid. And anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Now that you know that it is tough, always know that there are many adults in your life who love you. They may not always agree with you or approve of what you do, but they love you. And if they love you, then you should take seriously what they tell you. What they do tell you, they do for your own good. Finally, don't be afraid to be an individual and follow your heart. Sometimes you will meet other kids who don't have the same values as you and they will try and lead you astray. Don't follow if you don't want to follow. Just say "No". The other kids may outwardly show disapproval, but deep down they will admire you, and wish that they had your conviction.

    SH: What do you think needs to be done to address the disadvantage experienced by many Indigenous Australians?

    We must not be afraid to identify and acknowledge problems. They cannot be denied if we wish to find a solution. We need to ask ourselves, why is it that some Aboriginal people are doing well, and why are others not doing so well? What's the difference? And we must do away with political correctness and stop making excuses. We need to stop blaming the government, the white man, and colonisation. If these were the cause of problems, every Aboriginal person would be suffering; but they are not. Many have demonstrated that it I snot the past or the government that holds them back. The past is never the cause of our problems. We are never victims of our past, only ever victims of our view of the past. The future can be ours, let's take it together.

    SH: What is your favourite quote?

    Jimmy Little said "Racism has never been a problem for me. I know who I am. If others don't, then that's their problem.

  • Olympic numbers?

    OLYMPICS 2012As I get caught up in the surfeit of television coverage of the very best of athletic endeavour at the Olympic games and commence each day with tired eyes from maximum viewing the day and night prior, the lack of Indigenous representation in the Australian team has not gone unnoticed.

    Competing for attention with the summer Olympics in London at present are our popular winter sports of AFL and NRL back in Australia. In both codes we see in excess of 10% - and growing each year - of our football teams comprising our Indigenous young men.

    And with the names of Thurston, Hodges, Inglis, Thaiday, Barba, Tahu, Bowen, Merritt and Bird in Rugby League, and Australian Football League's Goodes, Franklin, Rioli, Motlop, Yarran, Betts, Ryder, Burgoyne and Lovett-Murray dominating for best and fairest awards in high quality games every week, it is little wonder that our talented youth grow up wanting to emulate their heroes.

    In challenging times of family dysfunction, high unemployment and racism - to mention a few hurdles our kids have to face daily - the popular footy codes that reach saturation television coverage on weekends are very alluring.

    The thought of escaping their impoverished backgrounds with the dream of providing for their families is a massive incentive for them to focus on AFL or NRL and reach the dizzy heights and riches of a Franklin or a Thurston.

    I can just imagine the complaints now as I type in those nine Indigenous players as representatives of their respective codes, as they randomly sprung to mind, with commentary of what about so and so and the other bloke from my favourite team who is as good if not better than those named above?

    Sadly, unlike the nine I've picked above for AFL and NRL, the corresponding number of nine that made the Australian Olympic team of 400 athletes: Benn Harradine (athletics), Beki Lee (athletics), Josh Ross (athletics), Patrick Mills (basketball), Damien Hooper, Cameron Hammond and Jesse Ross (boxing), Khalen Young (cycling) and Joel Carroll (hockey), in many ways are not household names and will, in all likelihood, not return home with a medal of any colour.

    I'm not taking away the enormous sacrifices these wonderfully gifted athletes have made to their respective sports - and some of them have been at their game at the highest level for considerable periods of time - but wouldn't it have been even better for them to have had more Indigenous athletes in the team to share their emotions and challenges of competition from within and outside their sport?

    I'm not sure what it is that makes competing for a place on the Australian Olympic squad less appealing compared to donning a jersey for the Cowboys, Broncos or South Sydney in NRL or Essendon, Hawthorn or Fremantle in AFL.

    Many might say it's the little issue of a couple of more zeros at the end of the annual pay packet that weighs heavily on the final call by our elite footballers.

    One thing is a definite and that is it's not a lack of talent in the track or field events that has seen a dearth in our mob hitting the track, the bike or pool to compete.

    Take for instance school level sport across the nation. I'm aware of our youth exceeding on the track as well as the pool in inter house, inter school and inter State competitions. But when these talented sports people leave school after completing Year 12 - at around 17 or 18 years of age - they pursue more alluring and attractively remunerated sports.

    I often look at the journey of our most famous Indigenous athlete, Cathy Freeman, who was born in Mackay in Queensland. Cathy was a fast young girl who won her 100 and 200 metres sprint events and long jumps at a young age, like most young Aboriginal girls, with consummate ease.

    Her first coach was her stepfather, Bruce Barber and by her teens she had a collection of regional and national titles. She was well managed and moved to Kooralbyn International School to be coached professionally by Romanian Mike Danila who provided her with a strict training regime.

    Danila entered Cathy for the Commonwealth Games trials in Sydney after running 11.67seconds over the 100 metres. She made the Australian 4 x 100 metre relay team for the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, won gold and the rest is history.

    When assessing Cathy's success against the successes of Indigenous school boys and girls before and after her years, it's hard not to look much further than the strict training regime and opportunities taken along the way that enabled this great Australian to stamp her mark forever on the international sporting arena.

    Cathy has done well for herself in sport, her life and within the Australian community through great management of her athletic years.

    I hope more of our talented Indigenous school boys and girls take up the challenge of competing at the Olympics left by Cathy and think long term of the glory and financial rewards, as opposed to thinking of short term success and riches.

    The Big Read feature for this week is my observation of the rugged beauty of the Kimberley and its fascinating characters.

    Enjoy the read.

    Stephen

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