Guest Column

Making Life Even Worse for Us

This is Bess Nungarrayi Price’s foreword to the new book The Spirit Behind the Voice: The Religious Dimension of the “Voice” Proposal, edited by Gabriël Moens and Augusto Zimmermann and published by Connor Court, retailing for $29.95. Stephen Chavura, Senior Lecturer in History at Campion College in Sydney, says of this book:

“One could be forgiven for thinking that the only Christian response to the Voice to Parliament is Yes, if we went by the pronouncements of prominent churchmen and theologians. But I think these prominent churchmen and theologians are misguided on this issue. It is my conviction that when all things are considered, Christians should vote No to this divisive constitutional change. This book is a unique contribution to the debate in that it takes the question of the Voice to Parliament very seriously from a Christian, Jewish and secular point of view. I urge everyone who is pondering how to vote on this momentous question to carefully read this book and give serious consideration to voting No.”

Bess Price, a former Member of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly who held several ministries in the Giles government, is a senior teacher at Yipirinya School in Alice Springs. She was made a Member of the Order of Australia in January for “significant service to the Parliament of the Northern Territory, and to the Indigenous community”.


My father was born in 1914 in Southern Warlpiri country. He saw kardiya (white men) for the first time when he was around twelve years old. My mother, born in 1929, was an infant when she first saw them. When he was fourteen Dad had to run far to the west with other refugees to avoid the killing that began on Coniston Station after the murder of a kardiya by one of our people, Kamalyarrpa Japanangka. Between seventy and a hundred Warlpiri, Anmatyerre and Kaytetye men, women and children were killed by the avenging police party which included Aboriginal men. When the respected and trusted Lutheran missionary Friedrich Albrecht caught up with the refugees they told him that they would have handed over the killer if they’d been asked to. Kamalyarrpa survived until 1959. All who had died in his place were innocent.

This column appears in September’s Quadrant.
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Once the killing had stopped Dad was happy to work for kardiya on the stations. He convinced his own father that the troubles were over and the kardiya could then be trusted. He understood that not all kardiya were dangerous and bad. Then in 1942 he was arrested by a policeman who had been led to him and his relatives by an Aboriginal tracker. They, and several others, were chained and walked naked and barefoot behind camels, to what was to become the Stuart Highway, then trucked to Alice Springs to be locked up. He thought he had been arrested for spearing goats on Mount Doreen Station but actually he and the others were being recruited to labour for the Army for five shillings a week when a skilled kardiya labourer could earn twenty times as much. He worked for the Army until the end of the war. He was always proud that he had helped to build much of the infrastructure of Alice Springs. He then settled at Yuendumu, set up in 1946, and married my mother.

There he met, worked for and befriended the Baptist minister Tom Fleming. Tom was a small and compassionate man but tough-minded and determined. He had survived imprisonment in Changi and prison camps on Borneo. He didn’t set out to destroy our culture but to add to it. He risked his life to stop violence, striding between groups of armed Warlpiri men preparing to attack each other and shaming them into putting down their weapons and walking away. He saved lives. Dad taught Tom to speak Warlpiri and, with many other men his age, helped to build the church at Yuendumu as well as a men’s museum to house traditional sacred objects. He was a leading law man by then, and many of the younger men at Yuendumu have told me that he taught and supported them through their initiation.

He and many other ritual leaders, both men and women, also called themselves Christian. In the 1980s a strange new ritual was brought to our community from the north-west. It involved forcing men and women to sit for hours in the sun, then to be locked up at night and to be relieved of their money and valuables. My parents would have none of it. It was not traditional and they thought it strange and oppressive. They retreated to the church and asked the missionary to protect them from it. They believed that we could be both—Christian and Warlpiri—loyal to our traditions, the ones worth keeping, but replacing those not worth keeping with the teachings of Christ. They were trying to give our old ways a New Testament, a better way of living, while keeping our identity.

Things have changed since then. Naturally those who control the national debate are those people of indigenous descent who speak English and are well educated kardiya way. They have access to the media and politicians and are the loudest in their criticism of governments and kardiya in general. They criticise the old missionaries, but they don’t live by the Old Law and never have. They romanticise it, creating what I call a Disneyland version. They never talk about the down side, the acceptance of violence as a way to settle conflicts, the misogyny and acceptance of violence against women, the forcing of young girls into marriage with old men, the belief in sorcery. These old ways still cause a lot of problems, like continued violence against women, family feuding and the humbugging that forces so many to give their money to addicted kin for grog and gambling. All of these things come from the culture we were taught as children. The so-called First Nations Leaders tell us that all of these things are caused by kardiya, by racism and colonisation. They have made everything worse but all of these problems come from our own culture. The “leaders” call any kardiya racist if they say this and they put great effort into “cancelling” Aboriginal people like me who want the truth to be known.

In 2009 I was appointed as the inaugural chair of the Northern Territory government’s Indigenous Affairs Advisory Council by then Deputy Chief Minister Marion Scrymgour. She resigned from the government the same day. Our council then reported to Minister Alison Anderson who soon after resigned as well. We then reported to Minister Malarndirri McCarthy. Our council was widely representative men and women from all over the Northern Territory, from both the urban, English-speaking and remote traditional-language-speaking Aboriginal population. Although we reported to three Aboriginal women Labor Ministers I came to feel that we were being effectively ignored by the Labor government. All of our efforts seemed to be in vain.

It was that experience that led me to join the Country Liberal Party to be elected to represent the huge electorate of Stuart and to serve as a minister, the only woman in cabinet at the time, in our nation’s first government to be led by an indigenous Australian, Adam Giles. I took the place of Alison Anderson in the cabinet after she had resigned from that government as well. She then went on to be paid by Labor to campaign against me and my daughter in subsequent elections. Marion Scrymgour is now the member for the federal seat of Lingiari and Malarndirri McCarthy is now Labor Senator for the Northern Territory. Both vigorously campaign for the Voice to Parliament. My joining the Country Liberal Party has made me anathema to the Labor Party since. They think they own us, and they can’t tolerate our dissenting from their narrative. And they don’t forget.

My family was denied royalties that we were entitled to by the Central Land Council. My father’s role as a senior traditional owner for the country and Dreamings involved were simply denied. When we made a formal complaint we were denied the most basic natural justice. We have witnessed violence at Central Land Council convened meetings. They don’t hesitate to use intimidation and manipulation to achieve their goals. We are at their mercy. I was told to my face by a white Central Land Council staff member, “I am a lawyer. I can tell you that you can’t win.” But I have not given up.

Too many Aboriginal organisations are run as family fiefdoms with jobs and benefits distributed on the basis of kinship or political loyalties rather than need. A close relative of mine was told that, despite being qualified for a job with one of them, he would not be offered one because he was related to me. Labor governments are no better. I applied for a job with the Health Department that I am eminently qualified for. It is work that I have done voluntarily for decades. The Aboriginal manager of the unit concerned told me that she wanted me on board but there were “problems upstairs”. I applied in November of 2021. I have still not received a formal acknowledgment of that application. A woman known to me was given the job within two weeks of applying. Their nefarious “culturally appropriate” practices would be enshrined in our Constitution if the Voice was passed by the voters.

The Voice advocates are polite and well-mannered in the light of day but many are offensive and aggressive in the shadows. My daughter, Senator Nampijinpa Price, and I have been threatened with death several times. In the Northern Territory we women are used to that. We are routinely vilified in obscene, racist and misogynist terms simply because we disagree with the Left’s narrative. GetUp sends young Aboriginal women, mostly from Down South, to campaign against us in elections in favour of kardiya who have done nothing for us. We have been ignored or defamed by the mainstream media. I was awarded an Australia Medal on Australia Day this year. I was contacted by commercial media from all over the country but I have not been contacted once by the ABC, even in my own town of Alice Springs. The Green/Left wish we didn’t exist. We have a different point of view that they don’t want to be heard.

I am deeply disappointed by the churches who have accepted this aggressive wokeness and allowed themselves to become naive virtue-signallers rather than moral guardians and teachers. My people are crying out for moral guidance. Instead, they are being told that their culture, however the Left of politics define it, is always right. Our culture should be critically analysed and improved like any other. We are not all just “victims” who can’t help ourselves in a culture that is faultless. Kardiya are told to do away with their traditional religion. The old missionaries are condemned. Yet we in the Northern Territory can tell as soon as an older Aboriginal person from a remote community speaks that they were taught by missionaries. They were taught to properly speak, read and write English, while also speaking, reading and writing their own first languages. It was missionaries who first started teaching in both languages, in the case of Ntaria/Hermannsburg, a century before governments. Now our kids are not taught to speak English properly let alone read and write it, in the name of preserving a culture and languages that are fast disappearing anyway. That is why they don’t want to go to school. Governments need to learn from the missionaries, not from their enemies.

The Voice is being promoted by those who are living off our peoples’ miseries. They are the educated, confident ones who constantly blame kardiya for our problems and do all they can to keep voices like mine unheard. They are not interested in truth-telling, they are interested in imposing their own narrative as the new Gospel. Now anybody can claim to be “First Nations” without challenge. My husband of forty-four years, the father of my daughter, and tens of thousands of other Australians of all ethnicities who have had children with Aboriginal people, would not be able to vote for a Voice representative or stand for election because they don’t “identify”. They would have no say in what is good for the welfare of their loved ones and their descendants. Yet anybody who ticks a box on a government form proclaiming themselves, unchallenged, as “indigenous” will be able to. If the Voice gets up, people who have no relevant experience, no knowledge of traditional culture or history and, for too many, no actual descent from our old people, will be able to advise government on what is good and right for our family and our descendants.

I will be voting No and I urge all Australians with a conscience, whatever their religion, to do the same. I am sick of burying our children, seeing education denied to them, seeing them incarcerated, living in dire poverty and taken from families that don’t know how to care for them. We want real solutions and decision-makers willing to listen to all of us, whatever our politics and the languages we speak. We need open ears, not a constitutionally embedded, bureaucratised, highly selective Voice set up and run by those who have controlled the narrative and the funds for decades while everything got worse for us.


24 thoughts on “Making Life Even Worse for Us

  • Douglas Holmes says:

    That is a much more balanced article describing just what is happening. It brings out the lies that are being told even by some Aboriginals themselves. Thank you for speaking out. Keep if up!

  • pgang says:

    This is the first of these articles I’ve read properly. To be honest the whole thing bores me to tears, it’s so stupid. Mrs Price’s foreword confirms what I already knew, that this is just another wave of socialism and has nothing to do with the interest of aborigines.

  • NarelleG says:

    Thank you Bess Price for the excellent forward to the book.

    I have just ordered my copy and look forward to reading the chapters from the various contributors.

  • Paul W says:

    Solid gold.
    The main thing I drew from this is how important it is for everyone to be Australian and not engage in dead-end identity politics.

  • mattmoloney says:

    Ms Price, thanks so much for this magnificent article. I bet the want to be truth tellers would cringe hearing this truth.

  • Daffy says:

    Ms Price, keep writing about what is happening on the ground to Aborigines who are neglected by the city elite. Australia needs this front and centre., That is the only way to achieve change, in my view.

  • Aussietom says:

    What an excellent article!

    I have sent the link to 20 people.

  • lbloveday says:

    About 15 years ago when my daughter was being indoctrinated at a Catholic-Anglican school (they held their end of year presentation night in a Catholic Cathedral and “entertained” parents with didgeridoo music and Rainbow Snake dress-ups), I told her the Aborigines she should heed were Bess Price (Jacinta wasn’t yet in the public eye) and Warren Mundine (even though then national president of the ALP).
    They continue to prove me right

  • Just Ros says:

    An illuminating read. This is what is happening in the most disadvantaged communities and why “the gap” will never be closed while the futility of clinging to a culture that is not fit for modernity is promoted by those who have never lived it and would never want to live it.
    Thank you Bess. Brilliant as always.

  • rmclean says:

    Thankyou Mrs Price telling us all the true facts . As a sixth generation Australian as is my wife , and are both ex defence service personnel we have worked with and enjoyed the company of many Aboriginal work colleagues.
    We were all Australians in this great undivided nation on racial grounds and now the yes camp want to divide us against each other permanently.
    I say no , God bless Australia

  • rosross says:

    There is much of value in this article but I do remain curious about some claims which may well be family stories rather than actual historical events. Anyone who does family ancestry knows how often strongly held stories turn out to be partially true or often, completely untrue.

    Was it possible for someone to have never seen Europeans until 1926 when they had been active in the area for so long, as explorers, missionaries, police and then those responsible for putting through the telegraph to Darwin, in 1872 and work began on the railway to Darwin in 1878. I am not saying it is not true but it seems strange given the curiosity of people in general and primitive people in particular, about strangers in their lands.

    Aboriginal protectors were appointed in the early 19th century and Missionaries were active from the mid to late 19th century. Aborigines were included in the first Census in 1911 so, one presumes, someone who was not aboriginal did the counting.

    And is there evidence that the Army kidnapped in essence, and chained aborigines and forced them to work as part of their war effort? Surely that would be in military records. As Australian citizens it seems strange that it could happen in 1942. One would have thought, if it did happen that some keen academic would have found the evidence by now and promoted this abuse of human rights widely. I have seen nothing but if anyone else has I would like to read it.

    Beyond those technicalities, Bess Price is a sound voice of reason and was fortunate that her father found the missionaries, or they found him, for, we presume, that is why she is educated and has been able to do what she has done.

  • Patrick McCauley says:

    rosross. Pintubi and other desert peoples were still coming into Papunya in the 1970’s and I don’t think that Warri and Katunga showed up until sometime around then from the Western Desert – when it was the end of a ten year drought, having wandered and survived the entire drought banished because of their crossed moieties and yet still in love apparently – there is a photograph of them coming in with her carrying all the goods and chattels spare spears etc which you once commented on ( as I remember) …. anyway yes it is not just possible but highly probable that many tribal aboriginal peoples were still coming in to whitefellas settlements in 1926 and many would perhaps have heard about whitefellas but not actually seen one – especially desert people widely nomadic and possibly avoiding confrontation with such a scary story as whitewall translated into Walpiri must surely be.

    • rosross says:

      Yes, I know about that family. The Pintubi Nine. I spent too many years in journalism to not recognise the potential for exaggeration on that one. Great story though. Sold around the world. As it would.

      Tribal hunter-gatherers had regular contact with each other. Some would have been in Missions or near towns. There was a lot of activity building telegraph, railway, roads etc., Nomadic peoples take note of who is in their area. I find it impossible to believe that they did not see europeans even if they did not go up for a chat.

      • pgang says:

        I agree with you on those two points as they raised my eyebrows too – the army story in particular was new to me. It seems improbable, as told. As for the contact, I would suggest that there are various levels of it, and this may have been something of a generalisation. The Coniston Station story as relayed here also got me thinking, but I don’t know enough about it to judge.
        I’ve had a bit of contact with Hermannsbsurg in the past and had the great privilege of staying with the pastor and meeting some of the local leaders. Price’s story about Tom Fleming rings very true, as I heard similar narratives and saw the reality. The power of Christianity to conquer violence and superstition, and the respectful co-mingling of tradition with faith, were the two themes that have lasted in my memory from that visit. Albrecht is one of our unsung historical treasures.

  • rmclean says:

    The last time I looked all Australians are equal and entitled to all the benefits our society can offer This includes all our fellow citizens in the so called outlands. However whilst we have a labour government in power the true history of the push for our Australians to be placed in what has become hell holes on earth will never be told. The main architects being Nugget Coombes and Gough Whitlam ( labour folk heroes.
    The problem has now reached mega proportions I find the answer hard to fathom when you have a society of Australians drug and alcohol addicted no work for the men unable to converse who take out their frustrations with acts of family violence.
    3o years ago I thought the answer was total assimilation, however how do you assimilate the same society into itself.
    This will need the wisdom of Solomon . I am looking for answers is there any one out there Australia is calling?

  • Peter Marriott says:

    Some good comments rosross. There are a couple of anomalies in the piece and on the Coniston Station incident Keith Windschuttle covers this in his October 2000 Part 1 article “The Myths Of Frontier Massacres in Australian History “.
    Bess Price of course is doing good things, & a courageous woman for writing the piece and taking the stand she has, as very much so is her Daughter. They strike me as an admirable & remarkable family.

    • rosross says:

      Yes, I noted the anomalies re: Coniston. This is the trouble with family stories although really in her position Senator Price should check all comments made by her family which can be historically sourced and challenged.

      I think their efforts are also admirable but I am enough of a sceptic to know that everyone has their own agendas and people can ride the same horse with a different saddle. Senator Price has ridden well on her aboriginal horse for that is the reality. I believe she is good value and that has nothing to do with having some aboriginal ancestry. I hope she remembers she was elected to represent all Territorians and not just her Warlpiri mob. As is the way of tribal/clan aborigines, half the Warlpiri hate her anyway and other aboriginal clans hate her automatically. None of it is easy and one can only wish her well.

  • STD says:

    Lady your honesty and candour is not only refreshing, it buoys the weary effects of the chinese water torture of half truths and deception that are the fare of the left.
    Lady on account of your impeccable integrity you deserve nothing less than a PERSONAL knighthood from the King. Matter o fact both yourself and your brave daughter and Warren Mundine are in a class of your own.
    I should know, when I was nursing I had the good fortune and the rare honour to cross paths with the recipients of such honours- what struck me as a standout feature of these people was their traits of humility and integrity – rare to find in deed.
    Thank you.

  • Geoff Sherrington says:

    Life has dealt me the odd cruel blow, but I am not moved to write a Quadrant essay about my hard luck stories. Besides, they have no relevance to a shonky proposal for a constitutional amendment.
    Why is this author Bess Price any different, in hard reality?
    Geoff S

  • Dalone says:

    Like Patrick McCauley, I am prepared to accept Bess’s claim that her parents never saw White men until the late 20’s, early 30’s, regardless of what they may have heard over the years, if anything.
    And we know how hard it was sometimes to find the ‘still’ nomadic ones who lived way out, due to them not readily revealing themselves.

    But like, ‘rosross’, I also had concerns regarding Bess’s father being ‘kidnapped’, rather than simply recruited to work for the Army.
    It could be he was in fact arrested for spearing goats on Mt Doreen stn, but was offered work with the Army instead of being held for trial, which would have been a win-win outcome for all concerned. If so, sensibly he took it.

    However my main beef with Bess is her use of the words ‘kardiya’ and ‘white’ without using capital letters for either.
    She never uses the word ‘black’ at all, always ‘Aboriginal’ or ‘First Nations’ and always uses capitals, even when in a sentence using ‘kardia’ or ‘white’.
    ‘Christian’ and Walpiri and Army all attract capitals as do the names of other Aboriginal groups, and happily I noticed, our language, ‘English’, and ‘English speakers’, also did.

    I find not using capitals to describe her husbands, and my race, disingenuous, it is what Yes people and others use to attempt to put Europeans down.

    As a previous minister in our NT government, Bess should know better.

    • rosross says:

      Yes, I agree. Bess Price uses Warlpiri words which have relevance to a few thousand people in the Northern Territory and are meaningless to most Australians, including those in NT from other aboriginal clans.

      I find the insertion of aboriginal words into English writings to be pretentious and racist. English is our language so use English.

      As to her parents never seeing Europeans, given where the Warlpiri clans live and lived, it stretches belief. Again, I think it is a family story to exaggerate the ‘miracle’of Bess becoming educated and achieving what she has. For one thing, in terms of never seeing anglo-europeans, how then were they all counted for the 1911 Census, as they were, when the pale-skinned people were the ones doing the counting? Since aborigines who were not educated were not numerate, and known to count to four and then many, we can presume that the locals were not doing the counting. My guess is it was the missionaries who by the time Bess Price’s father was around had been active for nearly a century.

      I find this approach of gushing over anyone with aboriginal ancestry, including Bess Price and her daughter, when they achieve things like any other humans to be the worst kind of patronising racism. The message is, any aboriginal ancestry creates such inferiority of function that any achievement by anyone with it is truly incredible.

  • john.singer says:

    It never ceases to amaze me how serious discussions seem to degenerate from topics of great import into jabs of nit-picking.

    If there was ever a natural gap that needed closing the Price Familly is an excellent example of one that is closed. The family group of Bess, David and Jacinta represents 44 years of what it really means to be Australian. It wasn’t always easy, at time it must have been very difficult, yet they shrug it off and get on with life and their job.

    I really began to follow their story during the 2019 General election when I saw a complaint to the AEC over the conduct of people in the remote polling stations in the electorate of Lingiari. The behaviour of Labor Party supporters of Warren Snowdon at and in the polling stations seemed unfair particularly in contrast to the treatment of Bess and Jacinta Price.

    It was, in my opinion, unfair. You had a white Labor Candidate and an Aboriginal CLP Candidate contesting a huge electorate that was all of the Northern Territory with the exclusion of urban Darwin. Visualise in your mind’s eye how you would expect the voting to go. I haven’t my reseacrch at hand so from memory. Jacinta Price won every Town polling booth and Snowdon won every single remote one. The final result on two-party preferred was Price 44.54 % Warren Snowdon 55.46%.. Jacinta did not take her bat and ball and go home. She focussed on local Government and became Deputy Mayor of Alice Springs and an important writer at the CIS. Bess made an almost seamless transition from Cabinet Minister in the NT Government to School teacher in Alice Springs.

    Not to let nit-picking pass without comment. The famous surveyor Len Beadell who mapped many of the roadways in Central Australia once remarked that he traversed lands that he doubted that any man including Aboriginal people had ever crossed. If a couple fearing death by spearing or sorcery were hiding from their own kin in the Western Desert they would sensibly flee from sounds of all humans without risking a peek at who or what they were.

    Thank you for your contibutions Bess.

  • James Franklin says:

    Well put by Bess. On the subject of the forced labour during WWII, it would be good to remember that the Director of Manpower could order anyone, white or black, to work anywhere (in addition to conscripts being sent to New Guinea). I remember my mum saying that socialite young women in Sydney were “directed” to chauffeur American officers around town while women of the lower orders were more likely to end up copy typing or in munitions factories.

  • John Daniels says:

    To not teach fluency in reading and writing is like banishing people from the modern world.
    Reading lets people enter the minds of the most gifted people that have ever lived.
    English is an international language and should be embraced as the great gift of colonization.
    Letting children leave school without reaching fluency in reading and writing in English is like attaching a ball and chain to an ankle in any expectation that the gaps will be closed in the communities where it occurs.
    Why would you want to try to teach subjects like mathematics , physics , chemistry or foreign languages etc. in other than English ?

    There is a Cult of Respect for Aboriginal Culture and an Aboriginal Industy that justifies itself by that and by the difficult lives of the illiterate in the settlements where the Gaps are most pronounced.
    Are all the participants in the Aboriginal Industry really intrested in closing those gaps .
    If the gaps were to close some of them would lose the money and power they presently have .

    Vietnamese refugees that came to Australia after the end of the Vietnam War on average had 4 years of primary school education .
    The children and grandchildren of those refugees are now entering university at higher rates than Australian born children of non-Vietnamese ancestry .
    They were not burdened with the remnants of a culture that had developed to deal with the harsh realities of surviving as hunter gatherers in a very harsh land .
    There are no longer any hunter gatherers in Australia .

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