Glimpses of Life in a Remote Aboriginal Community

When I recently came across Kim Mahood’s searingly frank description of whitefella workers in remote Aboriginal communities, I was swept back in a wave of nostalgia to my own brief exposure in Arnhem Land almost 30 years ago.  While I didn’t keep a record, and my three visits there amounted only to about a month in total, the impressions gained were powerful enough to have survived all this time, with only some of the detail (including names of most of the key players) now lost. 

It started around 1990, at yet another meeting of the University of Queensland’s then new Tropical Health Program, when I couldn’t help grumbling about how readily some mickey mouse research projects relating to indigenous health, generally of a “social science” nature (a successful one being praised was along the lines of “Birthing preferences in lesbian, single indigenous mothers”), were reliably and generously funded, while proposals for more onerous, hardcore science and medicine studies were far more competitive and less likely to score.  Some committee members reproached my envy, hinting at possible incompetence, even slackness, in compiling proposals with practical application.

This was a challenge that rankled, so shortly afterwards at a conference in Darwin I discussed the matter over lunch with a senior medical colleague who worked for Royal Darwin Hospital and NT Health.  He was a highly regarded and experienced clinician whose work at times took him to every remote community in the NT, providing intimate familiarity with health and other problems.  One that aroused my particular interest was childhood anaemia, found in up to 80 per cent of children in some regions.  It was generally attributed to “parasites”, essentially gut worms, and routinely treated with anthelminthic medications, given out to most amenable kids at regular intervals in some communities.  He advised running a study in what he considered to be the “most functional” community in Arnhem Land, Galiwinku (on Elcho Island), about 550km east of Darwin.  Throughout our casual discussion, he scribbled some notes on a small sheet of paper.  The conference soon ended, and I headed back to Brisbane, giving the matter little further thought.

You can imagine my surprise, about a year later, to receive a phone call from a bureaucrat in Canberra, announcing: “Congratulations, Professor Prociv, your application has been successful!”  Completely blindsided, I asked for an explanation.  He was from the NHMRC, which that year was running a special initiative through its Public Health Research Development Committee (PHRDC) in indigenous health for projects initiated by the communities. The submission, compiled by my note-taking colleague but nominally from Galiwinku, was approved and I was invited to be the lead researcher.  All that was now needed was the signature of the chairman of the local Land Council (as I think it was then called) on a formal letter of invitation, and the funds would be released for the project to begin.

Having decided this would provide for a solid PhD project, I sought out a suitable candidate — a BSc(hons) graduate who’d done my medical parasitology course, was temperamentally suited, and had considerable experience living and working with indigenous people. A scientific officer of the recently-disbanded Queensland Aboriginal Health Program agreed to provide technical assistance with the fieldwork. 

However, there was a glitch: my Darwin colleague informed us the critical letter couldn’t be signed as the position of Council Chairman (comparable to mayor) was vacant and would quite possibly  for some time because the community couldn’t agree who should fill it.  I later learnt that the population (ranging seasonally between 1,500 and 2,500, with 90 per cent indigenous) comprised members of about 20 different clans with extremely complex hereditary interlinkages, obscure to outsiders, who had been moved there, under a Methodist mission, in the 1940s for military reasons.  According to an official website,

During the 1950s a fishing industry started, a large market garden flourished and a cypress pine logging industry and sawmill began. During early settlement, the mission encouraged Aboriginal people to stay on their traditional homelands and use Galiwin’ku as a service centre. However, the mission ended when self-government came in the 1970s, and the community is now the largest Aboriginal community in north-east Arnhem Land.

The people call themselves Yolngu, which simply means “Aboriginal person” (as distinct from balanda, a whitefella) in the regional languages.  They had scattered homelands and outstations, and spoke nine major language groups, with many more local dialects, coalescing into two distinct clusters.  Difficulties in reaching consensus on local matters was only to be expected, so our first obstacle was simply one of those occasions.  With growing disappointment, frustration and then annoyance, we had to cool our heels another year, before finally obtaining that signature.

Eventually, the technician, my student and I were able to fly to the island in July 1994, via Darwin, to kickstart our project.  The final leg was in a small plane carrying about 10 passengers, of whom we were the only whitefellas.  A vociferous, inebriated male was seated at the back, loudly abusing, but being unable to reach, the pilot.  We found this most discomforting, while the other passengers seemed unmoved.  Arnhem Land was (and no doubt still is) well serviced with passenger flights (as daily back-and-forth “milk runs” between Darwin and Nhulunbuy), liberally exploited by inhabitants of dry communities (including Galiwinku) to quench their thirst elsewhere.  The flights also provided a huge boost to “sorry business” travel, about which there will be more below.

Even though the airstrip sits conveniently alongside the township, every passenger was soon whisked away by waiting vehicles.  We were met by the community doctor, an enthusiastic, idealistic young whitefella only a few years out of medical school, who most kindly invited us to stay in his house, as he was about to head home for recreational leave (I never saw him again; shortly after returning from leave, he’d been violently assaulted in the clinic and decided to terminate his contract).  His comfortable, two-storey home was centrally located in the main community, giving us a good vantage point for observing its street life.  My brief time there didn’t allow for a detailed appreciation of the fine details of local cultures, but my student spent six months in total there, spread over seven visits between July 1994 and October 1996.  However, my glimpses did provide insights into how the worldviews of the locals differed hugely from mine.

Our first evening was interrupted around 8pm by the howling of one, then a few, then what sounded like hundreds, of dogs.  Just as we were starting to wonder what sort of night was in store, a woman’s voice from nearby shouted out for them to shut up.  A few went quiet, but then started up again, so the voice repeated, only louder, “Shut the f*** up!”.  Instant peace – which reigned for the rest of the night (apart from the sporadic domestic altercation or kids running in the streets).  We quickly discovered that dogs possibly outnumbered people in the community, a consequence of uncontrolled breeding.  Without care, veterinary or otherwise, many were extremely scrawny and run down, some with severe scabies (“leather dogs”) and other issues.  While the responsible mites have trouble invading human skin, they do try, initiating lesions that readily become infected with streptococci, and so partly contribute to the high prevalence of rheumatic heart and chronic renal diseases in the human population.  Humans, of course, have their own specific version of the scabies mite, which only compounds the problem.

The first real jolt came the following morning at my meeting with the council chairman.  He was a man who had travelled the world, on various occasions as the official Aboriginal representative.  During our informal introduction, I couldn’t help noticing the Queen’s portrait hanging on his office wall, and remarked what a fine-looking young woman she’d been.  His instant response was, “So why are you blokes so keen to get rid of her?”  When asked to explain, he referred to the proposed republic referendum.  I started mumbling about our democracy, leading him to clarify, with a genuine quizzical look: “If she goes, then where will your money come from?”  It didn’t take long to realise that he was deadly serious.  Further discussion revealed that he firmly believed the Queen was the source of all money, which she handed out to governments, whose main job was to distribute it.  This then extended to his role in the community, directing where incoming money should flow – and might have explained the protracted fight over the council chairmanship.  I later found such understanding of economics wasn’t just a localised idiosyncrasy.

Another stark, early impression was how few people were to be seen walking around during the day.  I assumed at least there would be plenty of kids in the school, but that was not the case; just a few playing outside between lessons.  Then one day, as we ate lunch on our veranda around noon, the door opened in a hut across the road and small children started to trickle out.  First it was three, then five, mingled with a few teenagers, then a few adults; all up, maybe 15-20 people eventually emerged (like in one of those old silent movies).  I ran down to the street and asked some older boys what had been going on, and they declared it was the movie Robo Cop.  They also expressed a liking for Arnold Schwarzenegger, plus Hollywood soaps.  Instead of attending school, these kids were learning about the “real world” by watching junk videos.  Did they think that maybe I came from such a world?  

Looking through the door, I noticed there was no furniture, the floors being strewn with mattresses and blankets, upon which everybody had been sitting or lying.  I’d been told later that pornographic videos were widely enjoyed throughout Arnhem Land and beyond, at the time sourced by mail order.  Again, what impression would it convey about the world from which we came, not to mention human sexuality and the treatment of women?

A few days later we were driven a few kilometres across to the south-eastern corner of the island to meet the cargo barge, on its routine run along the coast from Darwin, which visited every three weeks to deliver essential supplies. It seemed half the community was there, waiting on the beach as the vessel chugged up the passage to drop its front ramp on the sand.   The whitefella crew most efficiently forklifted off pallets of 200 litre fuel drums, plus produce that included cartons of Coca Cola, potato chips, Twisties, Mars Bars, Kellogg’s Coco Pops and Fruit Loops, as well as large parcels and odd bits of equipment.  The unloading was all over quickly, and the barge headed off to its next stop, a day or so away.  Again, I couldn’t help but wonder if any of the local people, especially the kids, had any idea of where all this stuff came from, how it might have been produced.

On the drive back to “town”, I asked about a burnt out, late-model Toyota Land Cruiser sitting on a bush track about 100 m off the main road.  It was explained that, a few barge visits back, this new vehicle had been delivered to its proud, local owner, who gathered a bunch of mates for a trip to their outstation.  Sadly, he hadn’t thought to fill the tank, and so it came to a halt shortly after they set off.  He’d left the vehicle there overnight, returning the following morning to find it had been set alight by a bunch of kids.  I couldn’t ascertain if there were any consequences (it seemed no one was too bothered about it), but also couldn’t help wondering what all those people involved might have known of the origins of such machinery and the money that pays for it.  Perhaps the kids had seen burning cars in some of their movies?  In my mind, “easy come, easy go” was emerging as the operating principle regarding much communal life here.

Shortly after the picture of the island water tower (below) was taken, some young boys climbed up there for a swim, and thoughtfully crapped into the water.  The system had to be shut down, awaiting arrival of engineers from Darwin to drain reservoir tanks and sterilise the system. This was overkill, in my view – those kids wouldn’t have had anything in their excrement that was alien to the locals. But it did show concern by administrators, plus made a lot of contractor money for some industrious tradies.

Another conspicuous feature on the outskirts of town was a quarter-acre compound, enclosed in a high, chain-link fence (topped with barbed wire) and holding new-looking trucks, bulldozers, excavators, graders etc.  My expression of pleasant surprise was met with the response that this wasn’t the well-equipped council depot I’d assumed, but a scrapyard!  Apparently, there were no locals who could fix any machines that broke down, and it was too expensive and difficult to bring out mechanics, so the equipment was simply left to rot.  I couldn’t help imagining how any keen entrepreneur could easily fix and capitalise on this treasure trove of heavy equipment. No doubt the administrative obstacles would be mind-boggling.

Next, we had to fuel up our vehicle.  The only “service station” was a metal shed holding several drums of diesel fuel, one of which was fitted with a metered hand-pump.  An exercise book and pencil on a string were hanging off the wall, for drivers to record their usage.  I noted the last entry had been a few weeks previously, and was told that, as soon as one driver failed to account for his consumption, that triggered others to do likewise.  The council, which purchased the fuel drums, regularly threatened to shut down the station if the practice continued, but to little avail.  Did the drivers ever wonder where their fuel came from, and who paid for it, or did they just accept it as a free gift, another “basic human right”?

Early in our visit, we met at the council offices with the chairman and a group of other key people, mainly whitefellas, whose exact roles I forget except for the community accountant.  They weren’t so much interested in the details or purpose of our project, but its financing.  It was peremptorily announced up front that the council would take 60 per cent of the total $115,000 budget for “administration costs”, while I could use the remainder for our work, which included all our travel, subsistence and lab expenses, plus the wages of the local assistant fieldworker/interpreter, a Yolngu nursing aide from the health clinic.  We did manage to keep our work within this budget, and to acquit our expenses at the end, but I have no idea where the “administration” allocation went.

We later visited the health clinic, to meet our local fieldwork assistant, whose command of English was hardly reassuring.  There were also several white workers and visitors, one a dietician from Darwin trying to improve community nutritional practices.  She proudly showed us her recently compiled recipe book for mothers.  First off in the compendium were instructions for making baked bean sandwiches: “Open a packet of sliced bread; remove two slices; spread butter on one side of each with knife; open can of baked beans  .  .  .”.  My conversation with the author revealed an appalling lack of interest by many adults, including mothers, in what their children ate. 

Of the few kids who attended school, many didn’t have breakfast at home beforehand.  It was not uncommon for a child’s daily rations to consist of a bag of potato crisps or Twisties, with a can of Coke.  I gained the impression, previously noted in some remote north Queensland communities, that many children seemed to free range, moving erratically from house to house and sleeping with different relatives (lots of “aunties”, “uncles”, “brothers” and “sisters”), so that parents often had no idea where their child might be.  Of course, when the child awoke in the morning, it had to fend for itself; the adults were either asleep, or showed little interest in preparing breakfast (this might be attributed to “traditional culture”).  Our idea of a nuclear family certainly didn’t seem to fit the pattern here. As I had learnt, this movement of children was often associated with a name change, which makes it almost impossible to keep track of them in health records without detailed local knowledge.

A visit to the local store, managed by a whitefella, revealed the same range of goods we’d watched being offloaded from the barge, with plenty of sugary drinks, lollies, ice-cream, sweet biscuits, long-life cakes, sausages and minced meat, white flour, white rice, and refined sugar, but almost no fresh vegetable or fruits (and what was there looked very tired).  The last items were understandable for such a remote location, but the manager did say that when he made an effort to boost the supply of heavily-subsidised fresh greens and fruit, the customer response was poor, despite initial expressions of enthusiasm, so that most had to be dumped.  An enterprising local had set up a hot, roast chicken booth nearby, and I watched as a child of maybe 6-8 years paid for a bagged chicken with a $50 note, trotting happily off without collecting any change.

During the mission era, apparently the community was almost self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables, produced in its own thriving gardens and orchards, but once the missionaries were sent packing, this all fell apart.   Outside of town, alongside the outflow from its sewage treatment plant, I came upon a small garden and orchard established and run by a hermit-like Chinese/Aboriginal man regarded as an outcast by the main community; he produced very little surplus, mainly bananas and papayas, for sale.  (A recent website claims that communal gardens and orchards are making a comeback in Galiwinku, which I hope is true; maybe Dark Emu has provided inspiration?)

While there was much talk of “bush tucker”, I saw very little evidence.  On one occasion, with much fanfare, we were invited on a trip with some elderly ladies to seek food in the mangroves.  After several hours, driving and walking, all they came up with were some fat worms extracted from the trunks of fallen trees and eaten on the spot, plus one small crab and a few fat clams dug out of the mud, taken home for cooking.  Our few fishing forays provided extremely poor catches (and little relaxation, given the need to constantly look out for crocodiles).  These people depend almost entirely on imported, energy-dense, processed food, contributing to the very high prevalence of obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

I saw very little in the way of meaningful work by any Yolngu people, with most adults, while outside, either idly sitting around and chatting, or driving around in vehicles.  The power station was run by a white engineer, with several local offsiders.  The store had a white manager, with local girls at the checkout (which caused problems when their relatives would demand payment-free goods).  The health clinic was run by white staff, with local assistants (including our interpreter).  The schoolteachers were white, with local aides (the same applied to the local cop).  On my last visit, I encountered a team of contract builders finishing six new houses in town (costing about $0.5 million each).  My query about the absence of local apprentices was met with awkward silence.  It later transpired that they had tried to employ local assistants, but the few youngsters who turned up didn’t show much sustained interest, were slow to learn useful skills, and were unreliable in attendance – it was far quicker, and less stressful, to do the work without such local “help”. 

There didn’t seem to be any skilled tradesmen in the community (above).  Blocked sewers, a regular occurrence with disposable nappies and drink cans being thrown into toilets, sometimes required calling out a plumber from Darwin or Nhulunbuy. 

Early one morning, on a walk along the island’s western beaches, I stopped to marvel at the swarm of white, plastic outers of disposable nappies that had blown ashore and caught up in mangrove roots and branches (the soft inner parts had long gone, seeing they comprise an essential part of the local canine diet).  An approaching middle-aged man could see my discomfort, and pronounced, “Disgusting, isn’t it?  When’s the government coming out to clean this up?”  It was clear he was not joking, that the locals take the meaning of “public servants“ literally.  Just a couple of hours of light work by a few energetic adults (or even kids) could have cleared it all up, but that would require a degree of organisation and initiative. 

Our study proceeded far more slowly than anticipated, for a variety of reasons, one being the frequent absence of our field assistant.  My student planned his biggest “onslaught” around the middle of his time there, aiming for three months of intense collection and interviewing.  He had arranged all his supplies and equipment, teed up with the assistant and flew off to the island only to find she’d gone away just before his arrival!  The explanation?  Sorry business.   This had happened on half of his visits to the community. Her involvement was essential, given the lack of English among the locals.  The few surviving elderly folk spoke English eloquently, having been taught by the missionaries, but the younger population, especially the children, could speak only bits of the exaggerated Hollywood-ese they picked up from movies. 

The current demands to teach local languages (already widely spoken) in remote schools when the children are in desperate need of mastering practical English is beyond my comprehension.

As for sorry business, this is based on traditional funerary rituals than can go on for weeks or even months.  In the old days, attendance would have been limited, in numbers and distance covered, but with modern communication technology, and daily flights to just about anywhere in Australia, not to mention the easy availability of copious food, this has become a dominant diversion.  Considering most Aboriginal people have many, sometimes hundreds, of “relations” spread widely across the country, this demanding practice can seriously intrude into work commitments, as we discovered repeatedly.

While it slowed and restricted his work, my enterprising student wasn’t too inconvenienced; he’d teamed up with some local young blokes to go exploring, fishing, hunting (mainly feral pigs, with rifles), and chasing rare pythons (he was a certified snake-breeder).

OUR study did eventually produce sufficient findings to allow a reliable conclusion: gut parasites were present in the people of Arnhem Land, but not at a level to account for the widespread anaemia in children.  While we didn’t formally evaluate nutrition, it was obvious that many kids were, in effect, starving; they were not eating sufficient protein or iron, both essential for maintaining adequate blood levels of haemoglobin.  This would have serious effects on their development, as well as physical and intellectual performance.  I conveyed this information to the council group on my last visit to the island, but felt my message didn’t register.  Their most pressing question: Could I provide funds to help sort this out?

It also reinforced my suspicions of “affirmative action” in supporting indigenous research – although it could be argued that our funding proposal, which I never saw, was an outstanding one.  And, strictly speaking, it was not submitted, or managed, by me, but by the community.  Furthermore, it did produce potentially useful findings. If only the community could be motivated to feed its children properly!

My visits to the island and community weren’t all bleak, and I came away with many warm and positive memories, but my point here is to convey impressions which highlight a fundamental problem in remote Aboriginal communities.  It fits consistently with observations elsewhere, and with the meticulously detailed conclusions of Tadhgh Purtill, whose ideas crystallised over two-and-a-half years working as manager in an extremely isolated community.  His The Dystopia in the Desert should be essential reading for all our politicians, as well as anyone else seriously interested in indigenous matters.  It is clear that traditional indigenous cultures are well and truly dead, being replaced by a rapidly emerging, hybrid culture, a symbiotic (host-parasite) patchy edifice that suits the needs of the locals (or at least their “leaders”, who are its main drivers) as well as of those outsiders whose careers depend on “helping”. I was repeatedly surprised by the daily comings and goings of whitefella newcomers, comprising community staff, government and NGO workers, consultants, tradespeople, occasional academics and others.  Some seemed genuinely interested in helping, others more like opportunists reprising the old adage, “missionaries, mercenaries and misfits”.  Where did I see myself?  Maybe a combination of missionary, given my belief/hope to be doing good, and mercenary, seeing this was integral to my academic career. As for “misfit”, that’s for others to decide.  There was plenty of talking and lots of meetings, again leading me to wonder what the locals thought “work” or “jobs” involved and how they visualised the world from which we came. 

Thinking back, I didn’t see a single “welcome to country” ceremony, nor leaves smoking, didgeridoos playing, clapsticks clacking or men in loincloths stomping about in the dust.  Either these hadn’t been invented at that stage, or were kept for special occasions to entertain and seduce gullible VIPs, politicians, business leaders and royalty.  What realistic impression could such shepherded and choreographed fly-in/fly-out visits give of life in such a place?  Even a month’s stay wouldn’t be enough, especially if one didn’t know the local languages.  For well-meaning but naïve and ignorant city-dwellers, there’s no hope of grasping the reality. Indeed, many seem to prefer believing in noble savages inhabiting traditional utopias, from which white invaders  forcibly evicted them.

The remote community dwellers depend entirely upon material inputs from the outside world, of which they must have a very distorted view. Add to this their concept of money, and we have a cargo cult mentality.  Everything arrives magically, fully assembled, and even the money to pay for it appears effortlessly every fortnight.  Where is the incentive to change any of this? 

As for the whitefella support workers, their careers are secure and well-paid, so why change anything from their viewpoint?  When the locals speak of “self-determination”, they’re not referring to taking over meaningful workloads, or administrative responsibilities, but simply the right to satisfy their needs, to point out what should be provided and what should be done by outsiders but without the imposition of external restrictions.  Demands for “local jobs” are no better than meaningless cliches.

As for “closing the gap” in public health and longevity, this is a useful mantra used to readily tap into whitefella guilt.  Personal health is not something to be handed to people on a platter, but the outcome of active personal involvement in caring for oneself and one’s family.  Most indigenous people living in towns and cities are no less healthy than their white counterparts.  Hygiene, nutrition, exercise, recreation and social connections all feed into this.  While significant, the contribution of the healthcare system is of secondary importance – provision of big, fully-staffed and well-equipped hospitals in each community would have little effect on overall population health without reciprocal effort on the part of individual inhabitants to improve their lot.  In effect, the “gap” serves as a tool for mega-humbugging, an extension of a traditional sharing practice by which less thrifty individuals are entitled to the resources of their better-off relatives. Anyone not familiar with humbugging is well-advised to watch David Gulpilil’s last film, Charlie’s Country.

My glimpses into this community raised other questions.  What is “reconciliation”, that drives thousands of our urban fellow-citizens to walk en masse across bridges?  I’ve always thought of it as a two-way process, between parties that have become estranged.  If it’s about reconciliation between remote community dwellers and the rest of our population, forget it – we hardly seem to figure in their thinking right now (except as the source of all their material sustenance, and televised entertainment).  If it’s about getting Australians to recognise and respect each other, then reconciliation in those communities should start at home, between the various tribal groups who live there.  Given that many have “always” been traditional enemies (“longest living culture”), this might be an insurmountable challenge. 

Related to this is the concept of an “indigenous voice”, which I find laughable.  It took more than a year for just one small community, made up of closely related tribal groups, to agree on who should chair their local council; what hope is there of more widespread consensus?  Every person has something to grumble about, something to request, which is hardly different from the rest of us – that’s why our political systems have evolved to their present state.

As a postscript, several years after the completion of our project, while visiting Nhulunbuy I was taken by friends on a sailing trip from the Gove Boat Club.  Heading down the inlet for a few miles, towards the Gumatj settlement (the Gumatj clan seems to dominate the Yolngu peoples, which some have alleged might be because of its stranglehold on royalties), we came upon a beachside, two-storied mansion.  Reaching out from it was a small jetty supporting a helicopter on floats.  “That’s where Galurrwuy Yunupingu lives”, I was told, and that was his private helicopter (presumably with a full-time pilot in residence).

Not far away was another, large, warehouse-like building, apparently the studio of the band, Yothu Yindi, made up of relatives of Galurrwuy.  I recalled the man from years before as long-time chairman of the Northern Land Council and regarded widely as the “king” of Arnhem Land, expert at schmoozing politicians (he’d been portrayed as a friend of PM Bob Hawke, among others) and directing expenditure of mining and alumina plant royalties.  Galurrwuy died only recently, in April 2023, still crying victimhood in advocating for extra compensation and increased government spending in the region.  Returning home, I started wondering if that had all been a dream, until coming across an old article in The Australian by Elisabeth Wynhausen* that featured a photograph of that helicopter and explained it was used for, among other things, fishing and hunting (possibly for buffaloes, turtles, crocodiles and dugong).  So much for socialism, or environmental conservationism, as deeply innate features of Aboriginal life – although many might think that nepotism seems alive and well. 

Paul Prociv MB BS, PhD, FRACP is the former Professor of Medical Parasitology at the University of Queensland

* as reproduced at Wynhausen’s archival web site, the helicopter snap is missing, though mention is made in the text.

34 thoughts on “Glimpses of Life in a Remote Aboriginal Community

  • DougD says:

    A excellent companion piece to Paul Mc Cauley’s Quadrant article “Wadeye: Failed State as Cultural Triumph”.

    It’s depressing that none of the media, except Quadrant, is interested in telling the truth about the remote communities as opposed to uncritically repeating Voice and State Treaty activists’ demands for “truth telling”.

  • tom says:

    Surely smart people somewhere in the world have developed a model for breaking this endless cycle of learned helplessness and dependency? It seems safe to assume that isn’t unique to Australia.

  • Ceres says:

    Very timely recollections PP Confirms everything that Jacinta Price, Warren Mundine, Gary Johns and many others have said in regard to all the disparate aboriginal “voices”. Great examples of “sit down” money based on your personal experience. How bad must the fostered learned helplessness be all these years later, with billions $ injected. We ain’t seen nothing yet if this referendum succeeds.

    • Watchman Williams says:

      Amazon’s 2000 review of Roger Sandall’s excellent book “The Culture Cult – Designer Tribalism and Other Essays” gives some indication of the origins of the problems eloquently set forth by Professor Provic.
      “The Culture Cult is an acerbic critique of that longing widespread in society today to retreat from civilisation. From Rousseau and the Noble Savage to modern defenders of ethnicity such as Isaiah Berlin and Karl Polanyi, a prominent intellectual tradition has over-romanticised the virtues of tribal life. In contrast, another tradition, represented by Karl Popper, Michael Polanyi, and Ernest Gellner, defends modern values and civil society. The Culture Cult discusses both sides of this divide between “culture” and “civilisation,” and between “closed” and “open” societies. The romantic insistence on the superiority of the primitive is increasingly grounded in a fictionalised picture of the past-a picture often created with the aid of well-meaning but misguided anthropologists. Such idealisations work to the detriment of the very people they are meant to help, for they isolate minorities from such undeniable benefits of modern society as literacy and health care, and discourage them from participating in modern life. Few will find comfort in The Culture Cult, but many will recognise a valuable criticism of currently popular social politics”.

  • Geoff Sherrington says:

    Re your closing story, I hosted GY as guest of honour at the end of year dinner of the NT Chamber of Mines around 1990. There were a couple of hundred people as wives and partners came to this event, more festivity than business.
    Trying to talk to GY for the 3 hours was a chore. He showed little understanding of the nuances of relations between groups. Rightly or wrongly, I ended up with the impression that he had severe limitations for one in his land .council positions. Maybe he just hated me or my position and did not want to converse. Other land council officials would refuse to shake my hand and would be openly insulting, but this did not happen that evening.
    In the years since I have been hoping that cargo cult would vanish because Chamber members had put in a lot of effort for betterment over the years.
    But sadly, the convoluted business named the Voice is little more than cargo cult writ large. I doubt if any more than a handful of aborigines understand the deep implications. Thankfully, many are nice folk, but they are at risk of getting a bad name from activists among them Geoff S

    • NarelleG says:

      @Geoff – I wouldn’t mind betting GY could see you were not a soft touch to his demands.
      You would be aware that he did not want under age sex with promised brides outlawed.
      I think it was 2003 before it was finally outlawed and made illegal!!

      GY is responsible for the remote communities not migrating to white towns as others had done.
      He believed in them ‘keeping culture’ so encouraged them to stay in remote areas – it could be said the he is responsible for the beyond 3rd world conditions today.

    • pmprociv says:

      Thanks for sharing that, Geoff — it’s totally consistent with all my impressions, even though I never had the pleasure of meeting the man. As NarelleG assumes, I’m pretty certain that he saw you as someone not worth wasting time or effort on. He had a charisma to support, deporting himself in public (and maybe in private?) as some sort of emperor, and so needed to be seen only in the company of rich and famous (I think Bruce Pascoe might have used him as one of his role models, maintaining a “stage presence” while “in character”: consummate con-man). I laugh at watching TV footage of all our prime minister being sucked in by GY, no doubt feeling (or hoping for) some of his divine aura rub off onto them (they’re all narcissists, almost by definition, so are extremely susceptible to this sort of treatment). He sure used the system fully to personal advantage, as these old articles reveal, illustrating a nice blending of traditional and whitefella cultures:

      The Australian: Royalties divide Yunupingu family [ 11jun05 ] (kooriweb.org)
      Fallout over four wives | Features | The Australian (kooriweb.org)
      NT Aboriginal leader loses firearm bid (smh.com.au)
      And more mega-humbugging:

      Yunupingu to sue over Arnhem Land mining (9news.com.au)
      Aboriginal leader seeks $700m mine compo – 9News

  • Katzenjammer says:

    Perhaps the silver lining of The Voice, if it comes to pass, will be to drain the remnants of dessicated life out of these disfunctional communities – to finally make them totally inhabitable under their own management.

    • pmprociv says:

      I suspect these dysfunctional communities are the engine rooms, the driving force, for Voice advocates, whose leading proponents live on comfortable salaries in cities a long way away from this wild frontier society, and simply exploit it to the full. Instead of “Closing the Gap”, it’s in their interests to keep it as wide as possible, for as long as possible. They don’t want to complicate matters by revealing the real situation on the ground (possibly, most of them are totally oblivious of it) to the ignorant/innocent public, which simply wants to believe in the oppressed, dispossessed Noble Savage. It will be no different once they have the voice, then the treaty, then rent in perpetuity from all of us suckers — life in those communities will just go on, the same as ever.

  • Botswana O'Hooligan says:

    An illustration of govt. at work for our indigenous brethren if I may. Back in the early 1970’s a State Government decided that the cattle herd on an island where there was a “community” needed an infusion of new blood so by happenstance someone in govt. knew someone who bred Santa Gertrudis cattle and as luck would have it that someone had a surfeit of young bulls and would supply them, at some cost of course. Those of us who were locals as well as aviators who regularly flew into that Island had not seen hide nor hair of any cattle but governments and people in government always know “someone” so favours and loot change hands…………… Two of us were tasked to fly about two dozen of these young bulls into the island at a dozen a time since the co-pilot and I were bushies and knew cattle plus for some unknown reason the load included a quarter horse stallion. Those young bulls were “scrubbers” to say the least and even after a double dose of tranqualiser they wrecked the stalls we used to haul stud cattle around to exhibitions etc. so we employed the use of a float from the back of a seven ton truck and hauled a dozen comatose bulls in, slammed the float gate closed, closed the loading doors and off we went. Nobody on that island had seen an aeroplane that large before so the populace were gathered at the aerodrome to witness the event. Those young bulls were just recovered from the tranqualiser and were not at all happy so without going into detail we landed, arranged an unloading race, opened the aircraft doors and let them loose. The dozen young bulls bolted through the crowd bellowing and roaring, through fences, gardens, houses, and went in the direction of “away” in no time at all and it was a sight to see the populace fleeing in all directions. The next day we brought the remaining dozen in and as we joined the aerodrome circuit we observed the populace taking to the waters in dinghy’s and anything that could float to escape the coming onslaught. The cost of it all to we taxpayers would have been enormous considering the fact that there wasn’t a herd on the island in the first place, and secondly the two dozen bulls were consumed (bush tucker one supposes) within two years. The fate of the quarter horse stallion remains unknown. Later when on low level surveillance around our coast from NQ all the way around to Port Hedland in WA we observed bitumen roads in a couple of communities starting nowhere and ending nowhere, FWD vehicles and even the odd truck abandoned to the tides, ditto dinghies, outboard motors, and equipment abandoned as the good Professor states, and endured some abuse when landing at various communities. We Australians don’t deserve that drain on our taxpaying pockets, the waste, and the abuse, and if successful, the voice won’t make any difference to those communities for no amount of resources thrown at them since the missionaries departed has made the slightest difference. Those people and only those people are responsible for their wellbeing so it’s up to them, not us or governments throwing money at the problem.

  • Winston Smith says:

    I did 15 years as a Registered Nurse throughout the Top End. Usually small community hospitals. It was Blackstone that finally broke me. Conversation with relieving RN who’d been in the game far too long –
    Me: “There’s shit in the streets, bits of dead roo, used dunny paper, and dogshit. There’s no wonder infected ears and runny noses are so common, and the kids are so sick.”
    Reliever RN: “But Winston, that’s normal for here.”
    Me: “So get them to clean up the place, pick up the dogshit, the half eaten food that the dogs fight over.”
    RRN: “They don’t see illness the same way we do.”
    After a short discussion with my wife, we locked the place up, gave the keys to the local police station, and drove off the next morning. We hadn’t had time to ourselves for a decent nights sleep for the month we were there nor time to have a decent meal. We’d both been in the Top End for years and knew what most of the problems were. But this was beyond rational.
    Being woken up for two panadol by someone who’d been running a fever all day but wouldn’t come to the Clinic because it was too hot, at 0200 in the morning? We were happy to be on call for for emergencies, that’s part and parcel of Remote Nursing, but being abused because the clinic wasn’t open at midnight? No. Not on.
    We’ve never gone back to Remote Area Nursing because the system is broken. The only way to save it is to cut the welfare which is destroying it.

    • pmprociv says:

      Sadly, Winston, your experience fits exactly with what I’ve heard from so many others. Out of curiosity, I Googled Blackstone, to find that it’s now called Papulankutja, and sits right in Ngaanyatjarra country — precisely the location of Purtill’s experiences and book! Small world . . .

  • vic of gero says:

    A concern is the Voice referendum may succeed. Indigenous people make up a little under 4% of our total population (counting those vastly more European than Aboriginal) but very unevenly spread. In places where they make up over 10% of the population, the vote should be a resounding No as the people there, including many who are indigenous, know full well the Voice will not solve any problems.

    It would simply give the likes of people such as Lidia Thorp (who is I know opposed to the Voice but only because it doesn’t go far enough – she thinks people like me who worked for years to buy freehold property should pay ‘rent’ for our land because the $39.5 billion dollars a year currently spent on Indigenous people isn’t enough). It will simply gift people like Thorp with a new way to make easy money without being held accountable for failing to deliver good outcomes, the blame for which will always be laid at the feet of the Government and White privilege.

    Don’t think the issues highlighted in this column are exclusive to remote communities. There are schools in my town (a regional centre of over 40,000 people) that provide meals for Aboriginal children so they have some healthy food in them before classes start.

    Also, there’s a huge demand for labour at the moment but unemployment among Indigenous youth is well over 50%, more if you don’t count pretend jobs created to make the numbers a little better. Why aren’t they working? They choose not to. Indeed, they have come to believe they are owed housing, medical and legal help and a host of other assistance measures because they have been taught they have been wronged and the rest of us should make amends financially.

    To sum up, I work in an industry where most of the customers are Indigenous. A few years back, there were budget cuts and we couldn’t spend as freely as we were. This frustrated some of our clients who could not understand why this was happening. I explained the Government had run short of money. “But the Government always has money” was the common retort, “Why are you being like that, it’s not your money, it’s Government money.”

  • Daffy says:

    And there we are: the source of remote disadvantage and the ‘gap’ which needs to be closed. Both could be dealt with in one fell swoop.
    I expect the Voice will sort it out.
    But no.
    I reflect on my own work on Aboriginal housing projects where dwellings for different clans had to be erected at the same pace. If not the ‘excess’ provision for one group would be torched by the other. Fun for all, except the tax-payer.

  • Lonsdale says:

    Great material for a great novel. Might be the only way to get Australians to take notice

    • pmprociv says:

      Attention spans are too short for even books these days. Do you think Rachel Perkins might be interested in producing a TV series, or is she interested only in “real” truth-telling, like her and Herny Reynolds’ “Frontier Wars”?

  • pmprociv says:

    Many of the comments (which I appreciate) highlight a universal feature of remote (and maybe not so remote) Aboriginal (but not TSI) communities: the apparent passivity of the people. This certainly comes out of Kim Mahood’s brilliant, must-read essay (link at top of my article), which reveals the practical challenges in graphical detail. These are not stupid people, and they can be just as devious and Machiavellian as the rest of us, but there must be some explanation for their apparent lack of initiative and motivation, the almost absent agency in caring for self and children. I’ve worked in villages around SE Asia and the Pacific, all in former colonies (mainly British, but also French and Dutch), but not encountered such exasperating passivity anywhere – so it can’t be attributed to “colonialism”, or “racism”.
    I suspect it boils down to the hunter-gathering past, when people roamed over large territories – the more desolate, the more extensive the roaming, and the smaller the groups. Elsewhere (including in the Torres Strait islands, hugely different from Aboriginal lives), life was effectively sedentary, people settled around gardens and domestic animals. The Old People here, committed to a migratory existence, with water and food always scarce and unreliable (meaning they were often on the verge of dehydration and starvation), would have adapted by restricting their physical activities to the minimal required. Now that food and water are provided generously and reliably by outsiders, and ready transport in the form of motor vehicles and aircraft is widely available, they can reduce their activity to the absolute minimum without concern for their own survival. Sitting down is the default mode, both literally and metaphorically. This certainly contributes to their alarming levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes, among other problems.
    Traditional culture dovetailed with lifestyles, giving structure and “deep purpose” to difficult lives, while providing a form of entertainment. Now that those lifestyles have changed dramatically, the cultural traditions have lost all meaning – except for the residual adherence to hereditary lineages, magical thinking and belief in sorcery. These people now lead a sedentary existence, in relatively large groups made up of formerly hostile tribes. While most of the land has now been returned to their possession, do they really want to return to their traditional lifestyles, and start roaming widely again, on foot? Or are they happy to continue sitting around, constantly squabbling and bickering, and be driven and flown everywhere, while all their material needs are satisfied by expensive, imported materials and labour? (During the extensive flooding in the Kimberley recently, watching all the footage of helicopter evacuations, I couldn’t help surmising the fate of ancestral people in the past – there must have been hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths. Nobody commented on this – perhaps unsurprisingly.)
    Of course, this is a generalisation – there are always exceptions, but those few individuals who’ve done well for themselves have only done so by escaping the claustrophobic restrictions of these remote communities. For the populations as a whole, real education, an escape from the pervasive hostility and negative role-modelling, and meaningful jobs, seem to offer the only way to break through this impasse. But none of that can be achieved in those dysfunctional, artificial, remote communities. It’s a pity that all the effort invested in formulating the Uluru Statement and Voice propaganda wasn’t channelled into addressing this fundamental problem. But talking is easier than walking: maybe the challenge is simply too hard, if not impossible? Or fame, wealth and glory are to be found elsewhere?

    • rosross says:

      I spent many years, decades actually, living in four African countries and in India and I wonder if some of the systems at work in those places are at work in Aboriginal communities?

      In essence, in all those cultures, those who try to “climb out of the pot”are punished. We saw similar things in all primitive societies where the defence of the group, tribe or clan is the most powerful motivation. When I lived in Zambia I discovered that those who were different were believed to be in league with the Devil. Good fortune brought the raging power of the tribe down upon one’s head. While very rich and powerful individuals can survive that, ordinary people cannot. It is easier and safer to do what they are told. Africa villages look the same, hut to hut, because the chief dictates what can be grown and how it can be grown. Woe betide someone who wants to plant something different or arrange the banana palms in another way.

      The only way people can assimilate and change, in essence be free, in Aboriginal communities is to leave and ensure family does not have their address. This means the community never changes,but remains trapped in the same backward systems. Tribal groups were controlled in the past because of the fear of being rejected by the group, which meant literal death.

      Old habits die hard and as the article details, ignorance abounds and flourishes in a rigid habit-driven system which is sourced in a lack of knowledge.

      And, for the same reason that poverty has never been eradicated globally despite trillions poured into the problem over more than half a century, because all of those workers would be out of a job, so those in Aboriginal communities cannot become self-sufficient and independent because they would also be out of the job of welfare dependency. They are well paid to remain on welfare, unconsciously if not consciously, and that is powerful. Why would you solve your problems and see the river of money dry up?

      Problems in Aboriginal communities continue to exist for the same reason that they exist in India and Africa – an individual/family will be strong enough to take power and hold onto it, thereby dictating to everyone else and maximizing their own profits and power. Well-meaning Westerners build water wells and pumps in African villages and the Chief takes it over or dismantles the pump for use on his own personal well and so it goes.

      A mining company in Malawi built a water treatment plant in a major town near the mine. When the mine closed down, the political power-brokers in the region took the equipment for use in their new water bottling plant, thereby dictating that the people could only have safe water if they bought it from them, in yet more plastic bottles to pollute the land.

      It has been ever thus and unless those communities are brought into the modern world and the people are assimilated, it will never change.

  • rosross says:

    Anyone who has been involved in Aboriginal communities knows these sickening truths.

    It shows why any concept of a voice to sort out the problems in Aboriginal communities is a joke and why the only hope is to get the kids out, get them educated, give them a future and when the last members of these communities die, close them down. Consign them to history as they should have been a century ago.

    It is well-intentioned but deluded do-goodery which has created this horrific misery and built an altar to fantasy on which children are still being sacrificed unto their deaths.

    The facts in the article are depressing and sickening and more so because none of this needed to happen if a policy of assimilation had been maintained.

    • pmprociv says:

      You raise some very pertinent and important points, rosross, based on your extensive personal experience, and I fully agree with them, as well as your proffered solution. Of course, it’s far too radical for most bleeding hearts, so won’t happen. It saddened and frustrated me to be only a transient, ignorant visitor/observer, held back from speaking with the locals (apart from a few mission-taught oldies, whose English was passable) by the language gap — although even having a common language would not have guaranteed free and frank interactions, as you say. There’s so much beneath the surface — while our city-dwelling compatriots are ignorant even of that. Kim Mahood describes it so lucidly. Such a pity and shame that “ordinary” Australians haven’t a clue what’s going on in our remote “backyard”, and have no interest, preferring to believe fiction, and keep happily supporting futile, if not frankly idiotic, “solutions”.

      • rosross says:

        No-one can know what is going on unless they have been involved with such communities. Nothing beats on the ground experience.

        Humans do a lot of harm with a desire to do good because rarely do they take human nature into account. Nor the facts on the ground.

        I lived in Malawi for more than five years, which you may know is pretty much lake and many of the villagers fish for food and a living. The Western do-gooders decided to send them mosquito nets which, given the incidence of Malaria seemed like a good idea although resolving the cause of Malaria as happened in Europe, the UK and the Americas in centuries past would have been a better idea.

        Anyway, they wanted to help and so off the nets went. The locals decided, as one would, that they would make great fishing nets and so instead of hanging over the ‘beds’ they found their way onto the fishing boats. All good, some might think, except the idiots had sent nets infused with chemicals and soon dead fish were floating to shore and not only were the villagers not protected against Malaria, they were going hungry or being poisoned by the fish.

        A family member who worked as a social worker in the Territory had similar tales to tell. In Aboriginal communities, as in Africa, the only answer to ‘do you want’ is Yes. No-one thinks it through. But you know that.

        The solutions are idiotic because they are not sourced in reality or need but wannabe Wokeisms and fantasies of what is possible. These communities were never going to work and anyone who read the Mission accounts from across Australia would have known that. Research? What is that?

  • Brian Boru says:

    Thank you Paul and to the commenters here for the information provided albeit a depressing read.

  • Lapun Ozymandias says:

    What I found really fascinating about Professor (Emeritus) Prociv’s recollections of his experiences with “the “most functional” community in Arnhem Land”, was his meeting with the Council Chairman – the local aboriginal potentate. He described him as: “a man who had travelled the world, on various occasions as the official Aboriginal representative”. Prociv outlines his surprise to discover that the Council Chairman: “firmly believed the Queen was the source of all money, which she handed out to governments, whose main job was to distribute it”.

    I have two comments –
    Firstly – when you think about it, it is probably not all that unusual that this sort of basic misunderstanding would occur in tribal societies. I lived in Papua New Guinea (PNG) for many years, and one had to take care when communicating with the indigenous people because they tended to take things literally. They lacked the depth of understanding about how a modern technological society operated and often drew wrong conclusions. They were not stupid – it is just that the framework of their inherent cultural understanding about how things worked was based on a pyramid of very different – but incorrect – assumptions. For decades during the last century this lack of understanding sometimes manifested as outbreaks of Cargo Cult behaviour in parts of PNG, which if not suppressed by the Authorities would lead to serious problems. It was not helped by the teaching of highly intellectual millennial dogmas by the missionaries of some Christian denominations.

    However – notwithstanding all that – it was surprising that the Council Chairman still harboured his irrational understanding of the Queen’s role, despite being a relatively well-travelled man. Evidently his self-learning processes were not enough to overcome his fundamental misconceptions about the Queen. When you think about it, the whole proposition that we have a governmental edifice where the monarch is supreme – and therefore theoretically ‘in charge’ – is actually just a pretence. The fiction extends to such things as the legal façade that “The Crown” is the prosecutor in criminal court proceedings, or that government land is “Crown Land”. We all know intuitively that this is really just B/S – but has it ever occurred to anyone that this needs to be explicitly explained to people from other cultures?

    Secondly – was the Council Chairman’s misunderstanding about where all the wealth came from really all that different from the Cargo Cult Economics of the current Governments in Australia? The Labor Governments are spending our children’s future as if there were no tomorrow. It allows them to buy their electoral popularity. That reflects their fundamental attitude that “public expenditure” all comes from a “Government Money Tree” – just as the Council Chairman effectively thought – whereas in reality the government has no money – it just plunders the possessions of the taxpaying citizens.

    And lastly – speaking of cultural incomprehension and misconceptions due to a failed education about how the real-world works – how could you beat the irrationality and ignorance of someone such as the current Commonwealth Minister for Climate Change and Energy – the Honourable Christopher Bowen MP. The absurd ‘Net Zero’ policies he is pursuing will turn Australia into an economic basket case that will rival the demolition job done to Zimbabwe by the late Robert Mugabe. Bowen is determined to shut his ears to scientific & technical advice from people with skin in the game that contradicts his own cardboard cut-out understanding of the economy and energy. He intends to press on with his plan to deindustrialise Australia by pandering to the ‘Renewables’ lobby – which is generous in its campaign contributions to the mainstream political parties.

    Bowen’s legacy will be to bequeath to our children the impoverishment that comes with the low-skill incomes that will be generated by the tattoo-parlour and burger-flipping economy that he is constructing. Maybe we should see if that Council Chairman from Arnhem Land is still around to take over – we probably couldn’t do any worse!

    • pmprociv says:

      Thanks for raising this range of fascinating, important and depressing points, LO. It all boils down to personal worldview, and I never cease to be amazed by how widely these can vary – and how so few people actually have the empathy to even consider another’s perspective, to appreciate that it might differ from theirs. As Kim Mahood repeatedly points out in her writing, despite visiting the Tanami region repeatedly over many years and spending long periods there working with the Aboriginal people, many of whom she knows well, they’ve never shown any interest in her personally, her background, or the world she comes from. They don’t read books. They lack curiosity, and know nothing about the wider world (apart from through the movies they’re addicted to), their restricted lives totally absorbed in the mundane issues of their everyday existence.

      And that’s the impression I gained of the council chairman – while he’d been widely travelled, it was always as a “passenger”, a superficial whirlwind tourist, the token Aborigine wheeled out for some political purpose or other on someone else’s junket. As with our prime ministers’ flying in and out of a remote community, just what impressions could he have hoped to gain of the deeper lives and activities of citizens in the foreign countries he flashed through?

      As for understanding where wealth comes from, I’m growing increasingly concerned for our young people, who’ve lost all first-hand knowledge of manufacturing, or even farm production, and focus increasingly on living in their small-screen worlds. Magical thing is growing, and accounts for a lot of stupidity when it comes to issues such as climate change and energy production. When I was a kid, not only did we live by free-ranging outdoors (no TV), but my father (like most) worked as a labourer in various factories, which I often visited – and even at uni, I spent my summer holidays working on assembly lines. But that’s all long gone. They hardly even handle cash these days – it’s all electronic! Things are just paid for with a plastic card, or smartphone. All too easy, but a complete, magical mystery.

      Your PNG experience reminds me of a visit there 15 years ago, when during a tour of the national parliament house in Port Moresby, our guide informed us that at the beginning of the new parliamentary season, every member receives 1 million kina upfront, on top of their salaries and other allowances (I think the kina was locked into parity with the Oz dollar then). When asked to explain, she told us that during election campaigns, every candidate promises to give each family in their electorate free pork bellies, should they win. Once elected, should any parliamentarian then not come up with the goods, they stand a good chance of being assaulted, or assassinated. So they have to take pork barrelling literally up there.

      And a side issue: the street gangs locally known as “raskols”. In remoter regions of PNG, such as the islands of the Bismarck Sea that we visited, we made an extremely disconcerting discovery. People in small villages would combine their resources to send the smartest kid off to boarding school in Port Moresby, then support that child’s education through university, in the expectation that he (almost always a boy) would find a good job, then start repaying his home community for their support. Meanwhile, that boy’s siblings who stayed home inherited “the farm” (small, and diminishing in size incrementally with each generation, of course), and continued to eke out a subsistence. But the “successful” child who’s earned his university degree, even in engineering, can’t find work in Port Moresby, or anywhere else, and can’t return home, either, if he wants to survive. He’s effectively restricted to a life on the streets – we were horrified to learn that most of those intimidating gangs came from such backgrounds; it’s a cruel waste. And, as PNG’s population climbs inexorably, no improvement is in sight. Australia is in a situation comparable with that of the USA and Mexico: I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of “boat people” arriving on Cape York before too long.

      • pmprociv says:

        The point of that last paragraph, just above? That perhaps education alone is not enough — it needs to be backed up by a functioning, thriving society that provides meaningful jobs. If all the current talk of AI and robotics comes to fruition, will the only meaningful work in the future be food production and transport (apart from servicing the robots, and the rest of us)? Will the great majority be reduced to mere passive consumers — just like those small numbers presently scattered out there, in the remote communities?

  • rmclean says:

    The insurmountable problems in the remote Aboriginal communities is reflected in many parts of the Pacific basin. The cargo cult in New guinea was extreme especially in some of the more remote areas, I noticed this in the early seventies.
    The problem with the phenomenon of the cargo cult and welfare dependency more generally is found in many cultures and in some countries is used as a cultural weapon no matter how well intentioned initially.
    The early missionaries in the remote Aboriginal communities understand that the way cultural self respect and dignity was through education and self-reliance , this has been lost over the years and
    been replaced by the social drug of welfare dependence and a total lack of self-esteem leading to alcoholism and domestic violence.
    The answers to these issues is now extreme and must include bringing our fellow Australians back into mainstream society and giving these Australians back their self respect and confidence, some will call this assimilation,
    and say it cannot happen, it must happen otherwise the alternative is nothing less then cultural destruction on a scale never seen before.

    • pmprociv says:

      Spot on — but it has to be initiated by them; it cannot be imposed upon them (“colonial paternalism”). This is where the self-seeking, Aboriginal “leadership” has been seriously derelict in its duty, with the exception of just a few remarkable individuals, such as Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine.

    • pmprociv says:

      Your mention of “social drug of welfare dependence” reminds me: during my visit, I was not aware of any drug problems on the island, but hear that since, not only petrol sniffing, but also hard drugs, had become a serious issue. No doubt boredom, combined with easy money, play a big part in this — although I’m not aware of the current situation.

  • Watchman Williams says:

    The authenticity of Professor Prociv’s article is vividly apparent to anyone who has been personally and directly involved in service delivery in remote aboriginal communities.
    The point needs to be made, however, that the dystopia he describes is the consequence of the rejection of assimilation policies in favour of the “traditional lifestyle” agenda pursued by governments at the behest of such “experts” as the late Nugget Coombes.
    Moreover, this disastrous policy framework is ardently supported by the aboriginal industry, dominated as it is by predominantly European city-dwelling “aborigines” who have a vested interest in seeing the appalling lives of tribal aborigines continue just as they are. Their sad plight is the excuse used to stimulate white guilt, particularly at budget time.
    Of course, little of the money allocated in the budget actually reaches the tribal homelands, most being ripped off by the academics and bureaucrats of the aboriginal industry, who see an endless supply of generous funding for their relatively luxurious lifestyles.
    Nothing will ever change until the ridiculous and fraudulent Government policy of “traditional lifestyle” is abandoned in favour of assimilation and integration into the broad Australian community.

    • pmprociv says:

      I have to fully agree with you, WW. Once upon a time, I used to be a great admirer of Coombes (a very glib, charismatic self-promoter), as many others still are today. However, having read over the years of his legacy in indigenous matters, I sadly have to conclude the bloke was a menace, a classical adherent to the Noble Savage mythology (with his master, or maybe servant, E.G. Whitlam). His policies caused far more damage than good — which persists to this day, and in fact is getting worse.

      Maybe, instead of a referendum, the government should ask every self-identified Aborigine to declare if he/she wants to live in the traditional lifestyle, i.e. without any mod-cons, including transport, food, health service etc., or in a “Western” lifestyle, with all the responsibilities that entails. Bantustans could then be set up around the country, just like they were in South Africa, for those who select the first choice. That would sort out the sheep from the goats. The UN should love that . . .

  • jackgym says:

    I visited Alice Springs around 20 years ago, and in my travels happened to spot two very old full-blood Aborigines walking through the Todd Mall. They stood out because they weren’t drunk or creating a disturbance, but seemed to be walking around in wonderment as if they’d just, that day, wandered in from the desert. A culture shock multiplied by ten.

  • Davidovich says:

    Today, in The Australian, there is much about Yunupingo’s memorial service. I plagiarised this article to try to get some balance in the over-adulation of this man in commenting on-line. My first attempt using the material from this article, was rejected. I amended that hoping to remove offensive words such as schmoozing of politicians but to no avail. My final attempt was also rejected presumably because adverse comments were against The Australian’s fawning. For what it’s worth, this was my final, rejected, comment:
    “Galurrwuy Yunupingo was a long-time chairman of the Northern Land Council and regarded widely as the “king” of Arnhem Land, expert at wooing politicians (he’d been portrayed as a friend of PM Bob Hawke, among others) and directing expenditure of mining and alumina plant royalties. As we know, Galurrwuy died only recently, in April 2023, still crying victimhood in advocating for extra compensation and increased government spending in the region. Galurrway was head of the Gumatj clan which seems to dominate the Yolngu peoples. An old article in The Australian by Elisabeth Wynhausen refers to a photograph of Yunupingo’s beach-sde two-storied mansion at the Gumatj settlement complete with a small jetty supporting a helicopter on floats. According to Wynhausen that helicopter was used for, among other things, fishing and hunting (possibly for buffaloes, turtles, crocodiles and dugong). Certainly a very significant man, expert at advancement using the left’s socialist traits.”
    Really, I should not waste my time with any of the MSM including The Australian.

  • pmprociv says:

    With all the kerfuffle right now about Stan Grant’s offensive ABC broadcast of the coronation, I can’t help wondering if Stan knows anything about what the folk in some of those remote communities might think of his hatred of the monarchy. Where will their money come from if we carry out his wishes, and dump King Charles? He should listen to their voice.

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