Jane Nethercote writes:

What’s at the heart of violence and abuse by Aboriginal men? Keith
Windschuttle thinks he has the answer: a crisis of masculinity. In
today’s Oz, he writes:

…white Australia has deprived Aboriginal men
in remote communities of their manhood. The instrument we used was
social welfare: giving handouts that did not require them to work. The
social policy of the past 30 years is the principal culprit.

The human male is a creature biologically programmed,
communally socialised and psychologically motivated to be a provider
for women and children. In outback Aboriginal communities, however,
that role has been usurped by the state.

The social consequences of this should have been entirely predictable.
No matter what their race or where they live, men who do not work have
no social status, no sense of self-worth and little meaning in their
lives.

“He’s right about welfare but he’s wrong about
everything else”, says Richard Trudgen, author of Why Warriors Lie Down and Die and CEO of Aboriginal Resource and Development Services which runs Yolngu Radio station. It’s the kind of opinion that you come to expect from
the “coffee drinkers in Melbourne and Sydney who are no different
from the British in India 100 years ago.”

In particular, Trudgen takes exception to Windschuttle’s historical
view that “traditional Aboriginal society was always harsh on
women. From the
First Fleet onwards, white settlers saw Aboriginal men routinely
heaping blows on their women, while customary law permitted old men to
marry girls at puberty.” If we’re going to assess history, why don’t we
look at both sides, says Trudgen. For instance, “how many convicts died
from
floggings in the first months of the new colony”? For the Aboriginal
people, it was the “most violent culture they’d
ever experienced”.

Getting back to the issue of employment and manhood, speaking
historically, “we have stolen industry away” from the Aborigines, says
Trudgen. Before Captain Cook arrived, they used to seed pearls, and
traded in
them for at least 400 years with the Macassans. Indigenous people also
traded metal and flint objects and there was “industry all over the
country”.

Later, from the 1950s to the 1970s, in missions and settlements Aboriginal men learned how to be
carpenters,
electricians, plumbers. But they no longer have easy access to these
industries. And houses in Aboriginal communities are built by
contractors from
outside. Why? It’s all a question of language, says Trudgen. Contracts
are let in Darwin papers. And yet, for many Aboriginal people, English
is their “third, fifth or even fifteenth language”.

And thus you come to the real crux of the Aboriginal problem.
Aboriginal people are “knowledge marginalised”, says Trudgen. They have
no access to information about the world around them. “So there’s
inevitably massive confusion.” The young men at Wadeye are so deprived
of knowledge that they “would not know where money comes from, why
their relatives
are dying, and they wouldn’t know about germ theory or whitefella law”.

For now, schools don’t address these issues – the focus is on English, “not
knowledge
itself”. It’s a “colonial process” that makes Aboriginal boys
especially feel “dumb and stupid” thereby “creating the next generation
of
drunks who will sit as close to the honeypot as they can”.

Right now, everybody wants simple solutions. But there ain’t any, says
Trudgen, “except communication”. With radio, it’s possible to get all
these things across “but you cannot
get backing from government, federal or state”. But this isn’t just the
government’s fault: “it’s about the
mindset of the dominant culture”.

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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