When Australia’s Aboriginal leaders combine to advocate change, they have a good track record.

The 1967 referendum. The Wik and Mabo cases and subsequent political
battles. Corroboree 2000, the largest ever gathering of Australian
political and community leaders, staged in Sydney’s Opera House,
culminating in 250,000 people walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge
for a concept called reconciliation, generating headlines and front
page pictures around the world.

Many of those Indigenous leaders are no longer with us, have run out of
energy and ideas, or are just so disheartened that they have given the
game away.

We still only have one Aboriginal parliamentarian in Australia. And our
bureaucracies that spend large amounts of taxpayers money on supposedly
improving the lives of Indigenous Australians, have very few Indigenous
senior managers who actually know what their people need.

To promote Australia’s rich Indigenous culture or to improve the lives
and life expectancy of Aboriginal Australians, you need articulate
leaders. Spokespeople with ideas who can paint a verbal and visual
picture. People with energy who connect with Australians at large. Good

Throughout the 1990s Patrick Dodson was the pre-eminant Aboriginal
leader. He was articulate, passionate and a decent man above all things.
But he also happens to fit the stereotype the media wanted to deal in.
The hat with red, black and yellow band and the flowing grey beard.
Pat’s brother Mick is still boxing on bravely, with his hat too. But there are not many others on the national stage.

There are however, a group of 30 somethings, with strong Indigenous
heritage and a sense of themselves coming through. Many of them are
well educated and in highly regarded positions. Lawyers, academics,
corporate managers, NGO managers, ready to be leaders.

The unfortunate cultural barrier this new group faces, as they
contemplate leadership roles for their people, means they are often
told not to speak out or they are chastised if they do. Not by John
Howard or the mainstream media, but by their own elders. Older
Indigenous leaders who they respect.

Like in most cultures there are leadership egos and a cultural
hierarchy. These emerging leaders need to do a brave thing in my view.
On top of all the risks that go with generating a discourse in
Australia’s adversarial media, they have to be gutsy enough to endure
the likely barbs from some of their own elders. Criticism that will be
public and private, that will look like Aboriginal leaders are fighting
each other.

If I was engaged to educate Australians to understand Indigenous
history, culture and disadvantage, I’d want to be armed with some
younger, articulate, passionate leaders. There are some brilliant young
Aboriginal leaders coming through. We need to see them, listen to them
and work with them.

In corporate and political life, successful leaders spend lots of time
on succession planning. If they don’t get it right, their businesses
and organisations wither. In my view, it’s time Indigenous Australians
made a concerted effort to get their new leadership team out there and
took a few risks.

Browyn Morgan, Buchan

Dot points for
consideration in the response:

A shortage of positive Indigenous
stories is not the problem hence the response below does not focus on finding
positive stories.
Unfortunately most media outlets
are not motivated to cover positive Indigenous stories (except those relating
to sport) believing there is little newsworthiness or controversy and therefore
little interest.

A two pronged approach is
1. Non-media based campaign
2. Media education campaign

1. Non-media based campaign

  • Change Australian history curriculum throughout the education
    system to position white settlement in 1788 as one point in the 60,000
    year history of people living in Australia, rather than the starting point of Australian history.
  • Break down segregation of Australians and ‘Indigenous’
    Australians through an advertising campaign which profiles everyday
    Australians doing everyday things with everyday concerns, who happen to be
  • Better incorporate Indigenous Australians into celebrations of
    Australian history.
  • Review the celebrated meaning of ‘Australia Day’ and change the
    day to reflect the true history of people living in Australia.
  • Celebrate Indigenous culture more prominently.
  • Determine what people believe it means to be Australian and
    highlight where Indigenous Australians celebrate similar values.
  • Raise awareness of what Indigenous people do better than
    non-Indigenous people (e.g. looking after the environment) and use this as
    a platform to increase acceptance and
  • Create a program where young people have the chance to
    regularly interact with young and older Indigenous Australians.

2. Media education campaign

  • Establish Walkley award for Indigenous reporting thereby giving
    media a reason to report positive Indigenous stories.
  • Assess terminology used by media when reporting Indigenous
    stores and determine if it perpetuates a negative image of Indigenous
  • Assess general news to determine if there is a negative bias in
    reporting e.g. if the rate of domestic violence is similar in
    non-Indigenous and Indigenous communities, determine if media reporting
    unfairly skews coverage of domestic violence issues to Indigenous
  • Encourage leaders in Indigenous communities to condemn
    anti-social behaviour.
  • Partner with a media organisation (a sponsorship perhaps) to
    help promote greater understanding, tolerance and acceptance of Indigenous
    Australians into society.

Noel Turnbull writes:

PR programs are unlikely to solve the problems caused by
stealing the land, children, culture and pride of Indigenous Australians –
particularly when many PRs and propagandists have been complicit in shaping the
racist attitudes which compound the problems.

From the 19th century, Australian Natives
Association campaign which re-defined the concept of “native”; through the
mid-20th century racial stereotyping in the marketing, artifacts and
images used ironically today by Destiny Deacon; the campaign to extinguish
native title; to the propagation of the myths of the axis of denial in the
Howard Government, think tanks and the Murdoch media, most communications about
indigenous Australians have worsened, not improved, the situation. On the positive
side, moreover, some of the most successful programs (such as those of Rio
Tinto, ANZ, Woolworths, Boston Consulting Group and various community efforts)
seem to have worked best when they have been promoted least.

So, what is to be done? Perhaps a few modest proposals might
help. At the highest strategic level the issue needs to be re-framed by
re-defining what is unique and special about Australia.
This would create a new national narrative in which Lake Mungo and Dreamtime
stories assume the significance in education, politics and community
commemoration and celebration that the far less important Gallipoli does. At
the simplest practical level a lobbying campaign to reverse the result of the
Michael Kroger commercial galleries’ campaign to deprive indigenous artists of
the opportunity to achieve greater economic benefits from art resales. And, in
between, some ruthless promotion of soundbites around positives such as the
fact that a greater proportion of indigenous Australians are teetotallers than
are non-indigenous Australians would help counter propaganda from the other
side. More consultancy and corporate staff doing pro-bono work to promote
successes such as Rumbalara in Victorian; and, more companies adopting more
far-reaching community social responsibility programs in the field would also
be useful.

But these are all only modest proposals – none of them with
quite the same positive impact as campaigning at the next election to get rid
of the Federal Government and its Swiftian Modest Proposals.

Harry M Miller

I do have some quite firm news about our fellow Australians.

I have been involved
for the last 12 years on a number of projects with 3 Aboriginal communities and
the type of things I have learnt over the years it seemed to have substance as
listed below.

Firstly, I think it’s
just bullshit to have public relations consultants telling black people how to
reposition themselves.

Finally, what it’s all
about to me is for all of us “white fellows” to understand that as indigenous
people say “white man writes ….. black man talks”. What it’s really all
about from my experience is sitting down and talking with people, with quite
often no agenda but just trying to expose oneself to where things are

I think over the last
few years with some of my black colleagues, the greatest gift that I have been given by them is to have earnt their trust.
We have been working for a long time in a cultural area to produce something
which I believe will finally lead non indigenous people (both Australians and
visitors) into a better understanding of the Aboriginal

I can remember going to
my first Aboriginal funeral, miles from nowhere at Docker River near the Western
Australian border with N.S.W. They had the night before an area that they call
a “sorry camp” where people slept in sleeping bags etc. around the fire waiting
for the morning and then for what was in fact an Anglican funeral

It wasn’t until I was
sitting by the fire talking to one of my black friends the morning of the
funeral that I actually realised
what “sorry camp” was
about. It certainly wasn’t about John Howard being advised by an army
of bureaucrats, not to
say sorry in case he had to shell out some dough, it was about people generally
expressing their sorrow of the situation that existed around the
funeral. That was the day that I
realised that the “sorry camp”
was about the expression of sorrow not refusing to
apologise in case it cost
somebody some money.

We just soldier on with
our project which I hope is likely to come to fruition towards the end of this
year, and it will indeed be a long term project with the ability to tell people
an amazing story that will go on hopefully for many many

One of the difficulties
that I always see is that lots of the white community (both business and
individuals) are far too paternalistic in their attitude and actions to our
black friends and this is where it all goes wrong.

My view is “sit down
and talk” and keeps remembering “white man writes ….. black man