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Oct 29, 2008

‘My name was used telling lies’: the media come to Yuendumu

Minister Macklin made no connection between the Yuendumu Pool and the Intervention. But then, she didn’t have to. Others did that job for her, writes Bob Gosford.

Peggy Napaljarri Brown, Jenny Macklin’s best new friend and Valerie Napaljarri Martin sit in the shade outside the ramshackle office of the Yuendumu Mining Company. Next to her sits Harry Jakamarra Nelson.

They all have better things to be doing, like mourning the too-young passing-on of a brave young man, rather than sitting around under a cloud of barely restrained fury, drafting a statement about journalists who have misrepresented them, their words, their good work and their community.

Peggy’s statement is a fine example of anger reduced to words:

Yirdijirli ngajurlu yarranu-tjulu warlkangku kula-karna ngukuurru-nyinami Interventioniki kulana wangkaja Interventioniki lawa. Nyampunalu Jungu jarrija ngapa-kurlanguku kurdu-kurduku mipa. Walkalu wangkaja. Pungku-nyayini Interventioniji nuwu-ka warrkijarimi. Lawa nyina kanti-kantirla nyampurla nganimparla.

My name was used telling lies. I did not agree with the Intervention. I did not say anything about the Intervention at all. I only spoke about the swimming pool for the kids. They are lying. The Intervention is rubbish and isn’t working in any way at all for us.

A phalanx of journalists and snappers came to Yuendumu on Monday this week to cover the opening of the new Yuendumu Pool. The mainstream media were represented by several local ABC journalists and photographers from Alice Springs and The Australian sent its Darwin correspondent, Natasha Robinson, and photographer James Croucher. The Fairfax press was represented by Russell Skelton and photographer Glenn Campbell. The weekly News Limited-owned Centralian Advocate sent Dan Moss and photographer Justin Brierty. The Advocate hasn’t gone to press yet so we don’t know what they will say about the pool opening, but the locals will cast a close eye to its coverage.

And why are Peggy, Valerie and Harry so wild? Well, of all the members of the mainstream media that made the effort to come out to Yuendumu to cover the opening of the swimming pool, only the local ABC got it right — that the Yuendumu pool had nothing to do with the Intervention.

Macklin, to her credit, made no connection between the Yuendumu Pool and the Intervention. But then, she didn’t have to. Others did that job for her.

Russell Skelton wrote in The Age under the headline, Intervention is working, Warlpiri women tell Macklin:

Peggy Brown, OAM, has no doubts about the emergency intervention or having half her income managed. ‘It’s working, no doubt about it,’ she said. The traditional owner delivered much the same message to the Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin, when they met for private talks yesterday. Ruby Williams, another Warlpiri woman, said she told the minister that women wanted the quarantining to stay ‘We don’t want any change,’ she said.

Peggy Napaljarri Brown reckons the only true words in that paragraph are that Ruby is a Warlpiri woman and that Ruby may have said those words but may not have understood Skelton’s questions.

Natasha Robinson wrote in The Australian:

The opening of the pool yesterday marked a high point of hope for the whole community, which after initial reluctance has swung its support behind the federal intervention into remote Northern Territory communities. Women in particular in Yuendumu…speak positively of the intervention’s effects. Yuendumu’s women … welcomed Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin warmly yesterday. Ms Macklin … held meetings with senior women, who praised her decision to disregard the recommendation of the intervention’s review board to make welfare quarantining voluntary.

Natasha Robinson doesn’t quote any locals as the source for her story, but if she had spoken to Peggy, Valerie or Harry, or any other strong women and men from Yuendumu she would have heard the same words presented to Jenny Macklin during the “private meeting” on a petition signed by over 230 Yuendumu residents, the front page of which was published in Crikey yesterday:

This is our land. We want the Government to give it back to us. We want the Government to stop blackmailing us. We want houses, but we will not sign any leases over our land, because we want to keep control of our country, our houses, and our property. We say NO to income management. We can look after our own money. We want the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 reinstated now, not in 12 months.

Yuendumu has a lot of things to be proud of. Our community programs, like the Mt Theo program, the bilingual education program, Warlpiri media, the Old People’s program, Warlukurlangu arts centre, childcare, the youth program, should be supported, celebrated, and used as a model for other communities.

And these words from the petition, while directed to Jenny Macklin, Kevin Rudd and the NT Government ring equally true for the mainstream media:

We want you to give us respect and dignity, and stop telling lies about our people.

Peggy, Harry and Valerie want Russell Skelton and Natasha Robinson to come to Yuendumu to apologise to them and the rest of the Yuendumu community, to stop putting words in their mouths and to sit down with them and listen to their true stories about their homelands.

They might be in for a long wait.

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15 thoughts on “‘My name was used telling lies’: the media come to Yuendumu

  1. Kevin Charles Herbert#2

    Jungarrayi: so you’re saying that it did function well before the intervention.

    Do you have any facts in support of your view OR are you only interested is starting a slanging match with someone who’s asked a reasonable question.

    Blind Freddy: grow up will you……if you can’t say anything constructive, save your bile for someone else.
    I also note that you’re not prepared to associate yourself with your own comments…says a lot really

  2. Tom McLoughlin

    I love this kind of grassroots deconstruction of bullsh*t choreography. Just love it. Thanks for a prime expose’. This story is why community media is so so so very important and real. I would love to know the income disparity between all the players in this particular episode from the the pollies, the journos, the editors who signed off on the story. Do they deserve to be so well paid when they tell lies?

    On a completely different tangent I am still shaking my head over the lead story about a bunch of Sydney bushwalkers on Mt Sealy Range in ‘Mt Cook National Park’ who got caught in a blizzard. About 5 to 10 km south of Mt Cook, different glacier and mountain range. All the quality press, ABC etc said they were half way up Mt Cook highest mountain in NZ. Wrong, wrong, wrong geography. Never lets facts get in the way of the hyperbole.

    It’s a completely different context but somehow the same problem. Where did these folks get their stupid pills?

  3. Blind Freddy

    Kevin Herbert,

    remember, blue ones in the morning, red ones at night. Otherwise you do say some rather silly things in public, don’t you?

    Now go and have a good lie down.

  4. Kevin Herbert

    Cathy: you’ve got to stop injecting/drinking before you comment.

    Comments should at least make sense…check out this proposition with your counsellor.

  5. Japaljarri

    lt has been my significant honour to have known, worked, laughed and learnt with Peggy Nampijinpa Brown OAM for almost 5 years at the Mt Theo Program. Regardless of anybody elses views or the issues themselves, l/we know that the representation of Peggy views was false. l/we can absolutely confirm that she has been resolutely against the intervention since its inception and most especially Income management. l/we have heard her say so on hundreds of occasions.

    She is certainly extremely proud of the new swimming pool and her decades of endless service to the youth of Yuendumu through the Mt Theo Program for which she received an Order of Australia Medal (along with 2 others). Perhaps she was reflecting on these events, and she was misunderstood by the reporters. l don’t know. However l do know that this misrepresentation of her views has upset her a great deal.

    The onus is on the reporters to ensure their information is correct. If it was a sad misunderstanding on their part then that is their failure to cross this cultural divide. This is highlighted by the fact that PAW Media (formerly Warlpiri Media) located in Yuendumu offers cultural liaison officers to assist external media. Not to prevent access as media often suppose but to prevent outcomes such as this. These local people (local employment….) can assist to ensure locals opinions can be accurately expressed whatever they may be and thus enable media to write stories that are accurate, respectful and truthful.

    For future media can l suggest you make employ the use of the local media resources at PAW Media. It will be good for the community and good for your reporting (

  6. Bob Gosford

    Thanks to you all for your comments and long may you keep them coming!
    I’m glad to see that what went awfully close to a series of swingeing ad hominem attacks veered back to the realms of forthright discussion and consideration of the issues.
    And for what it is worth – I’ve lived in many places down south and here in the north and centre and I think the only place where I’ve seen “well functioning social system(s)” in place is here in the north and centre – comparing the roughly equivalent poor enclaves in the outer reaches of Sydney or Melbourne or the small rural hamlets of far southern NSW to the poverty-stricken communities up here is a no-brainer – it is by no means perfect and people here might be dirt poor but at least many of them have their land, law and culture…

  7. Kevin Charles Herbert#3

    Blind Freddy: you’re over reacting. And yes, I can provide meaningful data in support of other Oz communities including: 1. education rates 2. employment rates by age 3. income trends 4. crime rates by age 5. health & welfare services..etc etc.

    I asked the question ‘cos I don’t know what kind of data is available for your region…no hidden agenda on my part….I’ve been an active supporter of Koori rights ever since Stan Davey spoke to our matriculation class in Geelong in 1967, about the ridiculous, two faced treatment of the first Australians. I’m simply trying to bring myself up to speed on the intervention’s success or otherwise.

    So I’ll now visit the reference you’ve provided…..that’s all I wanted.

    Finally, why exactly is it that you won’t identify yourself with your comments?

  8. Jungarrayi

    “Has the community’s claim to have a well functioning social system in place, been independent 3rd party verified” Hey? Has Melbourne’s claim been thus verified? Here’s an idea for the NTER Task Force: send a couple of highly paid consultants (preferably from interstate) to spend a few weeks doing a report on our social system. First they’ll need for some highly paid contractors to install a couple of costly demountables to house them. They’ll be unable to use the highly paid GBM (no not the Ginger Bread Man, but the Government Business Manager)’s compound (Oh forgot to mention: the GBM is also from interstate)
    The compound is full of highly paid Centrelink people from interstate that are Income Managing all our pensioners etc.I believe the highly paid CEB (Community Employment Broker- probably from interstate) also stays at the compond….. The Intervention! A billion bucks well spent!… the children are really safe now.
    Ngula Juku

  9. Kevin Herbert

    Cathy: you’ve got to stop injecting/drinking before you comment.

    Comments should at least make sense…check out this proposition with your counsellor.

  10. Kevin Charles Herbert#4

    Blind Freddy: now I’m starting to understand the propositions at hand…thanks for the briefing & for the excellent reference material. The diagramatic references are great.

    To paraphrase Bruce Pascoe in the current SBS series the The First Australians, it is intellectually preposterous to think that a 60 thousand year old culture would have nothing to teach modern man.