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.

Peter Fray

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