In 1989 I was in a slow recovery from a serious motor cycle accident (real white-trash creds here — get T-boned by a 4wd, break every major bone from the waist down, spend a few months in hospital, lose a leg and a partner in the process). I was wallowing in a share house in Darwin and wanted out — a job with the bilingual project at the Maningrida school in central Arnhem land beckoned and I applied for it and got it.

And what a job — I landed on my feet… err, foot. Because I had been hired ex-Darwin I walked off the plane at Maningrida and was given a three bedroom, part-furnished air-conditioned house to myself, a couple of return airfares a year to Darwin, free freight for my food and grog, free water and electricity and more, much more.

And I barely had the qualifications — I knew a bit about how to lay out a page, I was a hunt-and-peck typist, didn’t know one end of an Apple computer from the other, couldn’t run an offset press, and couldn’t speak any of the fourteen local languages – let alone any of the six used in the school’s bilingual programme. But I was white.

But all this beneficence aside — the most galling part of this job was the treatment – by an almost unashamedly racist NT Education administration — of my local (read Aboriginal) co-workers. As noted above I was barely qualified for the job — but my direct co-worker received none of the benefits I did — no house — my co-worker’s extended family lived in a run-down timber shack that burnt down a few years ago — no flights, no free food and grog freight, no permanency — nothing — just a casual position and lots of humbug from the school and education administrators when he was called away for ceremonial business or other cultural obligations.

Click here to read the rest of this article at Bob Gosford’s Crikey blog, The Northern Myth.

Peter Fray

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