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.