It was with disappointment and some bitterness that I read the Crikey article by Bob Gosford, which quoted great chunks from a document purporting to be minutes of a meeting I had attended. The first word which came to mind was “verballed”, but in truth the comprehensive misrepresentation that was achieved was the result of selective and self-serving omission of key aspects of the dialogue which took place between myself and the other Aboriginal persons present on that day.
I have had other things on my plate, and I had decided to just let it pass as one more salvo from a particular cabal of self-important whitefellas with an empire to defend and important people in high places to complain to. But when I was told that your contributor had posted a further rant based around the same meeting, I thought it was time to say something.
The meeting on 2 February 2009 involved a constructive and respectful dialogue between myself and the four Yolngu people referred to in Gosford’s blog post, Yalmay and Mandawuy Yunupingu, Djuwalpi and Rarriwuy Marika. It was an opportunity to explain my position to them. I am adamantly in favour of preserving Aboriginal languages and literacy. I explained to them very clearly that I have and always will be supportive of language classes in our schools, but in a structured time in the afternoons.
I will be pursuing an apology from Leon White for the outrageous and vulgar abuse he put in a letter he wrote to me that referred to a woman I considered a friend and a great leader — Dr Marika. As well as being a woman who understood the importance of retaining Indigenous culture and language she understood the importance for Northern Territory Aboriginal kids of learning proper English, and she educated her own children accordingly.
As regards the petition from Maningrida, my response was to point out that the view of the Djebbana traditional owners of Maningrida as expressed to me by an authoritative spokesperson was that they did not have any confidence in the bilingual program at the School (built up over years with a focus on Burrarra) and wanted their children taught English in the classroom.
No mention in Mr Gosford’s article about how I set the record straight about closing down a bilingual program at Numbulwar — a community where the reality of bilingual for kids is Kriol and English. It was me that sat down with the old people when I visited them to talk about education and language and worked out a plan through which their traditional language of Nunggubuyu could be revived and maintained.
I firmly believe that it is crucial for core curriculum subjects to be taught in English from the beginning of a child’s school years for the four hours in the morning. I will again point out again that non-Aboriginal linguists who had come to the Northern Territory to study and make careers out of Aboriginal languages had not left formally qualified Aboriginal linguists in their place, and that the only way that we could address that problem was for Aboriginal students to become fluent in English so that they themselves could obtain the formal qualifications possessed by those linguists and ultimately replace them.
Despite the suggestions from Gosford to the contrary, I believe that at the end of our meeting all five of us were in substantial agreement.
There are many other details of correction I could add. But I am tired of the nitpicking. Too much ongoing misinformation from whitefellas who can just walk away from the plight that faces our people.
As for Gosford saying “Hopefully this will be my last few words on the brief tenure of Marion Scrymgour as NT Education Minister”. They may be Mr Gosford’s last words on myself as Education Minister but I will be making damn sure that there will be more words from me on the substantive issues in this debate.