I live in a small city in Australia — that city is Darwin. I was born in this Larrakia country, but it is not the original homelands of my Peoples, the Kungarakan and Gurindji. I have ended up in this situation, living away from my spiritual heartlands as a result of earlier racist and assimilationist policies devised during a not so long ago past period when Commonwealth government could have chosen to treat all its citizens with respect rather than contempt.

Both my Kungarakan Great Grandmother and my Gurindji Grandmother need not have been relocated (forcibly removed by Government) but earlier government “protection” policies developed and enforced by “native affairs experts” promised all such measures were “for their own good”. I believe there were promises of education and a better lifestyle than what their Aboriginal (camp native) Mothers could give them.

That was the rhetoric back then. The term “traditional” was not in vogue then, and neither was the term “indigenous” employed to describe people or to create exploitive programs so as to manipulate so-called “traditional” folk and to create another example of difference — that between Aboriginal people themselves.

Those moves by earlier governments led to a myriad of problems and in fact set in place a number of “constant affirmations of difference“, as Alison Anderson said in The Australian last week. Those constant affirmations of difference are indeed historical and they continue through the ongoing protectionist policies of today. The pity is that we did not have Anderson stating “There is not a black way or a white way to build a reservoir: just a right way.” Flowery (white) words and white rhetoric cannot change what has gone before — and nor can it change what happens now.

Gaps have existed since 1788 — as has white intervention — all for the wrong reasons. Establishment of carefully selected “Growth Towns” is not going to change the entrenched status quo nor coloniser attitude. Yes, we would all like to move beyond the current Intervention — indeed we would like to move beyond colonisation. We would like to move on from failed policies (past and present) and we would like to see fair distribution of resources, future growth, some transparency even in the successful delivery of services — but relocating Aboriginal people and blaming them for failure of past government policies, is not the way to do it.

As a Kungarakan-Gurindji woman, and first Great Granddaughter of Alyandubu and first Granddaughter of Jack McGinness of the Kungarakan, I am not too much unlike Anderson in a number of ways. I too live with difference and I have lived my entire life fighting racism, difference and prejudice. While I would never be described as a “traditional” Aboriginal woman and I do not have the extent of language nor the cultural laws as Anderson and others who make blanket decisions about “Aboriginal futures”, I am capable of representing a broad section of Aboriginal people across the NT too, in spite of those specific differences.

I am not arguing against the idea that drastic measures need to be taken — even though government has not worried too much in the past, and should have acted a few decades sooner. However, views and decisions about such monumental life-changing situations as the “beyond black and white”, “strategic direction for the remote towns and communities of the territory” requires broad debate before rushed decisions, especially those made by a carefully selected handful of “indigenous” experts.

Such decisions should not be made by dangling million dollar packages along with stern ultimatums and threats from government, just because government is finally ready to try and do something to fix a problem while they fashion the “new” Aboriginal — that shall now be known as “indigenous”. Perhaps this latest attempt at making the Aboriginal vanish is the last ditch attempt at “smoothing the dying pillow”. And know it, that is going to cost a lot of money! The average “little Aussie battler” will be screaming long and loud.

What if this latest ingenious attempt at full assimilation follows the pattern of past failures? Will government wait another 30-50 years to fix it? My grandparents fought to eliminate difference, to improve conditions, to point out inappropriate and inadequate policy decisions, to change attitudes, to stamp out racism and prejudice — in the 1930s, the 1960s and my generation from the 1960s, the 1990s to present — yet we have only come to this?

So we continue dealing with the failures of government and the long line of carpetbagger-types (politicians, advisers and others) and their compliant natives (Native Police Force) in all sectors while they continue to manipulate the “indigenous”agenda for both professional and personal gain, and nothing more?

We should not be talking about “beyond black and white” in 2009. We talked about that already — in the 1960s (Wave Hill; Referendum), the 1990s (Mabo; Native Title). In fact we have been talking about it since 1788. Wasn’t the great “reconciliation” movement supposed to be about “actively managing our differences”? And dare I mention the recent Kevin Rudd government “apology”? Here we go again!

This sudden and accelerated action, a fast track approach at assisting “indigenous” people to bridge the gap between “traditional” life and mainstream Australian society, is not much different to those earlier attempts at transition from savagery to civilisation.

What disappoints me most is the allowance and authorisation and spin of that mentality that drives such attitude and action — the move from primitivism into the economic and social life of the nation — and the categorising of us, once again, into something malleable and easily controlled comes from “indigenous leaders”.

It certainly would be something to celebrate if the “indigenous experts” and government authorities seriously set out to eliminate what Anderson describes as the “constant affirmation of difference” by truly committing to recognising that Aboriginal people have much to offer and have always had much to offer. They have much to contribute to Australian culture and way of life and they too must share in the economic and other successes as full citizens, with protected rights.

Aboriginal people are expected to continue being viewed as primitive curiosities and ancient relics (in the main part) whose culture and traditions should be preserved to simply assist in the creation of “attractive destinations of private investment and economic opportunities”. While the spin sounds good those promised private investment and economic opportunities will only benefit a small number of Aboriginal people — as they do now.

Peter Fray

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