Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Things I'd Forgotten

A recent Facebook post from my nephew who works with indigenous communities in the NT revived some long dormant memories. He was pictured surrounded by a group of local women sitting around a table decorated with aboriginal motifs.

This reminded me of a painting which a similar group of wise women presented to me when I left Mount Isa in 1996 after working in Indigenous Education out there for four years.

These women taught me so much. They were part of what was called the NATSIEP* advisory committee for North-West region. It was my job, as secretary of the committee, to convene meetings on behalf of the Regional Executive Director, assist them in allocating funding support on the basis of submissions from schools, and ensure the business of the meetings was conducted properly, and the necessary follow-up occurred. This follow-up comprised school projects designed to meet the 21 goals of NATSIEP.

I had to learn on the job. I became familiar with all the communities (Birdsville, Bedourie, Boulia, Urandangi, Dajarra, Camooweal and Mt Isa itself). I shared their dreams, frustrations and aspirations for the children in these schools, and travelled literally thousands of kilometres with them on the way to and from meetings and school visits.

We stayed overnight in various basic accommodation (usually bush pubs) and shared meals and talk before and after the meetings. We didn’t share any drinks – they were all teetotal.

On the long car journeys they’d talk about their work, families and experiences. Almost all of them had lived hard, demanding lives in harsh conditions and without the material benefits that I had become used to.

Without exception, they were giving their time and energy for their people, and their passion for improving the lot of the children in their communities was strong. They didn’t always agree with me, or understand the bureaucratic restrictions I had to work under, but we could have a stoush and remain good friends. I don’t remember developing such a strong respect for any group I’ve worked with anywhere else in the forty years I was with the department.

For me, the sad part was that they were all women – the men from the communities, for a range of reasons, were never to be seen. Their women made up for it. Listening to their stories of abandonment, loss and deprivation sometimes made me angry.

Lately, this anger returned when I watched the reactions of a few conservative commentators who made big fellows of themselves around the time of the apology by denying that any children were ever stolen.

The contrast between the spite and cant of those commentators and the grace and dignity of these women is stark.

Thanks for reminding me, Nick.

* National Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Education Policy


Nick Thompson said...

Hi Uncle Bob,

I'm currently sitting in 45 degree heat at a place called Kulimundi (Elliot), about seven hours north of Alice, attempting to coordinate a workshop on domestic violence with 15 local men; it’s not my most favorite part of my job.

I’m pleased my silly facebook ranting brought back nice memories for you. I think it’s hard for anyone working closely with Aboriginal people not to be moved deeply by their lives and their world view. I know I’ll leave this place with a lot more insight and understanding of the complex set of cultural values and obligations alongside with failed policy after failed policy that effect Indigenous peoples lives.

I don’t know what you think but Macklin has been such a catastrophic let down. I wish the ALP would start remembering why it exists and stop appealing to the lowest common denominator when it comes to policy. Racism seems to dominate the political climate at the moment.

Hope all is well with you, might see you over Christmas


1735099 said...

One of the lessons I've learned over the years is that all politicians are "let-downs" when it comes to this issue, and both sides have been guilty.
Using it as a political football is poisonous for the people concerned.
Until the approach becomes bi-partisan, I don't think much will change, despite the work of people like you.

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