Monday, 6 February 2023

The Power of Listening


Pic courtesy NT Air Services

No doubt, gentle reader, you've been reading and hearing about the proposal to insert in our Australian constitution reference to an indigenous voice to parliament.

You've also, undoubtedly witnessed objections to the proposal voiced (excuse the pun) by people usually labelled "Conservatives". 

Their objection is the alleged lack of information about the proposal.

Frankly, it's a very simple proposition - that the elected parliament listens, and when that parliament has formed legislation as a consequence of the usual numbers on the floors of both houses, legislation as a response will follow. The content of those legislative responses will obviously depend on what the Voice recommends.

For the last two hundred plus years, the situation of indigenous communities has not improved. This situation is starkly obvious when you check the statistics.

There are a complex range of reasons for this, but labelling our indigenous brothers as a primitive hunter-gatherer society, one typical Conservative response, is unhelpful. Our ancestors at the time were not exactly paragons of civilized virtue. One thing I learned, when heading up Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educational programmes for five years in Northwest Queensland is that non-indigenous Australians don't really know how to listen.

Don't get me wrong, there is no shortage of good intentions in the full range of bureaucracies tasked with helping these communities, but frankly, these well intentioned people don't have a clue. Back in 1992, I was one of them.

I embarked on a very steep learning curve, and one thing I did learn was that listening was essential but neglected. There was no mechanism in the education departmental structures facilitating a process where members of those communities provided advice to the public servants implementing what were expensive programmes.

We set up a group in the Northwest which met on a monthly basis in the various communities in the educational region, and these committees, made up mostly of elders, and mostly of women, examined project proposals put forward by the school sector in these communities, and funded them in order of merit.  

The communities involved were Boulia, Bedourie, Birdsville, Longreach, Dajarra, Urandangie, Camooweal, and Mount Isa. I was often surprised at the order of merit set up by the NATSIEP* group. It was very different from what I considered appropriate, but the group was usually vindicated at the end of the reporting period when we looked at the results.

On one occasion, we had a problem of kids coming and going across the Territory border following funerals and the usual east-west travel patterns. One of the elders suggested we meet with the NT authorities in Alpurrurulam, across the border.

This involved meeting with the Territory people in an old (fortunately air-conditioned) railway carriage at Alpurrurulam, and thrashing out the details. One of the people in the Territory group was Tracker Tilmouth. Because of his name I asked him if he was related to Charlie Tilmouth from my rifle section in 7RAR. It was then that he broke the sad news to me that Colin (Charlie we called him) was his cousin and had died in 1990. Charlie had been RTA'd on 28th April 1970 after being seriously wounded in our bunker contact on 22nd April.

Charlie (Bruce Ravenscroft on left) in 1970
                         Pic courtesy "Contact Wait Out" - Bruce Ravenscroft

 The result of the Alpurrurulam meeting, was a communication protocol with the Territory education authorities that allowed tracking of kids so that they could move seamlessly from one educational jurisdiction to another, with the programme data available in all locations. It worked.

After my experience in the Northwest, it is abundantly clear to me that we need to listen. This notion, of course, turns over two hundred years of interaction on its head, and I reckon this is the problem for the Conservatives.  

I often wonder what Charlie's opinion would have been.

*National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Indigenous Educational Programme 

Comments closed.



Peter Albion said...

Firsthand experience of how listening can work. This deserves a wider audience.

Anonymous said...

I see you closed comments after comment 21 was posted but before you published it...Well done Bobby. That means you don't have to pull the "not approved by the blog author" excuse for not publishing something that is accurate and does not cause offence other than it is at odds with your own beliefs.

1735099 said...

You have no idea when the comments were closed, and you're becoming a right royal pain in the bum with off-topic comments. Last chance.....

Anonymous said...

Unlike comments that go against your grain, Booby, you do publish "Comments Closed".
"Last chance"...ooh, .is that akin to a threat? If you were here, you could see me trembling. 😲😁😂🤣
Quick...close the comments so you don't have to claim that the blog author didn't approve.

1735099 said...

Have your grandkids been at your computer again? Better put it away somewhere safe.

Anonymous said...

Good grief. There are nearly 3000 Aboriginal agencies whose job it is to represent their people. Pretty much everything they ask for they get. It has only made things worse because there was never anything other than self interest. Twiggy Forrest has just refused to sign a royalties agreement because he knows exactly what happens with the money.
Your own example of listening didn't improve things one jot. You cannot reject civilization and expect things to be civilized.

1735099 said...

Those agencies (and please name them) essentially make recommendations to various bureaucracies which generally go unheeded through politics and/or self-interest. There needs to be a different connection between the people and the agencies which actually translates into action.

Suggest you read Don Watson's The Passion of Private White describing the efforts of a bunch of Vietnam veterans working with the Yolgnu clans at Donydji in north-east Arnhem Land.

Read the Statement from the Heart whilst you're at it -

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