There may need to be a Great Migration of Black peoples out of Western Australia and the Northern Territory or some sort of revolution. Wherever there are significant Black population masses throughout Australia so too is there pronounced racism – flaring and rampant. White anger rages at Black identity. The more west and north we journey across the Australian continent the more heated the racism, the worse the hits on the descendants of the First Peoples of this continent – the higher the arrest and jail rates, the higher the homelessness rates, the more acute the poverty, the higher the suicide rates.
Australia has a Mason-Dixie line and it is the borders of Western Australia and the Northern Territory. As bad as the racism maybe on the eastern seaboard and it’s bad, it is incomparable to the racism of the west. Western Australia and the Northern Territory are to Australia what the ‘southern states’ were to the United States.
Following the American Civil War there were great hopes that slavery was at an end and that the road to equality and opportunity were to be paved. But Black America was betrayed particularly by the southern states, where rights for Blacks were denied, where education for Black children was denied, where poverty and indenture, wage slavery were intertwined, where voting rights were denied. The racism was bad in the north but far less than that of the south, and in the decades following the end of the Civil War and till the Great War, there was the Great Migration – where more than 10 per cent of the south’s Black population fled to the north and to the west. Millions more would have fled but the southern states policed the railroad stations, cobbled together diabolical legislation and fined and jailed anyone assisting the migration. They wanted the former slaves to remain as ‘contracted’ lowly-paid wage slaves on the farms and plantations. They wanted them voiceless. White Americans would tolerate Booker T. Washington and Robert Moton, who despite all their great deeds stayed in tune with assimilation or perish mantras by arguing that Blacks had to earn their rights. Well, though many would benefit, many would fall and here today we see in America the cataclysmic divide between the haves and have nots that assimilation and perish brought about. It is here too in Australia with 40 per cent of Black Australia living below the poverty line. I have seen most of Australia’s Black poverty and there are those who can never rise out of their poverty. How can they earn rights when they are being denied these rights? They have nothing to earn. It is hopelessness and helplessness for far too many.
Western Australia has the nation’s highest median wage, and the Northern Territory has the nation’s third highest median wage. They are among the world’s highest median wages. They are both resource wealthy regions. But for the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in these two jurisdictions all they will ever know is grinding poverty despite that the majority of the White populations live relatively affluent. Nearly 40 per cent of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders live below the poverty line but most of this poverty is in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. In the Territory, nearly three-quarters of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders live below the poverty line, and in Western Australia, it’s nearly 60 per cent.
Half of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicides occur in Western Australia and the Northern Territory despite the fact that these jurisdictions between them are home to only 160,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Queensland is home to 170,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and NSW is home to 210,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. The highest jailing rates in the nation of Aboriginal and Torres Islanders are in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. The jailing of Aboriginal peoples in Western Australia is nearly 20 times the national jailing rate, and with the Northern Territory it’s more than 15 times. From a racialised lens the jailing rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are among the world’s highest. One in 6 of Aboriginal peoples in Western Australia and the Northern Territory have been to jail. One in 13 Aboriginal adult males in Western Australia is in prison today. The Northern Territory has 1.3 per cent of its total population jailed, higher than the mother of jailers, the United States of America who have just less than one per cent of their national population in jail. But 86 per cent of the Northern Territory prison population is comprised of the Territory’s Aboriginal peoples.
Seven per cent of Western Australia’s Kimberley is homeless and nearly all of this homelessness is Aboriginal and therefore one in 9 of the Kimberley’s Aboriginal peoples are homeless. More than seven per cent of the Northern Territory is homeless. Nearly all of this homelessness is comprised of Aboriginal peoples and therefore one in eight are homeless. Outside of civil strife and natural disasters these are among the world’s highest homelessness rates. In Perth two-thirds of the homelessness is of Aboriginal peoples while in Darwin it’s nine out of ten.
The hundreds of homeland communities I have travelled to, the most degraded ones are in the Northern Territory and Western Australia – third-world-akin shanties and apartheid-like corrals of human misery and suffering. The degradation of these communities is not of their making, but the making by one government after another. Should any community in Australia have to beg for clean water, for piping, for the maintenance of water tanks, for power lines, for schools? But they do, they beg and are denied. There is grinding poverty in Western Australia and the Northern Territory alongside relative affluence – affluence there with the best in the world. If this tale of two narratives alongside each other is not racism, then what is it?
Recently, I travelled to Utopia/Urapuntja/Arlparra, near the heart of this nation’s continent, 250 kilometres north of Alice Springs. In the surrounding homeland communities – for instance Three Bore, Camel Camp and Homestead, I saw the third-world once again but this time in the world’s 12th biggest economy, Australia. I saw people isolated, starving, neglected, left to die off while only 40kms afar, the services are well funded and their personnel are majorly populated by non-Indigenous. I and a colleague, Dr Marcus Woolombi Waters, visited the services and challenged them on what we saw. They pretty much admitted the despair. We turned up to these communities at the behest of these communities and as if responding to famine in the sub-Sahel or to a disaster-zone, we turned up with a load of food, essentials, provisions for each community. We were broken-hearted.
I have been to communities right across Western Australia and the Northern Territory where the White run services, the personnel, are no better than mission managers, where they sit idly by at the expense of impoverished Black peoples. I went to one school where the first two female high school graduates were in 2013. What hope for the remainder of their generation of women, for the generations of their unborn? I have been to region, with a Black population of 1,500, where in its entire history there have only three high school graduates. What hope for them, for their unborn?
We spent time at the ‘aged care facility’ at Camel Camp – an abomination. There was no ventilation, no air-conditioning, no in-house services, no anything, only dank concrete, decrepit and filthy – it is however visited by the ‘services’ and some food drop offs, pitiful. People lay on the concrete swatting flies, holding together resilient while denied dignity and the respite that their years on this earth should have accumulated. Indeed, sadly, I have seen better ‘aged care facilities’ in the poorest regions of ‘third-world’ nations. Had these people been White there’d be a national outcry. This story of the deplorable conditions people are living in at Camel Camp should be a Four Corners episode.
In Western Australia and the Northern Territory, Black children are being ‘denied’ the opportunity of education, of an education of the quality that will see them onto university or into the earning of a good quid. Yes, when the quality of school is so poor in the regions and remote of Western Australia and the Northern Territory where even if they graduate they will never be employed then they have been denied by Western Australia or the Northern Territory their right to an education. In these regions rights are not universal but merely an argument, a theory. Western Australia and the Northern Territory burn flaming hot red with discrimination, vilification, with the lot. That’s what the American south did till into the 1950s in order to keep the Black ‘inferior’ and ‘enslaved’. In Australia it’s both assimilate or perish and perish one does, and it is attrition in order to force people out of the remote and into the fringes of urban masses. When Whites look to opening up the remote for mining all of a sudden super cities, with every imaginable service and recreation, the full suite of infrastructure, are grafted, even if in the desert. All of a sudden they arise out of the desert like some mirage.
America had its Jim Crow laws – separate but ‘equal’ – however Australia also did too and today the racism that gave birth to apartheid, eugenics, segregation, the missions and reserves, the Jim Crow type facades, well the racism now thrives through harsh assimilate or perish mantras. There is a Mason-Dixie line and it is the borders of Western Australia and the Northern Territory. If you are born Black into Western Australia and the Northern Territory, you can expect to live a half-life, to live less years. In 2014, the median age of death for Aboriginal males in Western Australia was 49.9 – half of the State’s Aboriginal males that died that year lived less than half a century. If you are born Black in Western Australia and the Northern Territory you have a one in six chance of being jailed. In the Territory you have a three in four chance of living impoverished, in Western Australia nearly a two in three chance. You are born Black in Western Australia and the Northern Territory you are at the nation’s most likely to be not receive an education, to fail to complete schooling, to be unemployed, to be homeless, to suicide.
The hopelessness that so many Black brothers and sisters are heaped into in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, the fact that they are far less likely to have any prospect of thriving in these oppressive and racist jurisdictions is of the magnitude that it would be make sense for a Great Migration east. Western Australian and Northern Territorian prisons have more Black youth among them than do the universities in these two jurisdictions. The Ghan and Indian-Pacific trains should be filled each week, with migration to some damn hope.