Geoff Bagnall, Gerry Georgatos, Malarndirri McCarthy and Woolombi Waters - Photo, Barbara McGrady

Geoff Bagnall, Gerry Georgatos, Malarndirri McCarthy and Woolombi Waters – Photo, Barbara McGrady

The 2014 Multicultural and Indigenous Media Awards (MIMA) were held on September 10 at NSW Parliament’s Strangers Function Centre. The National Indigenous Times’ three lead correspondents, Dr Woolombi (Marcus) Waters, Geoff Bagnall and Gerry Georgatos were recipients of awards on the night.

There were six categories including a Journalist of the Year, which was won by The National Indigenous Television News (NITV) journalist and producer, Malarndirri McCarthy. Malarndirri has had a long career in journalism but with a seven year break when instead Malarndirri served as a parliamentarian and minister in the Northern Territory. Malarndirri is a former ABC newsreader and journalist and is now the SBS’s NITV news producer. Malarndirri also produces and presents the NITV’s ‘Week in Review’.

National Indigenous Times stalwart Geoff Bagnall won Best News Reporting for ‘Warning, another Stolen Generation looms as Grandmothers fight to save their families.’ More First Nations children are now being removed from their families than in any year during the 70 years of the Stolen Generations. Geoff’s story highlighted the anguish of the grandmothers of children who have been removed by child protection services in NSW. Before Geoff joined The National Indigenous Times in a number of roles as a photographer, correspondent and as production hand he had spent 32 years at the Sydney Morning Herald.

National Indigenous Times feature writer, Dr Woolombi (Marcus) Waters was one of two winners for Best Editorial Reporting. His winning piece was titled, ‘Our greatest concern is creating Unity’. Woolombi’s brave, visionary and inspiring editorial explores how the communities of First Peoples can move forward. Woolombi asks his people to question what legacy they want to leave future generations. Woolombi is also an academic at Griffith University, and a rising voice and leader among his people.

National Indigenous Times contributing journalist, Gerry Georgatos also won Best Editorial Reporting for his piece on ‘What will it take to end Aboriginal disadvantage and inequalities? Gerry’s editorial blends years of investigative news reporting and feature writing, reflecting on hundreds of visits to communities, especially remote communities. He calls for a multitude of voices in a humanity born out of respect and difference. Gerry is a seven times winner at the MIMA and last year’s Journalist of the Year. He writes day in day out for The Stringer and is also a correspondent for the National Indigenous Radio Service. He is an academic and suicide prevention researcher.

September 10 was also World Suicide Prevention Day – globally more people lose their lives to suicide – at least 800,000 people each year – more than to all wars and violence combined. More than 2,500 Australians lose their lives to suicide each year. This continent’s First Peoples endure among the world’s highest suicide rates.

Below are the three articles:

 

Warning, another Stolen Generation looms

By Geoff Bagnall

A rally in Tamworth has once more demanded the New South Wales government stop creating a new Stolen Generation.

In 2008 then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd made his Apology to the Stolen Generations for the long policy of forced removals under a welfare system whose effects, removal of culture, removal of language are now covered by the United Nations Genocide Convention.

Aunty Hazel from Gunnedah’s Grandmothers Against Removals said even as Kevin Rudd stood to make his Apology, even as he spoke, even more children were being removed from their families.

“When Kevin Rudd made that apology and I have to give credit to the man, he had guts to stand up there and acknowledge a past but what Kevin Rudd didn’t acknowledge was while he was standing up there giving that speech and making his apology, there were many more children taken out of families while he was talking. And it is still continuing.

Aunty Hazel asked for her last name not be used in this article because she is currently trying to have two of her grandchildren, taken from her by the New South Wales Department of Family and Community Services (FaCS), returned.

“Sorry means not having to go through this again but this situation of having our children taken from us has been continuous,” she said.

And Aunty Hazel is not speaking from some out-of-touch platform

“My Grandmother and my aunty were stolen. They were in Cootamundra and they ran away,” she said.

“The welfare system has failed Aboriginal people since it was first introduced many, many years ago and it is still failing today.

“What’s happening is they are still operating under the old Protection Act and it’s failed … it failed back then and it’s failed now,” she said.

In 1998 the government was handed the Bringing Them Home report, a crucial document from which they then cherry-picked just a couple of easy recommendations they could implement with cash but no fundamental change.

“The very thing about Bringing Them Home report is we want to know bringing who home?,” Aunty Hazel asked.

“You might get a small percentage that will forget their way home, that will fully become and feel comfortable with their (new) family but in a lot of cases there isn’t going to be that family there to come home to.

“We could all be gone and the devastation and the destruction, even that initial taking, that will stay in those little hearts forever, that will stay in our hearts as their mums, their grandmums, as their Aunties, their Uncles, their family, that stays in our hearts, that destroys us every day,” Aunty Hazel said.

NSW Greens MP, David Shoebridge, who has long campaigned against the removal of Indigenous children from their families, said since the Bringing Them Home report in 1998 the number of Aboriginal children removed from their families and from their cultures has skyrocketed.

“Since the Bringing Them Home report in 1998, there has been a five-fold increase in the number of Aboriginal children in out of home care,” Mr Shoebridge said.

“Tragically, New South Wales stands out across the Commonwealth as the State with the highest rate of Aboriginal child removal. More than one in 10 Aboriginal children are in out of home care in this State,” he said.

Mr Shoebridge castigated both Liberal and Labor State politicians for their lack of commitment and lack of interest to take responsibility for the problem.

“It beggars belief,” he said. “When I attend the meetings, when I talk to communities, I am the only politician there and it beggars belief there aren’t more politicians across the political spectrum deeply concerned about this and ensuring we don’t have another Stolen Generation.”

There is an awful lot of money spent on “child protection” and both David Shoebridge and grandmother Aunty Hazel say the money is being misdirected and wasted.

“The money is spent on the courts and it’s spent on the police, it’s spent on the child removal and on the foster parents. It’s not being spent on the families in the first place, and the communities to keep the children in the care of their parents,” Mr Shoebridge said.

“The first intervention by FaCS should not be the removal of the kids, the first intervention by FaCS needs to be a parenting program, help with nutrition, help with getting the kids to school, help with housing,” he said.

Aunty Hazel said the New South Wales Department of Family and Community Services was failing families and it was failing the community.

“They are a closed book, this DoCS and the fact of the matter is their title is Family and Community Services well, in my view they are failing their duty of care,” Aunty Hazel said.

“If they spent more time and effort in engaging services and coming in on the ground level where family is experiencing difficulty and let’s face it, we all can experience difficulties at any given time in our life, that doesn’t mean we are incapable of looking after our children. But that is not what happens.

“What the process is in 99 per cent of cases is they come in on a Friday afternoon and this is first contact and they just tell you ‘we are taking the child, we’ve had several complaints’.

“These are complaints they say they have received are not substantiated, they’re not investigated,” Aunty Hazel said.

“To them they are proven. They’ll say to the families ‘there’s risks, we are taking the children’. We ask what are these risks but you often don’t get told what the risks are until later,” she said.

“And when the child is removed they are removed hundreds of kilometres away, away from extended family who could have and often want to care for them and away from their Culture.

“You can only imagine the fear and everything that is going through that little child’s mind while being driven away; where am I going, who am I going to?

“They go to strangers, they don’t know these people. Their very essence of who they are, their Aboriginality, their Culture, their heritage, their ancestral footprint, that is being destroyed, the essence of who they are, because who’s going to teach our children?

“Everybody has a birthright to their Culture. Nobody has a right to destroy that,” she said.

Aunty Hazel said everyone accepted there were some children who absolutely should be removed from danger.

“But is the New South Wales Minister, Pru Goward really saying one Aboriginal child in every 10 in the State is in danger? If she is then she doesn’t know what she is talking about,” Aunty Hazel said.

The other crushing question for Grandmothers Against Removals is why must the child be excised entirely from the whole community?

“If it’s a situation where the parents are having some sort of a crisis and there is an issue with the children, certainly our view is don’t take them out of the family unit, don’t put them in out of home care,” Aunty Hazel said.

“Look at the family network and how best can the extended family network support this family.

“If that means the children go to a grandparent, an aunty and uncle, or extended family or friends, make it happen,” Aunty Hazel said.

“They tell you upfront, if you put your hand up and say ‘we’ll take the children’, they say ‘no, you’re not suitable’ but you’re not told why you’re not suitable.

“When you ask that question you get no explanation, you are just told you are not suitable.

“There’s no consideration given to the trauma the child goes through from that initial removal,” Aunty Hazel said.

Aunty Hazel said some believed Australia was heading to a time when another Prime Minister would have to make another apology for another Stolen Generation but for Aunty Hazel another apology would be an insult.

Aunty Hazel said if these wrongs continue it would only highlight Sorry was an empty word from Prime Ministers.

“To Aboriginal people it is an empty word, you cannot say sorry and then continue to do the same thing,” Aunty Hazel said.

“Government has got it wrong. They need to not say sorry, they need to put positive things in place that will work with Aboriginal people.  Don’t say sorry if the apology is empty,” she said.

With National Sorry Day fast approaching, Grandmothers Against Removals is calling for rallies right across Australia on May 26, because this is a national tragedy. In NSW, Aunty Hazel wants to see FaCS Minister, Pru Goward make an appearance and listen to the concerns of Aboriginal communities and work with Aboriginal people rather than work on them

“Most definitely. I have said this to them, they need to come out. “When they’re looking at making policies about Aboriginal people, and any other group, they need to come out to the people, they need to sit down, they need to talk to the people, listen to the people’s views and understand their anger, their frustration is born out of love, and frustration at the system who is failing them. They need to understand that upfront, and they need to suck it up,” she said.

“We want the entire community across Australia to go out and rally. It doesn’t have to be large; friends, family, whoever they can get there, people in a wheelchair if they have to, to go to the DoCS offices and make the same demands that this stop, our children need to be brought home, there needs to be a restoration for our children.”

 

Our greatest concern is creating Unity

By Dr Woolombi Waters

There is no future for a people who deny their past. Our old people did not suffer giving us the opportunities and education we have today just to continue the division and oppression of our own people. Firstly we must recognise whatever the education we have acquired has only been due to their sacrifice and therefore in respecting this legacy everything we do should be used for the salvation of our Culture rather than the hidden agendas and power games we are witnessing today.

Whether you are a power broker selling our people out to government at the highest level or a drug dealer peddling your poisons within our communities, you are letting yourself, our old people and your communities down.

Personal endeavour that is of no benefit to others and causes division within our communities and our healing has to stop.

As one people we have to reject the assumption we remain inferior to the West.

We can no longer assume, if we are fortunate enough to live in one of the “developed” countries, that such a way of life represents the most advanced progress over and above other societies which are seen as being less successful in material pursuits.

Instead, as part of an Indigenous peoples’ world movement, we represent knowledge in other societies having made other choices, followed different paths in search of different destinies.

Indigenous knowledge production opens up new vistas on the richness of what it means to be human in a modern world which lacks the substance of community, fellowship and extended family.

Rather than denounce our past we should embrace and celebrate our survival.

We need to learn to work together in accepting there are those of us who embrace modern society and integration, just as there are those who embrace a black nationalism in rebuilding our past.

It is only human to see everything through one’s own lived experience but as long as the ultimate goal between Blackfellas becomes the celebration and survival of our Culture then we need to mend these bridges between ourselves first before moving into the future together.

And if we are to prioritise our Aboriginality above all else in order to survive then we need to re-establish our connection to the everlasting philosophy of our Dreaming through the lived experiences of all Aboriginal people.

For 250 years we have struggled under the burden of colonisation generating a sense of mental slavery and trauma upon us. No matter how successful we believe we are each and every one of us suffers from a trans-generational violence from our ancestors being brutalised in every way.

Whether we believe in modern science or ancient Dreaming both confirm the damage done through collective multi-generational suffering and abuse. This is undeniable as is the need for healing in our communities to overcome this shared experience.

As First Nation Australians it is only in coming together we can hope to represent the future of Indigenous peoples around the world and within Australia. With the resources and opportunities we have compared to other Indigenous peoples around the world we should become leaders in this struggle.

So it is for you … the power broker, the drug dealer, the abuser, the educated, the tyrant and the keepers of Culture to come together in forgiveness with your brothers and sisters in providing a future for our grandchildren.

We all need to ask ourselves what legacy do we want to leave these children of the future? Do we want more trauma, more abuse, more division so we continue to remain a people divided in their own country?

Buwadjarr as the Creator never intended we should become so lost in our own Country.

As First Nations Aboriginal people we have already shown we are capable of the same acts as any other people in much more difficult circumstance.

We have lawyers, doctors, heads of Parliament, filmmakers, writers, entertainers and athletes who are world renowned and yet our values and beliefs as the oldest living Culture in the world has been sleeping. Not dead, only sleeping.

It is time to open our eyes and wake up amongst our Dreaming.

You can enslave us for some 250 years, bind the bodies of our people, you can chain our hands and our feet and imprison us, but you cannot chain or imprison the hearts, the minds and the spirit of our people.

Rise up and take your stand. Reach up and pull all of nature’s knowledge to you as connected within our Dreaming. Turn our lives around and make a conquest of everything for which we have been dealt. Otherwise continue to bow down to the trauma suffered through colonisation in forgetting your past and the struggle of your old people. This will only teach your grandchildren to also bow down in forgetting their past, to remain in emotional poverty and mental slavery.

No one people have the last word on Culture and civilisation.

Until we stop bowing to ways which do not belong to our own we will never know just what we are truly capable of. So instead give yourself credit for being alive when so many others passed away during those early years of colonisation.

Learn to use your minds and know that until we believe in ourselves as a common collective unified in knowing our true Culture and history, only then can we ask to what extent we can achieve as one mob.

I ask you what satisfaction can a person who has truly embraced the values of their Aboriginality get in being happy while seeing their own people drowning in struggle?

How can any of us be happy living in luxury as other community members live in poverty and disease?

People who have borne the brunt of colonisation need help in lifting their heads and raising them up in demanding a chance to succeed in this world. We need to come together to remind ourselves of the beauty, strength and endurance of our people and stop encouraging an education system that states we are inferior and in need of help. It is not help we need but recognition and acknowledgement of our right to be Aboriginal.

We have people amongst us who say our problems will be solved through higher education. Through better education, Indigenous and non-Indigenous will come together and this is indeed a noble and just pursuit but that day will never happen until Aboriginal people within this country are redeemed.

Since our people gained entry into higher education in the 1970s we have seen the advent of a new Aboriginal middle-class, of that there is no doubt. But analysis of statistics over that same period into suicide-rates, incarceration, health and poverty show our situation as a community continues to go backwards.

Assimilation was not the answer then and it is not the answer now and it will not be the answer in the future. Those who believe these problems will be overcome purely within higher education, without first acknowledging our past and rebuilding our self-esteem and futures through a process of collective healing will never see our problems solved.

That being said we need to engage in education, lift our social and cultural capital in the ways of the world. In dealing with our pain and in not coming to terms with our trauma we have assisted others in gaining possession and ownership of our world.

We have allowed others to run away with our intellectual, spiritual and emotional wellbeing and now we are suffering by being told the world belongs to them and we have no part in it.

I refuse to apologise to anyone for my beliefs as an Australian Aboriginal and if more of our people were told their past prior to colonisation (a history of 244 years that is all we are taught in Australian schools and universities) and our people identified instead with the 87,000 years of history prior to the evils of colonisation, then they would be more inclined to respect themselves and each other.

Why would I have self-respect if all I am taught within the education system is that I lost my land through colonisation by a ‘superior’ culture? A culture I am expected to respect today when due to this same colonisation I remain a victim in need of help because of my own inability or unwillingness to assimilate.

All I learn and all I am taught is the ways of this ‘superior’ culture and all I see on television and popular culture and in history is how they see the world. My own situation and Culture therefore become not only invisible but helpless.

We have an obligation to survive. That is the best way that we can respect the sacrifices of our past.

Future generations shall have in their hands the knowledge of the truth behind how this country was stolen, not through a process of colonisation, to be revered and celebrated but by the ruthless and merciless truth of invasion, and through our commitment they shall know the sins of the last 250 years and in doing so rebuild our future.

Any leadership that teaches you to depend upon another people is a leadership that will enslave you. The only way to secure freedom is to make our own decisions and to aspire ourselves to become leaders within our own communities.

If you choose yarndi, alcohol, bullying, gambling, intimidation, gossip or any other vice that allows you to wallow in your own pity you will never become the leader we need in our communities.

If you choose to succeed in a world separate to the values of our own Indigenous consciousness while your people continue to suffer, you can only become a manager of your people. You will never be the leader we so desperately need.

Can we do it? Of course we can do it and we shall do it.

Because the time has come for our First Nations Aboriginal people to forget the hero-worship of other peoples and to create our own reading of history and remember our own heroes of the past.

We must elevate to positions of celebrity, respect and honour our own Aboriginal men and women who have made their own invaluable and distinct contributions to our, and Australian, history.

People such as Pemulwuy, Yagan, Windradyne, Dundalli, Jandamarra, Lingiari, Cooper, Ferguson, Maynard, Perkins, Dixon, Noonuccal, Munro, Kunoth-Monks, Gondarra, and so many others.

We must inspire a literature and spread a doctrine of our own without any apologies to the powers that be. That is our right and we are entitled to our own opinion and we are not obligated to, or bound by the opinions of others.

The world is indebted to us for we hold the origins of all creation in our belief system. We are the only people on this Earth who have no stories of a great migration in their Dreaming.

Why? Because we come from creation itself. Why then should we be ashamed of ourselves?

Let no voice but your own speak to you from the depths of this creation in understanding your place in this physical world. Let no influence but your own inflame your understanding to hear all that is spoken but attend only to that which concerns you. Your allegiance shall be to your Dreaming, your people and your country.

Remember that in both their science and their religion God and Nature made us first and out of our own creative genius in understanding our Dreaming we are and continue to be the oldest living Culture in the world.

We are to make ourselves what we want to be.

There is no height to which you cannot climb without the active intelligence of your own mind. Because you are Aboriginal, you are beautiful and you were born from this country.

 

What will it take to end Aboriginal disadvantage, the inequalities and the various crises

By Gerry Georgatos

The Fred Hollows Foundation’s CEO, Brian Doolan said, “There are no excuses for Australia to be the only developed country in the world where people still suffer from trachoma, where Indigenous men in areas such as the east Katherine region have an average life expectancy of 46 years, where babies are dying at a rate three times higher than babies born to non-Indigenous born to non-Indigenous parents.”

Many, including myself, have written persistently and widely about the extensiveness, and the causalities, of the impoverishment of far too many First Nations people in the world’s second wealthiest nation (per capita) – of the horrific homelessness, incarceration, ill-health and suicide rates. Recently, some of us have been able to garner Government responses to for instance the abominable suicides crises, and now something is being done about this – thanks predominately to Senator Nigel Scullion – through the guidance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experts in the field and with the coalface community driven program leaders.

But what about the holistic landscape for First Nations peoples? Australia’s racism-born poverty, its consequences – the myriad ill-health, its impacts on historical, cultural and contemporary identities? What will it take to end the divides between a stream of cruel impoverishment in an otherwise ocean of unbelievable wealth?

It does not wash, not even with a single imagining, that it should take generations to sort this out, not when the third-world-akin poverty affects less than one per cent of this continent’s total population.

It does not wash, not by any stretch of the imagination that this nation does not have the capacity, does not have the means to end once and for all the divides. What this nation may have is the lack of the strength of character to do so.

Sovereignty, in all its meanings, if afforded exclusively to First Nations people across this nation can end the disparities and enrich and empower peoples but this will not happen any time soon. It is reasonable to believe that the Commonwealth of Australia will not relinquish territories and especially while they are soaked in resources that mining companies drool over. These resources in the hands of the true custodians of the land could relieve the impoverishment. But there remain outsiders dogged in the fight for the lands they eye over. The peoples of lands who are yet disconnected from their ‘sovereign’ homes for want of a better word in new born titles from this two century old invasion remain the salt of the earth of their lands – many with connections unbroken, the custodians in respect of their communities and wider environments. They are the great hope for an ongoing and continuing diverse Australia rather than a homogenous Australia. They are the great hope of an Australian and First Nations cosmopolitanism and spiritualism that racism has fought and is still fighting an ugly battle to deny.

But Native Title has failed. In the two decades since Native Title some have become wealthy, assimilated and divisive but for the majority who remain true to their lands, they have been neglected, mistreated and impoverished. The Native Title industry has made wealthy the coteries of native title lawyers and practitioners who rapaciously feed out of a trough that they should never have been allowed to have their snout sink into. Then there are the filthy carpetbaggers I have written all too oft about, who clean up the rest of the trough, their necks straining deep into the trough – those predominately non-Aboriginal leeches and buzzards who prey in and around Aboriginal corporations. No more need be written about these scumbags.

Native Title land rights cannot work to any plausible objective where there shall arise a holistic social dividend when people are denied exclusive rights to their lands. To have anything less than exclusive right to the land is cruel theatre.

Governments – Commonwealth and State and Territory – have nothing more than assimilation on offer. But the impacts of assimilation, and especially on those whose settings are still as First Nations people, are horrific. There are clashes of cultural settings, of western settings and First Peoples settings, and we have seen them the world over, not just here within this vast continent. We have seen the impacts – the murderous fallout in the attempt to erase historical and cultural identities instead of allowing for the unfolding of identity, for the coalescing of people. We have seen the induced homelessness, the manifest of slummy townships, dustbowls. These corrals come with the imposed departure from how people choose to want to be and in how and why they wish to live their lives. Hence there arise dysfunction, sadness and suicides. Some never give up in fighting for the reclamation of their Country, for their languages, for their historical identity, for happier times. This says it all.

The death of culture is the death of a nation. A nation stays alive when its culture stays alive.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) the rate of homelessness for First Nations people is four times the rate (191 per 10,000) of homelessness for non-Aboriginal Australians (49 per 10,000). According to the AIHW, First Nations people are more likely to sleep rough – 27 per cent of all First Nations homeless persons compared to 15 per cent of non-Aboriginal homeless persons.

According to the AIHW, First Nations homelessness is increasing while non-Aboriginal homeless rates have steadied. Therefore, in reference to homelessness the divide is not closing, it is widening.

According to the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), First Nations people and communities are doing it as tough as they ever have in terms of poverty and disadvantage. Median incomes of First Nations households are just 65 per cent of those of non-Aboriginal households. And despite assimilation being pushed, instead of integration, employment rates are lower in all age groups in every State and Territory for First Nations people.

According to OXFAM Australia, poverty is as real on this continent as it is in any developing country. But Australia is the world’s 12th largest economy, the second wealthiest nation per capita, it has the world’s highest median wages. But Australia, in what should be to its most shameful embarrassment, also allows for a stream of dire poverty, third-world-akin.

First Nations people are a predominately young population with a median age of 20.5 years compared to 36.1 years for the non-Aboriginal population. Nearly all of today’s First Nations people have been born since the 1962 right to vote and since the 1967 referendum on the right to be included in the Census. The majority of today’s First Nations persons were born after Aboriginal Tent Embassy, after the great land rights marches of the 1970s and 1980s, and after the 1992 Mabo decision in the High Court. So why then is the collective lot of First Nations people worse than ever before? They should be living with the fruits of the legislative changes, with the fruits of the great struggles, but instead they are being incarcerated at among the world’s highest rates, living poorer than ever before, many as if they are Stateless, and suiciding at among the world’s highest rates.

In the Northern Territory, 98 per cent of the juvenile detention population is comprised of First Nations youth.

We were not put on this Earth to betray our children. We were not put on this Earth to bury our children.

The world’s second wealthiest nation allows for its First Nations people to die decades prematurely than the rest of the population. The world’s second wealthiest nation induced and then effectively has perpetuated high levels of chronic illnesses, preventable diseases, mental and physical disabilities among First Nations peoples.

Till the (Professor Ronald) Henderson Inquiry in the early 1970s, First Nations poverty was not included in Australian Government data. They were not the forgotten peoples, they were oppressed peoples by our Governments. Rogues, such as the late doctor Archie Kalokerinos, dedicated their lives among remote communities to highlight and address illnesses such as glaucoma that the Australian health system did not want to know about. The Fred Hollows Foundation followed in his footsteps. It took rogues to start making a difference. Governments, made up of hundreds of parliamentarians and thousands of bureaucrats, lagged – abysmally and abominably. In the last twenty years, statistics have been pulled together on First Nations poverty and they evidenced a sorry tale. But today, we also need to be careful in pretending that much has got better because some statistics do lie. Because of so many, who have never lived disadvantaged despite being disenfranchised from their historical identities, suddenly being identified as First Nations people, this collectivised data disguises the extensiveness of poverty, chronic illnesses, life expectancy medians, premature death rates, suicides for those whose families have lived one or two centuries of impoverishment and oppression. Where data is disaggregated it generally demonstrates much has got worse for people in the remote and for those whose families have lived in disadvantage. Closing the Gap is a lie. I evidenced this last year. And the bigger lie of a $26 billion per annum disadvantage spending on First Nations peoples and communities is just that – a lie. I evidenced this last year and thankfully the Commonwealth Government confirmed this.

Surprisingly, far too few researchers have looked at finding out how First Nations poverty has changed since say 1970. There should be much more exploration of this especially in light of one Government after another pushing for assimilation. However it would be fair to comment that most studies that have engaged with First Nations poverty post the 1970s assimilationist bent demonstrate that there has been little improvement in reducing ‘unemployment’ and there has been negligible improvement s with ‘low-income’ households.

The intrusion of assimilation as a potential way forward will only continue to destroy First Nations people. After decades of assimilation policies, assimilation is a proved failure. It is evidenced by the suicides, by the premature death rates, by the incarceration rates, by the unhappiness. If Professor Henderson was still alive today he would be disturbed by the ongoing and worsening disadvantage and poverty of First Nations people that he first identified, in terms of its extensiveness, in the 1970s. The late Professor Henderson believed that his awareness-raising of First Nations poverty would make the vital difference.

But alas, the abyss of despair remains and its catacombs of dark tumults are dungeons to the children of First Nations people.

According to the Fred Hollows Foundation, First Nations people continue on with the high unemployment levels, high underemployment levels, endure overcrowded housing, their children are less likely to continue their education, and with chronic diseases that other Australians do not endure. The Foundation works with local communities to improve not only eye health but nutrition, aural health, women’s health, workforce training and community engagement.

The Foundation’s CEO, Brian Doolan said, “There are no excuses for Australia to be the only developed country in the world where people still suffer from trachoma, where Indigenous men in areas such as the east Katherine region have an average life expectancy of 46 years, where babies are dying at a rate three times higher than babies born to non-Indigenous parents.”

The late Dr Hollows first visited the Northern Territory in 1968. Still today, First Nations persons are 6 times more likely to be blind than non-Aboriginal Australians and 12 times more likely to be blind from cataract. There is a long way to go.

According to OXFAM Australia, the health gap continues largely “as a result of decades of Government inaction and a continuing lack of appropriate medical services.” A 2007 report by the Australian Medical Association uncovered evidence of inherent discrimination in our health system. According to OXFAM and the AMA report, First Nations persons do not benefit from mainstream health services to the same extent as the rest of the non-Aboriginal population.

So what needs to be done now?

All the funding needed must not be denied or delayed. Instant and unmet needs must be wiped out, ending the divides. 100 per cent of funds must reach communities, hitting the ground and not the already deep pockets of outsiders. None of any funding must be stolen by carpetbaggers nor misspent on outsiders who come in on unjustifiable consultancy fees and remuneration packages. With the right level of funding the divide ends in a decade, not just within a generation. The second wealthiest nation on this planet can afford this – dead easy. It can at long last redress the basic rights of its poorest 100,000 people. The Australian Medical Association estimates that half a billion dollars is needed annually to secure for First Nations people the same levels non-Aboriginal Australia enjoys of basic primary and secondary healthcare. Even if a billion or two billion dollars are needed each year for however long then this is the must-do.

Anything less is not just unjust and inequality, anything less is a lie.

Nothing should stand in the way of languages reclamation, identity reclamation, bona fide bilingualism. Nothing should stand in the way of schools being taught in their regional first language. Everything possible should be done to assist in all of this. Nothing should get in the way of cultural identity and its practice. This is a must do. This continent and its unfolding collective identity can only be enriched by this. This business of ‘consultation’ that supposedly takes place with Firsts Nations people should be redefined. It is not too late for recalcitrant Governments. We should not pretend consultation and impose on others. We must not be arrogant to presume that our will shall be the way and that we will ‘consult’ those who will be victim to this will of ours as to what will be only their pending victimisation. Instead of consultation let people be free in their own lands and communities and let them guide the way, their way – let us meet each other civilly and welcomingly, with no imposts. Let the north-east Arnhem define its identity and future. Let this be the manner of our way wherever possible on this continent, especially where western settings are still tenuous and young enough to be pulled into line. Allow the dominant demographical populations to do their own thing.

These are some of the vital solutions.

The Australian Government Department of Health knows all too well the consequences where we have disregarded people’s right to identity – historical, cultural and contemporary. They know all too well the impacts of hard as nails assimilation.

According to the Australian Government Department of Health, “suicide is believed to have been a rare occurrence among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in pre-colonial times, it has become increasingly prevalent over recent decades, accelerating after the 1980s, albeit with variations in rates and in geographical distribution from year to year.”

The Department of Health knows the links between “cultural dislocation, personal trauma and the ongoing stresses of disadvantage, racism, alienation and exclusion.”

“The mobility of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples between remote communities and regional centres, particularly in the remote areas is another anomaly of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide that needs to be recognised. This means that these locations need to be considered as part of a larger system when considering the occurrence of suicide and its impact on communities.”

“The age distribution of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is now much lower than that of the non-Indigenous population because of higher child-to-adult ratios and shorter than average life expectancy. This has important implications for understanding the psychological impact of suicide on families and the available community response capacity in terms of supports and services for treatment and prevention. It is also relevant to another distinct feature of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide: the phenomenon of ‘suicide clustering’, where an unusual number of suicides and episodes of suicidal behaviour occur in close proximity to one another within a particular community or region.”

“Reducing suicide and suicidal behaviour among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is now a public health priority for all Australian Governments.” Reducing suicidal behaviour will be ongoing work as long as impoverishment, disadvantage, inequality are allowed to languish.

According to the ABS, data for the period 2001-2010 shows the overall (all ages) rate of suicide for First Nations people at 1 in 24 of all deaths – 100 suicides per year. My own recent research has it now at 130 suicides per year. Furthermore my research describes underreporting of suicides and that in fact they could be as high as 1 in 12 of all deaths per annum.

According to the ABS, First Nations peoples take their own lives at younger ages than non-Aboriginal persons, with the majority of the suicide deaths occurring before the age of 35 years.

“The highest age-specific rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide was among males between 25 and 29 years of age (90.8 deaths per 100,000).”

“For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females, the highest rate of suicide was in the 20-24 age group (21.8 deaths per 100,000 population).”

One in 54 of all First Nations adults are in prison today. One in 24 of all First Nations persons has been to prison or juvenile detention.

We need a different Australia, to change it from the one where suicide is born of inhumanity, where inequality is born of racism. We need to change Australia from the Australia where we betray our children and where we betray what should have been their hopes. We need to be solid-in-our-thinking that the ways thus far have not worked and therefore do not work at all. We must be solid-in-our-thinking that we can end disadvantage in ten years alone, starting from now. We must be solid-in-our-thinking that this is what we must achieve, that securing adequate funds is a must-do, that true land rights are possible, and that the right to identity and self-determination are also intertwined in land rights. We must strive in such ways as if it is possible to achieve these goals and settle for nothing less, for settling for less is settling for poor quality of life, for premature death, for the burying of our children. We must leave the people of their lands to enrich the diversity of this continent. Let us leave for instance the north-east Arnhem to the people of the north-east Arnhem. The more of these ‘Countries’ born not of Treaties but born of themselves out of their lands, and likewise born by the graceful departure of Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments are what humanity yearns for. Russia freed up into countries many regions that were part of the Soviet. We pray for Tibet to be freed from China. Eritrea was freed from Ethiopia, the Balkans are at peace as many rather than as homogenous. So too we must follow and do away with our hypocrisy. We must no longer stand in the way of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, and we must get out of the way of their right to practice their cultures. When we do this we will enrich this vast continent, and steer many more people than ever before to visit and learn from one another. All of us will be enriched, and freed from the burdens of blame.

It was not long ago that Yalmay Yunupingu said something to me that needs to resonate with all peoples of this vast continent.

“We are not brainless and dumb and we can manage our own communities, our own affairs, our own organisations.”

“We want our schools to be taught in our languages by our teachers.”

“Our literacy in our ways is sky-high.”

It will take a multitude of voices but it can be done if there come together this multitude of voices. To settle for less will not bridge any divides as all the disaggregated data proves. Let many regions of this continent flourish once again with respect for their demography, for their cultures, in the beauty and richness of their languages. To belong to your language is as rich as belonging to your land. There being many identities in this vast continent will not separate or alienate, instead they will bring us together, coalescing us as humanity, and in a humanity born of respect and difference.