As Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott heads to the Northern Territory to live in an aboriginal community for a week, honouring an election promise to gain “a better understanding of the needs of people living and working in those areas” by spending one week every year living amongst them, our guest correspondent from Australia, Suzuki Samurai, offers his own thoughts on the aboriginal culture, and its problems.
Complete with strong views, and even stronger language …
And Now for Something Completely Different
I've been putting off writing my thoughts on this subject for some time now. Not due to lack of wanting to mind you, but because I haven't been able to get my head around what is that I've been seeing, or sometimes even believe what I'm seeing, around me – or what a solution might be. (And because even on a politically incorrect blog I’m not sure what the reaction will be.)
Living in Australia out the back of Bourke, it is impossible to avoid concluding that the state of the Australian Aboriginal is not a happy one. Whatever else may be said, the Aboriginal culture is truly sad, frustrating, and, to put it bluntly, the most disappointing that I've had the misfortune to lay eyes on.
The first time I'd ever really given half a thought to the issue was at a wee gathering in Sydney a few years back. Over a bottle or three of Ardbeg on the balcony that night (a long night), discussing topics such as the merits or otherwise of your average Australian and the benefits of positive drinking, were four people: the editor of this blog, PC, a Rev Michael Gordge, an Australian whom PC kept referring to in a quasi-friendly manner as “Cunt'' (well, he was a building inspector), and me.
The Reverend Gordge, who lives in Darwin, was telling us about his perspective on the state of the Aboriginal...long story short, and to 'gild the lily' a lot, he mentioned that there are “a few problems” within the Aboriginal community that no-one however well-educated was able to fix. After much heated discussion the conversation eventually faded into a dribbling competition, so I can't recall if we came up with any ideas that night of what should or shouldn't be done -- but I do remember PC singing a made-up Dylanesque song while strumming an imaginary guitar...at which point, I fell off my chair and decided it was bed time.
Anyway, here I am now in a remote Northern Territory town where there is a large Aboriginal population in an adjoining settlement, and the conversation frequently comes back to mind. In my current employ I have daily contact with many of these folk and, barring a few delightful exceptions, they are disproportionally illiterate in English, innumerate, obese (or, oddly, underfed), unwashed, and very often drunk - or a combination of all these fine attributes. There are so many problems, and so little that seems can be done.
Now as I’ve already suggested, I have no problems rolling around drunk myself. But one sees too many drunker aboriginals rolling around on the ground in public parks and sometimes slumped on the branch of a tree, yelling at themselves or someone else, or just the phantoms flitting through their heads. That’s the noisy ones. The quieter ones can be found sleeping in a shade offered by the thousands of flies covering their bodies. The kids have the cutest faces, but with snotty noses of the infectious kind, sores, and often with bandages on their broken or cut appendages one can't help but wonder how they'll survive.
It’s a sad story, and much, much too common. I don't think I'm embellishing; the visual preponderance of these maladies beggars belief. Of course there are multiple past and present reports that confirm what I see. I won’t bore you with the statistics. Besides being boring, statistics tend to make abstractions of real people.
But one stat in a recent finding stood out: in a town/area of a fairly static 1600 people, the vast majority of whom are Aborigine, has over the last 10 years reported over 3000 cases of STDs. Included in that number are girls under 10 years old, and many more under 14. Look at that number again: three thousand over ten years in a community of sixteen hundred. And these are only the cases reported. So this is a culture with real problems.
Let’s just say, and to put it into perspective for NZ readers, that all of the negative stats attributed to NZ Maori would be something for the Australian Aboriginal to aspire to.
So what bought bout this shambles? Let me start with what I think the well-intentioned, and/or government folk think. While in Alice Springs writing his book Down Under, author Bill Bryson watched as Aborigines & white people walked about town on a busy Saturday morning, and made this astute observation:
The white people never looked at the Aborigines, and the Aborigines never looked at the white people. The two races seemed to inhabit separate but parallel universes.
He's right, it is like that. Bryson then goes on to make reference to some things done by past governments – some, like the “stolen generations” now considered to be bad things. He then points out that they are doing a lot more, a lot better stuff now, with programs that target Aboriginal 'issues' much better. But he sounds like he’s trying to persuade himself, because he eventually admits that all these measures are failing too, and that the poor stats remain either the same or worse. All true. But curiously, he still ends with this feckless statement:
If I were contracted by the Commonwealth of Australia to advise on Aboriginal issues all I could write would be: 'Do More. Try Harder. Start now.'
Do more of what’s already failing? Start now? Makes no sense, does it.
This is the all-too-often default position for good people isn't it? Whatever has been done, has either done nothing or made things worse. But the situation is so shit, that any caring person would want something to be done. So if something ain't working – do it harder. If the money isn't fixing it – spend more. If government inference isn't changing anything – they should interfere even more in perhaps another way, or the same way, or both ... fuck, who knows? Something must be done – this looks like something – so just for fuck’s sake do it!!
This is worse than simply a problem of a growing underclass; a problem seems to grow no matter what is done, even with the very best intentions. Every programme started ends in total failure. Yet without any programmes at all, the failure simply continues. And every day, the media releases reports, publishes pontificating, and hosts the usual grizzling about the continual Aboriginal enfeeblement being caused by … well, by Captain Cook & Arthur Phillip and their colleagues it seems, though both seemed fairly enlightened souls even by the standards of the day.
Anyway, I say those two as opposed to today's non-Aboriginal population because, contrary to popular belief, the Aussies I've seen or have gotten to know seem on the whole to be extraordinarily fair minded (I know, but I swear it's true). If I have heard any complaints from these tax-payers about the largesse poured into the bottomless Aboriginal midden, then it's pretty damned tame. So things on that score at least seem to have changed.
Of course, what you won’t hear from anyone, or only rarely, is any criticism of the Aboriginal culture itself, nor will you hear anyone talk about, let alone recognise, the destructive results of welfare and the government programmes that have tried to solve things. Too scared to step outside the never-ending eulogy to the “noble savage” while watching them suffer and die. One exception is the late Neville Kennard from the Centre of Independent Studies, who argued government failures can be called "genocide by welfare" :
As with all things government does, the unintended consequences of its well-intentioned idealism and largesse has gone horribly wrong. Schooling, nutrition, health, work, integration. It is time for a major and radical re-think to save the tragedy continuing for generations to come.
Yet the tragedy is not inevitable, since
Aborigines who escape the Aboriginal Welfare Industry fare well in the white-fella’s society. This would seem to indicate that despite certain “communitarian” customs in their tribal and traditional culture, they can adapt very easily to western ways.
The political-correctness of “aboriginality”, of language, of customs and black-fella culture ensures the Original Australians remain an underclass in the land they occupied for thousands of years.
Whatever the failures of government, and they are many even if well-meant, one would think that the question of the Aboriginal culture itself should be recognised as being at least partially responsible for the problem. Yet, if media reports were all one had to go on, you would think that irresponsibility, indolence, violence, jealousy, theft, rape, incest, paedophilia, intemperance, and lack of concern for the future all started with the arrival of a Yorkshireman and his ship in the 1770's.
In fact, the aboriginal culture is often referred to with such deference and obsequiousness one would be forgiven for thinking they'd reached such a state of Nirvana we should all be emulating them! Yet this is a culture whose language, as Bill Bryson mentioned, that never contained a word for 'yesterday' or 'tomorrow.'
Telling, isn't it.
The narrative of the Aboriginals’ 45,000-year history is given some majesty in popular opinion pieces. Why, I don't know, unless stagnation is your thing. Wandering about for 45,000 years while advancing as a culture not one iota: no writing, no buildings, no structures, no technological advancements of any note. In short: Nothing, aside from some rock painting, superstition, and subsistence. This is nothing about which today’s Aboriginals need to feel either pride or humility, since today’s individuals have no responsibility for what others did in the past, only what they themselves do today and in the future. But this 45,000-year story of stagnation does not seem to me what constitutes the natural state of man, or any sort of grounds for future success should one attempt to find lessons in it for today.
Sure, if I were in need of dinner if stuck in the god-awful Australian desert, then I'd sure-as-hell like a traditional Aboriginal bloke to find me a nice bug or two, or toss a bent stick and catch me a kangaroo to ride out on. But, after 45,000 years of coming up with fuck-all else, that should be the least he should know. (And by the way, does anyone know why Rolf Harris wanted his kangaroo tied down?)
And none of this stuff has disappeared. All the aspects needed to live in the traditional ways are all still right there. If one wants to live off the land, there it is.1 If one wants to jump up and down and bang sticks together, the sticks haven’t gone away. Roll around in linesman paint, roll away. Blow into a hollow stick? – sure. If you want to wander about looking for bugs, berries, kangaroos...or whatever else blows your leather loin cloth up, it's all right there, land-o-plenty.
However the only people I've seen digging up inshore shellfish are the ever-industrious Thai women who live in Aussie. But Aboriginals? Hardly. And who could blame them. Not surprisingly white fella’s groceries seem to be the preference of the very earliest of Australia's settlers. Right there on the shelf is every imaginable product. No sweat required. Geez, according to the statistics, for the majority of Aboriginals , you don't even need to work to get it. You just show up with the coloured paper the white fella's machine gives you every second Thursday, and take it to the white fella's shop and he'll give you whatever you want. As ridiculously oversimplified as it sounds, this is exactly and tragically how it is.
Even if an Aborigine from one of these remote areas suddenly wanted to get a productive job: 1. There is usually no industry, nor anything else for that matter; and 2. If there is industry, he is most likely illiterate, innumerate, hopelessly unreliable, and completely unskilled. (Note to statisticians: being one of 8 people lying under a tree while a ninth rides a lawn mower along a stretch of tussock no man has ever been down, and probably never will again, and getting a wage packet from one of the multitude of quangos for doing so is not productive or skill enhancing work)
And herein I believe lies the problem.
One of the many great benefits of living in a division-of-labour society is the multiplication of knowledge achieved by living and exchanging with others. Yet the government has been led to believe, through guilt and pressure from sociologists, that Aborigines are better off living in remote communities, far away from society -- alone with their culture as it were. Another way to put that is this: they are creating an incentive by paying welfare and lip-service to people to live far away from jobs, education, health, and most importantly – OTHER IDEAS. At the same time, the government introduces other initiatives like relocation allowances for better job opportunities, skills training programs for people unable to write their own name, and welfare management programs with cradle to grave assistance that comes wrapped up with messages to stand on their own two feet. No wonder they looked dazed and confused at the white fella’s idiocy.
So what's the solution? Well first of all, it's about time all those powers-that-be, and the population in general, stopped speaking in hushed, politically correct terms. Then recognise that welfare must come to an end – stop the genocide.
For Aboriginals themselves. Grow up. Grow up somehow. Recognise that while a lot of the 'stolen generation' policy was confused and wrong headed, at least acknowledge the fact that many children's lives were often saved or at least improved by removing them from sub-human conditions. Grow up, move on, and start thinking about tomorrow.
Or, in Thomas Sowell's more eloquent words:
Cultures are not museum-pieces. They are the working machinery of everyday life. Unlike objects of aesthetic contemplation, working machinery is judged by how well it works, compared to the alternatives. The judgement that matters is not the judgement of observers and theorists, but the judgement implicit in millions of individual decisions to retain or abandon particular cultural practices, decisions made by those who personally benefit or who personally pay the price of inefficiency and obsolescence. That price is not always paid in money but may range from inconveniences to death.
Aborigines have been paying the price for the inefficiency and obsolescence of a culture that should by now either be a museum piece or a tourist attraction, but not the working machinery of their everyday lives.
They are self-evidently not ideas worthy of modern man.
Suzuki Samurai is NOT PC’s roving Asian/Australian correspondent.
1. It’s true, as Neville Kennard says, that “Property Rights, the sine qua non of prosperity, is denied to aborigines in their tribal lands; they have “Land Rights” (whatever that means) but have no Property Rights.” But nor did they before Captain Cook arrived. Then, as now, “ they own some land collectively (the Tragedy of the Commons) but individually they can’t own the land or the houses or buildings they may put on the land individually. They can’t sell or lease or buy or make contracts on the property as is normal and taken for granted in white-fella society. This is tragic for the personal responsibility of the aboriginal people who live on the land put aside communally for them.”