The facts the Amnesty fact finder didn’t find

Naronda William Loy, 21, with her daughter Karlishia Raggatt, 1, speak with Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil Shetty, at Mosquito Bore, Utopia, 8 October 2011. Photo courtesy Amnesty International.

 

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks told Q&A’s national audience on Monday: “We live in absolute poverty.”

 

Do they? At the very least the residents of Utopia have income support in the form of Centrelink benefits.

 

Does “we” include her and her family? They have a three bedroom house with airconditioning, according to someone familiar with Utopia, 250 km north-east of Alice Springs. That person spoke with us after watching Q&A and on the condition of not being named.

 

Others might be sleeping rough, but sometimes it’s a choice: it’s great for accessing the shop, a factor of transport rather than accommodation.

 

Sometimes camping rough is a necessity due to sorry business.

 

No number of permanent houses will alleviate cultural expectations.

 

Some people have access to housing on nearby outstations.

 

A local artist living on a truck was one of the exhibits when Salil Shetty, Secretary-General of Amnesty International, called in on his one-day fact-finding mission. But the artist’s house on his nearby homeland was a fact not found by Mr Shetty because he wasn’t made aware if it, our source suggests.

 

If he had, perhaps his finding would not have been that “around 500 homeland communities are being left to wither as the Government starves them of essential services”.

 

Many people in the makeshift camps also have access to houses, says our source. Overcrowding is an issue, but it’s a moving target. Finances, family disputes, community events, and cultural obligations (such as sorry business) all make it impossible to provide a clear picture of true demographics and housing needs.

 

Other assets not on Mr Shetty’s itinerary were the recently upgraded power station, successful local clinic and the new multi-million dollar middle school.

 

“I’m sure he travelled on the newly sealed highway improving access between community administration, health clinic and the airstrip,” says our source.

 

Chief Minister Paul Henderson sang the school’s praises during Q&A – it’s fantastic, a middle and senior school, as good as anywhere, but  kids need to go to school: “That’s is the challenge.” He made that point twice.

 

Getting kids to school – clearly – is the job of the parents, or in the Aboriginal context, the extended family. It’s not a job for the Government.

 

The government’s dollar figure is impressive, the school’s enrolment and attendance figures are not. These are freely available on the departmental website.

 

Blame cannot be laid at the feet of the teachers. For most remote teachers the day starts early. At Utopia teachers clock on before school as school bus drivers, collecting kids from many of the outstations of the sprawling community. Together the teachers cover hundreds of kilometers each day.

 

How many dozens of able-bodied people are around, most of them on the dole, who could be doing that job? How many parents help, our source asks.

 

Surely locals were offered the drivers’ jobs, but they probably found the dole more appealing, or very soon couldn’t or didn’t want to display the reliability and punctuality required.

 

Again, the transport factor is a major issue in this decentralised community. How much should the government and taxpayer subsidise vehicles, road improvement and transport costs associated with a community’s decision to decentralise into homelands? It’s a big question, says our source. There always seems to be fuel to get to a footy game or to an interstate rodeo, though!

 

On their bus run the teachers call at the parents’ door but they don’t go inside. If a kid isn’t ready they don’t get picked up. Sadly many don’t make it to school and what’s more, some are not even enrolled. “No jobs, why do they need mainstream education?” is a common attitude, our contact says.

 

Mrs Kunoth-Monks mentioned the support of The Jack Thompson Foundation. What they are doing is well documented on their web site.

 

One has to assume the program is as successful as reported. If we drove by today, how many local people would be working on these activities? Would it be just white staff or volunteers on the job?

 

Batchelor Institute and Charles Darwin University are just two RTOs providing courses to locals. Clinic staff coordinate a free locum style service.

Extensive staff travel facilitates great access to health services for the Utopia population. People living in “absolute poverty” in many parts of the world rarely experience that same level of service.

 

Is the reported health success of these homelands not due in part to the amazing dedication of health staff, our source asks.

 

No mention of lots of this on Q&A.

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11 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Posted October 24, 2011 at 9:20 am

    POVERTY? In Papua New Guinea 40 per cent of the people live in Poverty, that is, on less than 90 cents a day.
    In Australia on the dole, $40 a day, is poverty!
    Even with free food everywhere and assistance with most bills. What is the difference?
    “Poverty” seems to be an abstract term used mainly by researchers and academics. Many are in the Aboriginal Victim Industry (AVI).
    I lived on the dole for a few years.
    Paid rent, electricity, phone and gas bills.
    Fed myself, bought my own smokes and occasional beer. And while running a referral service (DARS) assisting with accommodation I wrote court reports. I never felt that I was living in “Poverty”. I have known many black-fellas over many years around this country living on the dole or on a Disability Support Pension. Even parents with a pension and endowment in public housing. I can’t recall any of them ever mention “Poverty”. Most quite happy and uncomplaining in their existence. Wherever it was. A lot got pissed off when they blew (misspent) their money. But there was always St Vinnies or the Salvos.
    Most knew the Lurks and Perks. Learned from their parents.

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  2. Beau Ives
    Posted October 23, 2011 at 9:23 am

    @Hal Duell
    Sounds a bit like two Yanks having a bash up. So I figured right, you did take me back to the good old US of A with your comments. Good on ya for staying in OZ. I was looking to do the same.
    You have more time in then I, but look mate, easy on the insults, no need to go there, it reeks of America. It’s the pathological personalities that will never learn Hal … war makes them feel good.
    I remember well those years. I went to Nam on a merchant ship, from the DNZ down to Saigon. That was in ’67 … then onto Woodstock in me Combi. Then the Southwest, and life began.
    What I found great about the Aussies was their ability to hear the other, even in a place of being criticized. Here in America, as you probably remember, if a person tells us to take a look at a flaw in our personality, you’re likely to get shot. So it takes time to go easy on others, and I did try to miss that last flight out.
    Yes I know the Kyogle area well, stayed just up the road a piece.
    I lived on the North side of Alice on Kekwick Street, then over on the old Eastside for a spell, then over by the Gap. On the North side I used to count the number of gears on the road trains as they headed out of town. Counted to nine one night (3am). And yeah, the music and the screaming … I liked that too. Far into the night and the neighbors didn’t call the fuzz. Right neighborly of them.
    Cheers and have a great life there. I have a part of envy about the free life there.
    Always loved going out to Emily Gap for a night out and a fire. With me swag, me esky, me Ute, and me stubbies. cheers from New Mexico.

    [ED – Many thanks for your thoughts, Beau and Hal, but now it’s time for a change of subject, please.]

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  3. Hal Duell
    Posted October 23, 2011 at 5:49 am

    @Hey Beau
    I was born and raised in the US and left it for good the day after Nixon was elected for his second term. That was in 1972. Remember uni in the Viet Nam years? The protests and the pot? And then along came Iraq – you guys don’t learn, do you?
    I’ve lived in Alice for over thirty years now, spent years bush and have visited and worked on remote communities many times down the years. Can’t say I ever felt like I was in jail out there, but then I wasn’t trying to.
    I’ve also lived on the north coast of NSW. In fact at one time I owned a property in Kyogle Shire. Did your road trip take you over there as well. Lovely place, like the rest of this fine free country.
    Now I live in The Gap in Alice where the streets come alive at night – sometimes with music and sometimes with screaming.
    So I repeat: Hope you enjoyed your road trip and glad Qantas wasn’t on strike the day you were booked to return home.

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  4. Beau Ives
    Posted October 22, 2011 at 10:33 am

    @Hal Duell. G’day mate. You lost me there for a bit, thought I was back in the US of A for a bit there mate, with the knee-jerk reaction rather than intelligent exchange.
    Try living in an all metal shack in the Red Center, which cost the great Commonwealth $250,000, with crap water and worthless food, when your entire being cannot be confined, surrounded by enemies of historical tradition, and see them tie up your wife in barb-wire and rape her, then be told you’re a no good lay-about when you have to move your swag outside into the fresh air to feel alive.
    Ever lived surrounded by barbed wired and steel gates to protect you? I’ve been on the communities mate and felt like I was in a prison.
    Australia is referred to as a genocidal society even today by the international human rights commission. America should be too – at least your country said sorry – this country is still handing out infectious blankets (metaphor).
    It took me 15 months to feel at home in your country. I traveled from Sydney to Cape Trib., over to Broome, down to Esperance, over the Nullabor, then back up to Alice via Adelaide, for a year. I spent months on a friend’s ranch in Kattabul amidst the sugar cane farmers, and months around Byron with the new-agers. I marched against the start of the Iraq war in Byron with thousands of others, and I hung with the locals in Balgo and Yuendumu. I lived outside of Uki, with the leeches and ticks, smoked pot in Nimbin, got pissed at Beaujangles for the National footy final (when Collingwood got their butts kicked – 2003?). My roommate in Alice taught at Batchelor and she and her husband travel to remote communities to teach art. So give it a break about my not knowing anything about your country. I was even called a fair dinkum (important I figure). You ever been to the great US of A? Come by and see real fascism at work, which you’re inheriting.
    @Paul Parker. The name of the modality I was offering is called EMDR – used on war-vets and to those exposed to societal trauma (as in family and government induced) to remove that trauma. That I wasn’t received was only a learning of many I had in my long long walk-about in OZ. And, I did (how did you know?) study crystal therapy with the chief research physicist for IBM of 27 years. I love your country. Some of the buggers living there are a bit over the top – like the mounted cops in Alice pushing the little old black ladies around with the front of their horses. Looks the same as it did in the early days photos. Same faces on the cops – interesting – I watched the old black man noticing the cop pushing the lady and what did he do? He yawned.
    AS we all might have noticed, there’s a global revolution going on. These little exchanges we’re having is the trying to clean the air of the BS so we may eventually come together. Might take a coronal mass ejection for that to happen. [Mr Ives explains a coronal mass ejection is when a sun spot erupts, sending a large fast moving cloud of charged particles towards the earth.]
    Cheers Mates.
    [ED – we have offered the police the right of reply to the writer’s allegation.]

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  5. Hal Duell
    Posted October 21, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Don’t you just love Beau Ives? After living in Australia for not quite four years, living in Alice Springs for one year and having visited a community or two, suddenly he knows all about us.
    I hope you enjoyed your road trip, Beau.
    Glad Qantas wasn’t on strike when it came time to catch your plane home.
    Spare me.

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  6. Paul Parker
    Posted October 21, 2011 at 10:04 am

    @3 (Beau Ives)
    Beau Ives’ disappointment that others seem not to share his beliefs in “healing crystals” or alternate medicines, incorrectly links their disbelief to his access difficulties to communities.
    Whether his visit was to friends, or to conduct his alternate medicine work in these communities, is of little consequence.
    Entry difficulty is due Commonwealth of Australia’s applied apartheid, segregationist policies, enforced upon these communities within land owned by Commonwealth of Australia established restricted corporate entities called ALR(NT) Land Trusts.
    “Traditional Owners” are shareholders in these corporate ALR(NT) Land Trusts.
    The Central Land Council acts as manager cum agent for the corporate title-holding ALR(NT) Land Trusts, and to enforce the Commonwealth of Australia’s apartheid policy.
    Commonwealth policy qualifies all residents rights, even “Traditional Owners” or shareholders, on whoever may visit them, stay with them. Residents are still denied basic leases for their homes, to maintain such basic human rights abuses.
    Commonwealth of Australian policy obstructs free flow of people, ideas, particularly alternate viewpoints.
    Failings in communities is the direct result this Commonwealth of Australia policy.
    Salil Shetty forgets the meaning of racism, or to justify his bigotry adopts the Orwellian 1984 interpretation of equality that “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”.
    Residents, families, friends, others, who retain belief in principles of equality and opportunity for all, still await our own “middle eastern spring”.
    Eventually this spring shall come. Until then our closed apartheid communities continue evolving into ghettos.
    For open minds, we need open communities.

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  7. Confused Observer
    Posted October 21, 2011 at 8:25 am

    There are more questions than answers in all of these comments. It is always easier to focus on the gaps – but what about the movement forward that is occurring?
    No one mentioned the work that is being done by responsible members of the communities to build innovative sustainable housing, maintain Centrelink contact, get their reluctant offspring to school through quiet determination and maintain an independent lifestyle that maintains survival in remote Australian deserts.
    These series of comments belie the need for respect for difference and underlying judgementalism and does not improve the communities’ work. Are we ready to recognise the depth and complexity of needs that schools, health, government agencies and remote university campuses are attempting to meet? Or would the corresponding funding needed scare us too much?

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  8. Norman Atkinson
    Posted October 21, 2011 at 7:40 am

    Erwin’s article is a clear, factual documentation of the current situation here in the Alice Springs region. It should be noted that millions of tax free dollars in mining royalties are also received by the Aboriginal communities. All Aboriginals are eligible for the dole, and are not required to meet the standard applied to the wider community. Yes, Beau Ives comments also has some merit, as many individuals and businesses solely exist to service this “Aboriginal Industry”. While the Government has to rely on the Aboriginal vote to retain power and the “poor fella me fella” mentality can be stamped out so Aboriginals take responsibility for their own actions, this situation will continue.

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  9. Beau Ives
    Posted October 21, 2011 at 4:34 am

    From America.
    Having lived in Australia nearly four years, driven the entirety of the country, and made home in Alice for one year, and, having visited many communities, I can say that the Indian reservations here in this country are paradises compared to the hell-holes which are called communities in OZ.
    There is no equality, for the black fella is a commodity called the Aboriginal Industry. Genocide is alive and well here, and in the “lucky” country.
    In America, this genocide is sponsored by the white men and uncle Tom Indians making the cash.
    In The Alice I went to many different organizations to offer my services on healing trauma on the communities. The black fellas in the room got it and eagerly wanted it, the white fellas in charge had to move me out fast, for their jobs of continuance and fear of solutions made my suggestions untenable to their pay-checks.
    I met many Aussie blokes going slow to make more big bucks on the communities.
    It’s all a freaking scam here and where you are.
    Erwin’s racist comments are beyond the pale and only go to more fully separate, never fully addressing the causal, lack of communication: language barriers and customs ignorance, from the top down.
    Cheers.

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  10. Anonymous
    Posted October 20, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    Send delegations of Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, Barbara Shaw and others (maybe the repeat youth offenders we see on the court listings every day) to live in communities in rural India, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Congo etc for a month. Some people are oblivious of, or take for granted, how many opportunities and freedoms we have in Australia.
    Look the residents of those other countries in the eye and explain that there is first world class infrastructure (school/s, health clinic, police, swimming pool etc) servicing communities with populations of 1000 people … and unfortunately the majority of residents don’t make use of opportunities given.

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  11. non believer
    Posted October 20, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Poverty? Poverty! If Aboriginal people in Alice Springs want to know poverty, they could look up African communities or South East Asia people on their child’s free brand new computer before family smash it, they could discover “poverty” is directed more towards those who don’t get free Centrelink benefits, don’t get royalties, don’t get free education and school lunches, free healthcare, a free bus to catch a ride on to the clinic, free medication, don’t get free food vouchers when they spend all their free government payments on grog and junk food/cars. Grog costs money, get real Kunoth-Monks. Take responsibility for the misspent wealth of your people.

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