April 16, 1997
Nurses to seek 15 per cent pay rise
Staff turnover soaring - but govt. says it has the problem in hand
Territory nurses will be asking the NT government for a 15 per cent pay rise over two years.
Acting Secretary of the Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) in Darwin, John Haynes, says the claim will be lodged on May 9.
It comes against a background of rising staff turnover which at the Alice Springs hospital has reached 140 per cent a year, and continues to increase.
During 1993-94 there were 151 resignations at the local hospital; by 1995-96 that figure had risen to 204.
Mr Haynes says: "I've told politicians and Territory Health Services (THS) that if we don't get a reasonable wages outcome, it's going to be nearly impossible to get nurses up here, let alone specialty nurses.
"There are phenomenal pressures on government here to provide health services, there's no way Territorians can fund this alone. "The Federal government has to step in and help," says Mr Haynes.
He says he will be telling the Public Service Commissioner during enterprise bargaining: "Nursing wages in the NT have to stay competitive. "Both NSW and the ACT have had significant wage increases. "For example, a Level One nurse with four years experience currently receives $32,887 a year in the NT, compared with $35,014, rising to $36,536 over the next two years in the ACT."
MLA for MacDonnell Neil Bell has expressed his concern and called for support for nurses.
He says: "Territory nurses have been neglected by the CLP government for too long. "The turnover of nurses is staggering, and the CLP government has refused to investigate why this turnover is so high. "Our nurses deserve to be recognised for the professional standards they maintain."
Minister for Health Denis Burke says: "The Member for MacDonnell is incorrect to say we have refused to investigate why nursing staff turnover is so high. "I have told both the Member and the Legislative Assembly that the figures he quotes take into account all 'separations' which include short term relief appointments even when they may be of only a few weeks duration."
A shortage of nurses is now becoming evident throughout Australia, in both specialty and general areas.
According to Mr Haynes, "over the last three years there's been more than a seven per cent reduction in overall registration of nurses, even though people are still being trained in nursing."
GETTING OLD The average age of nurses, Australia wide, has now risen to age 40.
Mr Haynes says this increase in nurses' average age "indicates that people are getting out of the profession very quickly after their training.
"If you look at the average age of a midwife in Australia it is 47. "This is going to get worse in the future, because with the introduction of full fee paying in the universities for post graduate studies, it's going to cost $5,000 to do midwifery.
"In NSW, the country's biggest trainer of nurses, a recent report showed the supply of midwives does not meet the current demand. "NSW takes up 90 per cent of its trained nurses, five per cent never take up a job in the profession, leaving only another five per cent to spread across all the other states,"
Mr Haynes says. Mr Burke says a number of strategies are planned to try and improve the situation in NT nursing. These include:-

Overseas recruitment of Territory nurses.

A task force to address recruitment and retention.

Awarding scholarships to young Territorians to train and stay in the NT.

Encouraging local mature age nurses to return to the work force after having their families.

Developing partnerships with a number of universities to provide educational opportunities and support for nurses in both hospitals and remote areas.
The THS says in a report: "The nursing work force in the NT is being maintained with difficulty.
"The shortfall of nurses in varying specialties throughout the rest of Australia is having considerable local impact. "We are already having great difficulty maintaining skill-level requirements in areas such as paediatrics, orthopaedics, and critical care nursing.
"We are currently unable to fully meet skill requirements in renal dialysis, midwifery, near-natal intensive care, and pre-operative nursing." Mr Haynes believes "governments are going to have to make it attractive for nurses to come here.
"But it's hard to know whether the difficulties in places like Alice Springs are even surmountable, with things like the cost of living in Alice. "One nurse who was leaving told me she was paying $300 a week for a reasonably good unit for herself and her husband.
"She said 'I could live in Sydney for that, and in Sydney the restaurants are better.'"
The ANF says it would like to see Alice Springs classified by the Public Service as "remote, so that nurses could then access rental reimbursement.
"It already applies in Tennant Creek, and I think it should be the same in Alice," says Mr Haynes.
The Director of Nursing at Alice Springs hospital has implemented some innovative ways to induce nurses to stay and rewarding staff who stay longer, but the hospital still needs to fly in contract nurses at great expense, often for very short periodds.

'Do it yourself' palliative care

A woman who helped set up the palliative care room at the Alice hospital says Health Department red tape frequently delays admissions.
Di Deans, with her friend, Di Logan, raised $15,000 about five years ago to equip the room so that dying people can be with their friends and family.
Mrs Deans says it is up to a panel to approve admissions, and if members of that group are not available, a decision is delayed.
"Some people only have two days to live," says Mrs Deans. "Families had a fight on their hands to get their dying relatives in there."
Meanwhile Cancer Council coordinator Karen Gerrard says admission to the palliative care room is not guaranteed if the patient needs full-time care.
There is frequently not enough staff to provide a 24-hour service.
Patients "who cannot be left alone" are often taken to the general wards.
Mrs Gerrard says the nurses' rooms are some distance from the palliative care room and this makes it difficult to have help at hand quickly.
Mrs Deans says when there is a shortage of staff the hospital should allow relatives, working on a round-the-clock roster, to keep an eye on patients who cannot be left alone.
Mrs Deans says she has recently raised these matters with Territory Health. Territory Health spokesman Greg Clough says: "The palliative care room is available for terminally ill patients 24 hours a day, seven days a week, depending on client need and clinical decisions made in conjunction with the patient and his or her family."
Mrs Gerrard later said: "I agree with [Mr Clough's] statement."
The fund raising by Mrs Deans and Mrs Logan provided a settee that can be converted into a bed, a microwave oven for use by relatives and friends of dying people, tea making facilities and a carpet.
"We put in floor to ceiling windows, to enhance the beautiful view of the MacDonnell Ranges," says Mrs Deans. "The room is not only for cancer sufferers, but for anyone with a terminal illness."
The NT Government's voluntary euthanasia legislation - a world first - was recently overturned by the Federal Government. Opponents to the NT Act argued that effective palliative care is preferable to assisting people to die.

Dying well is part of living well.

For most people that means, among other things, dying at home.
In Alice Springs that will now be an easier choice for terminally ill people and their carers to make, thanks to the Central Australian Palliative Care Association.
With funds raised in the community they have bought hospital-type beds that can be put into people's homes.
These are electronically controlled for height and position and are on wheels, so that they can be taken outside.
As well, they've bought light-weight wheelchairs, an inflatable bath - so that the ill person can have a bath in bed - a portable air-conditioner, a food processor and juicer.
To mark Palliative Care Week - April 21 to 24 - the association will also be placing resource books worth $700 in the town library.
"When a person first learns that they have a terminal illness they often want to deal with it by themselves," says association chairman, Mary Miles, also director of Old Timers. "We chose the town library to house the books to give people that freedom."
Mrs Miles and association treasurer Sandra Clyne say education of the community about palliative care is mandatory.
"In the community's mind it has become confused with euthanasia because the two issues came to the fore at the same time," says Mrs Miles. "When the Rights of the Terminally Ill Bill was introduced, there was a designated palliative care nurse in Darwin, but that was the extent of the service in the Territory." Both women acknowledge the palliative care work that has long been carried out by community nurses and general practitioners, as well as the family and friends of the dying.
Their commitment is to support this work and strive for improvements where they can be made.
For instance, local GPs can now consult the palliative care doctor, Dr Lyn Sampson, employed for eight hours a week by Territory Health, about the best way to treat intractable pain, often a syringe driver infusion.
Territory Health also employ a full-time palliative care nurse in Alice Springs and there is a palliative care room, made possible by community fund-raising, at the hospital.
Ms Clyne fills the position of Continence Advisor based at the Community Health Centre.
"Many people's biggest dread is the loss of control of their bowels and bladder that comes with terminal illness," she says. "They need to know that these symptoms can be controlled."
Families often feel overwhelmed by the care that a dying person requires but a good palliative care team can empower families to cope.
Mrs Miles says that in her long nursing career she has known only a very few people faced with terminal illness who have wanted to end their lives.
"Every person is so different and has their own needs. If you can help to meet them so that they can die a good death, it is a very great privilege, always sad but profoundly rewarding," she says.
A Palliative Care Week thanksgiving service will be held at the Church of the Ascension in Bath Street on April 21, 6pm.
Watch out too for displays in the main shopping complexes and the Association's "Story About Caring" flyer.

Killing off the brightest of a whole generation

"The brightest kids of a generation are going to be killed off," a nurse told BRYAN CLARK, author of this story.
She wasn't talking about some corrupt third-world country, but about Central Australia, where Aboriginal elders shrug off the deadly petrol sniffing as a "white fella problem".
Meanwhile, the "white fellas" are clearly paralysed in terms of taking meaningful action against a killer habit in which kids as young as eight are openly indulging, left to die by apparently uncaring governments and Aboriginal organisations.
Petrol sniffers have made their way into Alice Springs, adding a new dimension to our "antisocial behaviour" mayhem: Police recently observed a sizable group just a stone's throw from the town centre.
Clark, an author, journalist and former newspaper publisher, spent 11 months at Indulkana as community development officer, before resigning last month.
He now lives in Alice Springs. Clark also has extensive experience of Aboriginal affairs in WA and Arnhemland.

<>Among isolated Aboriginal communities on the Pitjantjatjara lands south of Alice Springs a two litre Coke bottle of super petrol sells for $50.
Or, if money is short, a cupful costs $10.
A growing legion of petrol-sniffers, teenagers in the main, are kept supplied with this addictive substance by anyone in the community after quick money. Sometimes parents themselves supply the money, or CDEP training allowances are used.
Petrol-driven vehicles fill their tanks at, say, Marla or Mintabie, drive back to the community and, to reap a quick profit, under cover of darkness the sellers siphon petrol into Coke bottles for juvenile addicts.
In one Aboriginal area the chairman of the local council is a petrol-sniffer; in another, a councillor and Education Department employee is an alleged supplier. A well-known Anangu (Aboriginal) elder and former ATSIC commissioner told me: "Anangu can't do nothing to fix it up.
It's a white fellas' problem, not ours."
Aboriginal councils across the Pitjantjatjara lands mostly ignore the problem of petrol sniffing.
They profess it is not really a problem at all; it is a youthful aberration and is publicly tolerated as acceptable behaviour.
When visitors point out to them the kids with glazed eyes holding cans to their faces, the elders shrug and give a "so what" expression.
One senses the problem is beyond their capacity to control, much less understand.
The majority seem immune to petrol's deadly potential.
The hierarchy of many SA, WA and NT Aboriginal communities tend to transmit the impression they have successfully dealt with the petrol sniffing problem among their young people.
This is largely bluff; the truth is that the addiction is increasing throughout the Aboriginal world, but is kept secret due to great shame.
Years ago, according to a surviving account, the old men decided to tackle the petrol-sniffing addiction of their young males during the course of their annual "men's business" ceremonies.
The senior men took a teenage sniffer out bush, threw away his can, stripped him naked, then set about to thrash the young fellow with sticks.
The youngster was flogged insensible, his entire body covered in bloody welts.
Typically, when traumatised, the sniffer fell into an epileptic-type fit, trembling and babbling half conscious on the ground and frothing at the mouth.
A Nganampa Health male nurse was summoned.
The sniffer was carried into the clinic and slowly nursed back to a reasonable state of recovery.
At this point the sniffer was returned to the ceremony ground where he was again subjected to violent floggings until unconscious and in need of hospitalisation in Alice Springs.
An unverified cause of petrol sniffing dates back to the American servicemen based in Arnhem Land during WW II.
Their camps, being on an Aboriginal Reserve, were declared alcohol-free.
Consequently, to get "high," US troops took to sniffing petrol, and the habit was copied by young Aborigines throughout Arnhem Land, Central Australia, the Pitjantjatjara communities, and as far afield as Warburton and Galiwinki (Elcho Island).
When kids sniff petrol, they commonly hallucinate, or "see pictures," they say. They feel "funny in the head," or slightly drunk, which helps to offset their feelings of depression, anger and isolation. The organic lead in super fuel penetrates the sniffer's body via the skin and lungs and lodges in body tissues. The lead eventually damages the liver, kidneys, brain and nerves.
Physical indications of the addiction are loss of weight, increased reflexes, slow heart rate and low blood pressure.
Chronic sniffers display such symptoms as slow responses, staring spells, disorientation, sleeplessness and irritability.
Occasionally a sniffer will lapse into a deep sleep that deteriorates into a coma and sometimes convulsions.
Sniffers can expire if they become physically excited or agitated; their heart beat becomes erratic and the youngster will collapse and die, a condition known as "sudden sniffing death."
Once lead has been absorbed into the brain it cannot be nullified or eradicated by medical intervention.
The only treatment is hospitalisation and sedation.
Some Aboriginal communities try to sublimate the petrol sniffing habit of their young folk by conducting sports activities, such as basketball.
But having seen sniffers running around the court with a tin of petrol clenched firmly between their teeth, one wonders if it is a deterrent at all.
A 1984 survey among the Pitjantjatjara, Yankuntjatjara and Ngaanatjatjara revealed the number of petrol addicts then identified: Ernabella - 30-50; Fregon - 25; Amata - 55; Mimili - 17; Indulkana - 25.
Today the sniffer populations would certainly have increased, but there are no reliable research statistics to consult.
Across the Pitjantjatjara lands one commonly hears that petrol sniffing has largely been eradicated.
"You never see a sniffer at Mimili," one hears, "or Amata ... Pukutja" - the inference being that the problem has been tackled and removed.
Not so in reality.
Petrol sniffers are highly mobile.
Where they are not tolerated, they quickly move on.
Mimili claims to have rid their community of the addiction, but on my first visit there late last year I observed a youthful sniffer trying to hide himself behind a shed as I drove by.
Most of the youthful addicts congregate these days at places like Ernabella, Fregon and Indulkana, where the Aboriginal councils tend to classify the addiction as "normal" for adolescents.
In Indulkana, within the last six months, there have been about 90 young people aged between 10-20 years.
At least 40 are identified petrol-sniffers, males and females.
Sometimes children as young as eight years can be seen sniffing.
Others are as old as 25 years.
One pretty 19-year-old lass has been given four more months to live.
At a recent petrol sniffing seminar in Alice Springs a researcher revealed that the addiction was more widespread that many Aboriginal leaders preferred to admit.
The problem is aggravated when some youngsters combine sniffing with marijuana, resulting in extremely violent outbursts and maimings.
Petrol sniffers are generally the most intelligent of the juvenile population.
Boredom, and possibly the lack of vocational opportunities, are seen by some observers as the triggering cause of the addiction.
In small, isolated Aboriginal communities, such as those on the Pitjantjatjara lands, sniffers have developed a sub-culture that separates them from mainstream society.
They gather in the ruins of houses they themselves trashed.
Most suffer from malnutrition and have lost their body fats.
They are always carrying a blanket as a barrier against the cold.
The ever-present blankets, almost a sniffer's uniform, is draped around the shoulders, or over the head, giving them a monkish appearance.
Tin cans containing, usually, a cupful of super petrol (unleaded does not have the desired effect, they say), very rarely leave the face of the addict.
The lethal fumes are constantly inhaled deeply into the lungs.
A clinic nurse told me: "They don't seem to realise that inhaling petrol kills brain cells. "If they don't stop doing it, the brightest kids of a generation are going to be killed off."
Other more cynical by-standers suggest that health authorities do very little about curbing the problem as it is a clandestine method of benevolent genocide.
A white CDEP supervisor expressed this opinion: "In the old days we used to kill them off with bullets and poisoned flour.
Now they do it with petrol and grog. It has the same effect, eh?"
A health worker reflected: "Ten years from now, it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if AIDS is running riot among these people."
Unscrupulous adults often utilise the sniffers to suit their own ends.
For instance, unwanted white staff get their houses stoned throughout the night, causing anxiety and sleeplessness.
For services rendered, the exploiter pays the sniffers with gifts of free or cheap petrol.
In corrupt communities, sniffer's votes are also secured at council elections via the offer of the same incentives.
When unavoidable visitors arrive at Aboriginal settlements, such as politicians, the elders invariably remember to hide the sniffers somewhere out of sight, threatening them often with violence if the youngsters fail to obey.
Possibly due to shame, the Aboriginal councils tend to discourage casual visitors.
A $10 permit is required and tourist coaches are no longer welcome.
Before the ban was imposed, drivers warned tourists: "Please don't take any photographs.
Cameras are banned." Secretly, a TV cameraman shot footage of the blanketed sniffers while posing as a tourist, it seems.
His images of tragedy were featured on national television, creating horrified publicity that still rankles with the embarrassed elders.
When white staff are appointed to work in such communities, the newcomers are quietly advised: "Don't let yourself become too close to the sniffers. You'll only get upset when they die."

I saw an elderly councillor and night warden snatch a can of petrol from a teenage Aboriginal lass whose father is employed by Nganampa Health on a Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal settlement.
As always, when traumatised, the girl sniffer exploded into a fit of temper as she watched her precious supply thrown to the ground.
Collapsing, the girl lay trembling and frothing at the mouth, grunting and groaning.
Quite familiar with such scenes, an Aboriginal police aide and other adults patiently sat down nearby, seemingly unmoved by the girl's cavorting.
She was left on the main road, thrashing and semi-conscious, while the rubbish collection truck and other vehicles drove around her prone body.
At last an elderly woman strolled over to the sniffer, prodded her with a stick, then, taking hold of her wrist, the woman hauled the girl, like a dead thing, off the main thoroughfare and dumped her near the clinic fence, walking away without a backward glance.
When the sniffer's trembling had subsided, a Nganampa Health nurse and his co-workers bundled the sniffer on to a stretcher and attempted to carry her into the clinic.
The girl awakened, fighting violently and screaming obscenities at those around her.
She regained her feet, ran somewhere out of sight and soon returned carrying a star picket, wielding it like a club.
At random, she furiously smashed vehicles' windscreens and headlights, causing more than $2,000 worth of damage within 10 minutes.
At this particular community, where the residents are quite used to sniffer's rampages, none of the houses are fitted with glass windows; all are a transparent plastic - not dangerous when shattered and less costly to replace.
Every now and then when the sniffer's petrol supply runs low, or are exhausted, they target those staff vehicles carrying super petrol that are always kept housed in sheds or garages, the doors secured with sturdy chains and padlocks.
By one means or another the nocturnal raiders force entry, either by removing sheets of galvanised iron from the walls or roof or levering open barred windows or doors.
Characteristically, the sniffers rarely damage petrol-carrying cars; more often than not, they effortlessly get into the petrol tank via the cap or by severing a fuel line.
There is usually not any spiteful vandalism done to such cars.
White staff with super petrol cars are frankly advised not to lock petrol caps, but to leave them invitingly open.
On those occasions when Aboriginal elders have tried to interfere with the sniffer's life style, communities have suffered their houses being pelted with rocks throughout the night, vehicles being wantonly vandalised, tyres deliberately punctured, windows smashed, noisy squabbles in the streets to prevent sleeping, and even personal violence with stones, spears and fighting sticks.
Casual visitors to such communities invariably ask why all windows are heavily barred like gaols and why doors are reinforced with metal sheeting and angle iron.
A reign of terror by sniffers can result in resignations by European staff, many leaving their battered houses at first light.
If no petrol can be stolen, the sniffers gather at night and completely trash any unoccupied house they find. Their frustration can drive them into hateful furies of destruction.
By morning, the house will be completely destroyed, with only the internal frame intact.
In recent times, at Indulkana, two fully equipped houses and a church have been smashed to smithereens by rampaging sniffers.
A councillor commented: "It don't matter.
Them Aboriginal Housing mob fix 'em up, or give new ones, might be." Among themselves, when frustrations erupt, young female sniffers are frequently assaulted and severely beaten when male sniffers forcibly steal their cans of petrol.
Sometimes, too, the girls prostitute themselves for petrol or cash.
A white unmarried staff member said: "Every week one of the sniffer girls knocks me up late at night.
They make it quite plain I can have my way if I'll get them some petrol."

Marathon Walkers: Why do they do it???

What motivates Japanese undertaking solitary walks over huge distances?
"As Buddhists, when we get over something difficult, our spirits will get stronger," says 26-year-old school teacher Kenjiro Nakamura, from Hiroshima, planning to walk the Simpson Desert. "And if I have a stronger spirit I can have a better life, more opportunities, now or in the future."
Meanwhile, 61-year-old Brian (he says he has no surname "because my father didn't give me one"), who's gearing up for his seventh odyssey on foot, says: "Walking is what I do. I like it. I do it mainly for me, but I also want to put something back into society."
Pushing or pulling a cart over tens of thousands of kilometres, Brian has raised $10,000 for the Red Cross, and for brain injured children.
He's looking for a "major company" to sponsor him, "per day or per kilometre or whatever", so he can raise money again for the Red Cross (where he can be contacted).
Kenjiro's just walked from Finke to Alice Springs and plans to traverse the "French Line" from Dalhousie Springs to Birdsville next year.
In 1993 he walked from Port Augusta to Ayers Rock and Alice Springs, which took him two months.
In 1994 he walked from Alice Springs to Halls Creek and Broome - also a total of 60 days on the road.
Walking with just a backpack and sleeping under the stars, Kenjiro carries up to 15 litres of water.
"When it's hot I sit under a tree and walk at night. It depends on the moon," says Kenjiro. "When I was walking I could think a lot about myself."
Why Australia? "Australia is much safer than other countries," says Kenjiro. "I think I couldn't do the same thing in America. It's too dangerous. "There are gangs. People would kill me. But here people are nice.
"Australians like Japanese people. They helped me a lot. All the time they stopped for me and gave me some water. That's enough for me."
A French walker is believed to have perished in the Simpson, so is Kenjiro frightened? "Yes, I have to organise it more and more. This time I wanted to walk through but the road was closed, it had a lot of rain. "It means no tourist cars could go through for two weeks. So I gave up this time."
What does he like about the outback? "For me it's a better place than the east coast of Australia," says Kenjiro. "There is a lot of space.
"I can never have the same space in Japan. And all the time the sky is so blue. "The people as well, they are so nice. They talk to me a lot. I can talk to them." What does he think about the flies? "When I was walking, all the time I was lonely, so they are very good friends for me."
Kenjiro plans leaving Dalhousie Springs mid next year, using Purnie Bore as the last water supply, and reaching Birdsville within a fortnight.
Brian is due to head off from Alice for Port Augusta on June 1 this year.
"From there, if it's hot, I'll go to Victoria for thee or four months, and then over to Perth." If it's not too hot he'll tackle the Nullabor straight away.
"I haven't done the Nullabor before," he says.
Brian's "done" just about any other route in Australia.
He started with a short one - just 1000 km with a few detours - from Adelaide to Ceduna in 1977 "to prove the doctors wrong": Brian had been diagnosed with a spine defect reportedly disabling him for life.
Next he walked form Perth via Darwin, Three-Ways and Burke to Broken Hill - taking two years and covering 11,200 km all up.
In 1987 and '88 he walked from Perth to Darwin and back, and a couple of years later, from Alice via Halls Creek to Port Headland.
Why? "I like being out of doors, sleeping under the stars, being on my own, meeting terrorists, spinning them a few yarns."
He says the "terrorists", as he calls them, enjoy a cup of tea and see him as a piece of Australia. Brian's got no argument with that.

KIERAN FINNANE talks to author Alexis Wright.

Not one good thing ever really happens to Ivy, the central character of Alice Springs writer Alexis Wright's debut novel Plains of Promise.
Ivy brings painfully alive the phrase "stolen generation" in a tragic but fascinating narrative primarily set in Wright's traditional country around Lawn Hill in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
 KIERAN FINNANE continues her interview with the author:

News: Ivy's fate is quite despairing. Did it have to be? A.W.: I think that happens to a lot of people, a lot of Aboriginal people.
If you're really an unlucky person, nothing good comes except for what you can make of your own inner world.
I'd like to think that that doesn't happen in real life but I think we haven't heard a lot of the stories yet of the people who have been taken away and I think those stories may be more horrific than what I've got in the book.
People think: "Oh, they connected back with their mother or their families after they've been taken away for all those years and it's a happy story", but I wonder is it happy?
Has it been a satisfactory reunion and sometimes I don't think so.
I guess I don't have much faith that there's going to be positive outcomes in life for everybody.
News: How did the story grow, what did you start with?
A.W.: I wanted to write a novel set in the Gulf country which is where my family come from.
I was living in Melbourne at the time, feeling a long way from home and it seemed that it was never going to come to an end.
A friend of mine whom I worked with in the former National Aboriginal Conference, which has been replaced by ATSIC, set up a land council in the area.
He didn't have any funding, he was trying single-handedly to get the multi-national mining company CRA to talk to the Aboriginal traditional owners in the area and come to some sort of arrangement over their lands.
He died very early during that struggle and his son Murandoo Yanner took over.
I guess the novel is in some ways my attempt to come to terms with my separation from the country, not that it's a story directly about me or my family.
I also thought, when I started, that it was a way of bringing some attention to the area.
Then it was one of the more neglected and isolated parts of Australia although nowadays it's always in the papers because of where the negotiations have led in the past two years.
Because of my family circumstances I'm not able to live up there and apart from that we don't have any access to traditional lands, we still don't.
Not just my family but most Waanji people because the lands are all owned by CRA and remain so under the mining agreement.
News: Why do you feel driven to write?
A.W.: I wanted to write from a very early age. I never had any encouragement from the school that I went to - they never expected Aboriginal kids to do well or to do anything!
I never felt that the education being offered was directed towards me.
The poetry, plays, fiction I heard at school intrigued me but the story-telling mostly comes from my grandmother.
I had a lot to do with her from a very young age.
I listened to her stories and the family talk for all the very early years of my life.
That created my imagination - it was full of superstition and also a longing for the traditional homeland.
I could only imagine the places they were talking about and the explanations they gave for everyday life which were quite fantastic: the tree started flowering not because of the season but because of someone's death or whatever.
I learnt a lot from that, it stayed with me right through life.
My grandmother's still very close to me but now she's very, very old.
She taught me a lot in life and I hope she feels she did well with me.
Then for years as I was working I felt that I'd like to write but I didn't know how to start.
There was also never a right time because I was always needed for the next crisis that was happening.
But when I was in Melbourne I got some time off work to do media studies at RMIT during the day and I went to classes at night to study creative writing. There were other people all in the same boat, though some were a lot more advanced than I was.
That's when I started to really seriously try to write.
News: How did you go about becoming a published author?
A.W.: I started writing this novel before the birth of my last daughter.
As she got bigger I felt I had no time to write.
Even though she was just one child, she was like ten!
It was an absolute struggle to write until a few years ago when she had started school and I made a decision to take six months off work to finish the novel. Then I was working again and had to go to Brisbane.
I took the manuscript over to University of Queensland Press where Sue Abbey is a great supporter of Aboriginal writing and was very supportive in ensuring that UQP would accept my manuscript.
She had two independent assessments made before they accepted to publish it and then it was a long process to go through - wait your turn, then work with editors and the marketing and promotions people, work on the cover design, even the title.
The working title was People Like You.
One day I was having a dispute with someone in Canberra about a particular program or the way it was being applied and he said to me virtually "Life would be much better if it wasn't for people like you."
I've heard that said a lot to Aboriginal people or about Aboriginal people - almost that things would be much better if you didn't exist.
I thought very deeply about this.
But the publisher didn't like it and it went through a whole series of changes until it got down to Plains of Promise, which is what the Gulf country used to be called by the first white men who went there looking for new grazing land.
Pastoralists spoke with great expectation of the "Plains of Promise" and now it's the turn of the mining industry, but the traditional people are still there and what benefit do they reap from the "promise"?
News: Did you ever know a community like St Dominics or any mission community?
One of your achievements is that the reader gets a sense of a real social entity at St Dominics, as much as it's mostly an incredibly destructive one.
A.W.: I wouldn't like anyone to think that St Dominics is a particular place because it's not.
If anything, it probably comes from a long association with and exposure to many, many places that are like that.
It's a composite of the lot.
News: What about mental health institutions, such as Sycamore Heights where Ivy spends some 20 years?
Have you had experience of those, did you have to do research or was it something you were able to imagine?
A.W.: It's imagination I think and a little bit of research.
News: And the belly-dancing therapy?
I was amused by that section. A.W.: That's a bit of a send-up really of schemes applied to Aboriginal people.
They come from great ideas from governments or churches, from non-Aboriginal people and sometimes from Aboriginal people themselves.
People can be sucked in and some weird and wonderful things might even work but who makes those judgments about what's going to work and what's not going to work?
I've seen a lot of things that are quite weird that Aboriginal people have no say over, then they fail, and then Aboriginal people are blamed for them and there's a big enquiry about it. It's a send-up of those situations.
News: Nonetheless it's quite moving when all the women have been lead down this path and then they're left on their own again with their fantasies and their yearnings.
A.W.: That's what happens all the time to Aboriginal people, this great idea just going down the drain and people are left high and dry.
News: When you start to write about Mary and the Coalition of Aboriginal Governments, there's really not a good word you have to say about the experience, in terms of its sensitivity to the personal needs of people involved.
Is that something that you consciously wanted to say?
A.W.: I don't feel that I didn't have a good word to say, I quite sympathised with the organisation but maybe it comes out that way.
In a lot of organisations there's a cohesion between people at various levels but at the same time it's very hard work that they do.
It becomes quite ruthless, given the ruthlessness of the governments they have to deal with, and it really hardens people.
It's on all of our minds that it does harden us and we have to very consciously not let it overtake our lives in all aspects.
News: That section of the book for me didn't have the richness or the depth of the first section.
I felt that the city environment didn't come alive and that the people weren't really alive either, whereas with the people in the mission, for all the thwarted and painful existence that they led, there was an incredible richness.
A.W.: To be in a city for Aboriginal people is very hard.
It's so expensive to live there for a start and being away from the land, their traditional areas and communities.
They start operating in a different sort of way.
News: The men in the novel are incredibly violent towards the women.
All of the men are characterised in that way to various degrees - white and black - except for one poor man, Lawrence, who gets his neck broken when he tries to speak out.
Is that something that you were conscious of wanting to say?
A.W.: If all the men turned out that way, I don't know how that happened except to say that the characters that I created weren't based on my feelings or perceptions of people in general.
But the characters as they developed in the book were true to the characters I was trying to create, they developed in those ways.
There was no attempt on my part to make women good and men bad and that's not how I see the word in general anyway.
The type of communities created under state laws - missions and reserves - weren't pleasant places for people to live on, whether they were Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal.
Any race of people would have suffered badly under those laws and the way those laws were applied to people.
They made people into types of people that they probably wished they weren't.
In unpleasant places occupied by unhappy people a lot of violence happens, it's hard to explain why and how to stop it.
A lot of it's to do with taking people away from their traditional land and the hopelessness of knowing you can't get back and that you're incarcerated in these missions and reserves for the rest of your lives.
Those unhappy families and communities still exist because people can't get back to their traditional country and they can't live in a way that they wish to live. I also think that Aboriginal literature should be moving into areas where other indigenous people have been able to take their literature.
We need to have the freedom to write about characters, men and women, and events as we see them.
I'm thinking of writers like Louise Erdrich (Native American), Kerrie Hulme and Allan Duff (Maori), Salman Rushdie (Indian), Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa (South American), to name but two, and the Africans like Ben Okri.
Of great non-indigenous writers too, like William Faulkner. These are the people I've learnt from. We'll reach a better understanding by following their example, writing true to our experience.
News: "Promise" generally is associated with something positive yet really at the end of the book I felt like the promise for most of the Aboriginal characters was a pretty grim one, that life goes on with all this anguish, it just inexorably goes on.
A.W.: Pastoralists spoke with great expectation of the "Plains of Promise" and now it's the turn of the mining industry, but the traditional people are still there and what benefit do they reap from the "promise"?
News: In the recent controversy over Leon Carmen, who published a fabricated "autobiography" of an Aboriginal woman, he claimed that it was much easier for a woman, and an Aboriginal woman at that, to get published than for a white man.
Is that your experience?
A.W.: My experience of getting published goes way back to even gaining the ability to string a few sentences together.
I had to learn all that later in life, I didn't get that at school.
So it's been a lifetime of struggle, to get educated as an adult rather than as a child, and to write. Writing is not a Aboriginal thing. To get to this stage has taken a long time.

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