October 27, 1999


Low literacy skills are "the first, second and third" barriers to employment of Indigenous Territorians, a major employer peak body told the Bob Collins review of Indigenous education in the Northern Territory, released last week.The mining industry, a major employer in areas near many bush communities, submitted:"Most potential employees from communities could not read occupational health and safety documents, or even signs around the mine-site. They cannot fill in the application forms, write their date of birth or tally numbers as is required for many jobs." Such is the damning legacy of what the review describes as "long-term systemic failure" to address the crisis in Indigenous education.The review establishes a proper sense of urgency about the issues, and prescribes urgent or immediate action in many of its recommendations.Overall, it sets as a realistic target – "which can and must be achieved over the next five years" – "sustainable, system-wide improvements in outcomes for Indigenous students, particularly in Standard Australian English oracy, literacy and numeracy".While the review is concerned with urban and non-urban students, those in remote areas are particularly disadvantaged.Their achievements, for example, relating to national reading benchmarks in 1998, are devastatingly poor: only six per cent achieved the Year Three benchmark, four per cent, the Year Five.This is compared to 82 per cent and 78 per cent respectively for non-Indigenous students in urban schools; 54 per cent and 36 per cent for Indigenous students in urban schools.The review makes 151 recommendations with a view to turning around this dire situation, and notes a new determination to improve outcomes for Indigenous students within the NT Department of Education (NTDE), evidenced for one by the commissioning of the review, which could hardly be more damning of many aspects of past performance.Among the review’s most shocking revelations is NTDE's failure to access "significant, available Indigenous education resources from the Commonwealth", which the review describes as "an inexcusable management oversight"."Out of $38m available for strategic initiatives, the NTDE accessed only $196,000. On a per capita basis alone, the Northern Territory as a whole should have been eligible for at least $5m." Other failures at management level have come to public attention via an internal NTDE report "leaked" (the report was apparently being circulated amongst stakeholders) to coincide with the release of the review.The internal report notes a "systemic lack of interest in Aboriginal Education", revealing that despite significant annual government expenditure, "NTDE can only demonstrate marginal achievement in some outcomes by Indigenous students in our schools".Last year, over $130m was spent on Aboriginal education with approximately a further $10m allocated under the Commonwealth's Indigenous Education Strategic Initiatives Program (IESIP).The report says that despite these allocations only 38 per cent of the agreed IESIP targets were met, "even though many of them required only a one per cent increase in performance".It says further: "There has been a history of using IESIP funding as substitute funding for NTDE core business. Many initiatives ‘supplement' nothing. Others do not address any agreed targets or outcomes."Labor's Shadow Education Minister Peter Toyne, who tabled the report in Parliament last Thursday, has also referred it to the Territory Auditor General, saying: "This is a matter that must be investigated."The magnitude of the problems faced by Indigenous communities in the educating of their children and NTDE's poor record thus far could make for very depressing reading if it were not for evidence of the desire for improvement among many Indigenous parents and students; the review's many practical and – with the right will – achievable recommendations; and the citing of many examples of good practice in specific areas.The review acknowledges that "even [the latter] do not fully convey just how impressive many educators involved in the education of Indigenous students actually are".A heartening example of good practice in relation to the problem of poor attendance, recognised as an "educational crisis" and "without doubt the primary cause of poor educational outcomes", comes from Alekerange (roughly 100 kms south of Tennant Creek).The review reports:"At Alekerange, an excursion is provided for senior primary students at the end of each semester. These can be ‘big ticket' interstate trips or more often local places of cultural interest to the students. The excursions are directly linked to attendance and the records of attendance are prominently displayed in the classroom. A one dollar ‘fine' is imposed on the total excursion fee for every day of unexplained absence of the student. The ‘fines' are paid by the family and no student misses out on the excursion. This initiative has the full support of the community and has increased the attendance for the class to around 90 per cent."The review's conclusion is devoted to promoting the development of more effective partnerships between Indigenous people and the education system. In this Areyonga School (west of Hermannsburg) is cited as an example of good practice, with the location of the school in the centre of the community symbolising "its integration with the community it serves". The school, which delivers a bilingual program, has good attendance, with strong parental support, and good learning outcomes (the MAP school average has been above the system average for many years). On bilingual education, referred to now as "two-way learning", the review recommends that NTDE supports such programs where the local community wants them.It further recommends the commissioning of high-level research into the use of vernacular in Indigenous schools "to develop the most appropriate pedagogy to support effective learning in this environment".The review recognises the links between health and learning, making a range of recommendations, including: the establishment of multi-purpose early childhood centres carrying out infant health interventions; and the incorporation of health objectives within school action plans, with teachers receiving the training and support they need to carry out their health and community development roles. Education Minister Peter Adamson will make an initial response to the review in the November sittings of the Legislative Assembly.


Tourism industry sources have given cautious support to major changes proposed for vehicle and pedestrian traffic around Ayers Rock.A review commissioned by Parks Australia, which manages the Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park, wants to replace the ring road with two spurs, one ending near the base of the climb, and one leading to a new sunrise viewing area.The proposal also calls for new walking trails and an expansion of existing ones.The plans would generally be taking all traffic further away from the base of the Rock, although it would open up some new areas for walking closer in.CATIA general manager Mike Gunn says he is happy with the draft, although he had reservations initially because the "ring road has been feature of the Rock".But Ren Kelly, managing director of VIP Tours, says when the Olgas ring road was closed in 1984, "a lot of the mystique" of the famous rock formation was lost to the visitor.He hopes this mistake would not be repeated with the Rock.Mr Gunn says he doesn't expect major opposition "so long as the planning is done with good industry input, and that seems to be taking place."We need to maintain the uniqueness, and visitor management is the key to it."He says current annual visitor numbers of 350,000 will climb to half a million in the not too distant future.This would require new attractions such as different walks.A new sunrise viewing area is "absolutely essential" and it could be used all day. Mr Gunn welcomes a new approach to "interpretation" as well as new shade structures "modelled on the cultural centre".He says: "Loop walks are good, the parks service should be congratulated on these." However, there needs to be more discussion on proposals for alternate transport, such as a shuttle bus."Different markets have different needs," says Mr Gunn."We need a few different options for different experiences. "A shuttle bus is good for some but not all markets. It can handle the mass but not niche markets, such as couples or family units on their own."Mr Kelly says shuttle buses "don't work in any national park around the world"."People are going to get really angry" if they're not allowed to take their own vehicles.Mr Gunn says the industry will actively support alternative attractions to the climb – which some people want closed – but "not a blanket ban, at least not in the foreseeable future".Says Mr Gunn: "The climb won't be an issue when there are fewer people on it and much less of a focus" because new activities have become available.


Imagine around 40 people in two groups arming themselves with spears, tomahawks, stout sticks, star pickets and knives.They converge on Ross Park Oval and proceed to belt and slash each other. Up to 200 people surround the oval and watch.As the melee ebbs and flows it spills over into adjoining residential areas, scaring and threatening the residents.This fracas – or similar – is repeated several times over 10 days.Two men suffer serious head injuries, one is in a coma for some time, another has his nose cut.A car is torched.A clinic is vandalised with rocks. Young people high on petrol fumes trample around on the roof.Several patients and all health staff have to be evacuated.Police intervene intermittently, describing the events as a "domestic".Just one arrest is made.Couldn't happen here? Think again.Not in Alice Springs, to be sure, but it happened just 125 km west of here, at Hermannsburg.The community-wide unrest now seems resolved after the intervention of traditional owners Leo Abbott and his father, Barry, well known for his resolute and successful dealings with juvenile petrol sniffers.Mr Abbott senior founded the model outstations, Wallace Rockhole, east of Hermannsburg, and more recently, Ilpurla - Illamurta Springs, some 80 km to the south of the community.He brought the two feuding clans together at the Hermannsburg oval on Friday last week.Mr Abbott says he'd had reports about the fighting for several days."Every day someone would ring me up."Both sides are related to me, to my father or my mother," he says. "The two sides are no strangers to each other."In the end, young Conrad Ratara asked me to come up. I sat down with one side and then with the other one and talked quietly. "I told them Christmas is coming up."Three from one side had finished up in hospital."Mr Abbott says after about two hours both sides agreed to meet on the oval."I said to them, no sticks, no knives, no fighting. I stood there and let them talk. They shook hands. The young Pastor came over and held a service. Everybody had communion. Good as gold."Someone said it's like the Australian mob in East Timor."You came up from Illamurta to Herman-nsburg and made peace, they said to me. They all said thank you very much."However, a source in Hermannsburg says the truce may not be lasting, as some clan members were away when peace was made, "in town on the grog".Mr Abbott said only two or three people were not present at the truce talks."The main elders were there," says Mr Abbott. "It was agreed that the men who were away would be told to apologise and shake hands when they come back."The leaders of both sides agreed."The drama was sparked off when a woman who had married into the other clan was hit by her husband, and her original family retaliated.Although the area is declared "dry" and possession of alcohol is subject to heavy fines, the community is awash in booze.A Hermannsburg source says trouble breaks out mainly when the 330 CDEP employees of the Tjuwampa Outstation Resource Centre get their fortnightly pay cheques of about $400 each – a total of about $130,000.Police say they are powerless because the alcohol is being brought in on several bush tracks, making detection all but impossible.However, locals say it's no secret within the community where the booze is kept, how it comes in, and who the grog runners are.In fact, according to one source, the torched vehicle was targeted because it had been used to bring in alcohol.Further frustrating moves to quell the violence is that fact that the two ATSIC funded local night patrols – Hermannsburg and Tjuwampa – are inactive: their vehicles have been grounded because they had been misused.This deprives the police – just four officers – of valuable information.The council, which some locals expected to act as a peacemaker, kept out of the matter.Says chairman Gus Williams: "It's a family thing, not a council thing."The current calm follows the dispatch of four police officers from Alice Springs to Hermannsburg on October 15, six days after the "disturbance" started.Local Sergeant Darrell Kerr and Superintendent Bob Payne, in charge of the vast rural region of the southern half of the NT, deny several allegations made to the Alice Springs News that the police failed to act decisively."Whenever we were called we were there," says Supt Payne.However, Mr Abbott says: "Hermannsburg is only an hour's drive from Alice Springs."Why don't they get in extra police when there are a lot of people fighting."It's no good waiting until somebody's dead."If they get a lot of police in there pretty quick, they can fix it."It's also a council matter."They know who's going into town for grog. The grog runners come back on the bitumen road and turn off at Ellery's Creek and come in ‘round the back a bit."The people in the community can tell the council and the police who's got the grog."A lot of them old people would tell them. But no-one's talking to the old people."Supt. Payne provided the News with relevant excerpts from the police log (see box on page 3).However, this police account makes no reference to several disturbances between Sunday and Friday, including a mass brawl on the oval on Thursday.Mr Abbott says Hermannsburg people rang him "every day" between Sunday and Friday, reporting fights.According to an eyewitness, two groups of about 20 people each were throwing spears at each other at the major fight on Thursday.Mr Abbott says that was "money day"."I saw one bloke go down," says the eyewitness, who does not wish to be named."The Eastside forced the Westside back across the bitumen" – the main road running through Hermannsburg – but did not pursue their adversaries across the road.The eyewitness says about 200 people, most of the community, were watching the fracas.The events at Hermannsburg raise some serious questions.When some three years ago two extended families faced off in a street of the Alice Springs suburb of Gillen, the police response was entirely different.Some two dozen officers were on the scene.Out of the sight of the protagonists, prison officers with riot gear, including shields, were standing by. They weren't needed.So, if Alice Springs citizens warrant such effective and comprehensive protection by the authorities, why do the citizens of Hermannsburg not?Do we draw a line at Simpson's Gap and say, it's free for all on the other side?It's a question we put to Supt. Payne.He claims it would have been wrong to go in "boots and all".He says: "It's impractical to take on 50 to 100 people and arrest them all. "One of our charters is to keep the peace, and that's what our people were trying to do."The first objective for police is to remove weapons."He says apart from one arrest and one summons, no arrests have been made nor any charges laid because police had not received any complaints – neither from individuals nor from Territory Health Services (THS) about the damage to the clinic.It was closed for several days, its evacuated staff – five registered nurses, four Aboriginal health workers – remaining in Alice Springs until last Monday afternoon, "in the interest of their safety" according to a departmental spokesperson. THS officials were at Hermannsburg early this week to discuss the damage to the clinic.Supt. Payne says consent to an assault is a lawful defence.To apply the full force of the law may not be appropriate: "Each community deals with its problems in its own way, and they have done so for a long time."These people are choosing to deal with the issues according to their own customs and laws. It's their choice."This form of grievance settling process is going on in a variety of communities."Mr Abbott disagrees: "That's got nothing to do with customary law. It was grog. Everybody was drunk and they said I stick up for this one or that."Supt. Payne says police are trying their best to resolve the issue through negotiation, and have acted appropriately and in accordance with their resources."I am also aware of certain individuals, one or two, at Hermannsburg who may have contacted [the News], claiming police took no action."I am of no doubt these claims are malicious."You do members of the NT Police a disservice by affording persons making false claims any weight."Supt. Payne declined to comment whether similar events would have evoked a different police response in Alice Springs.


Senior Western Arrernte man Herman Malbunka says the first he knew about the further sale of elements of the Strehlow Collection, auctioned in Adelaide last Monday, was when he saw it on television."I'm not really happy, I couldn't sleep when I saw it on the television," Mr Malbunka (pictured at right) told the Alice News."Whoever organised all those things to be sold should have told us, to find out which is which."It's a really, really private thing. My old people transferred those things to (TGH) Strehlow. He went through the law. They gave him all those things for safekeeping."The old fellow passed them on. I don't know legal-wise, but Aboriginal-wise, they gave him those things in good faith, for safekeeping, not for selling."The News asked what Mr Malbunka would have done if he had known about the auction?"I could have told Brett [Galt-Smith, Acting Research Director of the Strehlow Research Centre, SRC] or somebody to tell them those things are sacred."White men don't understand much. They might think it's just like makeup."Mr Malbunka expressed satisfaction with the safekeeping role played by the SRC.He says he understands that the SRC did not have much time to contact him about the auction, and that they could not do anything to prevent it [except for laying claim to those elements they thought the NT Government had already acquired].He remembers being at the opening of the research centre in 1991."They invited us to look, that was really good. We know our story, we want to see our story. We don't want to ask about someone else's story."He says he was able to look at his "private things" – "no problem at all".Was he concerned that he might see the wrong things by mistake?"No! The names and the story were all written down by Strehlow."At the same time Mr Malbunka expressed deep dissatisfaction with the Central Land Council, who in 1995 acquired some 150 sacred objects, reportedly spending more than $1m:"Whatever they have got in the land council office, they don't say nothing to nobody. "They are always overriding Aboriginal people. That's supposed to be our organisation, we are supposed to be controlling them. They override us all the time."They should protect our law. Our law is more than our life. It's handed down by word of mouth, and it's written down in our sacred objects. If they go, we will be nothing."I know the law, my two sons are law men, but you still have to have those things in your hand. In ceremony you have to have it there, the right things."Sometimes it makes me sad, people are always asking about those things. In our culture those things never went out."I always take my sons for ceremony and always have it [the objects] in hand, I never let other people take them, never."Mr Malbunka told the News to make his statement "really strong"."The land council doesn't protect our right, they protect their own right. They got the white man's law, the landrights law. Aboriginal law is different altogether."Mr Malbunka says the CLC should turn over the objects they acquired to the SRC."Nobody can tell me, I know what I'm saying, I learn my law right, Aboriginal law. I've got my own land, I'll do my own talking."Sometimes people are too scared, but not me, I tell them straight."When you talk law-wise you got to be straight. If you don't you're dead."CLC Chairman, Max Stuart, made the following statement to the News: "My nephew [Mr Malbunka] has no reason to be dissatisfied with the CLC. "We've got a program of returning the objects to the proper custodians, and that's what we do." [See last week's News for a background report on the Strehlow Research Centre.]


Bishop Philip Frier, the new Anglican Bishop of the Northern Territory, said he was "all ears" when he visited the Anglican Church of the Ascension in Alice Springs last week."I want to get to know the people and how the parishes see the future," Bishop Philip said.Bishop Philip is new to the Territory.He grew up in Brisbane and after getting his Diploma of Education and teacher qualifications went to Thursday Island to teach.During his year on the island he met his wife, Joy, also a teacher and from there the couple went to Kowanyama, a former Anglican mission on the Western Cape York Peninsula, to start a secondary school.Next stop was Yarrabah, near Cairns, and during the following five years Bishop Philip served as an advisory teacher travelling around northern Queensland developing science curriculum for Aboriginal schools.He then entered a theological college in New South Wales as an independent student:"The school was multi-cultural. "There were three Palestinian students who were Christians and a student from New Guinea."There were also women aspiring to be Anglican priests even though it was not possible at the time."Bishop Philip was ordained a deacon in Kowanyama in 1983 and a priest in 1988.After five years in Brisbane and six in Bundaberg, he was then elected the Northern Territory's fourth bishop, installed at the Cathedral in Darwin on August 13."I am feeling my way along,'' Bishop Philip said."There are 15 parish communities in the Northern Territory. "Each parish has unique histories and opportunities. "Some are small, remote ones on Aboriginal communities."Some are more mainstream, including five in Darwin. "There are differences, the distances are so great. But even though the Territory is a big place, people are held together by the visions they share."While in Alice Springs, Bishop Philip also attended a meeting of Anglicare Central Australia at St Mary's Family Services, which provides a place for young people from remote communities to reside while attending schools in Alice Springs."St Mary's is an important part of the Anglican Ministry here," Bishop Philip said."I am keen to understand where the Anglican community is at in its own story, to understand their vision and hopes in their own context."And I want to work with people in driving their dreams along."


Walter Pukutiwara, chairperson of Maruku Arts and Crafts, speaks with pride and infectious enthusiasm of this singular and highly successful Aboriginal art centre:"Aboriginal culture has got to keep going in Australia. You can't leave it, got to keep it."It's no good sitting down, you've got to do something. Sitting down you get a bad back. You've got to work, I work all the time. Teaching is number one, learning, learning."This is my idea, my thinking, helping people."Back in 1981 Pukutiwara, together with art coordinator Peter Yates and administrator Pat d'Aranjo, drove from Amata in the Pitjantjatjara Lands to Uluru (Ayers Rock) in the craft centre Toyota and eight cars crammed with 40 people and the wooden objects they had carved. They set up a tent exhibition opposite the climb to sell directly to tourists.The crafts were a hit, and out of this exercise grew Maruku as a regional arts centre, established in 1984 at the Mutitjulu community (within Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park).In a market where "Aboriginal art" has become almost synonymous with "painting", Maruku stands out for its focus on the continued production and marketing of traditional tools and weapons, as well as representations of totemic reptiles, birds and animals. Lately the repertoire has extended to introduced animals, such as rabbits, and to some delightfully observed subjects, such as a row of galahs lining up on a branch.While a wide range of cheaply priced objects are produced for the souvenir market, there are also important pieces imbued with meaning related to their creator's "dreaming", which sell for much greater amounts.The characteristic burning into the wood of cultural iconography and traditional designs, using red hot wire, is thought to have had its origins in the 1940s when Aboriginal people began to do fencing work on cattle stations. It may also have some relationship to the European tradition of poker work, fashionable at the time.Pukutiwara promotes Aboriginal traditions. For instance, he says firmly, "A mulga stick is better for digging, that's the Aboriginal way of work, not the whitefeller way. Crow bar is the white way."At the same time, he is acutely aware of contemporary Aboriginal people's need of work and income. "Peter Yates was teaching me the money line," he says of the 1981 trip.Today, income from selling crafts through Maruku supplements the living of some 900 craftspeople on the Lands, "helping them out", as Pukutiwara says.These people live across the Central and Western deserts, from Finke in the east, to Indulkana in the south, and Warburton in the west. The work suits their lifestyle: they are able to make objects when they want and where they want, without expensive investment in materials. The wood they find for themselves and they buy their tools at cost from Maruku.However, none of them earn a full-time living from their craft, and there is yet to be a local indigenous person to carry out the administrative side of the business, currently requiring four full-time and two part-time staff.In the last financial year Maruku turned over $1.2m, some $750,000 of which came through their retail outlet at the Cultural Centre in the Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park. Around $628,000 was spent in purchasing craft directly from the artists, while running costs amounted to some $631,000. Profits, if any, are shared among the company's 19 member communities.ATSIC accords Maruku a grant of $52,000. Director Steve Fox says the ATSIC grant covers some operational costs, which allows Maruku to extend the business in ways they could not otherwise afford.Grants from other government arts departments are sought to assist with travel to international exhibitions and art fairs.One such was a show of 275 pieces at Gallery Handwerk in Munich last year, where chairperson Pukutiwara and his wife, Topsy Tjulyata (Maruku treasurer and a respected craftswoman) delighted the opening night crowd and the German media by singing songs of the Ngintaka (perentie) story in Pitjantjatjara.Next month Maruku will represent Australia at the SOFA (Sculpture, Objects and Functional Art) world art fair in Chicago. On this their fourth visit to SOFA, they will be the only indigenous gallery out of eight Australian galleries. Although they made a record sale at last year's show – $US4,500 for a Ngintaka by Billy Wara – Fox sees the occasion more as an opportunity to raise the centre's profile, especially among collectors and galleries. Out of this kind of exposure grow future exhibition and commercial opportunities.Next year Maruku will take part in an exhibition at the Commonwealth Institute in London. Pictured above are some of the pieces that have been selected for that show: the bird is by Pulya Taylor and the goanna by Topsy Tjulyata (both of Mutitjulu), and the snakes are by Billy Cooley (Ulaipa homeland, SA).OLYMPICSOther artists will be included in exhibitions being held for next year's Adelaide Festival, where their work will be alongside work by white artists, showing the diversity of art practice in regional areas. Maruku will also be represented at the Aboriginal and Tribal Art Centre, at The Rocks, Sydney, in a show of desert painting and crafts timed to coincide with the Olympic Games.

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