RAIN, TALKS EASE BUSHFIRE THREATS. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
Last week's rain has brought a reprieve from wild fires across Central Australia, and talks with the Central Land Council are raising hopes for improved fire management across vast areas of The Centre.The great majority of fires burning in an arc from south-west of Uluru, up through the Tanami and Tennant Creek to properties on the Queensland border have been extinguished, says Neil Phillips, Senior Fire Control Officer of the Bushfires Council.However, this does not mean there are not more big burns to come.Despite an immediate burst of "green pick" (fresh growth of grasses) in the burnt areas, the old fuel in unburnt areas is still there. If a hot, dry spell comes now, moisture in the fuel will soon evaporate and the country will be as susceptible to ignitions as ever, especially from lightning strikes. Add wind and you've got a raging wildfire.Only follow-up rains throughout the summer would significantly reduce the threat, says Mr Phillips.Some of the recent fires had been burning for two to three months, and some on fronts as long as 35 kilometres."Intense fires like this, especially if followed by a hot, dry period, can modify the landscape significantly," says Mr Phillips.The upside is that the profile of fire threat has been raised and work to control it is more likely to attract support and funding.In the wake of the Tanami fires which burnt up to 80,000 square kilometres of country, a representative of the Central Land Council addressed a Territory-wide Bush-fires Council meeting at Tilmouth Well on October 11.Mr Phillips welcomed the start of dialogue with the CLC about how to solve some of the problems."There's a need to have the country broken up by controlled burning at appropriate times and a need to do something about late season ignitions," says Mr Phillips."You will always get some ignitions from lightning strikes but we should be able to reduce ignitions by people not lighting up at the wrong time."There are still fires being lit even though the time for reasonable burning has passed."Mr Phillips says the council and the CLC have acknowledged something has to be done:"We discussed the next step Ð what message should go out, to what people and by what medium."Our dialogue has been very positive."Sean Moran, Senior Land Management Officer at the CLC, says the land council has made a commitment to help the Bushfires Council get its message out via its members and the Landrights News.But, says Mr Moran, the most effective way would be to get Aboriginal people directly involved.Traditional owners in specific areas, such as the Purta Aboriginal Land Trust, are already involved, with Parks and Wildlife and with other ecologists, in small scale burning to protect habitat.However, this is not on a large enough scale to achieve the safety goals of the Bushfires Council.Mr Moran says that as well as accessing external funds for specific projects, the Bushfires Council should use some of its core budget to employ and actively involve Aboriginal people in contemporary fire management. He says it is clear some people are burning from the sides of roads, but suggests they may not necessarily be Aboriginal people. He says the burning he has seen taking place has been by traditional owners who are "very connected to country and know what they are doing".Despite very limited resources Ð two regional fire control officers in Alice Springs and two in Tennant Creek for the whole southern NT Ð the Bushfires Council, with the help of its Regional Fire Committees and volunteer brigades, has had some wins this season.An aerial burn in June to the east of Tennant Creek proved fortuitous. "If we hadn't put the burns in we would have had a major fire through that area," says Mr Phillips.The area burnt stretched over 600 kilometres of pastoral and vacant Crown land. That sounds like a lot but on the scale of the whole of the Territory it's something of a drop in the ocean.The protection it offered in the environs of Tennant Creek, however, confirms the worth of the strategy."It's the type of thing we would like to expand upon," says Mr Phillips."One of the biggest issues we've got is the limited number of people who live over vast tracts of country."The number of people living on cattle properties has dropped markedly and Aboriginal people have become far more focussed on settlements over the last 50 years."They tend now to be only burning along the roads."To get into the more inaccessible country takes resources, no matter who is going to do it."Although there are less people out there, advances in technology have added "eyes" to get the big picture.The Bushfires Council accesses NOAA satellite imagery through the Western Australian Department of Lands. (Members of the public can also access this information via the council's website at
PERKINS DEAD: THE WORLD WILL NOW BE A MORE BORING PLACE. By ERWIN CHLANDA.
This reporter will miss Kumantjayi Perkins very much.In my quarter of a century as a news man in The Centre I've had many encounters with him, all of them fruitful Ð mutually so, I have no doubt.I admired him greatly because he was passionate without being a zealot, incisive and clever, confrontational at times, but not dogmatic.Above all he was funny.As the head of the Aboriginal Development Corporation (ADC) Ð one of the forerunners of ATSIC Ð he telexed a metre-long statement to the Centralian Advocate where I was Chief Reporter.The release had little to do with ADC business but instead was a wide-ranging presentation of Dr Perkins' views about Aboriginality, race relations and, to the best of my recollection, the state of the world in general.I noticed it was a "broadcast" telex sent to a great many media outlets around the country, at ADC expense.I sent Kumantjayi a telex inquiring Ð I added "with great respect" Ð how much this series of telexes had cost the taxpayer.The reply came without much delay: "Dear Mr Chlanda, with great respect, get stuffed."We reproduced the telex as an image in the newspaper and Ð like our readers Ð got a great laugh out of it.Some years later he was at one of the many street demonstrations in The Alice Ð it was an Aboriginal cause but I can't remember which.GAY WHALEKumantjayi was thoroughly irritated about the failure of a funding application to the Federal Government (it could have been Labor, it could have been Coalition, I can't remember, they were all in his sights)."What do you have to be to get money out of these blokes?" he asked me."I tell you what you've got to be, a gay whale! You've got to be a gay whale!"Dr Perkins' wit, irreverence, courage and accessibility made him a virtuoso in media relations.He never engaged in the churlish gambits of some fellow activists who lose much sleep calculating which reporter may be for or against their cause: if you had a camera and a microphone, Kumantjayi was always ready to talk.I respect his family's wish not to have media at the funeral service in The Alice on Saturday.But I'm sure Kumantjayi would have disagreed: being fare-welled before a battery of cameras, microphones and notebooks, in the very place Kumantjayi loved so much and among his people, would have been a fitting finale to a very public life.Local media were advised that CAAMA, the sole media organisation admitted to the service, would be providing a pool coverage. As it turned out, by Monday this week nothing had been made available.Vale, Kumantjayi.
CHIEF MINISTER BARRED FROM PERKINS MEMORIAL SERVICE.
Northern Territory Chief Minister Denis Burke was asked to stay away from the memorial service for Kumantjayi Perkins in Alice Springs on Saturday.The late Aboriginal leader's son Adam told a press conference his family had decided to "decline the honor" of Mr Burke's presence, because of his government's mandatory sentencing regime.The Country Liberal Party leader was due to fly from Darwin in a special charter on Saturday.Mr Perkins said there had been a "monumental" increase of 223 per cent in the imprisonment of women under mandatory sentencing.He said the regime is "condemned" by the United Nations.He called on the people of the Northern Territory to "look into their hearts" and support the fight against mandatory sentencing.The memorial service, planned to be held at the Old Telegraph Station, was transferred to a pavilion at the Showgrounds because of heavy rain.The media were asked not to attend the service.The Telegraph Station is known among Aboriginal people as The Bungalow, a home for "taken away" children, where Dr Perkins' mother, Hetti, worked for some time. Dr Perkins was born at The Bungalow 64 years ago.His body was flown to Alice Springs on Thursday and it is understood his ashes will be spread at the Telegraph Station this week. The Chief Minister expressed disappointment over the Perkins family's decision but respect for their wishes.Of Kumantjayi Perkins the Chief Minister said: "While we shared a difference of opinion on issues such as mandatory sentencing,we agreed on many other important issues. We shared a common passion in trying to achieve better outcomes for Aboriginal people in areas such as health, education and employment."In the brief time I knew him he always showed fearless commitment to Aboriginal issues."He showed great strengths as a leader and I would have liked to have had the opportunity on behalf of all Territorians to have acknowledged this by attending his final farewell."
CONGRESS ROW: WHAT'S GOOD FOR THE GOOSE...
... doesn't seem to be good for the gander. NT politicians Ð often lambasted for their alleged junkets Ð must in fact follow stringent reporting procedures before and after their trips. Their travel expenses go on the public record. The nation has just witnessed the crucifixion of Peter Reith for being responsible, apparently through carelessness rather than premeditation, for a $50,000 bill on a phone card supplied by his government. Yet Federal Health Minister Michael Wooldridge, and his Northern Territory sidekick, CLP Senator Grant Tambling, are maintaining a wall of silence over allegations that an organisation they are funding has improperly spent a multiple of Mr Reith's phone card blunder, for which he's now made up out of his own pocket. Dr Wooldridge and Senator Tambling's silence is the more surprising as the public money they are spending is meant to improve the health of some of the nation's most wretched people. ERWIN CHLANDA reports.
Territory Senator Grant Tambling, Federal Health Minister Michael Wooldridge and the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress itself are stonewalling enquiries about alleged financial misconduct by the organisation.Congress is an Indigenous health service in Alice Springs, receiving its major funding Ð $4m a year Ð from the Federal Department of Health and Aged Care.A series of allegations, including the following, have been made to the Alice Springs News by five people, all independently from each other:-¥ A large group of some 40 people from Congress used public money for a trip to the Olympic Games. ¥ The group was made up of senior staff and members of the so- called "cabinet", the organisation's board, plus assorted spouses and partners.¥ Members of the cabinet are elected at annual meetings frequently "stacked" to ensure the election of the director's relatives.¥ People attending the Congress annual general meeting are paid for attending them, are transported into town from outlying areas, fed and accommodated so they would vote in certain ways.This is how the allegations have been dealt with thus far:-¥ The Alice Springs News was tipped off by two Aboriginal people, making the allegations independently from each other. The News put the allegations to Congress.¥ The News received no direct response but the organisation made a press release describing the trip principally as a " study tour", with visits to the games as a secondary objective. Congress did not respond to further enquiries from The News.The release failed to disclose how many people went on the trip, how much money was spent, what was learned from the "study" and why any knowledge gained through it could not have been obtained by one or two people doing the trip, who could then have reported to the others.¥ Allison Anderson, NT Southern Region commissioner for ATSIC, wrote to Federal Health Minister Michael Wooldridge, demanding an enquiry.¥ Following the first report in The News, three more people contact the paper with a string of additional allegations. Two of these people have inside knowledge.¥ The department's regional manager in Alice Springs, David Scholz, said he had been assured by the Congress executive that no department funds have been used to purchase Olympic tickets, to provide spending money nor cover personal expenses. He said: "The department has been assured the only expenses attributed to our funding were those incurred in undertaking bona fide liaison visits to other Aboriginal health services in Victoria and NSW, a legitimate function of community controlled health services."¥ Mr Scholz did not disclose whether or not he had examined Congress' claim or had simply accepted it without asking questions.¥ One of our inside sources alleged Congress operates a "slush fund", containing up to $1m, for the private benefit of cabinet members and senior staff.¥ The News informed NT Senator Grant Tambling, Dr Wooldridge's Parliamentary Secretary, that we had received confirmation of an "independent fund" being operated by the organisation. That fund is described as "self-generated [and] in no way linked or related to Federal or Northern Territory Government funds. Accordingly, the funds are available for uses approved by [Congress]".¥ Senator Tambling offered practically no further details to the News, saying that he would act if he had a complaint "from a constituent".¥ The News pointed out to Senator Tambling that one of our sources had given him Ð verbally and in writing Ð extensive details about alleged misconduct. He admitted the reports had been made to him.¥ An enquiry by The News revealed that more than a year after the complaint to Senator Tambling, the complainant still hasn't received a response from him.¥ The complainant alleged senior staff are using Congress credit cards for their own purposes.It was also alleged: ¥ that one vehicle is being used privately throughout the year and is "back in the yard" only for the annual audit;¥ that a senior staffer has the use of an expensive 4WD although Congress does nor operate far beyond the town limits;¥ that 4WD has been taken on several private trips to Brisbane.¥ that Congress does little to help the people they are funded to help. For example, its medical staff do not visit the 18 town lease areas where people live in varying degrees of distress and ill health, and children are sick and inappropriately nourished;¥ that Congress has a habit of "blacklisting" non-compliant employees, urging other Aboriginal organisations Ð and even non- Aboriginal ones Ð not to give them jobs when they leave Congress.The question is raised whether all parties involved Ð Dr Wooldridge, Senator Tambling and Congress Ð have an interest in concealing any wrong-doing: Dr Wooldridge may not wish to admit that his department's monitoring has been inadequate, possibly for several years. Senator Tambling belongs to the Country Liberal Party which rules the Northern Territory and welcomes a Federal injection of funds Ð $90m a year Ð for Aboriginal health care, an obligation that would otherwise become a Territory expense. And Congress is may be running a multi million dollar operation with apparently scant monitoring and public accountability.The News has learnt that ATSIC Ð one of the nation's most frequently investigated bodies Ð has long made it its policy to examine all the financial activities of organisations it funds. By contrast, Dr Wooldridge's department apparently has no interest in the "independent" fund, nor possibly other financial dealings of Congress, although the department provides more than 90 per cent of the health service's budget.A spokesman for Dr Wooldridge says a special audit of the organisation was carried out last year and no inappropriate practices had been found. The News has been denied a copy of that audit report, but we were told we could try to obtain it under Freedom of Information.The spokesman would only say on the record that "the Department is satisfied following a Commonwealth Audit of Congress last year and the assurances from the Congress leadership that no Commonwealth funds had been used for purposes other than the delivery of health services to the Central Australian Aboriginal community".
"NUGGETT" COOMBS: YOU CAN LEAD A HORSE TO WATER, BUT... Interview with TIM ROWSE by KIERAN FINNANE.
"Even if you have people's best interests at heart you can't coerce them into advancing. "There has got to be a degree of choice involved."Showing government how to actualise or put into practical form the idea of Indigenous choice Ð by Aboriginal people forming themselves into local incorporated bodies Ð was, I think, Coombs' most important achievement in this area."So says historian Tim Rowse, author of "Obliged to be difficult", an account of H. C. "Nuggett" Coombs' contribution to Indigenous affairs, published recently by Cambridge University Press.During his visit to Alice Springs earlier this year KIERAN FINNANE interviewed Dr Rowse about his subject. She started by asking him how a former Governor of the Reserve Bank came to be involved in Indigenous policy in the first place?
Rowse: He became involved on invitation by then Prime Minister Harold Holt who found to his dismay that in May, 1967, 91 per cent of Australians were agreeing that the Commonwealth should take an active role in Aboriginal affairs policy, not just in the Northern Territory but all over Australia. Holt had just succeeded Menzies and really had no clear ideas about how to use that mandate. So he selected to take on the project a policy intellectual who was nearing his retirement as Central Banker but who had a great reputation as a man fertile in ideas on a lot of different policy areas.
News: Given the title of your book, did he also have a reputation for being difficult?
Rowse: Holt had been Treasurer in the Menzies years and Coombs had been Governor of the Reserve Bank, so they had been around the table for lots of debate about government policy in the 1960s, and Holt had good reason to know that Coombs was a very determined advocate of what he thought was the right course of action for government. Coombs said to Holt "I'll do this but I hope you're fair dinkum, because if you're not fair dinkum, I will feel obliged to be difficult and Harold, you know how difficult I can be."That is the context for the book's title.
News: So why did Coombs take on the project? Did he already have a pronounced interest in Aboriginal matters?
Rowse: He did have a bit of an interest in Aboriginal culture as any educated person would in the 1960s. There had been a rethinking of what Australia's cultural heritage was. To give an example: in 1965 the Australian Government sent a whole lot of cultural exhibits to the Commonwealth Cultural Festival in England and Coombs was on the national committee that organised Australia's contribution. The exhibits included a collection of 57 bark paintings and objects curated by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. In a speech that Coombs gave in Liverpool, England, he referred to that collection, not in any way that was particularly interesting, but it shows that that educated people were starting to think and talk about there being an Aboriginal artistic heritage as well as a non-Aboriginal one. That sense of course was promoted by the missionaries, but that is another story.
NEXT WEEK: What Coombs hoped to achieve.
Compared to the almost total lack of information available from the Federally funded Congress about its trip to the Olympic Games, information about travel by Territory politicians Ð also frequently accused of junketeering Ð is admirably transparent.Speaker Terry McCarthy says backbenchers, of either party, are entitled to one interstate trip per year.They have the option of converting that entitlement into one overseas trip per four-year term.If they go overseas they also have a travel allowance entitlement of about $230 a day for a maximum of 21 days.They can fly first class but are required to provide to the Speaker, in advance, an itinerary, and declare the purposes of the trip or trips.Upon return they must furnish a report about their trip to Parliament, either verbally, during a sitting, or in writing.Mr McCarthy says the itinerary and the report are on the public record.He says ministers can travel without reference to the Speaker but their travel expenses go on the public record at the end of the fiscal year, either in departmental reports or in the annual report of the Treasurer.Mr McCarthy says first-term MLA Sue Carter, attacked by Labor's Paul Henderson last week for jetting to Barbados, is attending a seminar of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, representing the NT Parliament.Her name had been "pulled out of a hat".Last time it had been the ALP's turn and John Bailey represented the Parliament.Ms Carter is also visiting the UK to research palliative care, a field of special interest to her.Mr McCarthy says Ms Carter's trip is paid for partly with money set aside for sending a representative to the seminar, as well as her own entitlements.Ministers usually travel "under their own own steam" and the under authority of the government rather than that of the Parliament.They don't report to the Parliament but to the Chief Minister upon return. Mr McCarthy says Treasurer Mike Reed Ð also under attack from Mr Henderson Ð is looking at the protection of war time heritage, and how it can be used as tourist attractions, in Hawaii and mainland USA.Primary Industries Minister Mick Palmer is in Thailand to further develop the NT's live cattle export industry, according Mr McCarthy.Mr Henderson, Labor's Wastewatch spokesman, says Mr McCarthy and Araluen MLA Eric Poole have been overseas this year although both are due to retire after their current terms. He says retiring MLA Steve Hatton took nearly two years to report on a trip.
GIVE YOURSELF AND OTHERS A BREAK!
The head of what is claimed to be the Territory's biggest employment agency is promoting a scheme to make people in work more productive and less stressed, while creating jobs for unskilled and Indigenous people currently unemployed.Milton Blanch, the manager of Centacare's Employment Services NT, says most jobs can be split into creative and routine tasks.He says hiving off the routine aspects of a job to a new employee, instead of working overtime, will give overworked people more time to themselves and their families. Because this makes them happier and healthier, they will live and work longer, and perform their core tasks much better."Give your overtime to an unemployed person and become more productive," says Mr Blanch (pictured at right).He says it's a common pattern in Alice for people to get big wages but when they take into account their overtime "many are working for $10 an hour while neglecting their families".Mr Blanch was speaking as Centacare Ð an arm of the Catholic Church Ð launched a new office in Alice Springs, and "Jubilee Jobs for the Future" nation-wide.He says in The Alice, the gulf between the employed and the unemployed is even bigger than elsewhere in the nation.While it is often difficult to fill skilled jobs, there are many long term jobless with little hope of joining the work force, especially Indigenous people and those aged over 40."Give them a go," says Mr Blanch. "It's not morally right for employers to expect their staff to burn themselves out while there are so many people out of work."Centacare's job service has its head office for the whole of the NT in Alice Springs Ð a refreshing turn-around of the Berrimah Line syndrome.Mr Blanch says the agency has some 2000 job seekers on its books, 300 of them "active", while there are only 80 to 100 jobs " consistently" available.He says this makes Centacare, created when the Federal Government began to privatise job referrals, the biggest employment agency in the NT. Nation-wide, Centacare is in the top 10.Mr Blanch says the biggest demand in the Alice job market is for motor mechanics, carpenters and chefs.Job seekers are looking for work mainly in laboring, hospitality, retail and office work.Yesterday's launch and opening of the new premises, adjacent to the Catholic presbytery in Hartley Street, was attended by Aboriginal dancers performing a smoking ceremony, and Bishop Ted Collins. One of Centacare's interstate recruits is Firkin and Hound chef Don Golding. During his 20 years in the RAAF he cooked on VIP aircraft for illustrious passengers including former Prime Minister Paul Keating.
TOWN TICKS FOR THE MASTERS' GAMES.
In a time of economic rationalism, the Honda Masters Games of 2000 has confounded the critics yet again: the bean counters are no doubt happy that millions of dollars were poured into the local economy, thanks to nearly four thousand athletes plying their craft in the Centre of Australia for a week.However, beyond the world of commerce, the games had even more successful, community nurturing outcomes.In a geographical sense Alice Springs is a "natural" for the conduct of the games. All 30 sporting venues are literally within a stone's throw of each other. With ease, spectators were able to stroll from say baseball to athletics to hockey to swimming to ten pin bowls, squash, tennis, cricket and rugby. Similarly, there were no transportation problems for competitors engaging in a multitude of sports. The games are a breeze compared with traipsing from one end of Adelaide, Melbourne or Brisbane just to compete.So too, after the games, the close proximity of eating houses and entertainment centres ensured that the athletes and their friends melded "together".Within Alice Springs are sporting facilities that go unrivalled for a town with a population of 27,000. Foresight by the NT Government has seen the establishment of a world standard velodrome; a heated pool able to cater for a myriad of water sports; the Lyall Kempster baseball diamond which can stand with the best in the country; indoor basketball facilities; and an astro turf hockey field. In terms of the marathon course, Australian Institute of Sport icon, Dr Dick Telford believes the Alice setting is one of the best locations in the world for this arduous test.Besides having the facilities, the Alice Springs Town Council have done their part, with Dave Perry directing a troop of dedicated grounds staff in preparing all venues to their very best. The Anzac Oval was transformed from an entertainment centre catering for the musical, food and beverage needs of 8,000 on Saturday night to a rugby pitch on Sunday, with hardly the bat of an eyelid. Sound systems, stages, tents and tarpaulins came down as goal posts were craned into position and touch lines marked out.Throughout the week the particular needs of athletes were paramount in the minds of the council staff who mowed, marked out and manicured facilities, all for the good of the games. There was a sense of pride in every task performed.Even prior to the closing ceremony as the rain deluged Anzac Oval, all was set up without question, just in case "Huey was to smile" and separate the clouds, so the show could go on! In the streets, at the airport, the train station and at each of the sports all week, a cohort of ambassadors greeted, informed and set the scene for our visitors. Bev Camp as Director of Ambassadors, ensured that no one felt lonely in the Centre of Australia last week.For the injured or stressed, relief was available 24 hours a day from the Sports Medicine base at Speed St. Dr Geoff Thompson and his well qualified staff of volunteers were always on hand to assist. This year the major injuries recorded were to knees, but close behind were injured ankles, shoulders and backs.The Rovers cricket team began the week with 12 players only to be staggering about with a mere two fit players by their last game. The age factor and hamstrings that "ain't what they used to be" ensured that our Sports medicos were kept busy around the clock.The plight of the 91 year old walker who was deprived of a gold medal for breaking was well documented throughout the week. However in every sport were volunteers, working for gratis but well qualified to do so. It was the efficient determina-tions of these people that ensured the games were "dinki di" and the reputation of the Honda Masters was upheld.In each sport also was a coordinator responsible for the conduct of their discipline and again it was these volunteers and their assistants who made the games tick.In evaluating the games, when one looks at the community commitment by volunteers it soon becomes evident that there is a more important ingredient than the visitors' "spend". There is a critical factor, " social capital" the sociologists call it, which relates to the unpaid input by the community for the good of the community. The Honda Masters Games have this year again proven to be a winner thanks to the force of social capital. Alice Springs residents Ð as council workers, sports coordinators, sports medicos, ambassadors, "bag packers" at the registration centre, the list goes on Ð gave of their time, energy, skill and knowledge, while spectators went out night after night to support the sports. The records were shattered in all sports. Margaret Russell headed up the medal tally with 18 golds. Stan Stankovic, now 77, and despite an injury, picked up seven gold, a silver and three bronze. And the Golden Oldies of Rugby again shared the medals around to one and all.The passing on by Honda as sponsor brings sadness, but in our corporate world of the year 2000 these things happen! The Chief Minister has said the games will continue in Alice Springs in 2002. This was the word the citizens needed to hear, as without question the major contributor to the games is the NT Government. And the community of Alice Springs have a real feeling of ownership of these games. They want to keep them!As for the ringing tills, the games did bring particular joy to each sport coordinating events. They received a recompense for their effort from the games directorate which will counter in a small way their ever rising costs.The Clubs who catered for events during the week would also have done well and the money raised will be directed straight back into their sporting community. Basketball and Westies again had their gala nights, while Pints, Memo, Federal, and the Golf Club all traded well over the bar.In all the games were successfully run by the people for the people. In terms of social capital the games bring out the best in the town: Alice is proud and will continue to grow, because it is a good place to live.
RAIN, TALKS EASE BUSHFIRE THREATS. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
Harold Furber, a Projects Officer with the Central Land Council and Labor candidate for the seat of MacDonnell, was taken from his Central Arrernte family in 1957, at age four and a half, and placed at the Methodist mission on Croker Island, two kilometres across the sea from Darwin, more than 1500 kilometres from his home in Central Australia.He can't remember leaving Alice Springs, but can remember arriving at Croker, holding his little sister Trisha's hand Ð not understanding why they were there, wondering when they would be leaving.They were immediately separated, but would find each other at play during the day.When Trish was taken back to the all-girl cottage at night she would start to cry and couldn't stop. The only person who could comfort her was Harold. He was sometimes called to calm her down.One day Trisha disappeared, as if off the face of the earth. No explanation to young Harold.Some time later the letters from his mother stopped. (She also wrote angry letters to the mission, protesting about her children's removal) . Again, no explanation. It wasn't until he received a letter from his older sister Margaret in Central Australia, asking him if he had got over the shock of losing their mother, that he was told she was dead.These are the bare bones of a heart-breaking story of a boy and girl who lost family and home as a result of the then government policy of removing children of mixed race from their Aboriginal families.Harold did not see or hear from Trisha again until she was 18 years old.Their story is told in a documentary, "Remembering country", that goes to air next Tuesday night (Nov 7) on SBS at 7pm.It is mostly Harold who tells it, simply, yet with undisguised emotion, from a personal and family viewpoint. Present day footage is built around the mission's archive of slides and home movies. There is a strange dissonance between the narrative and these images of children at play in what looks like a tropical paradise, reflecting how utterly confusing their world must have been.The documentary does not attempt to explain government and mission policy. The information that viewers receive is not much greater than what these little children had to go on.Its value, like that of other personal accounts by members of the Stolen Generation, is to record the immense personal cost of removal policies and practices.Reunion with their family in adult life comforts but also seems to underscore the terrible losses that the children needlessly endured.Rosie Furber, niece of Harold's grandmother, tells of the other side of the suffering, that of the family left behind, wondering where their children or grandchildren were and how they were getting on. Rosie understood why her aunty was so sad but there was nothing she could do about it. Like Harold and Trisha, she cries to think about it, more than 40 years later. KIERAN FINNANE.
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