February 17, 2008

Sorry to spoil the party

John Lyons starts off oddly, with an absurdly cheesy assumption, one so difficult to sustain that we have to put it down to his eagerness to please by joining the herd in attempting to inculcate the general populace into believing the ridiculous.
"It was, by any measure, a remarkable week in the life of this nation. Whether you agreed or not with the apology, it was one of those moments for which you'll probably remember where you were and who you were with."


In truth, there are few such moments in life, stemming from public events, for some generations there are no such moments. For the unfortunate, there are more such moments in life, stemming from private events. The split seconds that can change the world, or change forever an uneventful existence, cannot be simulated, cannot be appropriated, cannot be foisted onto people.

For anyone wondering: I was at work, doing something of a work-like nature, I was in my little work-place desk pod that I share with Steve. Many days later I still haven't heard or seen the "sorry" speech on radio or television. A day after the event I got around to reading Rudd's short, insipid speech online. I write this now, because I won't remember next week, or next year, or next decade.

Still, I forgive Lyons his silliness, I indulge his urber-hype, purely because that rest of what he writes alludes to, quiet gently, I would suggest, the bitter and ugly truth that the "sorry" symbolism has momentarily papered over.

"There seemed a sense that the country had grown up somewhat by purging itself of some of the demons of the past. There seemed a national sigh of relief.

But for me the glow only lasted 11 hours - I was brought back to reality that evening when I attended an event that provided a very serious reality check.

It was a dinner hosted by Quadrant magazine whose guest speaker was a 46-year-old private citizen called Mal Brough. He'd been, of course, the minister for Indigenous Affairs in the Howard government.

"Tonight there will be children who will be subjected to unspeakable acts; who will see their parents or relatives with whatever form of substance abuse; who will actually live in the most deprived and depraved circumstances; who will put their heads down on concrete floors not having bathed for days, if not weeks; with lice and scabies; who will get rat bites tonight. All in Australia, all at a time when we are celebrating in our nation's capital a new beginning."...

At times on Wednesday night it could have been Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson speaking. Pearson supported the intervention last year when he said: "The people who are nay-saying are people whose children sleep safely at night." ...

"I don't need an academic in Melbourne or Sydney to tell us that we are seeing languages wiped out," he said. "We are seeing people wiped out. Let's get that right and maybe the culture will live on.

"How can it be in a country where it is against the law in every state and territory not to have your children at school every day without a reason that we allow thousands of children - not only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, but there are a lot of them - never to see the inside of a school room?"

What was so shocking was the detail of the lives of Aboriginal children. ...

Recently, in one community, there were 300 rat bites on children. "There was a fight between two community organisations that had the rat baits about who would pay to have them put out."

And dental students wanted to go to Aurukun to fix teeth but the Queensland police told them it was too dangerous.

But then came the most horrible statistic. In one town in Western Australia which had 90 males, 15 had been charged with child sex offences.

The permit system, which he began to abolish and which the Rudd Government wants to bring back, was "apartheid". It prevented media access.

NT police had said permits stopped "baddies" coming in; "well why then do 45 of our 45 Aboriginal communities have sexual predators in them?"

Because state governments had not spent sufficiently on teachers "if a child doesn't turn up to school that's not such a bad thing because we don't need another classroom.

"When we're actually saying to a child 'you don't have to start learning English until you are seven, eight or nine years of age' then we're really saying 'you don't have a part in the rest of Australia'." ...

"They think of indigenous people living in central Australia or in Arnhem Land or anywhere in the top end as somehow living a lifestyle of a noble savage, living off the land ... the reality is these people are dying of diabetes because of an inadequate diet, they are dying of malnutrition because their parents don't feed them adequately, they have diseases which have been eradicated everywhere else." ...

Noel Pearson and Warren Mundine had argued against welfare dependency, Brough said. "If you keep handing money over which is used for all the wrong things: $15,000 in the pot for a game of cards where children don't get fed for 24 hours."

Land rights, he said, were often used as a reason conditions could not be improved.

"Since when do land rights come ahead of human rights? Since when does a child born with alcohol foetal syndrome have an affinity with the land? Since when does such a child have the capacity to pass on an oral history when they don't understand what's going on because their minds are messed up from before birth." ...

Kevin Rudd, he said, needed to be wary of "the service providers". "No one should underestimate how much is at stake in the power bases, the political bases and the financial bases when you upset the apple cart."

Brough asked: why had so many people not made more noise over the past 20 years, including Labor's member for the NT, Warren Snowdon. "Are these people deaf, dumb and blind? Why is it that ATSIC didn't rail against this stuff?

"Ladies and gentlemen, today, they said, was a historic day. It will be a historic day if in 30 years time we're making another apology because we didn't have the gumption to face up to the facts of our demons."

Sorry to spoil the party, The Weekend Australian ...

More likely, in another fifty years time someone will have to say sorry on behalf of the swollen generation for not "stealing" several generations of woebegotten, neglected, uneducated and chronically abused Aboriginal children. But perhaps not. Given their life expectancy, perhaps their won't be enough alive for anyone to bother apologizing.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:18 PM

    Whilst I am not necessarily against apolgizing, I do think that too many people got caught up in that feel good speech of Rudd's.I saw bits and pieces of it on the tv, then later read the speech.
    Noel Pearsons brilliant piece in The Australian-Features 12/02
    Titled "When Words Aren't enough"
    says it all for me.

    My gut feeling is, that things won't change much.
    But I hope to God I'm wrong.