ABOVE: MLA Alison Anderson at a rally this year outside Parliament during its sittings in Alice Springs. By her side is Councillor Mildred Inkamala (pink shirt) of the MacDonnell Shire Council.
By KIERAN FINNANE
With the funeral of a nephew who took his own life fresh in her mind, MLA Alison Anderson in last night’s Legislative Assembly debates asked for a breakdown of statistics on suicide in the Northern Territory. She wants to see what the picture is in urban, rural and remote settings, suspecting that, from her experience, young people in remote communities are more vulnerable.
The nephew buried last week in Mutitjulu was the second in Ms Anderson’s family to suicide this winter. The second young man took his life in a suburban street of Alice Springs. He was buried in Hermannsburg on the same day as his father, who Ms Anderson says died from alcoholism.
She tells the Alice Springs News of two other young men who have recently suicided: one, only 14 years old, within the last week, another also this winter, both in remote western desert communities.
She blames ganja (marijuana), alcohol and hopelessness. Under their sway “young people are not afraid to pick up a rope and go and hang themselves”. She says there is no case “to sensationalise” but there is a case to “start talking”. To do that it’s necessary to have “a picture of what’s happening so we can start helping”.
“All we have to offer is CDEP and welfare – we’ve got to give more.
“As parents, grandmothers, and aunties we marched with bodypaint to stop our kids from petrol sniffing. I don’t see this happening now as our kids destroy themselves with ganja.”
She pursued the issue of ganja in the Assembly: “Regarding the effects of mental illness with ganja amongst our kids, I would really like the Minister for Health to give me statistics of how many Aboriginal kids actually come into Cowdy Ward and Ward One in Alice Springs with mental illness, paranoia and all the symptoms of psychosis. How many of these cases are related to ganja? I believe we have to take these matters very seriously.”
Other factors contributing to the stresses on young people’s lives can include traumatic family disputes, says Ms Anderson. She made her remarks on suicide in the context of speaking to the Assembly about the long-running inter-family feud in Yuendumu.
She said: “It is really sad that these communities continuously go through this process of sadness and ugliness through all these disputes and, I believe, it is part of all of us to get together and start talking to these people about the harm that they bring onto themselves, their children, the whole region and the whole community, because it disrupts a child’s life at school, it disrupts a child’s life at home, because kids are just put inside cars and they go to the nearest community or they flee to places like Adelaide.
“Yes, people have a choice, they can move around. However, one day that person has to come back and if anyone is a good hater, let me tell you, Aboriginal people are good haters. They will wait for you. It does not matter how long it takes. You might go to Adelaide and live there for 10 or 20 years but you are going to come back. You might have a grandfather, a mother, a father, auntie or uncle that still resides at that community. That dispute will flare up again.
“This is the long-term education strategy we have to have in our regional towns and our communities. We have the perfect opportunity now with the shires being rolled out to the community because you can link that to the municipal services of towns like Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Katherine. One rule applies across the whole region.”
Lifeline – 13 11 14
Beyond Blue – www.beyondblue.org.au
Reach Out – www.reachout.com.au