Naronda William Loy, 21, with her daughter Karlishia Raggatt, 1, speak with Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil Shetty, at Mosquito Bore, Utopia, 8 October 2011. Photo courtesy Amnesty International.
By ERWIN CHLANDA
Rosalie Kunoth-Monks told Q&A’s national audience on Monday: “We live in absolute poverty.”
Do they? At the very least the residents of Utopia have income support in the form of Centrelink benefits.
Does “we” include her and her family? They have a three bedroom house with airconditioning, according to someone familiar with Utopia, 250 km north-east of Alice Springs. That person spoke with us after watching Q&A and on the condition of not being named.
Others might be sleeping rough, but sometimes it’s a choice: it’s great for accessing the shop, a factor of transport rather than accommodation.
Sometimes camping rough is a necessity due to sorry business.
No number of permanent houses will alleviate cultural expectations.
Some people have access to housing on nearby outstations.
A local artist living on a truck was one of the exhibits when Salil Shetty, Secretary-General of Amnesty International, called in on his one-day fact-finding mission. But the artist’s house on his nearby homeland was a fact not found by Mr Shetty because he wasn’t made aware if it, our source suggests.
If he had, perhaps his finding would not have been that “around 500 homeland communities are being left to wither as the Government starves them of essential services”.
Many people in the makeshift camps also have access to houses, says our source. Overcrowding is an issue, but it’s a moving target. Finances, family disputes, community events, and cultural obligations (such as sorry business) all make it impossible to provide a clear picture of true demographics and housing needs.
Other assets not on Mr Shetty’s itinerary were the recently upgraded power station, successful local clinic and the new multi-million dollar middle school.
“I’m sure he travelled on the newly sealed highway improving access between community administration, health clinic and the airstrip,” says our source.
Chief Minister Paul Henderson sang the school’s praises during Q&A – it’s fantastic, a middle and senior school, as good as anywhere, but kids need to go to school: “That’s is the challenge.” He made that point twice.
Getting kids to school – clearly – is the job of the parents, or in the Aboriginal context, the extended family. It’s not a job for the Government.
The government’s dollar figure is impressive, the school’s enrolment and attendance figures are not. These are freely available on the departmental website.
Blame cannot be laid at the feet of the teachers. For most remote teachers the day starts early. At Utopia teachers clock on before school as school bus drivers, collecting kids from many of the outstations of the sprawling community. Together the teachers cover hundreds of kilometers each day.
How many dozens of able-bodied people are around, most of them on the dole, who could be doing that job? How many parents help, our source asks.
Surely locals were offered the drivers’ jobs, but they probably found the dole more appealing, or very soon couldn’t or didn’t want to display the reliability and punctuality required.
Again, the transport factor is a major issue in this decentralised community. How much should the government and taxpayer subsidise vehicles, road improvement and transport costs associated with a community’s decision to decentralise into homelands? It’s a big question, says our source. There always seems to be fuel to get to a footy game or to an interstate rodeo, though!
On their bus run the teachers call at the parents’ door but they don’t go inside. If a kid isn’t ready they don’t get picked up. Sadly many don’t make it to school and what’s more, some are not even enrolled. “No jobs, why do they need mainstream education?” is a common attitude, our contact says.
Mrs Kunoth-Monks mentioned the support of The Jack Thompson Foundation. What they are doing is well documented on their web site.
One has to assume the program is as successful as reported. If we drove by today, how many local people would be working on these activities? Would it be just white staff or volunteers on the job?
Batchelor Institute and Charles Darwin University are just two RTOs providing courses to locals. Clinic staff coordinate a free locum style service.
Extensive staff travel facilitates great access to health services for the Utopia population. People living in “absolute poverty” in many parts of the world rarely experience that same level of service.
Is the reported health success of these homelands not due in part to the amazing dedication of health staff, our source asks.
No mention of lots of this on Q&A.