COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA
A report that went to air on ABC TV news last night was short on balance and unfairly dumped on Alice Springs.
The relatively long (2 mins 25 sec) piece was broadcast in connection with NAIDOC Week, promoted under the heading “Decorated Indigenous Vietnam vet lives ‘in third world situation'”.
The war veteran in question is Geoff Shaw (at left), about whom a lot of information is freely available, including in the Alice Springs News Online.
In the interview Mr Shaw does not contend that he’s living in third world conditions. He says on camera “my mother and father were still living in a third world situation” when he returned from Vietnam.
As for claims that he was refused a drink “because of the colour of his skin” in a “soldiers’ club” as Robert Herrick (at right) reported, the example of refusal of service that Mr Shaw gives is the “Memo Club” – which is not a soldiers’ club – where he admits he wasn’t a member.
When Mr Shaw talks about breaking a law by drinking in an area declared dry, and police pour out his beer as they are required to do, Mr Herrick asks a Dorothy Dixer: “So it’s hard to get respect from the police?”
Cue for Mr Shaw to launch into an attack on the police for “not paying me the respect … probably having the attitude, these blackfellers never went to a war … I’m not the only one who’s been put through this whole bloody process. I do feel sad for my people.”
But the piece is most remarkable for what it doesn’t bother to put before the ABC’s viewing public.
For years Mr Shaw was the Executive Director of Tangentyere Council, incorporated in 1979, which gets funding mostly from governments in – at least in the past – tens of millions of dollars a year, although no amounts are quoted on its website.
His son, Walter, later took over as ED and Geoff became president of the organisation.
It is one of least transparent NGOs in the region, the Shaws – father and son – declining to give details of its spending and what its nearly 200 (so far as we know) employees are doing in the service of 1600 to 2000 camp residents.
A key function of Tangentyere was to provide municipal-type services to the 18 town camps in Alice Springs, many of them previously notorious for their squalour. So incompetent was its performance in this regard, that this and other functions were taken away from it during the Intervention and given to other providers.
The camps were declared dry because of the brutal effects of alcohol-fueled crime within them, with women and children the main victims, the sporadic presence of the Tangentyere night patrol notwithstanding.
Far from languishing in impoverished obscurity, Mr Shaw was long one of the town’s most prominent Aboriginal activists, widely quoted in local and national media including, of course, the News.
Mt Nancy town camp is largely occupied by the Shaw family, living there in public housing although most members are either in employment or capable of being so.
It is the – taxpayer funded – North Shore of town camps: when we checked last 2007, the house occupancy rate was 2.4 people. The Warlpiri Camp, then with seven houses for 80 people, was the most crowded with 11.4 residents to a house.
Mr Herrick might have asked Mr Shaw the following questions:
How much was your superannuation pay-out?
Is it fair for you and your family to live in public housing?
If you want a few beers at home, why don’t you rent or buy a house on private land?
But Mr Herrick’s closing line was: “A war hero struggling for acceptance.”
We have invited him to respond to this comment.
COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA