ABC story celebrates NAIDOC Week by omissions


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.
p2127-Paul-HerrickAs 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.


  1. Thank you for that article. The ABC is absolutely losing the plot. It is their responsibility to provide its viewers with balanced reporting; in fact it is in their charter to ensure such reports are balanced.
    Unfortunately the ABC continues to take a position rather than reporting facts. If you view online you will see a constant abuse of their responsibilities to the tax payer. Just try and complain and you will be given the cold shoulder, not once have they replied.
    If the ABC cannot follow its charter then taxpayers are funding a propaganda unit and not a public broadcaster.
    I am a very disappointed fan of the ABC and am beginning to understand why some call for their complete axing. Please bring back some level of integrity for the sake of the ABC that most of us grew up with.

  2. Many long term residents of Alice Springs are well aware of, respect and honour Mr Shaw’s military service and associated achievements. They and Mr Shaw should continue to be recognised. Personally, I think Mr Shaw should be entitled to have a quiet beer in his own home (regardless of where he lives).
    However, as your article notes, and many locals will know, the ABC report unfortunately does not tell the full story and contains several errors of fact and throwing around words like living in “poverty” are over the top in this case. They could have started by reading this article: Erwin – you could run an orientation course for new journalists to town to make them aware of the unspokens.

  3. Hi Erwin, I saw the report on ABC TV down here in Victoria and had a similar reaction to you.
    Geoff Shaw deserves respect for his Vietnam service, but he does not deserve to have a wet behind the ears reporter peddle his anti-intervention line without proper scrutiny.
    I hope Mr Herrick learns from this experience. We expect far better from the ABC, and normally we get it.

  4. As you point out, Mr Shaw did not state that he lives in 3rd world conditions. I agree that the ABC has hyped up the story, but I fail to see how Mr Shaw talking about his ex-military experiences has anything to do with his employment at Tangentyere, or personal information like superannuation or his living arrangements within public housing. The Alice News has obviously taken this as an opportunity to beat-up an old gripe and it’s frustrating to read. As you and other commenters have argued regarding the ABC, will you please stick to the facts?

  5. Well said Rachel. Alice News plucked a story here from the clouds without recognising the purpose of the recognition of Indigenous soldiers to war efforts by NAIDOC and the ABC, and the push for that recognition nation wide.
    Here’s a challenge Alice News. As a local media ‘contributor’, why not a story on the many Indigenous Central Australia soldiers and their participation in war efforts? Rather than another beat up to push your own agenda by attacking individual’s credibility. Its tired, old and boring.

  6. Joel, at no time did I denigrate Mr Shaw’s military effort. And, the Alice News has acknowledged the role of Indigenous people serving, for example, in our review of Kenny Laughton’s novel drawn from his Vietnam experiences – see
    In this comment I took to task an account by the ABC not of Mr Shaw’s war record (which the report did not go into), but its misrepresentation of how he was treated after the war in Alice Springs. Far from “struggling for acceptance” he was a key player in the town’s social and political affairs, as our many references to him in our pages clearly show. Feel free to google them on our site. Rachel, this is why my comments on his role in public life are relevant. I stand by them.
    Erwin Chlanda, Editor
    Alice Springs News Online


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