COMMENT by DAVE PRICE
It seems that Nicolas Rothwell’s comment in The Australian on January 24 that Rolf Gerritsen is the “Territory’s leading public intellectual” has gone to his head a little.
Last weekend The Australian, for the first time, admitted to its readers that Rothwell is Alison Anderson’s partner. I have been trying to get them to do that for months. He has also become, obviously, Alison’s mouthpiece now she has fallen from power. And now Professor G has joined our Alison’s cheer squad.
Unlike Rothwell I have never tried to hide my relationship to my wife, Bess Nungarrayi, the MLA for Stuart, and yes I am her biggest fan. I will let your readers judge for themselves whether my obvious bias makes me worth listening to or not.
I have been pretty quiet in recent times because I am happy for my wife to speak for herself and her constituents in Parliament. And she is the rare type of politician who likes to get on with the job entrusted to her rather than waste time and effort fighting off criticism by internet trolls, rabid activists and public intellectuals who claim to know her people better than she does and undermining allies and colleagues.
I was amazed last September to hear Gerritsen’s “it’s all about rebellion” thesis to explain the dysfunction of Aboriginal communities and the ridiculously high incarceration rate of young Aboriginal men and, increasingly women.
He gave his thesis in a joint presentation with Don Zoellner. It was deeply paradoxical to me. Zoellner seemed to be asking for more resources and effort to be put into training and higher education and Gerritsen was telling us that students wouldn’t turn up to do the training anyway, just to spite us whitefellas.
It seems to me the height of absurdity to make the claim that Aboriginal people are deliberately choosing to live in poverty, violence, avoidable sickness and despair out of a politically rational sense of rebellion.
Gerritsen neglected to point out that 60% of Aboriginal male offenders are incarcerated for being convicted of violent crimes against their own women. So men are bashing and killing their women as a political act of rebellion against the Big Bad White Man, apparently. And they are rationally choosing a lifestyle that leads to chronic, avoidable illness and early death.
And they don’t send their kids to school or undertake training or take on available jobs because governments would rather they were healthy, off welfare and in control of their own lives. Yeah, that makes sense.
His praise for Alison Anderson also astounds me. I have known Alison for decades and I am very close to several who are related to her. I find it very hard to point to anything she has actually achieved although she has had plenty of chances.
She ran Papunya for eleven years. I recommend Skelton’s ‘King Brown Country’ on that period if you haven’t read it yet.
She was Zone Commissioner for ATSIC when I worked for that terminally ill organisation. She was then known as ‘the windscreen wiper’ to many of the Aboriginal people I worked with at the time.
I remember her standing gallantly by Geoff Clark after he’d been accused of rape by his own cousin. She has a way of picking worthwhile causes.
She then became an MLA and Minister in a Labor government and we all remember what happened then. My wife was appointed to chair the inaugural Indigenous Affairs Advisory Council by Marion Scrymgour, then holding the highest position attained by an Aboriginal woman in our history. Marion resigned the same day then came back once the ‘windscreen wiper’ had left the government and the party. Not a coincidence.
Alison then joined the Country Liberals and was promoted to the front bench in that government. Instead of getting on with the hard work that her portfolios demanded of her she chose to rebel after enthusiastically supporting, to us and within the party, the overthrow of Terry Mills. Bess Nungarrayi was the last to be won over on that issue. She is a loyalist through and through.
When she knew my wife wasn’t going to join her hare brained rebellion Alison immediately worked to undermine her position as she has done with all Aboriginal political allies that she couldn’t control. This I witnessed close up.
During the wooing period she called myself and my wife ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’, she is a Nampitinpa after all, Aboriginal people and anthropologists will understand. Then she told her ‘Mummy’ to her face that people thought she was ‘just a dumb bush blackfella who couldn’t do her job’.
Then of course it was Clive Palmer to the rescue and now he’s a goner, we knew that couldn’t last, two similar personalities in competition for the lime light, and Francis Xavier Kurrupuwu has come home again although we don’t hear much from him.
Her last political ally, apart from Eli Melky, is an MLA who thinks that a violent fracas in public leading to a charge of aggravated assault and disorderly behaviour “happens all the time in families”. And in all this time what, Professor Gerritsen, has she achieved apart from destabilizing, protesting and insulting, bad mouthing and undermining any other Aboriginal leader with a view different from her own let alone the whitefellas? And this has benefited her people somehow? And they are too dumb to work all of this out?
Bess Nungarrayi has stayed loyal to the Chief Minister because she believes that he has the best chance of doing the best job for the people in her electorate, white and black, given the alternatives. She was not given forewarning – neither was the Speaker, the party members or the management team – of the midnight coup attempt and was offered a fait accompli – “Adam Giles is gone whether you like it or not, we’re sending you to the back bench and now we are demanding your support”.
The last straw was hearing that Alison was waiting in the wings to make a dramatic come back. Far from being a hypocrite Bess Nungarrayi, like Marion Scryngour before her, has stuck to her beliefs and to her guns and will continue to do so no matter who holds the reigns of government and no matter what harebrained scheme Alison is up to.
Prof Gerritsen, you should talk to more Aboriginal people than just Alison. A conversation with Bess Nungarrayi may have been useful before you join in Alison’s campaign to undermine her politically. She speaks four Aboriginal languages, by the way, not just Warlpiri. Alison is your informant on this question as well I gather.
[PARAGRAPH deleted February 19, 2015 – ED]
My wife has been getting continuous and vocal support from both Aboriginal people in her electorate, and in others – the ones Professor Gerritsen doesn’t talk to – and whitefellas, a posse of whom were prepared to literally ride to her rescue when news of the coup attempt broke. She has also received warm congratulations from the staff of the departments she is responsible for because they see her work everyday and see her honesty, good humour and total lack of hypocrisy.
Another very clever Whitefella public intellectual who knew the electorate of Stuart better than we do, Antony Green, predicted that Bess Nungarrayi didn’t have a hope of coming out on top in the last election. She was up against a popular male, Aboriginal incumbent minister and needed a swing of 16%. “Impossible” he said. She got a swing of over 18%. Next year we’ll see if Prof Gerritsen’s prediction is worth listening to.
COMMENT by DAVE PRICE