By ERWIN CHLANDA
Today, 30 years after the hand-back (at right) of Uluru to Aboriginal people, they are still far from being serious players in the economic activities surrounding Australia’s greatest natural tourist attraction.
The hand-back was a powerful act by Prime Minister Bob Hawke, interpreted by many as a long overdue turning point in Australian race relations. Regrettably, it hasn’t lived up to the economic advantages it was widely expected to deliver.
Central Land Council (CLC) director David Ross says the current celebrations also mark “a decade of achieving impressive development outcomes [of] the CLC’s innovative and very successful community development (CD) program”.
But that is mostly a program to spend Uluru rent money, and income from other sources in Central Australia, especially mining royalties.
Mr Ross says funds go to such uses as “the Mutitjulu pool, the Imanpa store, the Utju basketball court, the renovation of the historic Ernabella church, support for dialysis patients in Alice to visit their home communities, for the roll-out of the Ara Irititija social history database and many infrastructure projects.”
He makes no reference to what is commonly referred to as “gate money” being used as seed capital for commercial enterprises, owned by local Indigenous people, that could provide employment and opportunities for growth in the world-famous park they own.
We have asked Mr Ross to comment on our report last week about the reluctance of the Indigenous population in the park, and nearby communities, to get employment at the Ayers Rock Resort, owned by the Indigenous Land Corporation.
The CD program’s flagship initiative at Mutitjulu, the Aboriginal community at the base of the Rock, is maintaining a swimming pool built with money from the Federal Aboriginals Benefit Account.
In a review published this month of the CD program, Dr Linda Kelly from the Institute for Human Security and Social Change, La Trobe University, says the program deals with “Aboriginal income flowing from land-use agreements, including royalties, rent, lease and compensation payments, plus affected area payments.
“Assessment in Mutitjulu indicates that the community pool … is making a positive difference to children and families in the community and has reinforced community confidence in its ability to make decisions and influence development outcomes.”
The pool is linked to a “no school, no pool” initiative, says Mr Ross.
However, after 10 years in operation, key functions of the CD program remain in the future: “There is a sense from all reports and programs that notwithstanding ongoing challenges, the Community Development Unit is now well positioned to move beyond program management towards greater facilitation of development processes,” writes Dr Kelly.
“This includes working together with Aboriginal people to create new development opportunities.”
Yet there are problems even with the simple task of running the pool: “Despite numerous efforts by CASA [CASA Leisure, an Adelaide based pool management company] and the CLC it has been difficult to attract permanent staff from the community, although there has been some recent success.
“People give various reasons for this. What seems to be clear is that it will take time and needs local solutions and local ideas,” writes Dr Kelly.
“Experience from elsewhere suggest that it will be a slow process, requiring people to build up confidence in the pool management and the value of the employment offered.
“The pool committee have more recently started a range of initiatives to address this area.”
These include providing food for children who go home from the pool and find there is no food there.
Dr Kelly quotes a community member in her report: “We would like to be able to have kangaroo tails and so after swimming we can have a feed. Kids would enjoy. We could have a fire outside and leave them to cook while we swim.
“It is a good way to teach the kids (traditional knowledge) while they are having a good feed.
“We’d quite like to make a little store tuckshop there. After that swim the kids get hungry and go home and maybe mothers don’t have food and kids get hungry.”
PHOTOS courtesy Central Land Council.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion says “today is a bitter sweet moment to celebrate what was achieved 30 years ago but to reflect on how little has changed for Mutitjulu. We need to work closer with the community to realise the aspirations of that day”.
He says negotiations involving traditional owners, community members, Parks Australia and the Central Land Council were well advanced to create a sublease at Mutitjulu.
”I want to see the sublease in place to empower Mutitjulu’s community members and land owners with localised decision-making about the use of their land, and enable them to take advantage of the economic development opportunities offered by Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.”
By ERWIN CHLANDA