Indigenous marathon – the chosen few


p22106-Indig-Marathon-1By ERWIN CHLANDA
A small number of people running marathons overseas are being funded by the Federal Government at a level 10 times greater than reasonable yet it provides only vague answers to questions about why.
These questions relate to the scheme’s benefits, which should be evident after running it for five years, to the participants as well as to the community at large.
The Federal Department of Health is precise to the dollar about how much public money has been spent so far on the Indigenous Marathon Project (IMP): “$2,355,346 (GST Exclusive).”
That’s $60,393 per participant.
That can be compared that with a trip to the New York marathon last month organised by Australian Amnesty International: Registration fee was $770; travel cost $6,000 (“can be fundraised”); trip duration 7 days; accommodation 5 nights twin-share in a 4-star hotel. It’s a total cost of $6770.
The department is much less precise in its answer to other questions from us, and Robert de Castella – the founder and operator of the scheme – did not reply to them at all. Neither did Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion.
p22106-Indig-Marathon-4In 2014, there were about 713,600 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia, accounting for 3% of the total population. [Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.]
Of that total, 20% or about 142,720 are aged between 15 and 24 – the age bracket on which IMP focuses. An average of eight people got to run in each marathon. So the chance of getting a guernsey for a young Indigenous person is about one in 17,840.
What is the benefit the participating individuals get from it, except an international junket at taxpayer’s expense, is unclear, and less clear still is what the other 17,839 people in that age group are getting out of it.
We sought an update on the initiative founded and run by the Australian Olympic marathon gold medalist (in 1984) Robert “Deek” de Castella.
Several of the participants were from the NT. The marathons were in New York (three), in Boston and Tokyo.
Our Indigenous runners were praised mostly for completing the course. None set any records.
More than 50,000 people run in the New York Marathon.
The Alice Springs Running and Walking Club is organising one marathon a year, in August, and three half-marathons. Club joining fee is $30 per adult.
As we reported in September 2013 the department didn’t think much of the program.
The department’s assessment panel said at the time: “The application meets Indigenous Sport and Recreation Program (ISRP) objectives to ‘a low degree’ and ‘the project demonstrated limited and short term broader community engagement … the proposed budget demonstrated poor value for money by catering for an exclusive group in a high cost manner and therefore poses a financial risk. The high cost of travel is a prohibitor. As per the ISRP conditions, international travel and accommodation is not permitted to be funded’.”
Has experience proved that assessment wrong? Has the government’s perseverance in funding the scheme born some substantial fruit? If so the department is keeping it close to its chest.
NEWS: We assume that after six years significant benefits to the participants are now evident, such as they have acquired skills and steady jobs in trades or professions and are valued and independent members of society. In what way has each participant benefited?
DEPARTMENT:  In addition to the physical benefits of training and competing in a marathon, the IMP incorporates education which assists in creating pathways for the participants to progress to further areas of study and work. [How many participants have gone down those pathways and where did they get to? We are not told.]
p22106-Indig-Marathon-2DEPARTMENT: The IMP improves employment and study options for programme participants with 100% of the 2014 IMP Graduates employed or studying six months after their IMP year. [What have the inaugural participants, for example, been up to in the past four and a half years? We’re not told.]
NEWS: What are (if any) the community benefits?
DEPARTMENT:  The  programme aims to have a high media profile and public exposure as this is part of its health promotion strategy to the community. [How is that strategy working and what are its demonstrable results? We’re not told.]
NEWS: What are the key performance indicators?
DEPARTMENT:  There are a number of key performance indicators for the project including participation rates; educational attainment and employment of participants; and community events. [Participation rates? Have 100% of participants offered a trip overseas said “yes”? No doubt. Educational attainment and employment? That is precisely what we asked about and are not getting an answer to.]
DEPARTMENT:  Many IMP participants have also taken on additional leadership and mentoring roles in their communities. [Whom are they leading? Whom are the mentoring? Which communities? We’re not told.]
NEWS: What are the total fees paid so far to “Deek” and associated people and enterprises?
You guessed it: We’re not told, except that the department says it is “aware that the Indigenous Marathon Project Foundation seeks other support for the project as appropriate”.


  1. More concerning is the explosive growth of persons of indigenous origin.
    At the 1967 referendum there were some 67,000 persons recognised as Aboriginal.
    People of Aboriginal descent have increased from 352,970 in 2006 to 548,370 (ABS Census). An overall increase of around 64% in a decade.
    Of these, over half were counted in New South Wales and Queensland. In the Northern Territory the indigenous proportion of the population was nearly 27%.

  2. As the first Project Coach approached by Deek to set up his Indigenous Marathon Project in the NT in 2009, I was there at the beginning, identifying and coaching the first for athletes to go to New York.
    Six years down the track, Deek has received an Australia Day award for his project’s achievements. He should now be prepared to answer the fair questions being asked about his publicly funded outcomes in the project in a transparent, frank and honest manner, becoming his public status.
    Deek owes it to the taxpayer and especially to the Aboriginal community of the NT.

  3. The “F” word again. Funding, funding, funding and it mostly goes to anything Aboriginal.
    Sick of politicians thieving my hard earned money for “funding”. Go fund yourselves!

  4. Re athletics: I have many heroes in that particular sporting endeavour: John Landy (whom I watched as a teenager trying to break the four minute barrier for the mile distance), Herb Elliot, Raelene Boyle, Cathy Freeman and Rob de Castella, to name a few.
    All greatly respected athletes the world over. However, I must admit that the Indigenous Marathon Project initiated by Rob de Castella has left me wondering in that what are the actual goals for this costly activity?
    What follow-up assessments have been done on those who have participated in it over the years?
    As you state, Erwin, it is claimed by the Federal Health Department that as part of its strategy of health promotion to the community this project meets that need. You correctly ask: How is that strategy working?
    Now, I must admit to having a bias towards cycling as a community health benefit.
    There are other exercise pursuits of course which help too. Nevertheless, I would love to have access to just a tiny fraction of the IMP money as I firmly believe there would be a much greater chance of developing an ongoing program that would have a more realistic chance of providing much needed health benefits to communities.

  5. Reclaim your tax money. Your hard earned money is earned on stolen Aboriginal land. Let’s call it compensation.

  6. Extraordinary. Mr De Castella appears to have traded on his name, trashed the good will of others for a farcical scheme and even more farcical funding model.
    The scheme’s purpose from the start seems to have been to maximise publicity for Mr De Castella.

  7. @ Michael: If we are talking about “ours” and “theirs”, then don’t use the following: Modern medical care, the dentist, cars (Troopies), houses, beds, clothing, supermarket food, aircon, TV, radio (bin CAAMA and IMPAJA), the dole … to name some.
    You need to understand that Australian demographics are changing at many levels. The ’70s generation of hand-wringers are entering retirement and will possibly be your competitors for the tax dollar – Aboriginal sit down money versus the aged pension. Should be interesting.
    My partner is a new Australian who comes from a country that has little support for the aged, unemployed etc. and he feels he doesn’t owe you anything. Nor do I.

  8. Deek has a IMP Fun Run here in the Barossa Valley, whereby he rattles a tin for donations.
    I suspect he fails to admit that to date he has received over $3m in State and Federal funds for this project.
    I also suspect he fails to say that for a considerable period of time he managed to pay himself $2,000 per day PLUS expenses for his service to Aboriginal people.
    There was justifiable outrage at the likes of Bronwyn Bishop and others wasting taxpayers money.
    Small change to the over $200,000 that Deek has managed to sock away into his private accounts (as shown in an Auditor General’s audit).
    [ED – We have invited Deek to respond to this comment. We also put several questions to him on December 24 about financial issues of this project but received no response.]

  9. So many people want answers from Mr De Castella. He has taken Mr Bell’s idea and ran with it. Deek needs to comment and defend the programme.
    If he justifies it and provides good outcomes it will remain. If he doesn’t come out and comment then the programme needs to be stopped so that a full report into the purpose of this junket can be made available.

  10. @ Reclaim our tax money, posted Jan 7th, 7:01pm: As one of the 70s generation of “hand-wringers”, whatever that means, I can say that your generalisation matches many of your other points and renders your post largely irrelevant.
    However, your rebuke about Indigenous involvement in the fruits of modernity is worthy of some kind of reply.
    It’s remarkable how many people from all nations, including Australians, have and continue to purchase Aboriginal art.
    This art comes from the land, either as expressions of the artist’s Dreaming or as an expression of the Colonial experience.
    It has contributed to the tax kitty in a substantial manner, either as direct tax, including gallery owners and their staff, materials purchase or as a salve to welfare dependency.
    QANTAS jets and numerous automobiles are adorned with it, as are many other products which contribute to the lifestyle which you and your partner enjoy.
    Of course, there are problems, but let’s try to work them out, rather than hurl barbs. That went out when Troopies started coming in and you can bet Toyota dealers and others are happy about it.

  11. Well said John Dermody.
    Worth listening to someone who managed the Alice Springs Master Games in the early years, Dermo has a lot of knowledge about the ins and out of government money in sport.
    It is clearly time for Deeks to answer some of the questions being put.
    He and his legal team have come down hard on John Bell who has been seeking the remuneration he was promised, but a good deal of “interesting” information has been revealed in the proceedings. Maybe Deeks now wishes he had treated JB differently?

  12. Russel Guy: Art as a salve to welfare dependency? I don’t think so.
    Aboriginal artists are almost universal on government benefits irrespective of their incomes.
    Even those on high incomes are still on the dole, they periodically get a new or upgraded house, free medical care, kids private education paid for etc etc.

  13. @ Jason, posted Jan 8th, 12:57pm.
    Another mass of generalisations spewed forth as gospel. I’ve spent years with artists, musicians, artefact makers – helping with tax matters, profiles, business models, etc, working in town and communities with all age groups, mentoring, commissioning, assisting in child care and all the rest of it.
    It ain’t black and white by a long shot – the grey area is where people reach out to one another, where trauma, hurt and love walk down a two-way street … now, don’t get me started.

  14. @Russell. Your generalisation that art is a salve to welfare dependency is simply untrue and I’m not sure whether you are standing by your claim or not.
    Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Rover Thomas, Ronnie Tjampitjnpa etc were nurtured by taxpayer-subsidised, community-based art centres providing all their material and artistic guidance and the artists earned millions tax free.
    They all remained on welfare benefits.

  15. @ Jason. Jan 8th, 4:20pm.
    Hi Jason,
    The next time you are feeling slightly altruistic, can I suggest that you accompany one of the artists whose affairs you seem to be intimately acquainted with to an Alice Springs bank and enquire after a housing loan?
    You will see what institutionalised obstacles, not the least having a taxation record, stand in the way of solving some of the problems you rail against.
    I am future oriented – problem solving, not looking back at Art Centre Start Ups, which as I’ve already stated, created a substantial contribution to taxpayer funds.
    There are numerous points I could make about your posts, mainly to do with economics, but I feel that until you can write your own name, it’s not worth the punt.

  16. Artists earning millions do not do this tax free, same for those on Centrelink benefits.
    The Centrelink Fraud Tip-off Line is still 13 1524.
    The Commonwealth needs to clarify responsibilities, not hide them in forests of legislation, clauses and sub-clauses, and worst of all, hidden elsewhere in exemptions, which most of us struggle to make sense of.

  17. Once again, why are the tax payers funding this? If the Indigenous councils have pride in their people, why are they not funding these projects?
    When these people return, would they then be fit and well to say I can now work for a living?
    There is plenty of work out there for them. Tidying their own communities would be a start.

  18. Russell, you say you are problem solving but first you have to acknowledge the problems.
    The big problem is that to do justice to all Aboriginal people and placate the rest of society, especially the groups doing it very hard, funding must be provided to address genuine need.
    And where self sufficiency is possible it should be mandated.
    There are so many examples where a lack of needs assessment provides benefits that do a great deal of damage to Aboriginal people and their access to funds in the future.
    One is high income earners remaining on welfare payments and being provided with houses etc.
    Another, closer to home, is that all Congress staff and their families getting free medical and dental care.
    Take a doctor on a massive salary relative to most of us having free dental care provided for her partner and kids at tax payer expense.
    This is irrespective of race.
    This sort of thing is doing harm and as the recession noose tightens around our national budget there could be a backlash.

  19. Fred the Philistine.
    Interesting the comments coming through about taxpayers funding Aboriginal programs.
    Taxpayers also fund retired politicians pensions yet no comment is made about this. Is there a problem with Aboriginal people in this country?
    Would be interesting to see what amount of taxpayers money goes towards retired politicians each year plus their other entitlements such as airfares etc.

  20. @ Michael: The politicians have worked and paid their taxes. We as voters always complain about how such they get.
    It appears that the Indigenous get money for jam.
    Their respective councils should take more responsability and funding a lot of their programmes.
    Look at Adam Giles, he is working for the benefit of the NT people, I would say he is even paying taxes.
    He is not moping around and putting his hand out for everything. He is helping himself.
    He has done a lot for the Indigenous people of the NT.

  21. Re: Jason Posted January 8, 2016 at 12:50 pm
    Whether any high income earners remain dependent on Centrelink, or without Centrelink income deductions, is a matter Centrelink needs be examined over.
    Many artists are beneficiaries of the corporate Land Trusts, these Land Trusts were long term allowed to ignore their responsibilities as landlords.
    Commonwealth exempts these Land Trusts from being held accountable.
    Commonwealth obstructs attempts to resolve issues.
    Commonwealth obstructs legal representation – courts require to progress towards judicial resolution of these issues.
    Commonwealth protects these Trusts, their management, their agents and their employees from being held accountable in court.
    This denial of judicial relief is part of the Commonwealth’s active support and promotion of apartheid.
    Families are also victims of this apartheid, this segregation.
    Many of the artists do have housing constructed using public funds on land they own through their Land Trusts. All this is created by the Commonwealth to promote apartheid.
    Commonwealth is principal source of funds to construct housing, and other facilities, on lands owned by these ALR(NT) Land Trusts.
    Commonwealth exempts these Land Trusts landlords from the requirement to issue reasonable tenancy leases.
    Do banks lend money without security?
    Why does Commonwealth NOT, and so guarantee such generous funds to all who do struggle, using their own savings, purchase a block of land, so they also can afford to build a house?
    Why does NT Government not provide such generous financing?
    Re education: Neither parents, nor public, nor media, find it easy to review schooling in these communities, other than NAPLAN which provides some reports.
    So Yirara College management dances to tunes played by NT and Commonwealth, mostly to hide and protect Ministers.
    Many youths, many adults, are distressed to discover feeling they are doing well. It is inadequate when tested whether in schools, NAPLAN tests, job interviews, arrested or in prison.
    Suicide is far to common a reaction when they discover reality.
    In the past four decades Mal Brough was the only Minister who seriously started to address structural causes of these problems.

  22. Erwin just read your article – great stuff.
    Julia J – right on target.
    It is disappointing yet again that de Castella will not come forward with any answers.
    I was at the AAT hearing with John Bell where he strongly objected to the audit results being released mainly on the grounds that they could be taken out of context.
    Well, Mr de Costella, give us the CONTEXT.


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