By TED EGAN
I hope the nonsensical suggestion that there be a Referendum to recognise the “prior presence” of First Australians in Australia is soon put to rest. The sad reality is that, given the privacy of the ballot box, the “No” voters would prevail.
But why bother in the first place? Why not have a referendum to establish whether the sun rises in the east? Of course there were First Australians living comprehensive, proud, caring lives in 1787. Australia was in good hands.
The better approach to recognise and re-empower First Australians lies in re-establishing and re-inforcing the old group identities – Arranta, Warlpiri, Pitjantjatjara etc – by convincing our new NT government to establish the “Bob Beadman towns”, whereby the various groups of First Australians provide for themselves, through their own labour, planning and endeavour, amenable townships with standard facilities, in their proper country.
It is the established right of all Australians to have access to schools, hospitals, libraries, sporting facilities, roads, electricity, plus housing at an approved level. The aim of the land rights demonstrators of the 1960s was to recognise the traditional ownership of Australia by the First Australians and to enable them to rehabilitate in their specific regions. It is not apartheid, it is recognition of traditional and ongoing ownership.
But we must not fall into the trap of simply having the government invite tenders for white contractors to build such towns. The various local government organisations must be empowered to involve local residents to participate to maximum extent. On a realistic basis.
Sadly, thousands of First Australians are currently being forced into the self-fulfilling role of “fringe dwellers”, whereby they are living in squalor on the outskirts of towns like Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Katherine, Pine Creek and Darwin.
They are coerced into this situation because life in their traditional areas is so sterile. Few schools of consequence, no meaningful jobs, no hospitals. So if grandma gets sick, she is accompanied to town by her relatives, who sit in the cesspits called “town camps” and quickly become endangered in the process.
Minimal money invites petty crime, which leads to drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, confrontation with the police and the community in general. The cynics tut-tut and say: “We do so much for them”.
They deserve better.
Best wishes to all Territorians for a vigorous 2017.
By TED EGAN