Referendum? Forget it.


p2391-ted-eganBy 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.


  1. The purported referendum is to promote Commonwealth racism upon Australians.
    The campaigns leading to 1967 Referendum were to eliminate government racism upon Australians.
    Denied equality of rights, denied equality of responsibilities, denied equality of opportunities, done to fellow Australians by governments applying racial tag of Aborigine.
    Racism by governments, through legislation, regulation and special benefits.
    Government racism continues, it still denies Australians equal opportunities, including to succeed or fail.
    Politicians supporting qualification of our rights and responsibilities using racial tags promote government racism.
    Government racism must be eliminated, extinguished, for that is what Australians overwhelmingly sought to eliminate at Federation, then again in the 1967 Referendum.

  2. A camp is a temporary groups of tents or shelters.
    Town camps should be called estates or hamlets and given some proper names. Those camps are often thought of as fringe camps.
    Town camps, or fringe camps, have always been a feature of Alice Springs – they were there before the town was gazetted in 1888, in the then name of Stuart.
    The town camps began in Alice Springs in the 1880s, as a direct result of Aboriginal people being dispossessed of their traditional lands by the invasion and occupation of non-Aboriginal settlers.
    Times have changed and “camps” should become a place where the tenants in common have their own rules.

  3. Discussion about town camps always reminds me of a comment about them by an old friend in Alice circa early 1972.
    On our regular training runs up the Todd riverbed from Gap Road to Middle Park and back, usually late in the arvo and early evening, my friend would be greeted by the campers who could be seen in small groups, often cooking tucker. They would yell out and wave and he would tell me their names, some of whom were his relatives.
    He would explain their tribal background and their particular bush community to me. I was curious to know why they were in Alice and I would ask questions.
    In my work I knew about the town camps and was aware that the campers often travelled in from their remote bush communities and stayed in the town camps and the riverbed environs for short periods or longer.
    So I asked him – why did they come into Alice? He grinned and then said in all seriousness: “Holiday, mate.”
    I as incredulous and said: “But some have come in from way out in the Tanami! In this heat! For a holiday? Strewth!”
    He said: “Yep. Dead set holiday, mate!”
    Then he patiently raised his eyes to heaven, as much as to say: “Lord, gimme strength! These white city boys from Down South don’t know nuthin’ about the facts of life here, hey Lord!”
    Time has certainly moved on but town camps in the Alice as a holiday destination is a simple fact of life that was explained to me by a local whose ancestors knew the Alice quite well indeed. Impeccably well, in fact.
    Sometimes life can be explained so simply, hey!

  4. @ just Saying: I feel that in their present statute quo , the name would be adequate: The average refugee camp size is recommended by the UNHCR to be 45 sqm per person of accessible camp area. Conditions are often unhealthy, overcrowded, and, at times, dangerous.
    Violence is common.
    Aboriginal people live displaced from their land and culture is like long-term refugees displaced on their own land.
    An internally displaced person (IDP) is someone who is forced to flee his or her home but who remains within his or her country’s borders.
    They are often referred to as refugees, although they do not fall within the current legal definition of a refugee.
    A history of displacement and disconnection is still reverberating for Australia’s Indigenous people – and tackling the fallout means looking at the whole picture.
    But I also feel that having different names and rights could give the residents of the “town camps” pride and incentives to success.

  5. Some of your readers have got it very wrong. Alice Springs is Arranta country (my spelling) and in the 19th century no Warlpiri, Pitjantjatjara or any other foreigner would have dared come within 50 miles of the present townsite.
    Unless, of course, there was some ceremonial reason prompting an invitation. A camp is a camp, despite the euphemistic terms like village, hamlet or estate.
    And the sooner we replace the existing town camps, the better for Aboriginal society. As I said in the Rest & Reflection series, First Australians should be rehabilitated in their own country, on their terms and using their energies. They deserve that: no more, no less.


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