By KIERAN FINNANE
Modified 4 October 2017.
Voting YES in the same sex marriage postal survey will “destroy our culture”, “separate our family members”, “it is completely not our culture”, “we do not want it”, “it is something made up by kardiya and we don’t agree with it.”
This is Vaughan Hargraves (pictured), a prominent senior Warlpiri man from Yuendumu, speaking in a short video clip posted on YouTube. To date it has had over 1000 views. He has also done a clip in Warlpiri, with 300+ views. It is among several clips by men and women speaking in various Central Australian Aboriginal languages – Western Arrarnta, Anmatyerr, Pintupi-Luritja, others in Warlpiri, and Pitjantjatjara. They are all labelled “Central Australia – vote NO.”
A longer clip, shot in the same location as all of the others bar one, comes from a man called Malcolm, who does not otherwise identify himself. He is non-Aboriginal but his message is translated by Warlpiri interpreter Theresa Ross Napurrula, in the presence of Steve Swartz who is a former Bible translator in the Warlpiri language. (All are acting in their capacity as private individuals. A reference to Mr Swartz’s current employment in an earlier version of this article has been removed.)
In this longer clip, which has had 500+ views, Malcolm says that there is a paucity of relevant material in Aboriginal languages on the same sex marriage survey and that the clips are intended for language-speakers “so they can make an informed vote”. However, he goes on to make a case only for a NO vote, which he says is right for all Aboriginal people and for Australia.
Above: From left, Malcolm, Theresa Ross, Steve Swartz, in the “vote NO”video clip.
He quotes from the current definition of marriage in Australian law and from the definitions in the Old Testament of the Bible (Genesis 2:24) and the New Testament (Matthew 19: 4-5), all of them defining marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman, for life.
The Australian marriage law is true to the law of God, says Malcolm, and to the laws of all people groups over the centuries of existence and that is the way it should remain – for the good of men, women, children, families, communities, and our country.
Alice Springs News Online put the existence of this campaign and its views to Chansey Paech, Member for Namatjira, the majority of whose constitutes are Aboriginal people living in remote communities. Mr Paech is openly gay and actively campaigning in town for a YES vote. What kind of conversations is he having in the bush about the campaign?
He say the question virtually never comes up in the bush: “People want better services, they want their clinics left open, adequate housing, mobile phone reception.”
These are the issues that are important to them and on which he does his best to represent them. He says his own sexuality did not play at all in the campaign to elect him. It was never hidden but “I am not defined by my sexuality”. Rather, for his constituents it’s about the “level of advocacy” he can deliver: “I am seen to stand up for them.”
Left: MLA Chansey Paech (left) with YES supporters Lewis Young (middle) and Hamish Peter.
He says if he is asked about the postal survey by constituents, he will say how he is voting but he is not actively campaigning in the bush: “If they want to vote NO, or abstain, that’s their choice.”
On a recent visit to Santa Teresa some people told him that they had posted their forms: “They didn’t disclose how they voted, that’s their business.”
He is also not sure how many people in the bush have actually received survey forms as there is no private letter-box delivery in remote communities. Mail notoriously accumulates uncollected, in council offices and stores.
He has had one discussion in a town camp in Alice, where he was asked to explain what this “special mail” is about and did his best to do so.
On the proposition by Mr Hargraves that same sex marriage is “something made up by kardiya” (kardiya being the Warlpiri word for non-Aboriginal people), Mr Paech says it is insulting and disrespectful to the many Aboriginal people in the LGBTI community: “You are born gay, it’s not a lifestyle choice. There have been people in Aboriginal communities openly gay for many years, it hasn’t just evolved.”
He questions also the assumption that Aboriginal culture is reflected in “God’s law”: before white man brought the Christian religion to Australia, Aboriginal spirituality was about connection to place and the Dreamtime, he says.
He was raised in the Catholic church, and although not practising now, is heartened that there are many people of Catholic faith who support same sex marriage, including those in the Facebook group, “Catholics for marriage equality”.
Right: Patricia Ansell Dodds in scene from the local YES campaign TV ad.
He is also heartened by the Aboriginal people who recognise the equality arguments of the YES campaign, which he sees as the fundamental issue: “It’s about everybody having equal access to the opportunity of marriage.”
One way that many people, including Aboriginal people, relate to the campaign is through seeing what it means for those around them: “A lot of people have a family member who is gay,” says Mr Paech.
This is the view expressed by Patricia Ansell Dodds, a Native Title holder of the Undoolya area east of the Todd River, who appears in the local YES campaign’s television commercial launched on Thursday. In the ad she simply draws attention to the survey letter. You see her going to her letter box and then she speaks to the camera: “Hey, you mob, there’s a letter here asking you about marriage.” In a media release by the campaign she is further quoted:
“When I was growing up, each Aboriginal community had a whitefella in charge. Back in those days Aboriginal people had to get permission from the whitefella to marry. It was not okay then and it is not okay now.
“Nobody should have the right to tell others who they can or cannot marry. I have family members who are in same sex relationships. I am happy for them. It is about their choice.”