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HomeIssue 25Making sense of the rules for two worlds

Making sense of the rules for two worlds


Amongst the likely business people, public servants, activists and pensioners on the 14th Town Council Michael Liddle – if elected – will be coming with hard earned recognition on both sides of the racial divide, sharp as it may be in this part of the world.

By white man’s standards Mr Liddle’s work sits in a plethora of such programs: Codes 4 Life, which he heads up within Desert Knowledge Australia in Alice Springs, is addressing “the key reasons for Aboriginal men engaging in unlawful behaviour: a loss of culture and identity, and disregard for rules”.

The Aboriginal perspective is a lot more complex: “It’s making men understand rules, non-Aboriginal rules and Aboriginal rules, and that we are stuck in the middle, not following any rules,” he says.

“The only time we are open to listening to people is when we are incarcerated or in rehabilitation centres, because the issue is too deafening, to hear the words of retainment of identity. We are ripping the core of identity apart. 

“I’m speaking about the issues of alcohol abuse, gaols, all the health issues, housing, education, welfare.”

Discussion of social conflict in the council chamber, where it is becoming more frequent, would benefit from Mr Liddle’s understanding gained in decades of contact with the “wise old men in the bush” where he always seeks advice and encouragement.

He says: “Social issues are impacting on Aboriginal identity. People need to understand where they are from. Growing up in their mother’s country or their father’s country. What is the role they are playing in those countries and what is their purpose? That’s the questions we ask men.”

His sources are senior elders in the Alyawarre region north-east of Alice Springs, “my fathers out bush, who made me the person I am, who formed my ability to think, in the Aboriginal world, and talk from an Aboriginal man’s perspective. 

“For me it’s important to have that permission to speak. They played a big role in my understanding of the world.”

He names a number of them, mostly calling them Mister and then their first name and surname.

“To be in the presence of these men and learning from them makes me appreciate the term and word elder.”

Michael Liddle

How does that fit into the Town Council?

“It’s made me a more strategic thinker when talking and discussing the need to create and understand change.

“When it comes to my skill sets, I think that I can really compliment other candidates who have nominated to be on council, and there are some brilliant strategic minded people who have made the decision to run on council!

“My conversation will push boundaries and challenge policy in creating better change which hopefully create better wellbeing for all.

“The reason why we have a huge problem at the moment, the social issues, is because of the inability for people to understand rules and follow rules. We can only understand rules if we become educated.

“The town hasn’t really understood its long time purpose for a long time,” says Mr Liddle.

“First the overland telegraph station, then pastoral people and supply people in town. 

“That purpose has become invisible. A whole new strategic plan is needed.

“Where is Alice Springs as a community going? Where will it be in 10 years from now?”

Plans for the town are very much in fashion – ask candidate Jimmy Cocking.

No longer mostly attracting tradesmen and small business operators, the people now coming into town are more likely to be “doctors, nurses, policemen, community development workers, social workers and so on.

Why is this?

Mr Liddle says the search for answers would be much on his mind, if elected.

At the same time the Three Rs need to continue ticking over: “The tidiness of the town, community events such as the Henley on Todd, Camel Cup, we still need to keep up these activities.

“And with this, there is Covid-19, we also need to keep these activities continuing, we’re running out of puff.” 

Will people accept what he is saying?

“Some may, some might not. These are words coming from my understanding of the world, because of my own experience. 

“I’ve done a lot of work in the Aboriginal field, both on country and in the town.

“I am an Aborigine, and I know the NT and I know Alice Springs.”

Apart from Codes 4 Life his work in the community includes being an executive board member for the Alyawarre / Sandover region on the Central Land Council; chairman of the Central Australian Aboriginal Alcohol Programmes Unit; chairman of the Strehlow Research Centre; a board director of the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress.

“I’ve also lived on my nanna’s country for three years at Hatches Creek on CDEP wages, learning the run of the land.

“I worked on the iconic Yeperenye Festival, marking Bi-Centennial Year.

“My job was to gather Aranda men together for a dance that had not been done for over 20 years,” says Mr Liddle. 

“People were scratching their heads, how are we going to do this? I and old Mr Stuart nailed it, getting them together.

“I have proven ability to get people together. And that will be my work.” 

He says standing for council will be his first time in a non-Aboriginal domain. 

“I’m not putting my hand up to be a councillor to kiss people’s feet.

“I’m putting my hand up to represent all people of Alice Springs.”

PHOTO at top: Dancers celebrating the return of sacred objects from Great Britain to the Strehlow Research Centre of which Mr Liddle is the chairman.


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