Glimpses of Black Australia

I found it interesting that one did not see Aboriginal faces in the streets and shops near the office in which they worked. A study in the mid-Eighties on the Aboriginal economy reported that Aborigines are not integrated into the mainstream economy, the labour force or the social life of the nation. Of the forty per cent of these people living in cities, unemployment was recently estimated to range from twenty-five per cent overall to seventy-five per cent for men in one state. It was ninety per cent for the youth in rural areas; twenty-two per cent never had a job. Most of the employed work for Aboriginal organisations or for government.

In my studies we were told that the brightest Aboriginal children would leave high school after a year or so, saying, “What’s the use?” That is, if their teachers were prepared to dispense with the usual stereotypes about these people; some actually did. On TV, the channel funded by the taxpayer would portray, every so often, the drunkenness and the inarticulate, broken-toothed rural Aborigine, thus confirming the racially prejudiced stereotype. However, this unbalanced presentation has now improved, displaying some very competent and articulate people. But they are not generally in mainstream organisations.

Behind the over-arching denial and deprivation, we (especially our children) have been educated about the Aborigines’ ‘dream-time’, their mythology, and their love and care for the land. There are beautiful books put out for the educated. There are books on Aboriginal culture, diet and art, including the works of Albert Namatjira, the desert painter. Namatjira is, however, not included in any compendium of great Australian artists, some of whose work does not seem to me to reflect Australian colours, and whose skill seems to be no greater than that of their black competitor. Amongst our young, there is a great sensitivity about Aboriginal mystic values. However, there is little mention of tribal or clan interdependencies, what these mean, and how they affect Australian society.

Recently, I met a young lass whose father is white. Her mother is Aborigine, i.e. part white, as most of the city ones are. She was brought up as a white and had little appreciation of the heritage of her mother’s people (so she said). At twenty, she became aware of the realities of Australian society, accepted her place in her ancestral tradition, studied it assiduously, and now teaches a mainstream community about Aboriginal culture. She is a very effective bridge between the cultures.

Another bridge of this kind was a police liaison officer. His story is typical of a black/white relationship. His father ran away with him into the desert when the police came to collect him. Presumably, he was to be assimilated – the policy which replaced genocide. He was intended to be ‘civilised’ by being taken into bondage. The father and the boy kept on the move to the extent that he missed out on an education. His role with the police was, I believe, a potentially useful one.

Yet some of the local police have told me that, because of current policy, their hands are tied in dealing with minor crime committed by Aboriginals (just as well!). … the police are becoming aware of the risk of jailing some of the young Aborigines, especially those who had been torn away from their families.

Indeed, the Royal Commission on Black Deaths in Custody apparently said that the destruction of Aboriginal families under the racist welfare policies of governments was tantamount to genocide. There have been suggestions in the press that police may have killed some blacks while in custody. It is certainly very probable in some rural areas that most blacks will end up in jail for the most trivial offences – like using language that everyone uses, …

(While the above extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ represent a recent historical past that no civilised person could be proud of, there has been a tidal change in perceptions and attitudes by politicians – but then who believes official statements of intent?

In the way that the oldest generation of Aussies had to die before the public life of Asian students became more comfortable in the 1950s, so the departure of the current oldest generation may help improve the attitudes of those who influence our politicians.)