Saturday, December 13, 2008

Book launch

On Thursday night my wife and I took the kids into the Northern Territory Library to see the book launch for Ted Egan's new book 'Due Inheritance'.
Mr Egan has long been an outspoken advocate and friend to indigenous people. The gentleman who introduced him at the book launch put his influence as the NT administrator into great perspective. We were reminded of just how important it was to have someone so outspoken and diplomatic as Ted Egan for our Administrator when very few people were willing to speak against the lack of compassion that filled the country at that time! Ted did and at various public events he brought us together as neighbors and friends when so many Australians were looking to condemn with labels like "Cue Jumpers, Itinerants, Longrassers" and so on.
When he was Administrator Ted Egan would get up on a stage and speak directly to the audience like he was talking to a bunch of old friends! He'd speak warmly about his Aboriginal mates, using language or sing songs about Darwin's Chinese founding families and characters like Granny Lum Loy! While Ted was administrator Darwin felt like an oasis from the cesspit of racism and fear that Australia seemed to be becoming during the 'Howard Years'!

Unfortunately the evening didn't turn out a great as I'd hoped it would be. Maybe I was expecting too much or maybe the events of the day had left my nerves in a frayed and agitated state. I just wanted to blurt out a few thoughts that have been burning in me since Thursday night.

On the way in to town at about 5:30pm we drove past a stretch of Bagot road that I often cycle home on at that time of day. Negotiating the usual aggressive traffic we passed some police cars with lights flashing on the other side of the road. They were blocking traffic from a cyclist and his bike which were lying beside the gutter! After both my wife and I acknowledged that something was wrong there was silence while the scene sunk in, we didn't speak for a few minutes... Then my wife became very agitated and exclaimed that it could have been me! ... (I thought to myself. Yes it could easily have been me! I've had several close calls along that road!)

We drove on and found a car park close to the Northern Territory Library. It was early so we had a wander around the library and listened to a choir that happened to be singing in there at the time. I was looking forward to hearing what Ted Egan had to say and to get a copy of the book he'd written. I was hoping his book would challenge ordinary Australians into thinking more carefully about the issues that face Aboriginal People in this country...

Ted Egan's book launch at NTL
It's all very convivial so long as you partake in the Grog culture

We were pretty thirsty but it looked like there would be refreshments and some nibblies for the big event. I went to the bar in the hope of getting a softdrink or some juice. I don't happen to drink alcohol and neither do my wife or kids... Unfortunately when I asked for a non alcoholic drink I was looked at with complete confusion... So I repeated myself. "Do you have anything to drink that does not contain alcohol?" The woman turned to her colleague and referred the question. The reply came... "Oh yehh... I think there's some soda water at the bottom of the Eskie..."

Grog culture
Water??? But can't I interest you in some lovely wine?

As a non drinker I do not begrudge other people having a drink, usually it doesn't bother me at all unless people's behavior is not suitable for the environment. So if I'm in a rowdy bar I expect to see somewhat excited and intoxicated people, or if I'm at a restaurant I might expect to see people drinking wine with their meal or at a concert there might be a bar set up and some people drinking. The usual thing... Even a bunch of people sitting around outside under a tree with a cask of wine isn't a particularly disturbing sight. However when I attend an event whether it is public or private, and there has been no provision for anyone but those who are drinking alcohol, that's a whole other thing! On Thursday night what could have been a pleasant time turned into something very unpleasant for me.
Now the whole room closed in around me! Reality came crashing down on my head! Here we were thinking we'd come to be amongst other people sensitive to the issues of Indigenous Australians. I was listening to a man propose all kinds of divisive approaches to dealing with alcohol consumption on Aboriginal communities yet there was precious little consideration for anyone who chose not to drink at the launch of this contentious new book! What if some of those people had actually attended the book launch? What choice would they have? What message would be sent about polite society when all that is offer is Grog?
It was like someone had written a bad script that didn't match the theme of the play! I looked around me and wondered if I was having some kind of bad dream. Maybe soon the white rabbit would come and lead me back to reality... NO! THIS IS REALITY!

Intellectuals...? @ NTL book launch
More conviviality...

For just one hour I was caught in some kind of Hell where the intelligentsia of a tiny 'Australian colonial outpost' were pontificating in their gay intoxication, what is needed to rectify the condition of their woe begotten Indigenous brothers and sisters. The suffering of the disadvantaged, the besieged "First Australians" seemed like no more than a topic of conversation. In my agitated state the whole thing appeared as a farce!

As we left the launch I saw a fellow sitting awkwardly in a chair at the back of the room and holding a half bottle of red to his lips. An ANGEL I thought! I looked him in the eye and he stared dully at me. I felt for a moment that the truth of it all was sitting right there in front of me. For that moment I saw an honest man! Why not drink it from the bottle if that's what you want? The glasses are only there for effect.

As we drove home the police were still putting together the evidence of the crime scene, apparently the cyclist was the victim of a hit and run! Reported slopily and hidden in an article about Cadel Evans at the bottom ofpage six in this morning's NT news! I called the hospital this morning to find out if he was alright. Apparently he lived...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Australia the monolingual wonderland!

This week is the 60th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights (10th December).

According to what I read this morning on a GetUp email, Australia is the only democratic country in the world without formal human rights protections!

This year also happens to be the:
United Nations International Year of Languages

Here in the Northern Territory we witness and engage in the subtle art of cultural annihilation and much of it is touted as being in the best interests of Indigenous People! Currently as far as I can see, for all the interest that is being directed at Indigenous communities, people only appear to be receiving more of the same! A constant barrage of upheaval and changes to their daily lives without due consultation, respect, or regard for their own aspirations and wishes.

I have only worked with Indigenous people in the Territory for less than one year but in that time I have seen people face many changes to the way they are expected to go about their daily business. I have heard stories about the arrival of the intervention team at Elcho Island. YolÅ‹u were astounded and shocked to see a fleet of Government 4x4’s roll out as the barge ramp was lowered. "It was just like an invasion" some said.

Communities have had their local councils amalgamated into Supershires that have no clear links to many of the communities they govern and Federal ‘Community Managers’ have been assigned to oversee the implementation of Intervention activities. The Federal Intervention has lead to cultural protocols being ignored, legitimate organizations dissolved, sacred sites desecrated and people generally disempowered!

Now comes another blow from the NT Education Minister Marion Scrymgour. The effectual abolishment of the Bilingual Education Program!

In some parts of Australia Aboriginal children are still able to speak the language of their ancestors! For those who are lucky enough, their language has been developed into a written language that can be used in class rooms as the means by which children learn to read and write! While they are introduced to the same concepts in English. Bilingual students have the potential to become literate in at least two languages!

The Top End of Australia is an international Hot Spot for language extinction. Indigenous languages have already disappeared from just about everywhere else in this country. As far as I can see this decision by the Minister for Education will only further disintegrate the Peoples Own Tongue! It seems outrageous that our Government would make a decision that will endanger such rare languages when it seems to be an accepted fact that children who are bilingual are more likely to become better students in the long run.

Many educators are questioning the logic behind the Minister for Education’s poorly conceived plan to improve literacy and numeracy outcomes in the Territory. Results in literacy and numeracy are low right across the Territory yet the minister has decided to remedy this by imposing a crippling demand on Bilingual Schools and the communities that depend on Bilingual Education.

If it weren't for suggestions that the program is being dismantled because of financial reasons I would almost have concluded that her policy was devised as an elaborate political pinata!
Imagine this... The Minister for Education has her political colleagues blindfold her, she is then armed with a big stick before her most trusted advisers proceed to spin her around several times until they let her go and yell start swinging until she smashes something!

A group has been formed to combat the assault on Bilingual Education. That group is called:

Friends of Bilingual Learning (fobl)

If you're interested in this issue please read up on the benefits of Bilingual education!
fobl has produced postcards that can be sent to both Marion Scrymgour and Julia Gillard

Save Bilingual Education postcardfobl postcard

Below is a link to a Radio National program called Awaye! which features an excelent story about the attack on the Bilingual Education programs and includes interviews with Marion Scrymgour.