Archive for the ‘australia’ category

Some sense

April 5, 2011

The storm surrounding Kevin Rudd and his admission about ETS negotiations within the Labour Party has drowned out the good sense he talked about refugees last night on Q & A. Asked a question about asylum seeker policy, Kevin’s reaction was to say “let’s put this into context …” And he did – 42 million people worldwide who are refugees, people fleeing violence and strife, with no home.

Let’s repeat those – no home, 42 million.

He called it what it is – a humanitarian emergency that we need to deal with as a global community, where we work together to protect and serve the members of our human family who are most vulnerable. If only we heard this more often from political leaders, our community attitude towards refugees and asylum seekers might not be so bogged down in fear and untruthfulness. The context, the real issues, and the human stories get lost in the barrage of insults about queue jumpers and border protection and let’s face it, plain old selfishness and xenophobia.

As is often the case, it is those who are most vulnerable who very often get hurt the most, and in Australia, we are a long way from a mature public approach to migration and people movement. I wonder if we’ll ever get there?

Others following the former PM’s lead on this one would help.


A handful of sand

August 16, 2010

Today, 16th August, marks the 35th anniversary of the day Prime Minister Gough Whitlam poured a handful of sand through the fingers of Gurindji man Vincent Lingiari, to symbolise the restoration of land ownership to the Gurindji people.

Source: National Library of Australia.


The story began on Wave Hill station, a large cattle station about 600 km south of Darwin in the Northern Territory. For many years after European settlement it was run by the British pastoral company called Vesteys. Vesteys employed the local Indigenous people, the Gurindji, to work on Wave Hill, but working conditions were very poor and the Gurindji people were paid much less than the other workers.

In 1966, Vincent Lingiari, a prominent Gurindji man who worked at Wave Hill, led a walk off of Indigenous workers as a protest against the poor pay and conditions. The protesters established the Wattie Creek Camp and demanded the return of some of their traditional lands.

The strike lasted for 8 years – “We know how to wait”, Vincent said. “We want them Vestey mob all go away from here. Wave Hill Aboriginal people bin called Gurindji. We been here long time before them Vestey mob. This is our country, all this bin Gurindji country … We want this land, we strike for that.”

Vincent Lingiari travelled all over Australia to address meetings and raise support for the strike. The protest eventually led to the Commonwealth Land Rights Act of 1976 which gave Indigenous Australians freehold title to traditional lands in the Northern Territory and powers to make decisions about mining and development on those lands. 

The story is told really well in “From little things, big things grow” by Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody

An act of patience and bravery well worth remembering.

Slogans and bumper stickers

August 6, 2010

Sick of ignorant slogans, bad policy and blatant lies by national leaders, a mate and I have written some slogans of our own in an attempt to add our voice to the current public discourse, if you can call it that, about asylum seekers and the Australian community.

I am appalled at our nation’s leaders inability to speak fairly and compassionately about refugees and displaced people. Australia has the resources and the responsibility to take a lead in helping some of the most vulnerable people in the world. As the third wealthiest country on the globe, the wealthiest in our region by a substantial margin, and as a country that has been continually strengthened by various waves of immigration, a welcome rather than a rejection is entirely reasonable.

The bumper stickers are now printed and ready to go, and is up and running.

As well as a place to order bumper stickers, the website gives a valuable perspective about people who are refugees and the way we can respond as an Australian community. The fact sheets provided by GetUp or the Edmund Rice Centre for Social Justice are a good place to start in being more informed, and so are the stories on the SBS “How far we’ve come” website.


Heading for the desert

July 27, 2010


A few weeks ago we packed up our Hiace van with a tent and food and our kids. We headed east from Perth, first to Kalgoorlie and then further east and north through the Western desert, and on to the Northern Territory and Alice Springs. It was a wonderful journey, not without it’s challenges, but very worthwhile. It is too much to try and write it down all in one shot, so perhaps over time I’ll record some bits and pieces. They are not in any order or around any particular themes, just thoughts and ideas and memories I had along they way. Sometimes I wrote them down, or just filed them away in my mind for later.

Part of the reason for the journey was to revisit Tjukurla, a remote community in the Ngaanyatjarra lands, where we lived over a decade ago. The Ngaanyatjarra lands are in the central eastern part of Western Australia, include parts of the Gibson, Great Sandy and Victoria deserts and cover over 250 000 square kilometres (about 3% of mainland Australia). The lands include the communities of Tjukurla, Warakurna, Mirlirrtjarra (Warburton Ranges), and many others. It is striking country – dirt tracks stretching to wide horizons, ranges and desert oaks and rock-holes, stark blues and reds and golds.

The kids at the school where we taught are all grown now, and many of them have children of their own. One of the golden moments of our journey was coming across a group of ladies on the road east of Warakurna. They had car trouble and were doing some hunting while they waited. It turned out that these were Tjukurla folks, and we had a beaut time there by the side of the road, talking and meeting each other’s children, hearing stories of who lived where now, and even joining in the hunt for tirnka (goanna). It was worth the trip just for that.

We did lots of ‘preparation’ for our journey, a great deal of it geared around things like spare tyres, food, where we would stay, and making sure the van could go the distance. I did wonder though, whether we were prepared enough in other ways. Among the demands to fit out the van, to tidy up and pack, and find a home for the dog and the chooks, it seemed less urgent to prepare in ways not so tangible.

Even though we lived for a time in Ngaanyatjarra country, there is a lifetime’s worth of learning to be done about history and culture and change, and the extended time since we’ve been there means that some of the knowledge and memories have significantly faded. There is a language to learn that makes relating to local folks much more meaningful and respectful. And how might we tune ourselves and our children to the new rhythms of a remote place and people who were part of our past but to whom we’ve been stangers in recent times? None of this works well done in a hurry, and there is no course to do or single text book to read. Perhaps the journey itself is the only preparation.

To be truthful, we tried a bit. With the aid of old photos and stories and some language books, we at least made an attempt. But the proportion of time spent preparing ourselves in those ways was far outweighed by the practicalities.

It is a note I make to myself for the future – wherever I go are go, close by or far away, the balance and nature of my preparations are worth further attention.