Writing’s On the Wall

Reports circulating in the mainstream media are targeting Aboriginal programs as inefficient and costly. So what is newsworthy about that? It’s not as if it’s a slow news cycle, given what else is happening in the world today.

 The reporting should raise alarm bells among Indigenous organisations that depend on Government funding to service the need of Indigenous people. A Finance Department report prepared early last year revealed the Commonwealth is outlaying $3.5 billion each year on Aboriginal programs, which according to the report yield dismally poor results.

There is a “Business Model” used by Government, when Indigenous funding is under scrutiny, or indigenous organisations are for the chop. The pattern is subtle and orchestrated. First step, release the report to the mainstream press. In this instance, the Government’s Finance Department Report on Indigenous funding outlays.

The genie is then out of the bottle, newspapers report it, news radio reports it, shock jocks pick it up and with the help of some opposition members and selected Aboriginal talent set about demolishing the program. The “business model” is so refined and successful that people working in the area of Indigenous programs are helpless to do anything and are at the mercy of the press.

Part of the process is for the press to trot out a well known Aboriginal person to justify its attacks on Indigenous programs, this is called balanced reporting. It beggars belief how someone in the high level Aboriginal mainstream can accurately make a comment about a remote Aboriginal community. Simply because an Aboriginal person has achieved in the mainstream and has been educated with mainstream values, does not necessarily make that person qualified  to comment on everything and anything to do with Aboriginal programs.

Before you know, discussion is rampant on the shock jock radio stations, the whole scene plays out, the Government gives the impression that it is acting in the best interest of Indigenous people, and takes action to cut programs. Mission accomplished. This business model is tried and true; for example look at how ATSIC was undermined, and there are others including the Aboriginal Legal Services.

A report by Amnesty International highlights the government’s intent to reduce funding to remote homeland. Funds that would normally go to the homelands being put into so called “Hub Towns”. This Hub Town business model sounds a lot like the South African model of the apartheid era; herd all the blackfellas into Hub Towns or “Townships” as the South Africans called them, and let them fight it out for services.

There are aspects of the model that, with dedicated people, could work, particularly in the areas of education and health. It is a lot easier to attract teachers and doctors to larger towns than to remote communities. But then there is the cultural aspect that must be considered. More than one-third of the NT’s Aboriginal population lives in 500 remote homeland communities.

Internationally acclaimed indigenous artist, Anmatyerr elder Kathleen Ngal, 78, said if Utopia residents are forced to move to “hub towns” they will become “third-class, non-existent human beings.” She said “My paintings are maps of our country … through my art I am educating the world about my country and my culture”. “I cannot paint when I’m not on my land.” She wants her grandchildren to have the opportunity to live on their country and to know their stories. “Country owns you or holds you, not you holding the country and becoming master of the land,” she said. The Federal and Territory governments are set to stop funding remote outstations when the Intervention ends next year, choosing instead to direct money to 21 of the biggest communities. The effect on aunties such as Kathleen Ngal will be devastating.

The recent productivity report into the future of health services for the ageing found that people like to stay in their homes and in surroundings that they are used to. A 82 year old lady told news 24 that she did not like the hostel that she was in. Not because of the staff simply because she wanted to be home on country. The commission has made recommendations that allow our old folks to live and die with dignity on their special piece of country. Their own homes.

Why can’t Kathleen Ngal and her countrymen stay on their country?

Why must they be herded like sheep into Townships of despair? Why?


Still the Silent Land

A recent internet usage survey, by a Melbourne University in 3 Central Australian Aboriginal communities highlighted the size of the problem that National Broadband Network (NBN) has in providing high speed broadband services in remote Australia. 

It comes as no surprise for the inhabitants in remote Australia, that communication services are one of many services that are lacking. Media services are well behind the other more important services of health, education, land, and housing.

This is regardless that media is considered an essential service and a right under United Nations Charters.  Blind Freddie can tell you that, “we don’t need a University survey to tell us what we already know”. The work done by the university is commendable but will it make any difference to the situation. History tells us that service delivery in remote towns and communities in remote Australia takes on all the characteristics of a glacier.

There are large gaps in radio services in most remote communities and homelands, not just in remote Australia but Western NSW, and Northern Victoria. Radio services are a basic need, for remote people purely for emergency services.


The spending of millions on broadband is a “diversion from the real need”. The basic building block of communications in the bush is radio services; this has been largely ignored by governments for over 40 years service providers have been starved for funds over a long period.

A report titled “Out of the silent land” A Federal Government task force report by Eric Wilmot published in 1984 recommended that basic satellite receiving and re-transmission equipment be installed into remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities throughout Australia.  The project came to be known as, Broadcasting Remote Aboriginal Communities Scheme, or BRACS

The “scheme” only a bureaucrat could dream up a title like with such a name as “scheme”. and it is reflected on the service and the complete lack of funds that went into it, ATSIC came along and called it a program and it has remained a program ever since, with no real commitment from government to take account of the recommendations or concerns of Aboriginal people, that the service was meant to connect.

Australia’s Indigenous peoples were concerned that the   introduction of modern technology would spread western style monoculture, undermine traditional values, and have a detrimental effect in communities.


 In order to combat a slow destruction of cultural tradition and values, communities requested resources to preserve, protect, and promote Indigenous languages and cultures by, broadcasting radio language programs locally and  produce cultural video material of their own stories for replay and archiving.


Most communities that were rolled out have a low powered 10 watt FM service and if the wind is blowing the wrong way you won’t hear it, or if it is TV you won’t see it because of the distortion. All communities are reliant on satellite for most of their programming. They call it satellite dreaming out bush. Once you leave the community or small town, you enter the silent land again for some dependent where you are it could hundreds of Kilometres.

The answer for radio is to think seriously about Digital AM services which will give coverage to everyone. For TV the VAST satellite is a good option giving up to 17 free services to communities, after all you can’t watch TV in the car we have to wait a bit longer for that.

And now along comes NBN, they really don’t want to be there with the real deal of cable, they have come up with the alternate satellite and wireless combination. There is some merit in their plans, as it will give a useable service to isolated parents, station owners, and those aboriginal people who can afford the infrastructure and the cable bill every month and depending on the package it could be from $90 to $160. 


Everyone and their dog in remote Australia are telling the Government that broadband satellite is not the answer.  Satellite raises too many issues that remain unresolved. I was talking to an old mate who is a doctor, he worked out of the Territory for years, and he was so frustrated by the problems with video conferencing over satellite that he stopped using it, reverting back to phone and fax.

If someone comes along and solves Einstein’s theories and can deliver a signal faster than the speed of light then we will always have the problem of latency. Latency is when you are waiting for the pictures and the voice to catch up. We have all seen it as it is being used more and more by media broadcasters using a range of satellite services like skype, you quickly flick to another channel, when you are faced with it.

This debate has a long way to go. If it was anything like the Wilmot Report that brought some services to remote communities, then the change will take another 50 years or longer.

If communities want fast broadband services and not have to deal with satellite or wireless they will have to take it on themselves. In many parts of the country fibre optic cable has been laid by Telstra. The recent deal to use that infrastructure has opened up prospects for remote communities to roll out their own networks as an enterprise and create some employment.

If the cable runs past the community like it does in quite a lot of communities then the opportunity arises for the community to install infrastructure communities themselves and create a good business enterprise.

Now that is a good project for a university, go to it guys and help us find the community and do a business model,








“A boy his horse and his dog”

I ran into and old mate when I was in Victoria recently. He had just come back from his home town of Towong up on the Murray River a little town nestled in the cradle of the Snowy Mountains, where you can still find Murray Trout and Murray Cray’s.  

As long as I have known him he was always known as” old Tommy”.

He has done most things he grew up in the high country he was in the war, he trained race horses he won races all over the country and even won at Flemington. He was as hard and tough as a red gum strainer post. He  took no crap from any man he could hold his own with the best of them, and in a fight he would throw them long and straight his reputation had followed him all his life.

He told me, how he was adopted from the home in Melbourne as a young boy and taken up to the high country, his adopted family were church going people from the land and they wanted to give a kid a chance, they picked me because I was a big strong lad he told me.  

Years later when, the Aboriginal link up services began one day he got a letter in the mail from a brother who had tracked him down through the home.  It was only in the 1980’ that he found that he had extended Aboriginal family of 2 brothers and a sister.

He said to me years before, I always knew he said; there is something in you, that connects you with country. I never got lost when I was a boy in the high country; I was never frightened when the dogs would howl at night on those cold nights. I always had a sense that something or someone was always watching over me.

When we were in the home they told us all that we were orphans, there were other kids like me there white kids and black kids we all bonded as boys, that’s all we had. When they came and took me up to the high country, life for me changed forever, I learned to ride and muster and sheer sheep, and shoe horses.

They were good to me on the farm; I joined the army and loved it. They taught me about life there. I loved the marching loved the friendship. It was sad when I left the army but something else was calling me. I went sheering for years saved my money and bought a little place and raised our boys, and got into horse training.

The fact that I am Aboriginal and my boys are Aboriginal and they all have kids, has made no difference to how we are today, I guess that is assimilation, he said I have listened to you talk about that and now I understand what you are saying, but there is no way back for me and my family mate, except to take the cards dealt, take life as it has been handed to us and build for our grand kids.

I recalled how he took a couple of horses up for the carnival at Towong, it’s the dream of any trainer to win the cup from your home town and Tommy had the horse to do it.

We sat up at night and old Tommy yarned away about his early life as an adopted lad and worked for good people who took good care of him during times when kids were used as farm help. We looked across towards Kosciuszko and he pointed out a saddle in the mountains and said.

 I used to have to go up there and muster the cattle down over that saddle down to the yards here when I was a boy. There was a bit of the man from Snowy River in him as he spoke like Clancy of his deeds as a young man on the overflow. There was no talk of wild rides just old Tommy reminiscing, about his life as a boy in the saddle with his horse his swag and his dog. I used to bring them down in small mobs of 20 or so and then go back again. It was easy he said, just point them towards home and they would find their own way.

The big day came, and Tommy’s horse in the cup was favourite it had won in town so the form was good and the horse dually greeted the judge first by about 6 lengths, his good mare also won the bracelet race that day. It had been the day of dreams for Tommy and he was so happy that he could go back home and win his home town cup.

When I saw him this time a tear came to my eye because this man who stood 6’ 4’’ was a shadow of his former self he stooped and limped toward me his back done in by years of sheering and an accident breaking in a young horse. With outstretched hand he looked up from under his hat and said to me, hello old mate “someone told me you were dead”.

I said you look well yourself old mate, you have been in a good paddock yeah he said I am 92 this year. I just got back from the old place had to go home one more time and see “god’s country he said again and again.

That country is sacred to me, many a day and night I was guided by the Crow, the Eagle, and the old Bat. Never got lost, he said never got lost.

Let’s have a beer for old times’ sake old mate, I think I can still knock a couple of pots back. Old mate may also tip me a winner.



Unc Goes to Quinkin Country

Laura is in Quinkin Country, well known for the rock art and the bi annual Laura Aboriginal Dance festival.

Aboriginal tribes come from all over Cape York came to Quinkin country to pay their respect to the traditional owners of the rock art sacred sites and to dance at the sacred Bora ring like their ancestors have done for over 40,000 years.

The 500 dancers from 20 tribes kicked up a lot of dust, made a lot of noise, ate a lot of tucker and kept the crowd of 5,000 spell bound and asking for more.

Old mate Unc, went back to Quinkin country to listen to his grandfathers stories from elder and traditional owner Tommy George.

Unc’s pick of the dancers were the Lockhart River, and the Injinoo tribes.

But after 250 dancers and lots of clap sticks and didge, old unc had seen enough. Leaving the dance areas Unc ran into an old mate recently elected Co Chair of the national congress, Les Malezar. Lez was visiting and touting for business for members of the new congress. He made his way to the Radio Laura tent for an interview. Asked on radio what issues the congress was looking to engage with, he drew attention to the 4th anniversary of the Northern Territory Emergency Response, commonly known as the Intervention.

He pointed out that for a supposed emergency, measures put in place 4 years ago are still there and are becoming a normal way of life. He also highlighted how the intervention had stigmatised Aboriginal people.

Ex ATSIC Commissioner for Tasmania, Rodney Dillon was also there, getting people interested in and talking up the declaration on the rights of Indigenous people. You may remember that after the Howard Government refused to ratify the declaration, along came Kevin Rudd, and ratified it and also made the apology to the stolen generations.

If you are thinking about coming for the next Laura Festival, be prepared to rough it, I mean there is new meaning to the word thunder boxes. Those ones on the movie “Kenny” were thrones in comparison “Just picture a long drop into a wheelie bin and you will be there”

Apart from the blackfellas, Laura festival seems to be a magnet for hippies young and old and grey nomads. Which sets up an interesting dynamic between those that want a good nights sleep and those that like to sit up and play tom toms.

If you are ok with someone camping within one metre of you, then you will have a great time in Quinkin country.

Now they want our help, yeah right

The pastoral industry are using whatever means they can to get support for a resumption of live cattle exports to Indonesia.

They are very quick to use the Aboriginal controlled stations to support their cause when it suits them. It was not very long ago that the pastoral industry was fighting and is still fighting every Aboriginal land claim that hits the table.

What hypocrisy. Remember the outcry from the industry over Mabo?.  Remember the  Wik Native Title debates?  Remember the walk off from Wave Hill?

The industry has to come from a long way back, after over 200 years, before the pastoralists can even begin to make up for the dispossession, exploitation and theft of land.

Just like old soldiers, who suffered atrocities of the Japanese in world war 2, Aboriginal people will never forget what has happened to them as a result of the push by pastoralists into their country and the atrocities that impact on them today.

Nothing short of a truth and reconciliation inquiry into the pastoral industry in Northern Australia will suffice. This has to happen before the “cattle industry” can even think about speaking on behalf of the Aboriginal Pastoral Industry.

The Human Rights Commissioner Tom Calma made some typical Aboriginal middle class comments regarding the Aboriginal cattle stations and the suspension of live exports. He needs a shot of reality, as we have become used to the comments from him and this band of elite Aborigines within our midst orchestrating all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples towards assimilation.

There have been advances in the industry as Aboriginal stations come on line, some employment has been created and a small number of Aboriginal people enjoy their Native Title, but remember folks it’s not Land Rights and it has divided Australia’s  Aboriginal peoples.

Fran Kelly is on the right track

I was watching the ABC Drum programme, and a story buried in between the carbon debate, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria, caught my attention. It was the Julia Gillard visit to Alice Springs and it opened up the the debate again on housing.

The debate has been raging in one form or another for 40 years or more. What to do about the shortage of housing, and how to build affordable solid housing, to withstand the elements of Central and Northern Australian remote areas.

It is clear, that the housing companies, the bureaucrats and ad hoc Aboriginal building teams are not delivering, simply because of the archaic current construction and delivery methods that have been in place in Territory housing for decades.

What pricked my interest were the comments made by Fran Kelly on the Drum. Fran is the only person in all the years the debate has been going on who has made any sense or offered a solution.

No one on the panel reacted to what she said, It went straight over their heads and little wonder because they are not involved in the construction industry and would not be able to drive a nail or use a screwdriver.

What she said was, that she could not understand why the government doesn’t build houses somewhere and ship them out already built.

Ummmmm they said and moved on to the next item. I know that there has been various attempts, to construct donga type housing in an ad hoc way. If I understood what Fran was saying or thinking, there needs to be a much better engeneering proposition out there for Aboriginal housing. We hear horror stories on a daily basis about the shoddy workmanship, incomplete jobs, and inadequate septic systems.

What is needed is a government funded “roll on roll off” factory to be built in the Territory.  Ideally Alice Springs could be the central place with components being manufactured in Darwin, Tennant Creek, and South Australia. The Victorian housing commission, had such a factory at Homesglen many years ago and they turned out great houses  in concrete panels design. They built thousands of houses in places like Bendigo and Ballarat in a very short time.

A factory in the NT, using modern technology and construction methods, would meet the future needs of housing in Northern Territory, the Kimberley and Western Queensland. The construction and erection time could be cut significantly.

The transport infrastructure is already in place now with the Ghan, able to transport the materials  at reasonable cost, either out of Darwin using the trading partners in Asia, or the Australian manufacturing sector in Southern Australia.

Mobile batching plants can also be set up to construct the floor slabs in communities, teams would build the slabs, and move on then construction teams would follow and erect the homes that would be complete with all of the fittings.

The factory could build enough housing for the Aboriginal communities, the town camps, and also for the town folks themselves. As everyone knows, the costs of building a house in the Territory are enormous in comparison to the other states.

Supplying houses in the future for the mainstream market would ensure that affordable housing was also maintained for Territorians.

If these houses could be built in an undercover  factory with overhead cranes, modern factory environment and using modern equipment, it would go a long way to solving  the long term housing problem in the Territory.

The government, would be investing in the long term future of the Territory, When the construction of Aboriginal housing was complete the enterprise could be handed over to a consortium of businesses in Alice to continue making houses for the general economy.

That is what I think Fran was meaning, but it went straight over everyone’s head.

Master Chef Judges are “Shearers Cooks”

The whole master chef series is an orchestrated affair. Why?  Well cast your mind back to the previous nights changing of the baskets. It took place  with all the drama of a primary school plot.

When Jay was given the basket and expected to make cherios the net was cast . He would have been better to make jonnie cakes and serve it with jam. Jonnie cakes you ask, what are they?  Well they are traditionally cooked in the coals of a camp fire, eaten with jam or syrup, I prefer them cooked on the top of an old wood stove.

Poor Jay, he was set up from the start, they knew he had little experience in some areas, so the scene was set by the show’s producers and orchestrated so that he faced elimination. It’s got nothing to do with cooking, that’s a side show. It’s about ratings and acting like shock jocks.  Jay was forced into elimination with the two girls and after making Ellie cry and making stupid sexist comments about lipstick (look at Nigella) the night before. The judges were then obliged to leave the two girls in. I mean anyone could see the play, it stuck out like dogs balls guys.

Jay was humiliated by you guys, absolutely humiliated, we know it was a pay back because he was a car salesman, you guys are unbelievable, you showed all the panache of a couple of shearers cooks. Actually shearers cooks have more dignity and are real men and women.

As for the dish idea, it is something you would encounter at the sushi train. I mean who cooks a pandan chiffon cake with palm sugar and black sesame ice cream?

Let’s put that Asian cook up against the Iron Chef and see how he would fare with a real Asian dish, not just that wok stir fry that they do in the restaurant where he spends his time making his pandan chiffon cake and black sesame ice cream. As for the dish, don’t try and buy tapioca. I tried at my local coles store, they never heard of it.

I guess the shearers cooks will find some way to eliminate Kumar.  They have tried but he has outsmarted them. Gotta keep the girls on don’t we boys. Whose turn tonight to be humiliated?  I couldn’t care less I won’t be watching, I will be out at the sushi train trying some of that pandan chiffon packet cake.