Aboriginal status

On the plane from Alice Springs, I read a highly interesting article by Nicolas Rothwell in the Weekend Australian on the “indigenous” policies of successive Australian governments, especially interesting after having witnessed the sorry status of Aboriginals in Alice Springs, apparently destitute and unemployed, living in shacks on the outskirts of the town, sometimes begging for alcohol from passersby, as they are not allowed to purchase alcohol themselves. The paper, Revolution’s mosaic of success and failure, speaks of a “state of emergency” that seems quite appropriate. Obviously, it is impossible for me to draw a reasonable opinion from a few days spent in central Australia, however this column confirms that Aboriginals (or at least those from remote communities attracted to Alice Springs, “the epicentre of the intervention”) are still treated as second-class citizens in that they are very rarely in charge of their own destiny: those who live on social welfare see their support money handled by government administrators (NTER), their communities are not self-ruled but administered from outside by civil servants, living “under strange post-colonial arrangements”. Again, as a short-term visitor, I have no idea about the magnitude of the problem and the size of the Aboriginal population living in this status of “low social wellbeing”, nor about the presumably enormous difficulties in turning Aboriginal communities into autonomous entities, but the article is quite pessimistic about the prospect of a change for the better…

We also had a very different and personal experience when waiting for the sunset on Barron Falls: a local Aboriginal man was there for the same reason as us and we started talking together, first about local animals, then about traditions and the dwindling number of young Aboriginals following those traditions in this highly mixed region of Australia (with farmers on the Atherton tablelands and tourists flowing from Cairns). This conversation lasted way past sunset in this eerie surrounding, as this man had obviously thought (and read) a lot, and chosen his path of life in the most harmonious way…

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