On a light note, I need to correct something. Poddle Bong frogs are really Pobble Bonk. I really can’t decide which name I like better!
And thanks to everyone who sends us comments and feedback. It is much appreciated. Everyone loves the name of the blog. I wish I could take credit for it as it is a great name. Thanks Hilary!
The further north we go, the less news we get. For a news and political junkie like me this has been a challenge. I pick up bits and pieces on my phone but don’t subscribe to any papers. John does. Some news comes from him. Not sure he’s reading much of it though. I did start buying the Australian but just couldn’t stomach the exaggerated nonsense that Bill Shorten was going to wreck everything and kill all your children. We watched the ABC news last night for the first time in a month.
The answers to my questions about what people think of politics and who are they going to vote for is the never-changing “who cares, they are all the same” mantra. When people are uneducated, I can now see how they say that. When people are educated, I just can’t see why they would disenfranchise themselves. Up here, in Burketown, in the middle of nowhere, where no-one has a tertiary education and most likely didn’t finish school, who they vote for makes no difference to their lives (or so it would appear). Up here, it’s about surviving the weather, having enough money to get by and going fishing (if you can afford it). Generally, they are just forgotten people – a dot on the map, of no consequence (politically speaking) just making some kind of living and hoping they can get to Cairns or Mt Isa to do some shopping. We meet people who work hard and honestly admit that they have no assets and no money in the bank and they are in their mid-fifties. We meet pastoralists with large land-holdings and enormous assets and revenue. They are all good people. Easy in the world and happy with their lot. John and I say nothing of our lives. I’m left a little empty wondering if it makes any difference who I vote for. My vote has never mattered. I’ve always lived in easily held Liberal seats. So really it makes no difference who I vote for either.
But in reality it does matter who we vote for. As Paul Keating once said, “when you change a government, you change the country”. And it’s true. It mightn’t feel like things change in a big way in our daily lives, but shared values shift (albeit slowly) and priorities change -where the benefits and biggest share of the collective pie seriously changes. The privileged and wealthy certainly know and understand this. The people we are meeting have no idea.
350 people live in the whole shire of Burketown. The major employer is the council (30-40 employees) and about 150 are indigenous. There is a good relationship here between the blacks and whites and they seem to be all proud of that fact. It certainly looks harmonious and the 2 groups mix. This has not been our experience elsewhere. In fact, the blackfellas have been pretty invisible and I don’t really know why. I play with some theories in my head but they seem either naive, racist and certainly based on little evidence. I look through such a limited prism – white, privileged, left-leaning, city dwelling, female and now over 60. I know lots about all that stuff but really know very little about other important stuff.
But here goes…..there is an aboriginal community called Doomagee about 90 kms west of Burketown in a different shire of about 1200 inhabitants. It was started as an aboriginal mission in the 1890s and the missionaries only left in the 1980s. The pastoralists had been violently moving aboriginals off ”their land” since the 1860s either by just shooting them, bringing them to the property as slave labour or moving them across the border to the NT. Unsurprisingly the aboriginals didn’t recognise the NT border as tribal groups lived across this imposed and to them, imaginary, boundary. This caused further violent interactions and many were rounded up and moved to Doomagee. So this is where they still are. Alcohol, domestic violence, unemployment are central problems. Professional positions are held by whites and we hear that corruption by them is rife. The magistrates court attends once a month and deals with the same problems each month. It is well known that there will be no custodial sentences (not that I think that’s the answer) as there is no space left in any of the prisons. It is a dry community where alcohol abuse is rife. There is plenty of money – either through royalties for land usage or government support. This is all what we hear and have read. I am reading a fantastic book called The Gulf Country which was commissioned by the Burketown shire council. It was written by Richard Martin, a Queensland academic. It is great and tries to find a voice for the different perspectives about the settlement of the gulf. You can only conclude though that it has been mostly disastrous for the aboriginal community. Except in Burketown, the whites’ perspective is still “why can’t they just learn to live like us?” We heard this alot. Original documents cited in Richard Martin’s book speak of “tying the aborigines to trees until they are tamed”. So nothing has really changed since 1860 – except the violence towards aborigines has now become violence between aborigines. I reflect on and write about this not because I have a clue of what to do about it, but because it is so clearly in front of John and me. In Sydney, it is so far away and although we know that policies have differing results, we optimistically believe that some good is being achieved. I’m not so sure about what’s actually being achieved. It is hard to sit with, hear about and feel so useless. It is heartening though to see communities like Burketown working to find new ways. It is a credit to the white and indigenous elders. But I fear this is the exception rather than the rule and success is not based on federal government policies, but on the goodwill and hard work of small local communities.
There is so much to think about as we drive these long and desolate roads.
65. Time to think
66. Time to write