The film focuses on Australia’s Northern Territory. This is the famous” Outback” – wild, remote and beautiful, and one of the last strongholds of traditional Aboriginal culture. But the Northern Territory also hides a dark truth, a reality covered up by politicians and mainstream media. The film exposes this hidden shame to the world, and finally gives voice to the First People of Australia in their search for mutual understanding and co-existence.
HEALTH & WELLBEING
Australia’s Aborigines have the worst health statistics and living conditions of any Indigenous group in the world, despite living in one of its richest countries. An Indigenous Australian will die, on average, 17 years younger than a non-Indigenous Australian. In remote communities across the NT, diseases normally only found in the Third World are rife, and child mortality in 3 times higher than in mainstream Australia. The film faces these issues head-on, and reveals how lifestyle and dietary changes, poor education, lack of cross-cultural engagement, and disempowerment have combined to create this catastrophic health crisis in Aboriginal communities, and why Government policies will continue to fail without the genuine engagement and empowerment of Aboriginal people.
NORTHERN TERRITORY INTERVENTION
In 2007, the Australian Government, under then Prime Minister John Howard, launched the Northern Territory Emergency Response, also known as the Northern Territory Intervention. The policy, rushed through Parliament in 48 hours, saw the Government take compulsory control of 73 communities across the NT in order to tackle child abuse, social dysfunction, and anxiety and depression in Aboriginal communities. 5 years on, however, the Intervention has actually overseen a doubling in cases of child abuse, a decline in school attendance, poorer health, and a five-fold increase in suicides. Meanwhile, access to Aboriginal lands has been opened up for industrial exploitation, and Aboriginal leaders have lost control of their communities. The Intervention has been maintained by the current Labor Government of Julia Gillard, despite intense opposition from Aboriginal people, human rights groups and the United Nations. It has now been extended for another 10 years under the “Stronger Futures” legislation.
Homelands, otherwise known as “outstations”, are where Aboriginal clans and families continue to live on their traditional estates, where their ancestors have lived for thousands of years. These are where their heart and soul are, where their traditional foods are in abundance, where their creation stories come from, and where most of the traditional Aboriginal art is made. Since 2009, the Australian Government has implemented the “Working Futures” policy, which aims to centralise Aboriginal people into the larger townships. Aboriginal people are being forced away from the good life on their rightful country, into towns that are already overcrowded and crippled by social dysfunction. This is against widely supported evidence that Aboriginal people live a healthier and more content life on their homelands, as well as serve as important carers of otherwise vulnerable ecosystems.
Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory are deeply concerned at the lack of their children’s engagement and learning in the mainstream education system. Attendance rates are the lowest in the country, and Aboriginal schools are the most under-resourced, partocualry in remote areas. For years, Aboriginal people have been demanding for more involvement in developing appropriate curricula for their children, which value their culture, languages and lifestyles; which would keep them in school. In the face of these recommendations, however, the Northern Territory Government is pulling teaching in Indigenous languages out of the schools, and maintaining its Western-oriented model of teaching. Needless to say, Indigenous classrooms remain half-empty.
Many people will know of the “Stolen Generation”, a dark period in Australian history when more than 100,000 Aboriginal children were taken away from their mothers to be indoctrinated into white society. In 2008, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a National Apology to the Stolen Generation, for the harm that past government policies had inflicted on the pride and dignity of Indigenous Australians. Having raised great hopes for Aboriginal people, however, his Labor Government, now under Julia Gillard, continues to inflict more assimilationist policies on Aboriginal people, including the removal of Indigenous languages from school education, centralisation policies, and the undermining of traditional Aboriginal Law.
The Government’s actions, in particular its homelands policy and the continuation of the Northern Territory Intervention, have attracted international condemnation; first from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights, James Anaya in 2009, and then from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay in 2011. Amnesty International has also initiated a campaign to challenge the Government’s homelands policy, declaring it a gross breach of international human rights. Despite growing concerns expressed national and international human rights groups, the Government is continuing discriminatory policies against Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.
CROSS CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING
To achieve genuine reconciliation, Australia must learn to live with the original inhabitants of the land upon which they have only recently arrived. For 60,000 years, Aboriginal people have cared for this unique part of the world, and it should be our responsibility as humble newcomers, to give respect to the First Peoples of the Land, to learn of their culture and ways, to hear and act upon their cries, and find ways to co-exist as a truly multicultural nation. Our Generation shows how a deep gulf of understanding still exists between mainstream and Aboriginal cultures. In many remote Aboriginal communities, English is a 4th or 5th language, and not spoken well by many. Traditional law and cermeony still determines the flow of life in many communities. As Australians, we need to recognise that there is ancient cultural diversity in this land, which still lives strong across the Northern Territory.
RESPECTING TRADITIONAL LAW AND GOVERNANCE
In remote communities in the Northern Territory, where clan systems are still strong, community affairs are governed by clan leaders. A complex but coherent system of traditional governance and Law still exists in Aboriginal society, which determines how decisons are made, and which ensures that peace and order are maintained in the community. Aboriginal elders see two systems at conflict with each other, their traditional system of Law, passed down from their ancestors and inherent in all life, and the Westminster system of law which has been imposed on them. This lack of co-existence and mutual understanding is what has led to social breakdown and lawlessness in remote Aboriginal communities.
Many Aboriginal people across Australia feel that they are still the sovereign owners of the land. They feel that Australia was invaded, and that they never ceded their soveignty to their white oppressors. It was taken from them by force. Thousands of Aboriginal people were massacred, and whole tribes and languages groups were exterminated. But the First Peoples of Australia survive, proud and strong. In the far north, in places like NE Arnhem Land, sovereignty is a day-to-day reality. The Yolngu live according to their own system of Law, they speak and operate in their own languages and their clan leaders and Law-keepers maintain rule and order; as they have done for thousands of generations.
Australia’s Constitution was written at a time when racial discrimination was the norm. It has not changed since when it was written in 1908, and as such, still permits racial discrimination today. Aboriginal people are not even recognised as the original inhabitants of the land. The human rights of Aboriginal people are completely excluded from its scope. In January 2012, the Government-appointed Expert Panel on Consitutional Reform made recommendations that: Aboriginal be recognised as the First Australians, that their cultures and languages be respected, and that no discrimination on the grounds of race be permitted. It is now up to the nation to support these changes in a national referendum.
Australia is the only Commonwealth country that has not signed a Treaty with its Indigenous people. Canada, New Zealand, the Unites States, all signed treaies with the original inhabitants of the land in order to form the basis for future colonisation and settlement. Australia instead decided to declare this great Southern land as terra nullius, a latin legal term meaning ’empty land’. This removed the need for any consulation or consent from the ‘blacks’, leaving the country as an open resource for the first settlers. Many Aboriginal people that this lack of foundational document is at the heart of today’s ‘unfinished business’ with Aboriginal people. And that without such an agreeement, that their cultures, languages and rights as Indigenous people will never be respected in the long term.