Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The Social and Political Contexts of Aboriginal Suicide

Violent behaviour, such as threats and physical assault, occurs in every society. It grows out of the social order and can therefore be understood only in a social context.—Emanuel Marx

1. There is no comparison
Suicide is suicide, but Aboriginal suicide is different.
In 1990–91, Australia had the world’s fourth highest rate of male and
female youth suicide. (After Finland, New Zealand has the highest rates for young males; it has the highest rate for females, while Maori youth suicides doubled from 1984 to19943). If the Australian figures are even reasonably accurate, Aboriginal rates are possibly two to three times the non-Aboriginal. The Hunter-Reser et al study for North Queensland shows that the suicide risk is much greater in the Aboriginal population. Submerging Aboriginal figures in the national portrait obfuscates the social realities that cause such high rates. Aboriginal suicide has unique social and political contexts, and must be seen as a distinct phenomenon.

That there is a problem is clear. An appreciation of its nature, causation and possible remedies requires the isolation and demarcation of the differences that distinguish the Aboriginal phenomenon. Very few Aborigines live ‘non-Aboriginal’ lives, divorced from their social and personal histories, origins, geographies, families, lifestyles, cultures and sub-cultural mores. This is as true of so-called ‘urban part-Aborigines’ as it is of tradition-oriented groups in rural and remote Australia. In short, the overall context of Aboriginal life is determined both voluntarily by themselves, and all too often gratuitously imposed by non-Aborigines. Only five or six factors or forces—such as poverty, unemployment, low esteem, low morale, ennui, drug or alcohol abuse —are common to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal suicides. These coinciding features are not sufficient to explain the clearly higher Aboriginal propensity to commit suicide and to attempt suicide. There are historical and social factors involved that pertain only to Aborigines in contemporary Australian society. These same factors are also likely to affect Maori and Pacific Islander youth in New Zealand, Native American youth in Canada and the United States, and the Inuit youth of Canada.

2. Communities in crisis
There is a crisis in many Aboriginal communities. The present watershed is a legacy of past violations by a hostile and even genocidal settler society. Ironically, much of the ‘new violence’ has its origins in the attempts, by non-Aborigines and on occasion by Aborigines, to eliminate discrimination, stop segregation and bestow or gain civil rights. Some of the remedy rests with federal, state and municipal governments. Some rests with Aboriginal and Islander communities, the 352,970 people who comprise only 1.97 per cent of the population. My task is not to assemble statistical profiles and compare rates of youth suicide but, through analysis and diagnosis, to explain and so possibly mitigate some of that violence—the suicides and attempted suicides by the young.

The Aboriginal crisis is remarkable because it arises in a materially rich, stable, liberal democracy which has embraced anti-discrimination, affirmative action and social justice policies, and which unceasingly perceives itself as ‘the land of the fair go’. What outside observers see is a chain of behaviour tearing communities apart: suicide and attempted suicide, self-mutilation, homicide, serious physical assault, rape, incest, domestic violence, child molestation, and drug and alcohol abuse. Suicide has become particularly potent portent of the contemporary Aboriginal existence. Why this violence, why this particular response to life’s circumstances, when on the face of it things appear be so much better than they were 30, certainly 40 years ago?

3. A catalogue of pluses
In 1997, the historian Geoffrey Blainey disparaged the ‘black armband’ interpretation of Australian history. He defined this as the way in which the interpretation of Aboriginal issues allowed ‘the minuses to virtually wipe out the pluses’. His balance-sheet did not define either of these categories. Therefore, to appreciate the social order and social context of contemporary Aboriginal life, we need to look briefly at the ‘positives’ and the ‘negatives’.

Much more money than ever before is spent on Aborigines and Islanders from public budgets; more social service benefits are paid directly to Aboriginal recipients, and there is more actual Aboriginal employment. The Community Development Employment Program (CDEP), by which people work for the number of hours which equate with their social service benefit, is well established. Some 32,000 Aboriginal people now work instead of ‘getting sit-down money’, as the Northern Territory Aborigines once described it. The scheme, albeit flawed in some respects, has brought some self-worth and dignity.

There is more housing, through Aboriginal-run housing associations. There is language salvation in several centres; there is language maintenance in several schools, and there are literacy centres. There are more and better educational facilities, and perhaps six to eight Aboriginal-run community schools. Aboriginal Studies is an elective matriculation-level subject in high schools, and many states offer the subject from first year of senior school. Aboriginal Studies courses proliferate in universities and TAFE colleges. There are work-skills programs and Aboriginal-run and owned enterprises. Mining royalties are paid in a handful of areas, notably for uranium in Arnhem Land, and oil and gold in Central Australia.

Aboriginal legal aid and medical services function reasonably effectively. There are a few thousand legally incorporated Aboriginal associations. Many of the outstations—to which Aborigines have moved from the earlier missions and settlements—have resource centres. There has been a virtual end to the ‘old guard’ of Native Affairs or Community Services Departments: the ‘hard men’, the untrained and ill-educated men in Aboriginal administration have, with a few exceptions, departed the scene.

Everywhere, except in Western Australia, land rights are a reality. Even in the West, several sheep and cattle station leases are held by Aborigines. The much disparaged system of ‘Deeds of Grant in Trust’ in Queensland—by which land is granted in batches of 50 years on stringent lease conditions—is working well. There are strong land councils in the Northern Territory and in New South Wales.

Darwin Aborigines own a television station and an Aboriginal radio station broadcasts from Alice Springs. Aboriginal programs feature nationwide on ABC and SBS radio and television. On occasion, even the commercial channels offer positive programs. Black artists, writers, theatre and dancing groups are not only recognized but lauded. Aboriginal sporting achievement is outstanding and is recognised as such. There is growing Aboriginal participation in political and parliamentary life, and greater local decision-making than before. Most states have passed anti-discrimination legislation. Aborigines have discovered they have a greater chance of recovering or establishing rights through the legal rather than through the political system, and have won 16 of their last 23 forays before the High Court. Aborigines are now part of the national agenda, and are no longer relegated, as over the last 150 years, to ‘merely’ a welfare problem.

In practical, physical and legal terms, major changes have occurred since the1960s: the repressive legislation has all but gone, albeit leaving scars that will take generations to fade; the system by which Aborigines were minors in law, seemingly in perpetuity, has ended, albeit with administrative remnants and relics still intact; the old boss superintendents and managers of institutions called settlements, reserves and missions, replete with powers of physical punishment and imprisonment, have gone; the old prohibitions on freedom of movement, religious and cultural practices, have ended.

4. An inventory of minuses
Despite these manifold improvements and advances, Aborigines remain the least healthy sector of Australian society. Infant mortality is high, notwithstanding claims of ‘huge’ reductions over the past 20 to 30 years. From a figure of 100 to 150 deaths per 1,000 live (Aboriginal) births in the 1960s, the 1990 figure is about 23 in 1,000 not surviving one year, as compared to the national figure of 8. Life expectation is not consonant with that enjoyed by the rest of our essentially affluent society. The highest life expectancy for an Aboriginal male is 58 (in Western Australia) and the lowest is 53 (in the Northern Territory). Most men don’t live beyond 50—some 25 years less than white males. The Durri Aboriginal Medical Service at Kempsey states that male life expectancy is 40. At the Booroongen Djugun Aboriginal Corporation, which operates a nursing home and community care centre near Kempsey, Aboriginal persons aredefined, for the purpose of aged care, as 42 if male and 53 if female. In Narooma, the Koorie Aged Care facility admits anyone over 45. Trachoma and malnutrition are prevalent. Obesity, heart disease and diabetes loom large. Renal failure occurs at a young age, often before 10 in towns in the Far West of New South Wales. The second largest single cause of death, after ‘circulatory diseases’, is ‘non-natural causes’.

Aborigines are the poorest group in society. The 1996 census shows an unemployment rate of 22.7 per cent as compared to the national figure of 8.1 per cent; Aboriginal weekly income is $135 per person compared with the national average of$273, and an Aboriginal adult’s take-home pay packet is 25 per cent less than the average for a non-Aborigine.

Proportionately, Aborigines are the most arrested, the most imprisoned and the most convicted group in our society. The Criminology Research Council publishes statistics regularly, showing the disproportionate Aboriginal rates of arrest, conviction and incarceration—often for minor offences. The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC) addressed this matter at length: it found that Aboriginal representation in police custody was 29 times that of non-Aborigines: ‘Too many Aboriginal people are in custody too often.’

Chronic housing shortages, appalling sanitation and garbage disposal facilities in many remote communities, poor roads and difficult access to facilities, increasingly short terms of service by support staff, constant budget cuts, and the almost total absence of sport, leisure and recreational facilities in many communities, add up to a social index which places Aborigines at the bottom in all areas of action and endeavour.

5. Confusion and ambiguity
Much in Aboriginal policy and practice is confusing, contradictory and ambiguous. Ambiguity can be a useful tool, especially in a democracy, when used as a controlling device, a means of asserting power, regulating crises or handling or appeasing competing claims. In essence, it creates (sometimes unconsciously and without malice) uncertainty, unease, ambivalence and a confusing diffusion of responsibility. There is, however, a limit to how much ambiguity people can endure. Ambiguity in the Aboriginal context is not so much a contrivance as an unintended outcome of governmental insecurity and uncertainty about what to do or how to do it, about avoiding obvious breaches of human rights while remaining unwilling to commit the society to equality and to an acceptance of our native peoples. Ambiguity has serious consequences when a people are told that they live in an equalitarian society but find that their every action or feeling, indeed their very being, is highlighted as inferior, different, and of less importance.

The ambiguities and, often, their inherent contradictions, bewilder not only the Aboriginal and Islander peoples but also those responsible for bringing government policies to fruition. Dozens of examples can be cited and elaborated. I want to mention seven areas which illustrate ambiguity, and which impinge on the daily lives of most communities:
(i) land rights; (ii) the question of a treaty or compact; (iii) Aboriginal participation in decisions affecting them; (iv) Aboriginal and Islander identity; (v) the meaning of policy slogans like ‘reconciliation’; (vi) removed children and a national apology; and(vii) the ‘One Australia’ philosophy which brooks no special treatment for any one group.

(i) Land rights
There is much confusion about land rights.
Is it a political or social movement? Is it a philosophy, a political umbrella under which Aborigines and Islanders can cohere (as with Black Power in the United States several decades ago)? Is it a quintessential ownership without which Aboriginal life cannot be sustained, an embryonic or developing land-based nationalism? Or is it a means of reparation and restitution for the depredations and dispossessions of the past? For all Aborigines, the phrase signifies at least two things: first, the giving back of something, as opposed to two centuries of ‘things’ being taken away; second, and inherent in the first, a signal recognition that they exist and have some legitimate claims on the nation state.

What a Labor government initiated in 1973, a Liberal government concluded with the passing of the Northern Territory Land Rights Act 1976. The then Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, displayed a reformist outlook, neither emulated nor respected by federal or state Liberal governments since. This was the first statute in Australian history which sought only to give rights, not to diminish or restrict them, even though one can criticise the very narrow concept it espoused, namely, that land could only be granted if people demonstrated religious and spiritual attachment to it. For a brief moment we beheld acceptance of some valued conventions, as James Tully calls them: first, a recognition that Aborigines existed and had some legitimate rights; second, that any interference with, or change to, rights had to receive the consent of all parties; and third, that Aborigines as an identifiable, self-determining group would survive.

Since that landmark Act, land rights in all but Western Australia have been achieved with varying degrees of rejection, reluctance and legal challenge. In 1984 the federal government promised uniform land rights legislation. By 1986 that notion was dead, and the two major political parties fought the Western Australian state election on a platform based on the extent to which each would restrict land rights. At century’s end, there has been a costly campaign to enact legislation to establish state and territory regimes by which native title can be permanently extinguished and the right of the indigenous people to negotiate access to traditional land can be seriously restricted.

The Coalition’s 1998 Wik legislation is a defining moment: it sees a recently ‘encitizened’ community ‘uncitizened’ in land law—not, as the protagonists claim, because of racial discrimination, which is assuredly what it is, but in the cause of ‘equal citizenship’ and ‘good property law’. Earlier, the High Court had ruled that where Aboriginal rights and those of pastoral leaseholders (not owners) conflicted, the latter’s interests should prevail. Nevertheless, the Wik justices made the sensible decision that Aboriginal and pastoral rights could, and should, co-exist. The present Coalition government’s view is that Aboriginal rights should not in any way impinge on what is believed to be a solely white domain. Accordingly, Aboriginal rights should be extinguished because they are unable to co-exist even with white property interests.

In 1998 the Coalition government appointed John Reeves QC to review the Northern Territory’s Land Rights Act. The object, according to Alan Ramsey, is ‘to shred the integrity’ of the Act by breaking down the powers of the Central and Northern Land Councils, and by giving the essentially anti-land rights Northern Territory government greater control over Aboriginal land. It is hard to disagree with this analysis. In Aboriginal eyes, there has been a serious turning back of hard-won achievements since the Mabo 2 High Court judgement.

(ii) The matter of a treaty
There is confusion, uncertainty and unease about a proposed ‘treaty’.
For nearly two decades, discussion, debate and continuing argument about a treaty—a compact or a settlement of some kind—has occurred. Most Aborigines are not demanding an equal voice as a ‘nation’, but they do seek the credence and credibility of being able to sit at a negotiating table to discuss ‘reconciliation’, land use, and levels of autonomy. There are examples from other countries: New Zealand’s recognition of the Maori as a ‘first people’, worthy of negotiation. The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi has been ruled a legally enforceable instrument, resulting in a special Waitangi Tribunal that listens to Maori claims and makes substantial compensations. South Africa has faced the past from 1960—the somewhat strange date set by the government—through its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and there is ongoing discussion about the size and nature of reparation. In 1996, Canada’s Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples concluded that ‘there must be an acknowledgment that great wrongs have been done to Aboriginal people’, the 506,000 Amerindian and Inuktitut who now form1.7 per cent of the population. The new Province of Nunavut is one major outcome of their ‘first nation’ status. Prime Minister John Howard has rejected any such movements towards a national reparation, or a treaty: that, he claims, implies two nations, a notion he ‘will never accept’.

(iii) ‘Aboriginalisation’
There is uncertainty about Aboriginal control over their own affairs.
From the 1960s, Aborigines were told by Aboriginal advancement organizations and political parties that Aboriginal control over their own affairs was a universal goal. By the early 1970s, most advancement leagues and progress associations had ‘Aboriginalised’. But as of 1973, they all began to be dismantled as a result of federal Labor’s policy and practice of recruiting as many Aborigines of talent as possible into the bureaucracy. Thereafter, all federal governments adopted ‘Aboriginalisation’ as a matter of course.

For several years, the newly created federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs(DAA) had an Aboriginal permanent head in Charles Perkins. In 1990, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) replaced DAA. It is an elected body of commissioners who believe that they are intended to be the policy-makers.

For a year (1998–89), ATSIC maintained a vote of no confidence in the present Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Senator John Herron. He turned elsewhere for advice, yet by June 1999 he had only one Aboriginal person in his immediate group of some 30 advisers. Ambiguity envelops this minister, more so than any of his predecessors in this difficult portfolio. Aborigines perceive him as always subordinating their interests to the Coalition’s interests in mining, tourism and development.

The growth in the employment rate of Aborigines in the public service since1973 has been enormous, including a handful of appointments at the most senior levels. There is, however, no doubt that Aboriginal affairs agencies rank low in the public service hierarchy, and that within specific Aboriginal agencies, non-Aborigines hold much or all of the power.

(iv) Identity
There has been a battle over Aboriginal and Islander identity.
Until the repeal of the special acts and ordinances which applied solely to Aborigines and Islanders, mainly between 1958 and 1984, Aborigines were defined on the basis of their ‘degree of blood’. In 1969, when W. C. Wentworth was the minister responsible for Aboriginal Affairs, self-definition was adopted: any person, descended from Aborigines, who says he or she is Aboriginal, and who is accepted as such by the group, is Aboriginal. Aborigines applauded this rational approach. While the racist and eugenicist element in society lamented the disappearance of ‘bloodness’, and all the controls which went with it, this was a major advance.

However, in the almost 30 years since, there has been an artificial dichotomy between two ‘races’—‘Kakadu Man’, tribally rich and tribally pure, and ‘Redfern Man’, urban, poor, and pretending to be what he is not. At various times in the past twenty years, branches of Liberal or National parties have called for a ‘tightening’ of definitions, mostly centred on ‘darkness’ of colour or on people ‘who dance corroborees’ and ‘hunt kangaroos’.

Aborigines have engaged in a long struggle for the right to name themselves, culminating in the 1980s and 1990s in the now common usage of Koori in New South Wales and Victoria, Nunga in South Australia, Nyungar in the West, Murri in Queensland and Yolgnu in the Northern Territory. Torres Strait Islanders were officially accorded a distinct status in 1990 and South Sea Islanders were granted their separate identity in1994. These distinctions are of importance to the people concerned. Yet they are currently universalised as ‘indigenous Australians’—a term neither sought nor endorsed by the majority of the people. It has become fashionable shorthand for the media, governmental agencies and academics: it is less clumsy than referring to ‘Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders’. However, the term is producing unnecessary heat and debate about who is indigenous, that is, born in or native to Australia. Despite the attractions of the term, the next census cannot possibly ask: ‘Is the person of indigenous origin?’

It should be noted that New Zealand is not free of this identity issue either. There are some 40 ‘methods’ of defining Maori, and there is much inconsistency in their applications. (‘Maori’ and ‘Pakeha’ are used in this report in deference to current preference.) Identity bedevils police reporting, coronial findings, and even the generally excellent suicide research by academics.

(v) Policy slogans
Few people can claim to understand and appreciate Aboriginal policy. Policy slogans disappear soon after they are born. Little time is given to their implementation before another temporary broom sweeps in, producing yet more confusion. Since the discredited assimilationist philosophy was meant to end in themid-1960s, there has been a series of terms: self-determination, self-management, Aboriginalisation, land rights (as a mantra covering all things), and now, reconciliation. All have had their share of problems—problems of universal understanding, acceptance of the values which underpin them, communication of these ideas and their practical significance to the people they are intended to advance, and of the training and education of staff who implement them.

The current policy slogan is ‘reconciliation’, exemplified by the statutory Aboriginal Reconciliation Council and a week in May set aside as National Reconciliation Week. It appeals as a sane approach, ethical and moral. It offers hope, harmony and ‘humane-ness’. It suggests an end to enmity and a settling of differences. Reconciliation is, however, never defined: it is simply parroted, leaving ambiguous assumptions and a struggle for meaning and purpose. Reconciliation began as a non-Aboriginal concept at the start of the 1990s—conceived by Robert Tickner (then Labor’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister). It was to be a ten-year program aimed at improving race relations through an increased understanding of Aboriginal and Islander culture and history, and then through an appreciation of the causes of continued Aboriginal disadvantage in health, housing, education and employment. For some proponents and believers, it means a moratorium—that is, each party desisting from causing injury to the other. For many, it can only mean the national Australian government bringing itself to use the ‘sorry’ word for the forcible removal of children, to articulate atonement and to find a means of restitution or reparation for these practices. For others, it means ‘a place in the sun’ for ‘indigenous Australians’; or an end to the bickering and the meanness; or it means not the history or the causes of poor health, housing, education and employment but their alleviation and improvement; or, for a number of concerned Australians, it means ‘walking together’ and/or ‘forging a new relationship’.
(vi) The stolen generations
The forcible removal of the children known as the ‘stolen generations’ has caused a great deal of unease, frustration and anger in both Aboriginal and mainstream societies.

My research for this report overlapped with the inquiry into the ‘Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders from their Families’ and the publication in 1997of its report, Bringing Them Home. Of the 118 judicial inquiries, parliamentary committee reports and royal commissions into aspects of Aboriginal affairs in the twentieth century, this is by far the starkest and strongest indictment. It concluded that Australia has wittingly committed genocide through the forcible transfer of children—not just yesteryear but as recently as the 1980s. The Howard Coalition, succeeding Labor in March 1996, declared ‘the Government can see no equitable or practical way of paying special compensation to these persons, if compensation were considered to be warranted’. An array of defences has since been offered for the Commonwealth’s’ no compensation, no apology’ policy. Restitution will ‘produce new injustices and inequities’, ‘create serious difficulties’, cause ‘adverse social and economic effects’. It will be ‘very difficult to identify persons’, it’s all ‘problematic’, and, rather ominously for existing programs, it will ‘divert resources in mounting or defending cases’. Its conclusion is that ‘there is no existing objective methodology for attaching a monetary value to the loss suffered by victims’. The government also takes the view that in judging these practices, ‘it is appropriate to have regard to the standards and values prevailing at the time of their enactment and implementation, rather than to the standards and values prevailing today.’

The Coalition government expresses irritation and anger at the continued rejection of these ‘principles’; it insists that the many vociferous critics are merely peddling ‘political correctness’ and, in so doing, are harming the reconciliation process, which it sees as burying the ‘mistakes’ of the past.

The ‘assimilation factories’ ceased very recently: the Retta Dixon Home in Darwinin 1980; Sister Kate’s Home in Perth in 1987; St Francis’ Home and Colebrook in South Australia in 1957 and 1978 respectively; Bomaderry in New South Wales in1988. The problem is not one which affected only past generations: it goes on affecting many living people now, including the suicide victims in this study. The Coalition talks about these events as being removed from our time and values, yet repeal of the ‘removal’ laws began only as late as 1964 and continued, one state at a time, through to1984. The last child removed was in Perth in 1970, when the authorities defied a judge’s order to restore a child to its natural parent. Children continued to be removed well beyond 1970.

The Howard government has steadfastly refused to make a public apology onthis matter. Aboriginal family organisations state that there can be no reconciliation unless that matter is fully addressed, and then redressed, legally and politically. They note the Canadian and New Zealand apologies, as well as England’s public regret at sending Liverpool children to Australia during World War Two. They also note the formal New South Wales and Queensland government apologies, and they point to former Prime Minister Paul Keating’s 1992 ‘Redfern speech’ in which he acknowledged, inter alia, that ‘we’ brought the diseases, the alcohol, ‘we committed the murders’, and ‘we took the children from their mothers’.

(vii) The level playing fields
The ‘level playing field’ philosophy is possibly the most confusing and irreconcilable point of all.

John Howard, when leader of the federal Liberal opposition in 1989, declared that, in the name of the just society, there can be no special favours, no positive discrimination for any one group, especially not for Aborigines. He pledged repeal of existing land rights legislation, because no other group has such special benefits. The Liberal and National parties also proclaimed, in the 1990s, that none should be advantaged over another, expressing the philosophy that we are One Australia. The[then] Queensland Premier Rob Borbidge gave a practical example: he insisted that there can only be one Australian law, one that prevents non-Aborigines and Aborigines alike from taking crocodiles for food on Aboriginal reserves. The ideological implication of the ‘level playing field’ is the withdrawal, or elimination, of all special pleaders, so creating equality of treatment for individuals. It is a populist ‘philosophy’ which ignores the presence on the playing field of those who are already powerful. It is also a perspective lacking any appreciation of history.

Canada rejects this and has adopted an antithetical view: the premises of the philosophy that ‘all Canadians are equal are very wrong’; that the ‘equality approach’, which ignores inequalities, ‘is the modern equivalent of the mind-set that led to the Indian Act, the residential schools, the forced relocations—and the other nineteenth-century instruments of assimilation’.

Conservative politics in Australia does not discuss or acknowledge the original reasons for legislation which attempts to protect, advantage or compensate Aborigines and Islanders. Nor does it acknowledge that no other group has had as disadvantaged a past as Aborigines. One could be tempted to dismiss much of the political rhetoric as mere election talk, but in proclaiming such a ‘just society’ Howard obliterated—as did Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in the 1960s—all Aboriginal and Islander personal, social, political, economic, cultural and legal history. The Howard–Trudeau proposition infers that, as of a given date, previous histories and legacies of injustice and inequality are expunged to make way for, at best, a clean slate, or at worst, a reconciliation slate.

The implications of this philosophy have devastating consequences. It is as if Aborigines, like new immigrants, have ‘just arrived’; and, to share in the ‘just’ and ‘equal’ society, they must compete on equal terms. The Aboriginal question is thus merged into a ‘multicultural society’, one in which Aborigines are no different from recent immigrants. Past violations are disregarded, thereby absolving anyone from atonement or compensation. On election, Howard began a systematic campaign against the ‘black armband’ interpretation of Australian history. Priority, he said, should be given to health, literacy and other practical programs. Although he has no jurisdiction over state school systems, he requests that syllabuses be rewritten to accommodate his view. Howard sympathises with those ‘Australians who are insulted when they are told we have a racist, bigoted past’. Of note was Australia Day 1997. Prime Minister Howard declaimed that Australia should not be ‘perpetually apologising for sins of the past’. In contrast, the Governor-General, Sir William Deane, said ‘the past is never fully gone’; ‘it is absorbed into the present and future’ and it shapes ‘what we are and what we do’—and unless Australia achieves reconciliation by 2001, ‘we’ll enter the second century of our nation as a diminished people’.

6. The violence syndrome
There is a causal link between ambiguity and patterns of behaviour in many Aboriginal societies. The stages are: (1) a feeling of frustration; followed by (2) a sense of alienation from society, of not belonging, of foreignness; then (3) withdrawal from society, no longer caring about membership, loyalty, law-abidingness; and then(4) the threat of, or actual, violence.

The anthropologist Emanuel Marx talks of ‘appealing violence’ and ‘coercive violence’. The former, discussed in the next chapter, is essentially about harm to self or to others, a cry for help when one is at the end of one’s road. The latter is where a person uses violence in a premeditated and controlled manner, ‘as an extreme but often effective means towards achieving a social objective’. At present, the harm in Aboriginal life is confined to self, to kin and at times to those who work with and for communities. At no point in Australia in this century have Aborigines resorted to coercive violence.

Earlier I stated that things appear to be better now than two or three decades ago. Yet several key aspects of the present and prevailing socio-economic and living conditions are worse than when I first began looking at Aboriginal administration in the early 1960s. Then there were virtually no human or civil rights, but the highly respected values of kinship, family reciprocity, child-rearing practices, care of the aged, incest prohibition and punishment for offences against a strong moral code were relatively intact. Today, the agenda is land as property, land councils, High Court actions, cultural representation, Aboriginal participation in political and economic arenas, artistic recognition, sporting adulation and an enormous public consciousness about Aboriginality. The values of what once were ordered societies, even if the order was maintained by settlement and mission discipline, have disappeared in many groups, leaving rampant the values of disorder.

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