In case you DON’T know who Bess is, she’s a Warlpiri woman from Yuendumu (in central Australia), who’s now been elected to our Legislative Assembly (that’s the NT’s parliament, in case you’re not sure). For many years, she’s been an outspoken critic of those who ‘fetishize’ culture, and place it before the rights of women and children.
Bess RIGHTLY takes aim at what I’ll call CONSERVATIVE lefties – the tired-old has beens still ‘fighting the good fight’ from the 1970s land rights battles, whose views have become solidified in Australia’s national consciousness, Indigenous policy from both sides of the political fence, and much of what passes as ‘debate’ in Australian anthropological circles. It’s also a blind-sider at middle class urbanites, who’ve probably been to Bali or the US more times than they’ve poked their heads into Australia’s inland.
If this offends your sensibilities, then it’s done its job.
There is a new generation of progressives rising – and it’s not coming from the tired old lefties who are now the conservative status quo – it’s coming from disaffected Aboriginal people, sick of seeing people dying, poor and segregated in the name of ‘land rights’ and ‘culture’.
Bring it on.
I take this opportunity to talk about an issue that has always been close to my heart. Within the last three months two more young mothers, related to me, have died in Alice Springs town camps. One was injured mortally in public. Nobody acted to protect her. Dozens of my female relatives have been killed. Convictions have often led to relatively light sentences. I was told by a senior lawyer that no jury in Alice Springs will convict an Aboriginal person for murder if the victim is also Aboriginal and she is only stabbed once. And we all have done nothing effective to stop this from happening. It has been going on for decades. Why hasn’t there been the outrage that we would have heard from feminists if they had been white? Why is there such a deafening silence? I believe that we can blame the politics of the Progressive Left and its comfortably middle class urban indigenous supporters.
Because I have spoken out on this issue and others close to my heart I have been routinely attacked. Professor Larissa Behrendt claimed that what I say is more offensive than watching a man having sex with a horse. Her white colleague, Paddy Gibson, told the world that I was only doing it for the money and frequent flyer points. The Queensland educationist, Chris Sarra said that I was a ‘pet Aborigine’ who only said what the government wanted me to say. Chris Graham, the white editor of Tracker magazine called me a grub. A white woman in Victoria, Leonie Chester, calls herself Nampijinpa Snowy River on the internet. She tells the world that my people, the Warlpiri, are ‘her mob’. She and her friends have obscenely insulted me on the internet over and over. Marlene Hodder, a white woman from Alice Springs, and her friend Barbara Shaw, have called me a liar several times. The Crikey blogger Bob Gosford calls me Bess “Gaol is good for Aboriginal people” Price and accuses me of ‘vaguely malevolent and populist buffoonery that is designed to capture the attention of the tutt-tutterers and spouted by politicians that inevitably have a short tenure in power.’
But I am in good company. When Mantatjara Wilson, a wonderful, strong woman I called mother, told the world about the crimes against our children on national TV, back in 2007, with tears streaming down her face the left-wing activists moved to undermine her. They went into the communities, not to protect the kids, but to find women who would oppose Mantatjara. They talked about outrage and shame, not because of the crimes we all know about but because somebody was brave enough to tell the world about them and ask for help. That was what they called shameful. They worry about the shame felt by perpetrators not by the agony of their victims and their families. It’s easy to find women who will support their men even if they are killers and rapists. Families always stand up for their own.
Some few others have stood up and faced the vicious criticism of the Left. Here I acknowledge the wonderful work of Dr. Hannah McGlade in Perth and Prof. Marcia Langton in Melbourne. Warren Mundine and Noel Pearson have also spoken out. A conference of Aboriginal men in Alice Springs publicly apologized to Aboriginal women and kids for the violence and abuse that men have inflicted on them. None of these people have received support from the left or from Labor governments. So the Left have tried really hard to call us liars, to put us down for speaking the truth and for wanting to stop the killing and the sexual violence. But they have put no effort, none at all, into protecting our kids and our women.
I recently went to Sydney for the launch of a book called ‘Liberating Aboriginal People from Violence’ by a wonderful, caring friend of mine, Dr Stephanie Jarrett. My words are on the cover of her book ‘We need to support those who tell the truth”. Dr Jarrett does that and she cares, maybe too much for her own good. I have seen the tears in her eyes and heard the passion in her voice when she talks about our murdered and bashed ones. I trust her completely. But of course those who aren’t interested in the truth are out to bring her down. She has been attacked in the Monthly magazine by its editor John van Tiggelen in an article called ‘Thinking Backwards’.
Dr Jarrett is saying that there are elements to our traditional culture that we must change if we are to stop the violence that is destroying us and she is right. Things are much worse now than the old days because of grog and drugs and the awful welfare dependency that is sucking the life out of us. There are elements to our culture that are good and should be kept. But we should be prepared to do what everybody else in the world has done, change our ways to solve the new problems that we have now and that our old Law has no tools to solve. Some people call this ‘integration’, others ‘assimilation’ because they want us to continue to live in poverty, violence and ignorance so that we can play out their fantasies of what the word ‘culture’ means. They have their own agendas and liberating our people from violence is not part of those agendas. I call it problem solving and saving lives.
Van Tiggelen talks about the book ‘Black Death – White Hands’ written by Paul Wilson in 1982. In that book Wilson argued that when a man called Alwyn Peters killed his girlfriend it was actually because of white colonialism and racism. It wasn’t the killer’s fault. It was the whitefella’s fault. This argument worked. Peters was given a very short sentence.
Dr Jarrett started to worry about Aboriginal women’s rights when she saw David Bradbury’s film ‘State of Shock’. This was made in 1988 and was based on the same case. Bradbury brought the film to Alice Springs and brought Alwyn Peters with him. In the film Bradbury gave only the story of Peters and his family. Nobody from the victim’s family was given a chance to give their point of view. They would not have backed Bradbury’s argument so they were ignored. I remember Alwyn Peters telling us that ‘she has ruined my life’. He was talking about the one he killed. ‘She comes to me in dreams’ he said. This made me feel sick. When my husband asked David Bradbury ‘why didn’t you talk to the victim’s family, you would have got a different point of view?’. He said ‘Alwyn Peter’s family are victims too’. In other words all of our sympathy was meant to be for the one who killed and his family and not for the one he killed or her family.
Back in 1991 Audrey Bolger of the ANU’s North Australian research Unit wrote a wonderful little book called ‘Aboriginal Women and Violence’. At last somebody was taking notice, at last a white woman was trying to get governments to act. She was ignored and, as far as I know, nobody tried again after that. Her voice was drowned out by the politically correct who took their lead from Wilson and Bradbury. Just keep blaming the whitefellas and every thing will be fine.
Audrey Bolger said in her book, way back then, that;
‘in the final analysis the problem of violence against Aboriginal women will only be solved by Aboriginal people themselves’.
The report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody said the same thing. In a way she was right, my people need to act now to stop our own violence. But in another way this has given governments and the wider community an excuse for the big cop out. OK, we whitefellas caused the problems but only blackfellas will solve them so we’ll sit around waiting for that to happen.
She also said:
– ‘the problem is a complicated one, bound up as it is with other issues connected with changing lifestyles. Working through these issues towards satisfactory solutions is crucial to the future well being of all Aboriginal people’.
She was right but in the twenty two years since she wrote that there have been no satisfactory solutions found and things are much worse now. It hasn’t happened and I’m sick of sitting around waiting while my loves ones are killed. We have had committees and research projects and advisory councils and ATSIC and now we have a National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. Billions of dollars have been spent. We have had visits from United Nations Special Rapporteurs and Amnesty International indigenous officers. Not only haven’t solutions been found but none of these have even bothered to raise the issue. I want to work through those issues and find solutions.
For the Left and for many Aboriginal politicians on the national stage it seemed that the only issues worth talking about were the Stolen Generation and Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. These are real issues that had to be addressed. But they weren’t the only issues. In the meantime women still died, children didn’t go to school, epidemics of renal failure, diabetes, cancers and heart disease grew worse, young men went to jail. We kept killing each other and ourselves. Australians were not told that the death rate amongst our young men was higher outside custody than in and that more Aboriginal women died at the hands of their menfolk than Aboriginal men died in custody.
Since then so many more women have died and been sexually assaulted and many killers and rapists have been given very short sentences. And many more men have gone to jail. This has come from this whitefella sense of guilt, the fear of encouraging racism and the fear of changing our culture. All of the victims in these cases were Aboriginal. There seems to be a very different attitude displayed in the rare cases where the victim is white and the perpetrator Aboriginal. My people now feud much more than they used to partly I believe, because they doubt that the courts will punish the guilty enough.
The message to our young women is simple. ‘Our fantasy of what your culture is about is more valuable than your lives. Our fear of racism is much greater than our respect for your lives. We ask you to sacrifice your lives for our political agenda. You will only hear from us when we can blame a whitefella for the crime’.
The message to our young men is also simple. ‘If you kill your women we understand, we will take the blame and we can guarantee you our sympathy’. Since Wilson wrote his book and Bradbury made his movie the weakest and most vulnerable in our communities have suffered immensely, with no sympathy from the Left. Things are much worse now.
Bob Gosford, the Crikey blogger, is typical of the middle class white man who knows us better than we do and who ignores our suffering to push his own agenda. He regularly insults me and my people. He lived for a while in my community. In that short time he came to know my people, in fact my own family, better than I do apparently. He has waged a campaign against me for several years now.
Last week we saw this man freely discussing, in his blog and on radio, cultural issues in a way that has brought shame on all of the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory. Although he takes his pay from Aboriginal people he has shown that he has no respect for our culture. He is willing to publicly insult and shame us to push his personal agenda. He has never tried to discuss the issues he writes about with me. He has never spoken out against violence in our communities and spends all of his time trying to destroy the reputations of those who do. In his wisdom he calls me an ‘intra-racist’ because I am sick of the nonsense coming from those in the south who call themselves ‘indigenous’ but look, think, act and live their lives like whitefellas and, like Bob Gosford, think they know us better than we know ourselves.
I have even been warned by a white human rights lawyer from Melbourne that I could be charged with racial vilification under the Racial Discrimination Act. I have never heard this human rights lawyer speak out against the violence that is killing our women and girls. He wouldn’t even know about the deaths of the two young women in recent months and I doubt if he cares. There was no whitefella that could be blamed so he’s not interested. The hurt feelings of southerners who don’t like the truth are much more important to this human rights lawyer than the lives of our women and girls here in the bush. His priorities are obviously different from mine.
But what would I know. To this white journalist van Tiggelen I’m an ‘Aboriginal politician’. To the member for Barkly I am an ‘Aboriginal Liberal’. This implies that I shouldn’t be listened to. Only those on the Left know what a real blackfella is. Only they know which Aboriginal spokespeople can be trusted to tell the truth. The ones who agree with them. The Left decides for us but get angry when we refuse to let them put their words in our mouths. Even when the Labor government had Aboriginal members – ‘Aboriginal Labor’ I guess the member for Barkly would call them – I didn’t see them get much support when they tried to make a difference. And we in the Indigenous Affairs Advisory Council were used as a token, not taken seriously, except by Minister McCarthy alone and she was ignored.
If you read van Tiggelen’s article you’d think that Dr’ Jarrett’s book was launched in a room full of evil geriatric racists. I am obviously their tool and plaything. According to him, Dr Jarrett was half their average age. That would make their average age 120. Van Tiggelen is one of those whitefellas who call every Aboriginal person they meet with grey hair an elder and insist they should be respected. That is except, of course, Aboriginal people like me – Aboriginal politicians on the wrong side. Yet they despise their own elders. I would call Dr Jarrett an elder of her own people who genuinely knows and cares about mine.
To these on the Left, political Conservatives are a bunch of geriatric, racist conspirators who want to take away our rights even though they gave us:
• the vote in Commonwealth elections for the first time,
• equal pay,
• the 1967 referendum,
• the very first Aboriginal parliamentarian, a senator,
• the NT Land Rights Act,
• the first Aboriginal MLA in the Northern Territory,
• the first Aboriginal member of the House of Representatives
• now five Aboriginal members of the current NT Government
• and the first ever Aboriginal leader of any Australian Government.
Forget about Dr. Jarrett’s tireless scholarship and her deep concern for the lives and welfare of the most weak and vulnerable in our communities. Forget about the fact that she has never voted for the Liberals herself and doesn’t belong to a political party. She doesn’t echo the thoughts of the progressive Left. So, according to this white man, she can’t be trusted.
There were many in that room in Sydney who I would disagree with. I don’t like or use the term ‘integrationist school’ that is used by Gary Johns. I certainly don’t agree with everything Keith Windshuttle says about our history. I am not their puppet, and they have never treated me that way. I am nobody’s puppet.
But these people ask me to speak to them and tell them what I think. They listen respectfully. They don’t ignore me in the first place, then attack, insult and vilify me when I do speak out like so-called Left progressives do.
I joined a Liberal party because I believe in the right of free speech, because I want everybody to be allowed to join the debate. Like our new Chief Minister, yes I’m indigenous, but first I’m Australian. Like him I want the Northern Territory to be one community working together in harmony. The Left wants to divide us from other Australians. The Left would never have allowed Dr Jarrett to publish her book. They are about censorship and denial of free speech.
I know about the frontier violence. Relatives of mine were shot in the Coniston Massacres in my parents’ lifetime. I know about the Stolen Children. My own sister was taken from my mother and given to an Arrernte family at Santa Teresa. Those who were taken and given to Aboriginal families in different language groups and different communities are never mentioned and don’t get apologies even though their mothers grieved as much as the others. I know about the jailing of our young men, almost all of my young male relatives have spent time in jail. I also know what it’s like to bury our children and young mothers, their lives taken in public, while the Left looked the other way.
I don’t have to be lectured to by the likes of Van Tiggelen and Gosford about the trauma my people have been through. I wonder how many of their own loved ones have been murdered. No matter that I achieved an 18½% swing in an electorate with a 73% Aboriginal population. These whitefellas don’t believe in democracy. They are saying that my people are stupid to have voted for me. I am a populist according to Mr Gosford. I don’t need to be told by these white men what needs to be done. I know my people. The politics has all been about blaming whitefellas. We don’t need more of that. It has meant that many good whitefellas have done nothing out of fear of making things worse, while the racist, the ignorant and incompetent keep doing damage. And the Left keeps blustering and lecturing and doing nothing.
Those who insult me will not close me down. I will keep speaking out until our women are no longer killed because they are women. I will speak out until they have the same individual human rights as Larrissa Behrendt, and all other Australian women have. I will keep speaking out until our kids have the same rights to a safe and healthy life, a good education and the same access to jobs as everybody else’s kids. Conservative, Progressive, Left and Right, and intra-racist – these words mean nothing to me. They are whitefella terms from their political history. Whitefellas made them up, we didn’t. I want a conversation with my people on our terms in the words we use. We are not politically correct.
I want to keep our women and kids alive, I want our kids educated and confident, I want to keep them out of jail, I want them to work and to be paid equally for their work. I want them to be able to choose how they want to live themselves and to be able to tell us what they want in good, educated English as well as their own languages. I don’t want them to be condemned to poverty, violence and ignorance in the name of a white middle class male blogger’s idea of ‘culture’. I will work with anybody else who wants the same thing regardless of the political labels attached to them by others. Call me whatever names you want it won’t stop me from helping to make this happen.
Thank you Madam speaker.