Sunday, 21 December 2014

9 Posts Before Christmas...Tips for interviewing children in trauma #Cairns

The public's interest in the unfolding tragic events around the deaths of eight children earlier this week in Cairns is reflected in the trending topics and expressions of disbelief and shock on social media. 

Yesterday was another shocking installment when news spread that the mother of seven and aunt of one was expected to be charged with having caused the death of all eight children.

I've seen the annual notices of the need for self care and reminders that for many people, the Christmas period is a difficult time of the year. For many of us however, we still can't understand and want to know how and why this dreadful event occured.  

I had decided not to watch TV over the past 24 hours because there is a limit to what I want to see while I process this overwhelmingly sad and horrifying incident.

But I was not prepared - and was quickly deeply concerned -  to see photos appear in the media, of the neighbourhood children, some of whom it's not unreasonable to expect could be related to the victims. 

I have personal reasons to pay attention to my own mental and emotional needs following a recent tragic death in my own family. I am sure I am not the only one who is also dealing with painful loss and grief in their own families. I am Indigenous so our suffering is more acute in this regard. 
I make this disclosure, not to insert myself into a story that has left us shocked and heartbroken, but as a reminder that statistics around Indigenous psychological distress and mental illness impact on every family in some measure.
The proportion of adults reporting high/very high levels of psychological distress increased from 27 per cent in 2004-05 to 30 per cent in 2012-13, and hospitalisations for intentional self-harm increased by 48 per cent over this period.     
Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage Report 2014
On it's own terms, no event warrants the type of media intrusion and risk to further trauma for the kids who are sitting in a park being closely supervised by people who should not be pressed into deciding on informed consent for their children to appear in what must now be international news. 

This event is so grave and newsworthy, the images can be expected to be widely distributed and viewed for years to come. These kids will now grow up being closely associated - if only in their own minds - with these awful events. The deceased children were still being attended to inside the property by forensic teams while the children were outside in the park.

It should be noted the kids had not yet received any counselling or attention from professional support workers when the media descended on them in a nearby park to take photos of them while they were painting memorial cards for the victims of this overwhelmingly awful incident in the week leading up to Christmas.

I posed the question on Twitter and was gratified by the response - no, it is not ok to treat the children as part of the story. 

See the link below for the Twitter conversation.

I think ABC has demonstrated a commitment to ethical reporting of Indigenous issues. Anyone who was around on Twitter when Dr Yunupingu died in June 2013 witnessed ABC journalists taking the lead in following Twitter recommendations to follow name avoidance practices as per traditional Yolgnu custom. 
I readily acknowledge and appreciate their responsiveness to viewers' queries and complaints.

Full Twitter conversation is here

ABC Editorial Policies: Principles & Standards is here

Cultural protocols relating to deaths in Indigenous communities is here

Interviewing Children: Guidelines for Journalists is here


Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage Report 2014 is here

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

11 Posts till Xmas... On sorrow & #illridewithyou

“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping
than you can understand.”

W.B. Yeats, The Collected Poems

The sound of muffled gunshots and distant explosions woke me. It was just after 2am on Monday night and I’d fallen asleep on the lounge and left the tv on. 

I’d watched the broadcast of the siege in the Lindt chocolate café in Sydney for hours so I was fairly sure what was happening from the angle of the camera. I’d kept watching once I’d heard that family members of hostages had gathered around Martin Place.

I'd made mental lists of what I would have taken down to the site. I could have volunteered for coffee runs or offered some fold up chairs or just sat in silence, or moved back and not got in the way. I could have done something. Hundreds of kilometers away, all I could do was watch. This is what social media does – it gives us all the information but we are powerless to participate.

It was the middle of the night and the amount of noise made me expect the worse and that was soon confirmed. Only days away from Christmas and now families would be devastated in grief and disbelief.

Within hours the faces of those who’d been inside the café were all over the news sites and Twitter. The dreadful vigil was now a shocking reality. Stunned by the outcome, the jokes and the misinformation thrown about in haste on social media were all just litter that blew down an empty street.

We are in mourning for people have died, children have lost their mother. Among us live those who will never have their loved one come home from a day in the city. What was once thought safe and ordinary has gone and Martin Place is now an unearthly site, that was visited by evil and now shrouded in sorrow and the scent of thousands of fresh flowers.

I was in Melbourne last week and with a friend, had reason to be walking down Swanston Street. We were looking for a coffee shop. Looking hard in my case. I don’t know Melbourne very well and was afflicted with a temporary bout of impaired vision which blurred one eye to blindness and the blinking strain on the other transmitted sight intermittently in shooting flashes like an asteroid shower.

A planter box was along the inside edge of the footpath. It looked rather grand to be skirting an empty lot, among the construction scaffolding but it was the nature of the air that had me curious enough to stop and inspect it.

It was a memorial site for the tragic accident in March 2014, when a strong gust of wind on a summer’s day had caused a 15-metre section of brick wall to topple over and two young people, brother and sister, had died. What the smart phones and tv crews hadn’t conveyed was the wall was opposite a tram stop and Swanston Street is a major thoroughfare into the city centre. Adding up location and the time of day, there could have easily been far more casualties. Or there could have been none at all, such is the tragic misfortune of life. I wondered how often people cast their eyes that way as they pass by and how long till the horror of the accident had made it possible to travel that route.

The Swanston Street wall fell down in a cloud of loose bricks and smart phones captured the desperate efforts of the passerbys, now commemorated in a permanent declaration of the strength of the community, primed to respond.

The Sydney siege had been a vigil of several hours before I saw the #Illridewithyou hashtag appear in my timeline. I understood everything about it in an instant and retweeted the first, second and third tweets without hesitation. I saw it had ignited into images and innovative responses.

What I understood was the most vulnerable are always in danger when anger raises the alarm that a threat to some form of freedom has been detected. When myself and others used our social media space to campaign for various positions on s.18c Racial Discrimination Act we knew which people had the most to lose: those who fall under the quaint term 'of Aboriginal in appearance’ or one of the other ethnicities that regularly, depressingly and drearily experiences racist abuse and assaults in public.

The danger could come from the most frightening quarter – a complete stranger, or as part of the sinister menace we've come to expect, with specific targets in mind.  
Painting a target on yourself probably accounts for the reluctance across the board for having a lot to say about repealing sections of the Racial Discrimination Act.

But for those who did, speaking up was especially arduous for those who chose to do so on TV and radio, in the defence and protection of others -- but people who come running when a wall falls down, don’t stop and think about themselves or who is under it. Some of the very best writing was unexpected, from those who’d have no fear travelling pretty much anywhere on earth, so I also know what it feels like to have faith in humanity topped up when you feel it most.

Thinking about #illridewithyou, I could expect to be safer on public transport if I took up wearing a hardscarf. I can pass as a member of a number of religions that I do not follow. I could pass as middle eastern or Asian or many of the countries that lay on the African continent.
What I can’t pass as is a member of the dominant group who flooded the internet with details of where to find them should I want to feel safer on public transport. Or want someone to talk to. Or feel better when surrounded by strangers if I had someone to sit beside me and tell me where I am when my eyes don’t work.

And I am what I am, and it is what it is so the most energy best spent is in wondering ‘why?’ Are Aboriginal people so intimidating that people do not know how to approach us? I can guess what the answer is, if Aboriginal people are judged from social media alone. It’s obvious why the caution even though we like many other groups that now coexist in Australia have good reason to say ‘we are not all the same’.

People do not want to offend by coming any closer -- or far worse, suffer the choking humiliation of being ridiculed on social media, even if it’s at the hands of those who would have to put a staunch t-shirt on to have anything to fear. I grimly understand why plenty stop in their tracks. It wont make any difference to point out the worst behaviour is a long way from any cultural traditions that I remember, or the essays of derangement are largely ghostwritten so can hardly be taken as widely held views.

To my troubled mind, initiatives such as #Illridewithyou are of the kind that makes me hope a little of the goodwill might rub off on all of us. Stricter bail conditions, more rigid surveillance and tough talking may appease people’s outrage at times like this, but they do nothing for the broken hearts. They will not return the ones who have been lost to their families, they are not the conversations you can have with a child, and they wont make the fearful look forward to a free and full participation in life.


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Where I come from...


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Review #FirstContactSBS Part 3

I could have written why some people didn’t like the SBS/NITV event First Contact before I watched the three-part series, the talk shows, the news and read hours and hours of Twitter.

I could have beaten every one to the punchline: when people think like racists, it is harmful and in the right circumstances people will educate themselves.

What happens when Aboriginal people are removed from their lands?

There are vast areas of land in the Western Australian inland that are classed as uninhabitable because there is no water. That’s not quite right. There is water, it’s just deep underground and you need to know where to look. How Aboriginal people survived in these places without access to rivers and regular rainfall was by maintaining soaks, the ‘native water wells’.

Without the knowledge that has been passed down for generations, you would probably never find a soak.  They were covered over to protect them from contamination, and in that heat with that wind blowing across the flat, a person needed to dig down through fifteen feet of sand for a drink of water.

It would have been impossible to move thousands of head of cattle across the country and down into WA on horseback without water. You don’t need to be an old bushy to work that out. 

Mum, St Georges Terrace, Perth 1960s on her way to a job interview
as a jillaroo driving cattle across WA, NT & QLD on horseback

Canning Stock Route, Western Australia at 1,850 km (1,150 mi) is the longest and reputedly most dangerous historic stock route in the world. The track runs from Halls Creek in the Kimberley region of Western Australia to Wiluna in the mid-west region.  One Road: Canning Stock Route Project app
When Alfred Canning set out in 1906 to survey a stock route that would be largely responsible for establishing the Western Australian pastoral industry, he needed a hand to find the water.  Aboriginal guides were so important to the Canning survey, they were rounded up and chained at the neck to ensure their participation.

When people are taken off their lands, when their children no longer know how to find their way home, they know their knowledge of the land will die with them. Their source of life will fill with sand and then the people are gone forever, never to return.


The vast majority of Australians are accustomed to consuming black news framed in conflict. Friction points illuminate the issues, otherwise how do you know what side people are on?

But who said there were two sides? It is a shallow self serving commentator indeed who suggests there are two camps: Constitutional Recognition as one, and Treaty and Sovereignty as the other.

If a former Liberal Prime Minister can quit his own party and an Indigenous identity can go from being the President of the Labour Party to supporting the Liberal Party why would Aboriginal people fall neatly into opposing trenches around political matters?

Aboriginal people do not have that luxury of being one or the other, but that is the easily digestible swill the public is continually served.

Black people are constantly divided, chained to an ideaology and sacrificed by others in the pursuit of their idea of the greater good. I’ve worked in the interface between black and white for long enough to be exploited most often as the proof of life.

I am in the ubiquitous photos of participants rounded up to pose and confirm the community engagement objective of a workshop was met. I am the counterweight that provides balanced reportage to a site, once I have been edited and strategically placed. I am the polarizing link that provides the dark to their light. I am what sustains their precedence over my self determination.
Is it any wonder that it is so difficult to find an Indigenous person willing to express an opinion? For many, Indigenous people continue to be an enigma. We're just drawn that way.


"The series does not reflect every Aboriginal person, is overly negative and fails to mention the positive stories, and was intrusive in it’s demands on Indigenous people to be responding when it should be the racist who has to explain themselves."

There are close to 520,000 Aboriginal people spread across Australia. To feature that level of diversity you would probably need a dedicated TV channel that runs 24 hours a day. Free to air. With news and documentaries, and shows about culture, sports and music, and have it produced and presented by Indigenous people. Sound familiar? It’s called NITV.

The positive stories were there in abundance:

Shane Phillips founded Tribal Warrior and here you can read about how to book a cultural cruise on Sydney Harbour.

Marcus Mungal Lacey is an artist and runs cultural camps Nyinyikay Tours and Sightseeing
You too can fly to these homelands, pitch your tent and hear local wisdom. 

The ladies on Elcho Island retail their art via Elcho Island Arts

For those not aware most of the Chooky Dancers came from Elcho Island. They were just local blokes who used to meet on the basketball court at night to listen to loud music and put together sequences that blended traditional and contemporary dance moves. One day, someone filmed them on a hand held and posted it to youtube. It went viral, and they flew all around the world to perform their version of infectious cultural exchange. The initial video has now been seen over two million times.

Those who watched First Contact can guess what their home conditions are like and may be surprised that as well as being the home of Gurrumul Yunipingu and Yothu Yindi, many Yolgnu people from that region participate in the Garma Festival every year.

"Aboriginal people want to be able to make decisions about their community."

June Oscar has been campaigning for local initiatives around children's health and alcohol management for years.

A vox pop in Alice Springs was quite clear ‘close the pubs, you brought the problem’

Pinned down, the best advice from those concerned that First Contact had been an intrusive and humiliating experience for Indigenous people was ‘ask the community, they have the answers for their own self determination’.

A bonus of First Contact breaking down negative stereotypes was the insight into community aspirations. These included eco tourism, cultural tours, to sell art and to do something about access to alcohol, for a start. Working for the Northern Land Council for three years a decade ago shows me that the traditional owners aspirations have persisted.

It would be great to think that this exposure would go some way to making these goals possible.

The biggest criticism was someone needed to take a sledgehammer to the blatant racism and the underlying institutionalized racism. That’s already happened as well. How else to describe the escalating rates of high psychological distress and self harm, and the highest rates of suicide in the developed world?


An exciting outcome for me are the ideas about how to frame a cultural exchange for different audiences. How to build on an event that rated over a million viewers. How to tap into the good will so many claim exists.

Some suggest humour works best, though the challenge is to actually be funny. Some prefer documentaries that focus on racists and interrogating them on their views and delving into their private lives to examine how it is they arrived at their negative stereotypes.

I hadn’t had these type of conversations before so I credit First Contact for opening up new lines of communication.

All about me

DISCLAIMER: I am not part of any collective or crowd funding 
initiative and I maintain 100% independence. 

I would be doing social media wrong if I didn’t find a way to capitalize on the spotlight that First Contact has brought to Indigenous Australia. However it wasn't my choice to be inserted and suggested as the opposing view all over social media but this is the danger of having a public opinion. 

Racism is a destructive evil pressure, but exploitation and being subjected to other people's privilege is just as damaging, in the deliberate and accidental misrepresentations and the psychological distress caused by constant threats to being the free person the advocates continue to insist I am.

It has been an ordeal watching the dissection of Indigenous lives while being reminded how fractured the Indigenous community has become. I choose to focus on the positives where if the six participants were able to admit they were wrong about Indigenous people, who knows how many countless others had similar revelations. I don't need to be reminded that racism continues to exist and doubt I need to remind anyone else.
Black writers, of whatever quality, who step outside the pale of what black writers are supposed to write about, or who black writers are supposed to be, are condemned to silences in black literary circles that are as total and as destructive as any imposed by racism. ---- Audre Lorde 

Parker kids, London 1974
I had reason to go back through the photo album this past week after reconnecting on Facebook with a cousin, and this photo was taken in his back yard in London in 1974.  At the same time, in the black soil country of far western New South Wales, my Aboriginal relatives were living on the smooth dry clay of the riverbank with their belongings shelved among the branches of the trees and food kept cool at the end of a line in the river. These days Cousin Miles is 30 years into a career at Abbey Road Studios and was excited about having just finished mixing Bandaid 30.

I have always liked the idea of Bandaid and collaborative arts projects, and feel the expanding void of good will and capacity to have fun within the Indigenous community. 

There weren’t any sing-alongs during First Contact though the good will was measureable, and the hashtag continues to roll.

I wonder how many who voiced their concerns about the First Contact will be moving to any of the remote communities anytime soon to facilitate any local aspirations. If they are fundraising at all, is it so they get to do more of their preferred work while never leaving the comfort of their own homes? If they are writing songs, is it for their music career? If they are producing art, is it on their tshirts for sale? If they are advocating, is it from the vantage point of committees with a little interstate travel thrown in?

By suggesting audiences shy away, this impacts on the people they claim to be supporting by denying them the result they wanted: for people to come and sit down in the dirt and talk to them.

But far worse from a cultural point of view is the scattergun attack on racists that shames the Indigenous people who participated in the series.  I refer to the Aboriginal English definition of 'shame' and no doubt that will be beyond the comprehension of those who felt it appropriate to shame by association with the airing of every grievance.

But who feels shame these days? People have lost the knowledge how to conduct themselves appropriately during funerals and state services and think their voice is more important than respecting the final wishes of someone who was held in high regard by the Indigenous community. If you do not know how to grieve, you do not know how to live.

Assessment of the series: The ripple effect of this series will continue to expand. The Indigenous community was already quite fragile and the in-your-face racism has been a distressing and disturbing experience for many to witness with no guarantee of a satisfying denouement.

Not all viewers were satisfied with explanations of Aboriginality. The ongoing debate about identity will continue but First Contact was never meant to address this issue in it's entirety. At three episodes in length there was a limit to what could be included. 

The Insight reunion show was a satisfying conclusion, in seeing the changes in attitudes of the six participants. I'd hope the Indigenous participants would be able to achieve their goals.

Racism will continue but now there are more people who know a myth when they hear it. The next step is to encourage people to be part of the revision of the narratives of contemporary life so we can begin to live in truth and not continue to stumble around in darkness.

Highly recommended. _________________________


The First Contact journey here 

Episode 1 here
Episode 2 here
Episode 3 here

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Review #FirstContactSBS Part 2

In case you weren’t aware, please know there’s a campaign to have Indigenous people recognized in the Australian Constitution. 

It’s been going for a while now.

It has a lot of support from people from all walks of life.

If also has it’s detractors. They come in all shapes and sizes too.

So there are two other campaigns.

One is to throw out some alternative ideas to recognition. A Treaty is one idea. 

The other is to derail the Constitutional Recognition campaign.

This goal splinters again into even more objectives.


If you think that is confusing, then you are some way to understanding why some Aboriginal people do not like #FirstContactSBS. 

Politics. Conflict. Suspicion. Blackout.

If you are not aware that a writer or a spokesperson or a media identity is opposed to the Constitutional Recognition campaign then you wouldn’t get that because First Contact has some links – be they ever so faint – to the government funded Recognise campaign, that is sufficient reason to pour scorn on the show.

If you were not aware that someone had made their own documentary that failed to set the media and the community and the international interest on fire, then you might understand why they might resent the support the First Contact event has received.

If you were concerned that male on female violence within the Indigenous community is a direct threat to the status of Indigenous men and their grass roots political campaigns, I doubt you would have much support for the filmmaker who made a documentary based on historical facts, about men who are still alive.

If you were strenuously opposed to anything that Noel Pearson and other prominent Indigenous identities with mainstream support were able to achieve then you would go out of your way to belittle their supporters.

People ask me 'why are the levels of high and severe  psychological distress so high in the Indigenous community?'

I say racism. It created a layer of lateral violence. It continues to stoke the fears of those who feel their Indigenous identity is under threat because they don’t look black, or because they don’t come from the bush. Or don’t feel represented in documentaries about Indigenous Australia. Or a hundred of other reasons.

Of course the material - the outright racism expressed in First Contact - is confronting. I have heard variations of that all my life.

The first two episodes have been a journey of This is Your Life.

I lived in Karratha. It's hot, it's mining-centric and there are not a lot of Aboriginal people unless you go down the road to Roebourne.
I bookended 14 years in the NT, with a 3 year contract and a then a four year stint. I took medic teams into remote communities in 5 seater planes and slept on the floor surrounded by mould. It's the tropics? What do you expect? I've been to the camps around Alice Springs - the town camps are some of the most miserable places I have ever seen.
I come from outback NSW. My relatives lived in humpies, others in houses. Some got out, some stayed, but they have houses now.

I think there is a lot more to the conversation that First Contact has started, and whether you participate is a personal choice. I can respect people for not wanting to be involved. There are plenty of reasons not to, including not wishing to expose yourself to any more trauma.

I am making my own choices - and I am not prepared to keep doing the same things the same way. I want to try something new.

Let's keep talking!

Assessment of Episode 2: Keep watching, then go back and watch it again. These are the type of conversations I want to be a part of. Detractors of this show have the means to do something about their personal situation. Plenty don’t, so let others tell their own stories.

And Karl Stefanovic said out loud what plenty of other people having been thinking to themselves or within forums that Indigenous people are not a part of. He should be applauded for that because I for one don’t think the duplicitous talk is doing us any favours.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Review #FirstContactSBS

The first episode of the three-part documentary series First Contact was a profoundly challenging event for a number of viewers, both black and white.

Some of the reasons for discomfiture were plain to see, if like me, you watched the first episode with one eye on Twitter.

First, a recap of Tuesday night’s explosive first episode:

The three-episode documentary series was 'inspired by statistics showing six of 10 Australians had no contact with Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people'.

If we are to build better relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and non-Indigenous Australians we must first understand the underlying values and perceptions that shape this relationship.
Australian Reconciliation Barometer 2012
So began the quest to find 6 participants to film over four weeks in situations that would expose them to a diversity of Indigenous Australia lifestyles and perspectives.

The producers spoke to 700 people before choosing six participants. At a rate of one to two hours for each of the 700 candidates, that fact alone was worthy of a moment to pause and think about the flood of myths and negative stereotypes the interviewers were exposed to before deciding on two men and four women.

The participants were drawn from large population centres spread between Brisbane and Melbourne. Similarly the majority of the Indigenous Australian population resides across the same general footprint, in rural, regional and city centres between Rockhampton and Melbourne. [ABS 2011]

It occurred to me that at least two of the ‘guests’ would have had opportunities to gain (if only limited) insights, ie Logan has a large Aboriginal population and another participant confirmed he’d met Indigenous families in his work as a law enforcement officer.

The six participants were:
Jasmine 33 Mother of 4, Logan QLD
Alice 31 Food nutrition student Gold Coast QLD 
Trent 28 Law enforcement officer, Western Sydney  
Bo-Dene 25 Supermarket worker, Melbourne VIC
Marcus 23 Part-time photographer/surfer, Sydney 
Sandy 41 Mortgage broker, Newcastle*
*It was revealed today that Sandy withdrew during the first episode.

The first episode opened with a selection of their initial thoughts on Indigenous Australians, in their own words:
 "Petrol-sniffing and drug-taking." ... "They've got plasma TVs but no food." ... "I'm Australian. I was born here, just like they were." ... "We give them houses, they burn them down." ... "Aboriginal people are definitely more disadvantaged." ... "They get so much more than us." ... "Everything costs more for me, but why is it less for them?" ... "A lot of freeloading." ... "Having this free ride, and I'm working my arse off." ... "Classing themselves as Aboriginal to get more welfare." ... "I've had very little to do with Indigenous people." ... "When it comes to brains, unfortunately ... " ... "Aboriginal people keep using the past. Move on." ... "You think it's racist? Well, I don't f*cking care.'
The promotional material promised that First Contact would get Australia talking.

There was no problem fulfilling that objective - the documentary series achieved that weeks before the first episode was broadcast. The trailers were enough for trepidation from some Indigenous people because of the airing of such blatantly racist views, and had others questioning whether this was the type of content that's welcome or proper for screening on NITV, the only Indigenous free to air channel.
The episode went to air at 8.30pm and Twitter was at a rolling boil within seconds. The official account for SBS tweeted at 9.04pm that hashtag #FirstContactSBS was trending worldwide. This is a huge response for a show that due to timezones had only been on air for thirty minutes in three Australian states: NSW, Victoria and Tasmania (though granted, they are the most populous states).

The disclosures of the six participants were bold and distasteful, rarely deviating from ignorant statements that I’ve heard many times before. I was mildly surprised to hear Ms Logan remark at the table that she’d expected an inner city Aboriginal family would eat ‘bugs’ and not the steak and salad she’d just been served. Seriously?

Was this an upsetting production to watch?

Despite it's ability to drag and swallow a person whole like a giant black hole, the suggestion remains that a person has a choice how they respond to racism. I’ve been affected in some way by racism my entire life and it wasn't from my carelessness. I look Aboriginal or of a type that makes people wonder ‘what is she?’ or suspect that what ever it is, it can’t be good. 

Have you experienced suspicion so strong that a shopkeeper would quite possibly glow in the dark? I think I have on more than a few occasions. I wonder if it would ease their mind or slow their  scurry to see what I'm doing at the rear of their shop, if I told them I am a grandmother? 

So it was satisfying viewing how quickly the First Contact pilgrims were edited, and revised their sight unseen harsh assessment of the Indigenous participants. There was so much Twitter chat, more than one observer referred to a social media frenzy

Then during the multiple threads of conversations the  Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage Report 2014 popped up on my radar. Overall, the findings are alarming.

Released biennially, the Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage Reports have been 'measuring the wellbeing and examining whether policies and programs are achieving positive outcomes for Indigenous Australians' since 2003.

The Report contains some good news: several health outcomes have improved, including increased life expectancy and lower child mortality. However, rates of disability and chronic disease remain high, mental health outcomes have not improved, and hospitalisation rates for self-harm have increased.

But by other measures, Indigenous people are going backwards in the worst possible way.

Incarceration rates have skyrocketed. There’s a danger of normalizing prison. This means that rather than constituting a wrong turn in the road, there is only one road open and it goes straight to jail.

Adult mental health issues – high/very high levels of psychological distress - jumped in the period upto 2013, and the suicide rate for Indigenous people is double the rate for non-Indigenous people. Why? Most recent, the fear generated by repeal of s.18c of the Racial Discrimination Act hung heavily over the Indigenous community, but it was already afflicted with a heightened state of anxiety and disharmony from intergenerational trauma, poverty and lack of choices. These are just some issues in a long list of threats to Indigenous people's well being, and self harm and suicide were already at crisis levels in the Indigenous community. 

Rather than detail them here, please take the time to read the report here for the break down of suicide and self harm data across age groups and states and territories.
A reflection.Some years ago I worked in a small remote community. Within barely a few months there were five tragedies. I knew the community wasn’t a magnet for outsiders but I’d seen the news stories. You know the ones, where teams descend on a community and provide counseling and support to the young ones and families. But no one came. Not only did no one come, no one in town was able to become involved. I was shocked. I understood why, but it was a wake up call that help had to occur from inside. No one was coming to talk, or ask questions, or sit there and listen. It was years ago but now people look back on that time as the good old days. It’s far worse now that the bad ways have taken hold. And no one expects help to come out their way anymore. 
First Contact delivered on it's promise of triggering much to talk about. I was given the uncommon chance of a finger workout on a Tuesday night, as I kept an eye on the documentary while texting, and all the while getting deep into tweet chats about racism and Indigenous responses to institutionalized racism. 

For the most part the hashtag and timeline was heavy with recommendations that First Contact was ‘must see’ tv.

The series was produced by Black Fella Films (Redfern Now, The Tall Man and the meticulously researched six-episode documentary series on Indigenous Australians, First Australians).

I’ve never seen a documentary - of Indigenous content - receive so much positive press before it had screened. The recommendations continued during and after the episode had screened. Then people retreated to draft their thoughts, confessions and aspirations.

The brusque examination of Indigenous identity within the first half of episode one was not a welcome sight for those who are frequently asked and don't find social media a culturally safe place to discuss identity issues. The guests (now aka 'the racists') weren't rewarded for expressing capitulation of their negatively stereotypical views on the Indigenous representations of home and business ownership, and education goals nurtured by loving families. 

First Contact is essential viewing for the one elusive and essential quality that Black Fella Films has delivered on. This production engages an audience. 

Attempts to talk about racism were a cause of conflict every time there was an incident on public transport or a football oval . Not so long ago, the best advice was breaking open and examining racism was a delicate operation. Following the shared experience of the first episode, in the count down to the next installment there was almost a carnival atmosphere. 

This is good news because we need to talk about racism of the institutional kind. That's far more challenging than a few myths and inappropriate words. 

I need to mention that much of the successful engagement emanates from the decision to go with Ray Martin, a host that people trust. A detractor would have to go a long way to shake that impression. The familiarity of his reputation provided a virtual cardigan that made people feel comfortable enough to rethink their convictions out loud, and flood the hashtag with tears.

Some have expressed doubts if epiphanies will translate into something more meaningful. And wondered if exposes of Indigenous lives encourages an expectation that rights to privacy are diluted. 

The social media landscape is already littered with half formed strategies to deal with racism. Do you call people out on it every time? Is it worth your time to confront racist minnows?  Name and shame or block and forget? Screening the series over three consecutive days takes binge TV to a new level, from the virtual to real life. People started talking on my Twitter timeline about getting together to watch the remaining two episodes. 

First Contact is more than a documentary series.

There are teaching resources here
Media release and interview here
Indigenous voices showcased on SBS Twitter here

A well orchestrated awareness campaign will embolden people to ask a question or two. What is 'sit down money'? What exactly does 'passive welfare' mean? What should Indigenous people's entitlements be? And lifting the veil on remote communities more or less invites outsiders to have a go at solving what seem like straight forward problems.

If only they also factor in positive examples, such as the Indigenous Governance Awards that were recently announced, or the achievements of Victor Morgan and Shane Phillips featured in Episode One of First Contact.

The truth is people like racism, or at best, kindly don't comprehend the damage it does and are comfortable with the rule of separating the blacks from the  whites. Racism has a pungency that's detectable when you've spent years living in blocks in different states and territories. It becomes second nature to apply this knowledge in every analysis, such as disturbing Report findings that red flag normalized self destructive behaviours for Indigenous Australians, or on discovering that 'Racist Sandy' was born 41 years ago in Alice Springs.  

There have been some odd games at Indigenous people's expense. For some it provided their livelihood and for others their seat at the table. We continue to be other people's experiment or an outlet for a fury that they wouldn't get away with anywhere else. Ongoing dehumanisation of Indigenous people has made this possible. 

There is a dark, sadness to our history and the intergenerational trauma that festers, that will take more to rectify, than a new commitment to excise ignorance. The frustration will be in trying to explain to a casual observer why it is not so simple to 'change'.

Within the Indigenous community, the same challenges will persist. The most effective way to marshal a severely depressed community is to make a pre-emptive strike to deter people from having a good hard look at the issues. And if that doesn’t work, set fire to something.

Target the emotions that require the least spark of concentration. Anger, hurt and shame are already close to the surface.

I know how they feel. These are not merely statistics. They have names and faces. We are heartbroken. They will not stop until enough of us agree one more is too many.
We’re just giving you an insight, behind all those ugly faces you might see in front of you. You take this back with you. And then you might communicate differently with them. And then see them not as lawbreakers, see them just as people, that are trying to survive in a different environment. --- Marcus Mungal Lacey NYINYINKAY HOMELAND, ARNHEM LAND, NT

Assessment of Episode 1: First Contact is must see TV. The personal testimonials have been compelling viewing. The 'event' - the staging with all the additional resources - has created a safe place for people to talk about painful issues.
I'm interested in taking the conversation further.

Episode 2 #FirstContactSBS is here
Episode 3 #FirstContactSBS is here

More blog posts to come...


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