I awoke this morning to the unusual sound of rain, something I hadn’t expected up this way until later in the year. If I were more of a literary person, I’d draw a Shakespearean connection between the inauspicious ‘worsening’ of the weather and the Senate’s rubber-stamping of the NT intervention legislation earlier today. But I’m not enough of a Shakespeare buff, and I like rain.

The bill passed, 56 votes to 6, through the apparently useless House of Review with only the Democrats and the Greens opposing it. The Labor party supported the bill in its entirety, despite the government rejecting each and every one of their amendments. One such amendment sensibly supported an annual review of the unfolding of the intervention, something that the government evidently disagrees with, for some obscure reason.

Some very important questions were asked during the Senate inquiry and debate, which, according to Senator Nick Minchin:

…has now gone on for more than 15 hours and is becoming one of the most exhaustively-tested pieces of legislation in Australian history.

Some of the questions concerned compensation for the forced take-over of lands and whether or not it would be constitutional. Alas, the government has decided to push ahead with the plan regardless:

The laws offer Aboriginal people “a reasonable amount” of compensation in return for losing control of their land, but not compensation on “just terms” as required by the constitution.

The government refused to amend the bills this week to enshrine the constitutional guarantee of compensation, amid warnings the laws could be the subject of a High Court challenge. (AAP)

But a legitimate question remains unanswered: who decides what “a reasonable amount” is, and by what yardstick?

The cost of the intervention strategy is predicted to come close to $600 million in the first year alone. Jane Simpson has provided a breakdown of where the majority of that money will end up, and it appears as though – like every other aspect of indigenous affairs in this country – only a very small proportion of it will reach the ground.

The government’s refusal to listen to any amendments put forward by any of the non-coalition parties has even drawn criticism from their Indigenous Affairs mascot, Noel Pearson, who warned the government against such intransigence as it has displayed towards other parties’ proposals. I might warn Mr Pearson against any more dissent from the Coalition plan, lest he get labelled a kava addict, as happened to the entire community of Yirrkala after they asked the survey team to leave last week.

The only good news is that due to the rain, I might not have to spend as long washing my car before returning it on Monday morning.

If I was even slightly superstitious, any mention of drought-breaking rainfall predictions I’d avoid like the plague. But in all honesty, it’s difficult not to get excited when you see articles like this, which go as far as to predict a La Niña effect to start later this year.

I hope the Southern Oscillation Index doesn’t swing too far into positive territory though, because it will mean higher chance of flooding on the East-coast and higher chance of drought in South America, or such is my rudimentary understanding. We are sustained by a tight balance of conditions and the planet’s ability to cope with extraordinary circumstances is only so powerful.

I also hope that drought-breaking rain isn’t attributed to the government’s policy on water management, if that happens they might be able to go into the election campaign claiming they’re on a mission from God!

I noted back here that the Bureau of Meteorology had included on their website a page called Indigenous Weather Knowledge, that describes the annual weather patterns known to Aboriginal people in a given area. Since then, the BOM have included another group, the Brambuk from the Gariwerd / Grampians National Park in Victoria.

This morning I was browsing the ABC news website and cam across this report (transcript and mp3 both available) on The World Today, of yesterday (ironically). It says that the Bureau “is now posting Indigenous weather information for the Northern Territory and Victoria.” The weather information takes the form of correlations of natural processes, such as the onset of the blooming period of certain plants signifying that the time is right to start fishing from the river, or that Black Cockatoos flying around herald coming rain.

The Brambuk information page differs from the others (Wardaman, Jawoyn, Walabunnba and Yanyuwa) in that, unfortunately, it doesn’t contain any such information couched in the traditional languages, which, I understand, are Djapwurrong and Jardwadjali.

~

On a considerably less positive note, the World Health Organisation reports that Australian Aboriginal healthcare lags behind the rest of the country. This came from PM yesterday, transcript and mp3 available here.

Indigenous babies born today can expect to live only as long as people in Australia 100 years ago. The Aboriginal people are dying at the same kinds of rates that people did 100 years ago in Australia.

Diseases long-forgotten in the developed world, such as leprosy, tuberculosis and rheumatic heart disease, still afflict Aboriginal people in Australia at alarming rates. 106 years of federation, 40 years of Indigenous rights, and we still have an awfully long way to go.

Are we making any progress?

I was doing a little bit of random google searching this morning and happened to stumble across the Bureau of Meteorology‘s Indigenous Weather Knowledge project.

This project is only in its initial stages (last updated January 19) and only has four languages represented – Wardaman, Jawoyn, Yanyuwan and Walabunnba. Each season name links to a page with a description of that time of year, detailing the weather, the environmental effects and even the typical foods available at the time. Jawoyn is an exception here, it is very light on information; it gives just the names of the seasons and a rough description, like September-October, Worrwopmi: Early build-up, Hot and sticky.

The pages for the Wardaman seasons are full of cultural knowledge like which animals are ready to eat and when, and how to know where to dig for yams. I especially like this part of the description of Ngurruwun¹, hot weather time (build-up season from September to December):

The appearance of March flies in September or October indicates the end of the dry season and beginning of the buildup. When they start biting it also indicates that freshwater crocodiles are laying their eggs.

Hopefully a lot more language owners will allow their traditional knowledge to be published in this manner, provided it isn’t restricted material, but as one of the Walabunnba informants points out:

Knowledge about the weather is not secret business. You don’t have to be a traditional owner of country to speak about the weather – it is the same as your culture: just everyday knowledge.

¹The Wagiman term for the corresponding season is lajadilk, but the term for ‘sun’ is ngurrun. I suspect the Wardaman season ngurruwun is related to this.

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