You might have noticed, or rather, I hope you will have noticed that I’ve been rather slack in writing lately. This isn’t because nothing has been happening, far from it, it’s just because I’ve had way too much stuff to do off-blog to spend any reasonable time writing posts.

Here’s a quick round-up of some of the things I should have written about over the last week or so:

1. Howard brought reconciliation back onto the agenda with a promise (core or non-core?) to hold a referendum on the addition of a clause on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in the preamble of the constitution. This was of course, knocked back by the electorate when it went to referendum in 1998, even after the wording had been sufficiently watered down, from affirming indigenous people’s custodianship of the land to affirming their rather more insipid and less legally binding kinship with the land.

It’s hard not to be cynical of this move, especially if you look at the last eleven-and-a-half years of this government and their failure to do anything positive for them. Dragonphoenix at My2point2cents (incl. GST) has a very concise and informative timeline of Howard’s actions on indigenous affairs since being elected in 1996.

My guess is that the NT intervention is so disastrously unpopular in the electorate that he needs to claw back some territory – metaphorically, he’s already clawing back way too much of that literal territory that the Crown lost in native title claims – on the indigenous front. It’d be pretty unwise for anyone to disagree with the policy of recognising the rights of indigenous people in the constitution.

2. The election was called, after weeks of Howard saying ‘it will either be in late November of early December’. Turns out, lo and behold, he was right, it will be in late November, the 24th. If you haven’t enrolled yet, you just got electorally disenfranchised, as you only had until this past Wednesday, 8pm.

The polls out this morning indicated that the electorate is largely happy with $34 billion being taken away from services and given back to the tax-payer so they can buy more plasma screen TVs. But it’s gonna take a hell of a lot more than a 2% rise in the Coalition’s two-party-preferred polling to thwart the momentum of The Rudd. I’ll be voting Green of course, but I’m still allowed to prefer one of the decreasingly distinguishable pair of contenders over the other.

3. Residents of Kybrook Farm¹, as I read by chance a while ago, will be the first to vote in this year’s election, in a demonstration of the remote mobile polling services.

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) says one of the reasons Kybrook Farm, which is an hour outside of Katherine [they obviously don’t drive like I do – J], was chosen was because of its picturesque backdrop.

AEC’s Iain Loganathan says the 70 people enrolled to vote there will go to the polls on November 12.

I’m glad that the community won’t be disenfranchised by bureaucratic oversight, such as what happened during the census last year, when entire towns of thousands of people went un-counted.

4. The federal government have approved the Pulp Mill in the Tamar Valley in Northern Tasmania. We all know this. What most of us don’t know is at the same time, the Minister for² the Environment Malcolm Turnbull, approved the Pluto Gas plant, to be built among the world’s largest and oldest collection of rock-art anywhere in the world, in the Burrup Peninsula.

A spokesman for the Minister says [Assistant Minister for the Environment, John] Cobb was not satisfied that the area was of particular significance to Aboriginal people in accordance with Aboriginal tradition.

5. Difference of Opinion, the ABC’s inferior version of SBS’s highly successful program Insight, last night focused on the Intervention in the NT. The panel consisted of Olga Havnen, Tom Calma, Professor Lowitja O’Donahue AC, and Dr Sue Gordon OAM. To those who have been following even slightly the events of the past three and a half months, these names will be familiar. The first three are vocal critics, while Sue Gordon is the head of the NT taskforce and spent most of the night trying to defend it, quite unsuccessfully. I’ll try to remember to update the link to the show’s website when an archived version is available.

6. This really deserves its own post, but this will have to suffice. has released an interactive website called Culture in Crisis that contains a huge amount of information and multimedia content about indigenous Australian history and culture, and also addresses the reality of the crisis faced by aboriginal culture in this country. Here is the blurb:

Soothing the dying pillow is the description used 50 years ago to describe white Australians’ predictions that Aborigines would die out.
The official view was that the Government’s duty was to ease the death of Aboriginal culture while educating their children to be white people.
This interactive shows what, if any, progress has been made on child sexual abuse, domestic violence, health, and short life-spans.
It points to crucial changes which must be made if the world’s oldest living culture is to survive.

It’s a very interesting and informative website with a huge amount of content, including interviews with various highly informed people, including Prof. Jon Altman and Patrick McConvell, and many interviews and discussions with some of the Yolngu people. I probably don’t have to declare anything, but I will just in case. The Culture in Crisis website was produced for by an affinal relative of mine.

7. This one’s hot off the press: Katherine is going dry – except for private houses, licensed premises and the low-level crossing area, between 7am and 7pm. No more long-necks in the long grass.

I’m sure to have forgotten something, but this will hopefully bring me more or less up to speed.

¹I should point out that I’m interested because this community is where I did my three field trips.

²For the Environment’ here is surely meant to be taken sarcastically, right?


Apparently a site of great cultural significance has been found in Wollemi National Park in the Blue Mountains. It’s a 100m x 50m sandstone slab covered in shallow engravings that are invisible for most of the day, emerging only in the angular light of dawn and dusk. From the substance of the engravings it is being compared to Mount Olympus, in that it supposedly depicts various deities and mythological creatures such as an ‘eagle man’ as well as “an evil and powerful club-footed being, infamous for eating children.”

The site is being described as ‘the most amazing rock engraving site in the whole of couth-eastern Austalia’. Probably second only to the thousands of known individual rock engravings on the Burrup Peninsula in Western Australia, which was a hot topic of debate at the end of last year, but for one reason or another, has fallen from the spotlight of late.

Woodside Petroleum want to build an on-shore natural liquefied natural gas plant on the peninsula – which, by the way, will process the spoils of Australia’s support for East-Timorese independence back in 2002 (read about it here) – but the rock art is unfortunately precisely where they want to build it.

At the time, we recorded about 9500 engravings on our North West Shelf leases, many of which remain undisturbed today. About 1800 were relocated. (from Woodside Petroleum’s website)

The same website claims that Woodside are working with local Aborigines to minimise any impact on the remainder, but from all news pieces on the matter, this is by no means uncontroversial.

No matter what we try and do, it’s the Minister is the one who’s got the answer. We could sit and cry day and night and they’ll just turn around and say, “There’s only black fellas. We’ll just go straight through them. We want this project to go ahead. We’ll go straight through it.” And that’s the way it’s happening. (Wilfred Hicks talking to the 7:30 report)

Hicks refers to the Minister for Environment (former Minister by now; Howard shuffles them around so often that it’s amazing they actually know what their portfolios are) Ian Campbell, who refuses to assign heritage listing to the Burrup, citing economic growth as the reason (and this is was the Minister for the Environment, not Industry).

Anyone who knows the extent of this rock art, and who says that none of it should be disturbed is taking an absolutist position that will hurt Australia’s economy and it will hurt the world’s environment. (transcript of a PM program, taken from the department’s website)

He mentions hurting the world’s environment here because of the relative benefits of natural gas as opposed to other forms of fossil fuels, but that is another debate altogether. To cut a long story short, I am skeptical that they would reduce any use of coal-power, just because of an influx of gas, and, by the time the gas is exported on diesel-powered ships, the difference in emissions is greatly reduced.

Having said that, it isn’t just the federal government taking an unreasonable economic-growth-trumps-all argument; understandably, the Western Australian government is keen to preserve the state’s 14% growth. And at the end of the day, why let a bunch of old rocks get in the way of inherently unsustainable economic growth?

Luckily, Wollemi National Park is nowhere near any politically hot natural gas reserves (as far as we know!) so it has a good chance of gaining the heritage listing that the Burrup desperately needs.