Or, in a bid to be linguistically egalitarian:

Veni, vidi, ba-ya-nggi¹.

Kybrook Farm was visited yesterday by one of the federal government survey teams that are travelling around aboriginal communities in the Territory in a bid to explain the policy changes involved in Howard and Brough’s intervention.

Wamut, in Ngukurr, writes about his experience with the intervention on Wednesday. The Kybrook version was a different survey team from that of Ngukurr, and it appears that it was much more friendly and constructive here. The interpreter too, was utilised frequently, though I suspect the need was less apparent. They made it clear that their role was to allay any misinformation that we may have had about the proposed legislation, to take note of any concerns and questions, and pass them on to the relevant department.

I have to say I feel somewhat sorry for the bureaucrats whose job it is to explain the details of the legislation since, for one, the legislation is yet to pass and in fact, may well not go through for all we know, which may render their efforts pointless. Secondly, they appear to not have all the information that communities require.

Serious questions were raised about the logistics of the quarantining of commonwealth welfare payments, the centrepiece of the intervention, designed, apparently, to ‘stem the flow of the rivers of grog’.

How would the quarantied monies be accessible? Who decides which items are allowed to be purchased with quarantined money? What will small shops in remote areas have to do to facilitate the proper use of money?

The only question that we received an answer for on this topic was how long the quarantining of money would go for. The answer was twelve months. This naturally provoked a whole slew of other questions, the main one being ‘what then?’ Would all the money that had been quarantined and not spent become immediately accessible, for any purpose?

The community’s concern was that without adequate foresight as to what to do after the twelve months, the situation may just immediately revert back to the current scenario, meaning that the twelve months of quarantining would have done little but cause humbug for those who do the right thing.

The survey team had no answers for this, but emphasised that part of their role was to relay the community’s concerns back to the taskforce in Alice Springs.

The Problems

Overwhelmingly, the biggest problems here are housing and roads.

The most recent house to have been built in Kybrook Farm, is now fifteen years old. Most of them are over thirty years old. All need urgent repairs to insulation, electricals, plumbing, roofing, sewerage and the solar hot water systems. Overcrowding is also a problem, especially in bohba, the wet season, when the community population swells.

The community association has for decades been sending applications to whoever normally funds such things. Each time, the applications have been rejected. They are understandably cynical then, when government bureaucrats come into town and suddenly start paying attention to their needs. That said, such is the situation that they’re quite happy to take advantage of the fact that the spotlight is currently focused on these matters.

Kybrook has been trying for years to have their access road from the highway bitumenised. The failure of Pine Creek council to do so has indirectly caused property damage to just about every vehicle within the community. It may have also been responsible for deleterious health effects. Just last week, a child was sent to Katherine with athsma, caused by the dust when cars drive even slightly too fast.

The road also effects education. The Pine Creek school bus won’t go to Kybrook because the road is too hazardous. The community is left to find another way to get their kids to school, which usually means making a couple of trips in the Rangers’ troop-carrier, unless it is otherwise engaged. I have, on a number of occasions now, had to pick up kids stranded in town. I don’t mind, of course, but it really isn’t part of my job description, and I wonder what would happen, after I leave and there just isn’t an available car. It’s a long walk through the bush to Kybrook, especially on a hot ngurugun (‘Sunny time’) day.


So by the end of the meeting, most of us were only a little more enlightened as to the government’s plan, and I still can’t shake the feeling that the intervention is ill-prepared, lacking in detail, and fundamentally designed as an election-year issue, rather than as a plan with the primary goal of helping the country’s most disadvantaged people.


¹As david pointed out, both veni and vidi are inflected (or declined, if you prefer, yes, for we all know that Latin demands its own nomenclature) for 1st person singular, “I came, I saw”, while Wagiman ba-ya-nggi, as the English version of the title suggests, is inflected for 3rd person plural “they left”. But as it’s a classical allusion, I don’t really care about the inaccuracies. I should also credit David with the idea for the Latin/Wagiman title, as he mentioned to me a similar Warlpiri title Veni, vidi, yanulu.


I was going to comment on the government’s response to the Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle “Little Children are Sacred” report commissioned a year ago by Clare Martin, undertaken by Rex Wild and Patricia Anderson, and presented to the Chief Minister last week, but due to the fact that I’m leaving for a two-month field trip on Monday morning, I don’t foresee much free time to collate my thoughts among all the other things that I have yet to do. However, I will link to others’ thoughts on the matter that are mostly congruous with my own.

  • Jane Simpson addresses the clear disparity between the recommendations of the report and the proposed actions of the Prime Minister.

  • Kim Christen laments that human rights are being cavalierly cast aside by the invocation of the words ‘crisis’ and ’emergency’.

  • Bulanjdjan tells how she received an email indirectly from one of the compilers of the report who, as it turned out, was justified in his concern that it would be hijacked by the government and used for a particular agenda.

  • And then there was the boy who cried ‘Tampa’.

I just have no time to add any more to the discussion right now. But if I desperately think of something, I’ll do it from Darwin on Monday afternoon.

(What are we up to by now? One step forward, four steps back?)

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?