You’ll soon be seeing some new pages on our website about Daddirri, Miriam Rose and the Naiuyu community. Pip will also be blogging about her experiences in the Northern Territory. And there’ll be more…
Here’s the first of Pip’s blogs. In this blog, Pip makes reference to a Basics Card, which is a way that governments are controlling the spending of Indigenous people… and Indigenous people themselves. We’ll be talking more about these cards in a future blog.
‘As I drive the 250kms back from Nauiyu Community to Katherine this afternoon, I have a heavy heart.
The landscape around us is more stunning than words can describe. During this wet season, the spear grass has grown over six feet high, standing a blue green with yellow tips under the vibrant green leaves of the gum trees. A mountain ridge with red and orange rock stands strong and tall alongside us as we drive the winding roads south.
Dark clouds loom over our path. We feel like a storm is chasing us as we watch the lightning strike over to our right. We anxiously wait for the downpour of rain. We want to get home before the creeks flood over the low-lying, pot-holed roads ahead.
I had spent a day sitting again with Miriam Rose Ungunmerr and her husband Ken, out on their back veranda in the humidity. We had talked in depth about two of our community projects and took little steps towards bringing our ideas to fruition.
We had been discussing Miriam’s pending invitation to give a talk at a Reconciliation conference in Townsville. Miriam had asked me to help her with what people may want to hear her say. And how to share her understanding of ‘Reconciliation’ and how the essence of ‘Dadirri’ sits in bringing about change in Australia.
As we talked about what Reconciliation is, Miriam and Ken spoke more deeply with me than they had in the past.
Miriam said, “If I asked any of the young people in Nauiyu what Reconciliation means, they would say that it means making your first communion with the priest. That a child would need to tell what they had done wrong. Maybe they punched someone, maybe they swore at a teacher, they’d need to say sorry.
When it comes to the term Reconciliation that is used more widely in Australia... well, I’d say that Reconciliation doesn’t exist in the bush.”
Miriam went on to say that she understands that terms like Reconciliation and Closing the Gap are supposed to mean healing the hurts of the past, together.
She paused and then added “Who is truly listening to our stories of pain and hurt? I don’t know that people really know what it’s like living under this Intervention. How can the pain of the past be healed when there is still so much hurt going on in the present?
The policies of the governments since 2007 are destroying our community. We were once a proud community, with self-determination. We had employment opportunities for our kids. The kids wanted to go to school and they had options.”
Ken then shared with me some of the hard realities of how the Intervention in the NT is affecting young people on a daily basis. He went inside to find a letter and then showed me the Department Of Human Services Youth Allowance form that had been sent to his nephew. I could see on his face how upset he was.
The letter showed that this young man of 18 has only $2.50 a fortnight to survive on after money is allocated and taken out of his Basics Card. Ken gave me a number of reasons for this. Basically, this young man can't find work in the community as there are no jobs. He gets payments from Centrelink deducted because he isn't applying for jobs that don't exist. And he has money deducted from his entitlement for housing, even though he lives on his brother’s veranda in a swag.
This young man wants to have a better life, but the only food he can afford to buy in the local shop - which is ridiculously expensive - is the cheapest food, which is always junk food. (e.g. lollies and Coke.) How does such a young man take steps to improving his life? No wonder the statistics show increasing numbers of young people taking their lives or turning to self-harm.
“How can this happen?” I ask myself. local Aboriginal people tell me that the Federal and State governments do what they want. They don’t consult with the community, nor do they care about the needs of Aboriginal people, nor their basic human rights.
I believe that other people would be as appalled and deeply upset as I feel, if they knew what was going on. I am only coming to a deeper awareness about the situation through living in the Northern Territory and spending time in communities like Nauiyu.
I believe that if people living around Australia realised the truth of the injustices, cruelty and disempowerment that was going on, they would want to support change so that Aboriginal people get a much fairer deal.
My conversation with Miriam and Ken gently drifts back to Dadirri. The essence of Aboriginal Spirituality, about finding the Deep Inner Spring inside us, a place of peace, a place where we can once again find belonging.
Miriam then says:
“People have to feel they belong. If they can’t, this causes hurt and a sense of journeying aimlessly through life. The person is not whole.
How can our people feel a sense of belonging to a community where we have all our power taken away? We have no choice. No options to work.
We don’t want to move away, this is our home, these people are our family.
We have had no input into government policy on us. People come and work from outside the community and implement this policy. We are disempowered.
Many of my brothers and sisters and cousins are still searching for their families that were taken away as children as part of the Stolen Generation. This hurt is still strong.
But you know… I talk to many Indigenous and Non Indigenous people around Australia and they are hurting too. Many people have their own stories. They are disconnected from their roots, their families, their culture, their spirituality.
There is a yearning. How do we connect? How do we heal together? How do we grow a sense of Belonging together?
It’s like we need to know we are all being held. We need to make ourselves strong, believe in ourselves.
If we can connect to someone, we can hold them, like a mother holds a child, that same unconditional love.
If there is connection from that deep inner spring, Dadirri, that spirit within all of us, we can find that commonality. Perhaps we can find healing.
Maybe this is Reconciliation?”
As I drove through the storm that came over our car, the windscreen wipers going, the rain started to ease. My 10-year old son in the front seat next to me noticed a big fluffy, brilliant white cloud snuggled between two dark heavy clouds.
He said, “You know what mum….even amongst the darkest, scary storm, there is always a white cloud. We just have to keep focusing on the white cloud.”'