Thursday, 30 October 2008

Malnutrition in a sea of plenty

Robert Tickner has written an article for the SMH today. He decries Aboriginal malnourishment as a national disgrace. One of the proposed solutions is a return to traditional horticultural practices, whatever that is (and why does it cost $300,000 to get people to return to doing something that they've supposedly done for generations?)

I have a few hippy friends from my uni days - most have gone the ex-hippy way, and are now staunch conservatives. I guess they are neo-cons, since they are hippies who have had their eyes opened to the world.

I was having a beer with one of these neo-cons a few years ago, and he told me the story of one of his hippy friends, and their desire to do good in a remote aboriginal community.

This hippy identified malnourishment at least 15 years before the current government discovered that it is a problem, and he decided the solution was to grow vegetables locally. So he packed up his car with seeds and tools and things, and headed north.

He settled in a community, and set about clearing and planting and weeding and watering a plot with all the usual vegetables that you or I could grow in their backyard (and I've tried growing most of these) - carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, tomato, capsicum. beans and peas.

His plot was coming along nicely, until some locals, who got trashed most nights, decided to have a party in his garden. They destroyed it, ripping up the plants and wrecking the simple irrigation system that he'd built.

So he started again, but he put a fence up this time. And then a drunk took umbrage at that, and drove a Landcruiser through the fence and drove around and around the plot until it was destroyed.

He tried a third time, and after that effort was also wrecked, he gave up - broken hearted, and returned to Perth a changed man. Nine months of effort, sweat and his money had all been ruined by people that were intent not only on destroying themselves, but destroying everything around them, and taking their neighbours and families with them.

1735099 left a comment at kev gillett regarding the miserable conditions on Palm Island, and the high turnover and burnout rate for teachers, police and nurses.

I don't know what the solution is, but there is not a bottomless pit of people and money that can be thrown at this problem. Eventually, people are going to say, "Bugger this, I'm not going there - they can sort their own mess out". Whenever I hear calls for more money or more programs to do this, that or someone else, I think, "how will money fix broken social values, and who will they actually find to go up there and run the program?" The media loves to report on how funds are unspent, but that to me simply displays a clear lack of understanding as to how government agencies function. They don't just put cheques in envelopes and mail them out. Someone, such as a project manager, has to get in a car or plane and go out there and do all the administrative and management stuff necessary to get a program up and running. If people don't want to go, the money can't be spent.

I will blog more on this later - gotta go to work. I've got a bucket of money that needs spending on a project, and it won't get spent by me sitting here blogging.


kae said...

Traditional horticultural practises? I thought aboriginals were hunter-gatherers?


I agree with your second last para. People do get burnt out trying to help when others won't help themselves.

And I also agree that the moeny just doesn't get thrown at the problem holus-bolus. Projects are investigated and managed. This is public money and is supposed to be accounted for. This is what got Sugar Ray Robinson into so much trouble, he seemed to think that once he got the money from the Government it was his right to spend it how he saw fit, and dispose of any purchases with the money as he saw fit.


Wand said...

Late to comments -- but so ...

I don't know what the solution is, but there is not a bottomless pit of people and money that can be thrown at this problem.

There is a solution but it is unpalatable to the welfare industry.

Back in the 1970s, I spent time in the Northern Territory on construction projects and witnessed the aboriginal community at close hand. In the area in the Northern Territory where I was located there was a church mission station with an aboriginal community centred around it. I was singularly unimpressed by what I saw at that mission but interestingly it was not long before the mission station was put out of bounds to all construction and mine workers. I think it was pretty obvious that the church or perhaps the aboriginal community did not want people seeing what condtions were like. However, as I was running one of the construction companies and had business dealings with some of the people at the mission, I was able to visit it as I chose. As I said, I was not impressed. Perhaps I'll save some of that for a later time.

Apparently the local aboriginal community would collect their welfare benefits every second Thursday. They may also have received some royalty payments from the mining company though I'm not sure of those details. Initially when I first went to the construction site it was illegal to supply liquor to aboriginals. However as soon as a hotel with a beer garden was constructed and opened to the public in the town (Nhulunbuy) every two weeks a number of aboriginal males would make their way to the pub arriving on the Saturday. They took two days to walk the distance along the coastline from the mission which would have been between 20 and 30 miles distant. They then proceeded to drink until they were paralytic. This became a regular scene at the pub and the police on occasions would sweep some of them up and throw them in the jail to cool off overnight.

There are many issues about the aborigines that had not been addressed properly and frankly are a disgrace to our society. Those issues relate to health, hygiene and education, i.e. a lack of all.

As I see it, the main issues behind the current problems experienced by aborigines are that the communities in which they live are closed to external scrutiny. When alcohol and drugs are mixed into the community, the abuse that has run rampant is not surprising.

I say there is an answer to these problems and it was being addressed through the intervention. For the intervention to succeed it is essential that open access is provided to all aboriginal communities for public scrutiny. Also, for the intervention to succeed it is essential that Aboriginals be given property rights to provide them with some financial resources that will allow them to better themselves. Let's face it this is how most people improve themselves in our society: typically using property as collateral to build a business. Given these two key elements, the other components of establishing rule of law, proper health and hygiene, and education can follow.

To the extent that the current mad mob in Canberra wind back the intervention they will destroy the aboriginal people. It doesn't matter how they feel about how the aboriginals feel or how they feel about aboriginal communities being revealed for what they are. It matters not one jot because if the communities are closed from public view once again the old ways will return in the communities will be destroyed with a lethal combination of alcohol, drugs and child abuse as outlined by Noel Pearson. And if the communities do not get property rights I see little hope for them to better themselves.

It is interesting to note that billions of dollars have been poured into aboriginal welfare over the last 30 years with very little result. I suspect that the people who oppose the intervention are most likely beneficiaries from the huge government largesse over the years. No doubt they wish to keep the gravy train running and would have a vested interest in ensuring that the status quo is retained. It would be very interesting indeed to follow the money trail of the last 30 years to see where it is all gone.

As a footnote to this rant about 10 years ago I paid another visit to Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory to find that the town had been completely fenced in. Yes that's right! The beautiful town on the picturesque Arafura sea encircled by Cyclone wire fencing with even the town beach fenced off to the public. Anyone living in the town is allowed to move within tightly confined boundaries and an access permit is required to move outside the designated areas. An individual may hold an access permit for himself or herself that is valid for one year or so however groups of people of two or more need to apply for a specific access permit for the particular day and event. None of this has been reported in the media. It is not surprising that the mining company has a 50% staff turnover each year. At least with this system of reverse apartheid (in at least one area in Australia) individuals with the financial means can vote with their feet and move away. That system itself is a disgrace stemming from huge welfare industry that has grown up as a result of taxpayers money being thrown (away) by the bucket load.

I end my rant.