Category Archives: Current social issues

Australian feminism and some recent stuff

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 7.38.02 PM

 

Hey, so apparently I’m one of Australia’s up and coming feminist icons! No really, in all seriousness, thank you to SBS for including me in their International Women’s Day 2016 feature. It was an honour to be asked and genuinely flattering (humbling? I’m terrible with English emotion terms!) to feature alongside such inspiring, admirable women.

Below are some of the interview questions and answers in more detail followed by an addendum of sorts. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Current social issues

Nhulunbuy and the future of a remote township: an open letter to State Capitalism

 

cth15_72_p2bark_1963

 

Dear State Capitalism,

You are sneaky and very shit. I knew this already, of course, but have recently learned it anew in my concern for the future of a certain remote township in north east Arnhem Land. It is everywhere and always implied that the State imposes taxes on citizens so that the government might provide them with services. This is a catchy tune. The Australian constitution certainly implies this – that people pay taxes so that the government can ‘perform all of its functions’, or something to that effect. However, this is not – and has never been – the case. I want to tell you a bit about the history and import of Nhulunbuy.

The historical relationship between Yolŋu people and mining in north east Arnhem Land has been of National significance and formative in terms of the nature of such intercultural engagement, policy and legislation. It was the excision of land from the then Aboriginal Reserve for the purposes of a mining lease and the subsequent Gove Land Rights Case (Milirrpum v Nabalco Pty Ltd, (1971)), instigated by the Yirrkala Bark Petition, which eventually laid the foundation for the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976 (as a result of the Woodward Commission). More specifically, it was the Yolŋu response to the excision and the decisive action taken by Yolŋu people which forged new and innovative intercultural possibilities in their engagement with their ‘supporters’ (predominantly Methodist Missionaries), as well as the Federal Government and the Courts, in their determination to have their system of land tenure and rights over their estate recognised by the State and Federal Governments and the Australian legal system.[1]

Continue reading

11 Comments

Filed under Current social issues, Indigenous Rights

A fieldnote from home

 

20bal1

Charles Blackman

 

This evening I nearly saw a man drown. I run the same route most afternoons, over the bridge and along the foreshore. This evening I was about to cross over the bridge when I saw something or someone splashing in the water. I stopped. It was a man, only a few metres from the banks of the river, and he was drowning. He kept trying to stand up before falling over, his head going under the water for a longer period of time each time he fell.

As soon as I realised what was going on I ran to the shore. I called out to him but didn’t get any response. His head went under again. I waded in and instinctively grabbed his chin to hold his head above the water. I told him it was going to be okay. I asked him to sit down. The water was shallow enough that I could hold his head above the water while he was sitting. He coughed and spluttered and struggled to reclaim and regulate his breathing. I asked him if he could stand up. He shook his head. Ma (ok, I understand). I told him that I was going to try and help him, to drag him out of the water. Yo (ok, yes, agreed). Standing behind him I hooked my arms under both of his armpits and in quick lift-and-drag motions we slowly edged our way to shore.

Continue reading

18 Comments

Filed under Current social issues, Indigenous Australia

Recommend your favourite Anarchist texts

 

Screen Shot 2013-05-29 at 9.31.58 PM

 

Over the last few months a number of people have asked if I can recommend a few texts on anarchism or anarchist political philosophy. Recommending texts is hard, so I’m just going to list a few of my favourites instead. I recognise that these may not be everyone’s cup of tea, so I invite others to share their own favourite anarchist texts in the comments below. If there is a substantial response I’ll compile a short bibliography and post it at a later date. So here’s goes as I like to say:

 

 

Errico Malatesta

1995, The Anarchist Revolution: Polemical Articles 1924-1931.

This would be a wonderful text to start with for someone who hasn’t read anything on anarchism before. It is a short volume of essays and letters in Malatesta’s no-nonsense, stoic style. I love Malatesta’s earnest economy of words more than anything, and his ability to communicate key ideas in plain English with little fuss. (It’s no secret I have a giant mega crush on Malatesta.) I really super love this text.

 

Prince Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin (aka Peter Kropotkin)

1902, Mutual Aid: A factor in evolution.

Epic, earnest and awesome. Kropotkin put forward an alternative view on species survival, beyond claims of competition and ‘natural’ hierarchy presupposed at the time. In a way, Kropotkin is to competitive interpretations of Darwinism what Proudhon is to the competitive presuppositions about human nature that underlie ‘classic’ social contract theory. (Kropotkin also led an amazing life – he was a Prince after all! – and he is worth reading for this reason too.)

 

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

1851, General idea of the revolution in the Nineteenth Century

This is an odd text, but one of my favourites. It’s odd because it doesn’t necessarily address the ‘revolution’ as one might expect and also because it is quite disjointed. I think of it as a series of essays elaborating his thought and position on key concepts – on key areas or topics of interest anarchists – from the social contract, property relations and the division of labour to social organisation-as-governance, authority and social order. Actually, I think this is my current favourite text at the moment, now I think of it (not least because it is productive to ‘think through’ ethnography with).

 

Emma Goldman (1869 – 1940).

1931, 1934  Living my life, published in two volumes.

2006 [1983]  Vision on Fire: Emma Goldman on the Spanish Revolution.

I couldn’t choose just one. I can’t tell you how influential Goldman’s writing has been on my own thought, politics and life. There is not a week goes by where I don’t think of her work in some way for whatever reason. One of the many things I find compelling about her writing is her fierce sense of compassion and uncompromising humanity. She was such an incredible woman – such an admirable anarchist and such an incredibly strong feminist. Both these texts are very accessible and one needn’t have any background knowledge to follow and appreciate them. The first is her autobiography.

 

 

 

 

 

† The wiki-entry on Malatesta can be found here.

†† The wiki-entry for Kropotkin can be found here.

††† The wiki-entry for Proudhon can be found here. I’ve written about Proudhon a number of times hereon in the past. A quick search should find the relevant posts.

†††† The wiki-entry for Goldman can be found here.

35 Comments

Filed under Current social issues

Solidarity with those on strike at Uni of Sydney! Stop police brutality!

 

Screen Shot 2013-05-14 at 7.05.33 PM

 

† Around Australia, thousands of students (seemingly concentrated in Melbourne and Sydney) went on strike and rallied and marched today, in protest at the cuts ($2.3 billion) by the Federal government to the tertiary education sector.

Their protests will of course be ignored — but may constitute a step in the right direction. In any event, at the University of Sydney, police attacked a picket, breaking one man’s leg in the process.

Some folks have issued the following statement on Facebook in response. No doubt there will be further accounts and reflections in the days and weeks ahead. (Note that the University inter alia appears to have become a focus for recent ASIO snooping.)

 

“An Open Letter to and from the University of Sydney community,

 

One student had his leg broken. Another was choked and went limp. Several students were trampled. Many others were shoved, grabbed, bruised or struck. These attacks on peaceful protestors were nothing less than outrageous.

 

All of these assaults and indignities could have been avoided if Spence did not allow the riot police on campus. The university has the right to exclude police from campus, and in the past it was very rare for the cops to come on campus for this very reason.

 

We condemn Spence. If the university allows riot police onto campus, it is complicit in their violence. The argument that they bring order to the campus is transparently absurd, all footage and testimony shows that the police have been a force for violence and disruption (there is an old quip: the riot police are aptly named).

 

Copy and paste this as your status in solidarity with those injured.”

 

 

 

 

 

† This is re-blogged from everyone’s favourite Australian #anarchist #trot-spotting #antifascist blog, Slackbastard.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Current social issues

To the organisers of the 2013 Sydney Historical Materialism Conference

 

Screen Shot 2013-04-24 at 3.52.13 PM

 

 

“Some of us were invited to speak, others have already prepared abstracts and papers for panels, and we had all been planning to attend the conference. We have since learned that Solidarity, an affiliate of the Socialist Workers Party, has given its full and unequivocal support to the latter in its handling of an allegation of rape against a senior member. You have informed us that you agree that the position taken by Solidarity is indefensible, but that you have also decided to invite Solidarity members to present at the conference. As a consequence, and in the absence of any evidence of a change of position by Solidarity, we will not be taking part.”

 

 

Bree Blakeman

Ann Deslandes

Mark Gawne

Angela Mitropoulos

Steve Wright

 

 

If you were going to attend the conference and would like to add your signature, or register your support of those who have decided not to attend, please do so in the comments box of the post via this hyper-link.

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Current social issues

Mutiny: Imprisonment, Deaths in Custody and the NT Intervention

 

Banner-620x465

 

This month is the 7th anniversary of Mutiny Zine! Mutiny are an anarchist collective based in Sydney. The zine that they produce explores  ideas about anarchist thought and practice, as well as different avenues of disobedience and resistance. Mutiny are also closely associated with Jura Books, which is well worth a visit if you ever happen to find yourself in Sydney-town.

The following piece – which is based on a previous post hereon –  appears in the latest Issue of Mutiny Zine, # 69. Thank you to the Mutiny crew for the opportunity to share info and stories about Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and institutionalised racism, and congratulations on your 7th anniversary –  keeping a radical project alive for this length of time is no small feat.

 

Imprisonment, Deaths in Custody and the NT Intervention

 

THE CENTRAL FINDING OF THE ROYAL COMMISSION INTO ABORIGINAL DEATHS IN CUSTODY WAS THAT ABORIGINAL PEOPLE DIE IN CUSTODY AT A RATE RELATIVE TO THEIR CUSTODIAL POPULATION. HOWEVER, ‘THE ABORIGINAL POPULATION IS GROSSLY OVER-REPRESENTED IN CUSTODY. TOO MANY ABORIGINAL PEOPLE ARE IN CUSTODY TOO OFTEN.

 

THE ROYAL COMMISSION FOUND THAT THERE WERE TWO WAYS OF TACKLING THE PROBLEM OF THE DISPROPORTIONATE NUMBER OF ABORIGINAL PEOPLE IN CUSTODY. THE FIRST WAS TO REFORM THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM; THE SECOND APPROACH WAS TO ADDRESS THE PROBLEM OF THE MORE FUNDAMENTAL SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC FACTORS WHICH BRING INDIGENOUS PEOPLE INTO CONTACT WITH THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM – THE UNDERLYING ISSUES RELATING TO OVER-REPRESENTATION. THE COMMISSION ARGUED THAT THE PRINCIPLE OF INDIGENOUS SELF-DETERMINATION MUST UNDERLIE BOTH AREAS OF REFORM. IN PARTICULAR THE RESOLUTION OF ABORIGINAL DISADVANTAGE COULD ONLY BE ACHIEVED THROUGH EMPOWERMENT AND SELF-DETERMINATION.

 

* * *

 

On the evening of January 4th, Kwementyaye joined a large group of friends in the vicinity of Flynn Oval, which is approximately 5kms from the centre of town in Alice Springs.

Constable Gareth Evans began walking towards the group, wanting “to see if they had any information about an alleged fight at the shops.” [i] When he was half way across the oval, however, one of the young women in the group shouted out to the others and they all began to disperse. Constable Evans called for back-up on his radio and began to pursue the group on foot. He jumped a fence and began to jog after a smaller breakaway group of five or six. At the back of that group was Kwementyaye, “and when he got close to a large iron gate beside the school, he slipped on the bitumen or dirt and fell.” When Kwementyaye got up, he had a cut above his left eye, described as a “laceration above his eyes that had burst. There was fresh blood around the cut but it wasn’t gushing or dripping down his face.”

After this initial “fall” Kwementyaye got to his feet and allegedly started swearing. Constable Evans then allegedly gave him a direction to “take a step back” which Kwementyaye allegedly ignored. Constable Evans then “pushed him in the chest with an open left hand, causing him to stumble and fall into the gate, before falling forward.” Kwementyaye was then secured on the ground using a three point hold position, which involves placing one knee on the side of his shoulder and securing his right hand behind his back. Keep in mind that Kwementyaye was not even suspected of having committed a crime. He was taken into Protective Custody because he was deemed too intoxicated to look after himself.

Upon arrival Kwementyaye was placed in an observation cell with two other men. Approximately thirty minutes later he was ordered to come out from the cell to join four or five other detainees who were being processed in reception. On the way into the corridor towards reception, Kwementyaye swayed slightly, turned back and grabbed the door handle, appearing then to lean in to get his shirt that was left on a bench. Constable Evans noticed that Kwementyaye wasn’t following behind the others and “he took him by his wrist to escort him to reception. While Kwementyaye was being escorted his legs went out from under him and he fell forward onto the floor.”

Kwementyaye was then dragged by Constable Evans into the reception area where he was left sprawled out on the floor. A number of other detainees were being processed around him. Kwementyaye lay on the floor for several minutes before Constable Evans “took a pen and applied pressure to his fingernail to see if he would respond to a pain stimulus, a technique he learnt while working as a security officer at a Hospital.” CCTV footage shows that Constable Evans left Kwementyaye lying face down on the ground as he walked away.

 

* * *

 

IN UNDERSTANDING THE USE OF IMPRISONMENT, CUNNEEN WRITES, ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT POINTS TO GRASP IS THAT A RISING IMPRISONMENT RATE IS NOT DIRECTLY OR SIMPLY RELATED TO AN INCREASE IN CRIME. THE USE OF PRISON IS A FUNCTION OF GOVERNMENT: IT REFLECTS GOVERNMENT POLICY AND LEGISLATION, AS WELL AS JUDICIAL DECISION-MAKING. GOVERNMENTS MAKE CHOICES THAT EITHER DIRECTLY IMPACT ON THE USE OF IMPRISONMENT (FOR EXAMPLE, LEGISLATION COVERING SUCH MATTERS AS STANDARD NON-PAROLE PERIODS, MANDATORY SENTENCING, MAXIMUM PENALTIES FOR PARTICULAR OFFENCES, ETC) OR LESS INDIRECTLY (FOR EXAMPLE, AVAILABILITY OF NON-CUSTODIAL SENTENCING OPTIONS, PRESUMPTIONS IN FAVOUR OF BAIL, AVAILABILITY OF PAROLE, ETC). [ii]

 

* * *

 

At one stage Kwementyaye was clearly emotionally distressed and can be seen on the CCTV footage to be sobbing and groaning. He was incapable of taking his own shoes off and he lay on the floor barely moving while another detainee took them off for him at the request of police. The CCTV shows Kwementyaye lying on the floor for several minutes while several officers walk around him, concerning themselves with the other things. As he lay there, police were joined by Sergeant William McDonell, who was performing the role of Watch House Commander. He appeared untroubled by Kwementyaye’s state, in spite of observing a smear of blood on the reception floor caused by a laceration above Kwementyaye’s right eye. Sergeant McDonnell merely cleaned up the blood smear, asked who Kwementyaye was and ordered him to get up. Kwementyaye did not respond, but Sen Sgt McDonnell was then distracted by another detainee and he left the area.

After repeated commands from Constable Evans to get up, Kwementyaye managed with some difficulty to lift his weight up onto the bench seat, but he was obviously unsteady and lacked control of his faculties. Soon after he sat down on the bench, he got up and leant against the wall. “He was then sat back down, firmly but fairly by Constable Evans.” Kwementyaye stood up again, but this time, “instead of firmly guiding him again or giving him a stern verbal direction, Constable Evans pushed him hard with an open hand and sent him sprawling backwards into the wall.”

After the push, Kwementyaye “looked upset and picked up a blue plastic property box that was between him and another prisoner. He did so in a drunken manner, and the plastic box was easily taken from him by an older man seated beside him who was being processed as a protective custody.” Constable Evans looked relatively unperturbed and motioned for Kwementyaye to put the box down. Kwementyaye stood up with a clenched fist, although his arm and fist stayed down by his side. In response, Constable Evans “grabbed him by the arm and slung him towards the reception counter with undue vigour, causing Kwementyaye to hit his arm and head on that surface.”

 

* * *

THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM CONSTITUTES SOCIAL GROUPS AS THREATS,’ CUNNEEN WRITES, ‘AND REPRODUCES A SOCIETY BUILT ON RACIALISED BOUNDARIES. INDEED IT HAS BEEN ARGUED THAT THE PROCESS OF CRIMINALISATION ITSELF NOW CONSTITUTES A SIGNIFICANT RACIALISING DISCOURSE – THAT IS WE UNDERSTAND RACE THROUGH DISCOURSES ABOUT CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, AND WE UNDERSTAND CRIME AND PUNISHMENT THROUGH IMAGES OF RACE.  THE NORTHERN TERRITORY INTERVENTION PROVIDES A PARTICULARLY GRAPHIC EXAMPLE OF THE CONSTRUCTION OF INDIGENOUS MEN IN PARTICULAR AS SEXUAL AND PHYSICAL ABUSERS OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN. SUCH ABUSE WAS ALSO LINKED TO TRADITIONAL ABORIGINAL CULTURE. AN INCREASED CRIMINAL JUSTICE RESPONSE WAS SEEN AS APPROPRIATE TO DEALING WITH THE PERCEIVED PROBLEM AND INDIGENOUS IMPRISONMENT RATES IN THE NORTHERN TERRITORY HAVE CONTINUED TO INCREASE DRAMATICALLY.

 

* * *

 

Kwementyaye was then spread out on the ground and searched by Constable Evans, assisted by Constable Blansjaar and Constable Grey. It is apparent from the CCTV footage that where his head was positioned, a small pool of blood formed from the leaking wound above his eye brow. Kwementyaye was then carried face down to Cell 9 by the three officers, with one on each arm and one picking up his legs. Prison officer Parker hurriedly threw a mattress into the cell on an awkward angle which stretched diagonally across the two concrete slabs in the room, and Kwementyaye was placed faced down at the same angle without anyone moving the mattress into a more comfortable position.

When Kwementyaye was carried along the corridor, blood from the head wound fell in droplets on the floor. That drew the attention of four or five sober prisoners in cell 16 who saw the blood and called out to the officers, telling them that the man they saw should be taken to hospital. After being placed on his mattress Kwementyaye was left alone in Cell 9. What happened next was captured on CCTV. Seconds after being placed on the mattress, he rolled onto his back and hit his head on the concrete bench. A minute later he attempted to stand up but fell hard onto the bench, hitting his head again. At 10.14pm, he attempted to sit up but fell and landed face down with his head and chest on the bench and the rest of his body on the floor.

Soon after Kwementyaye was placed into Cell 9, Prison officer Parker began a series of brief but regular checks, which involved her standing in the corridor and looking in to confirm that he was breathing. Prisoners in Cell 16 were watching from their vantage point and, once again, expressed their concern that Kwementyaye needed immediate medical care. In her own words, this was Prison officer Parker’s response: “I just turned around and I might have been out of line when I said it but I just turned and said, ‘Well, youse all carry on like this when youse are drunk,’ and you know, ‘And when youse are sober you just want to be nice to us,’ then I – I think I’ve walked off.

At around 11pm the evening Watch House shift changed over to the overnight shift.

Over the next two hours, the two officers on duty rarely left their desks; only three cell checks were done by Constables O’Keefe and Kershaw. In evidence they admitted being distracted from their duties ‘by various things, including an iphone, an ipod and the internet.’ The officers also failed to respond to the distress calls made by prisoners in Cell 16, who could see and hear that Kwementyaye was in trouble.

 

* * *

 

INCREASED POLICE NUMBERS IN ABORIGINAL COMMUNITIES WAS A KEY MEASURE OF THE NORTHERN TERRITORY INTERVENTION (2007). THIS HAS TRANSLATED INTO OVER-POLICING, RACIAL PROFILING AND A SIGNIFICANT INCREASE IN THE LEVEL OF ARRESTS. AS ALTMAN AND HINKSON NOTE OF CENTRAL AUSTRALIA, ‘MANY ARE FOR VEHICLE RELATED OFFENCES. MANY OTHERS RESULT FROM ANOTHER OF THE INTERVENTION’S MEASURES—THE OUTLAWING OF CUSTOMARY LAW, ESPECIALLY THE USE OF PAYBACK TO SETTLE DISPUTES. WHEN ABORIGINAL PEOPLE ATTEMPT TO USE THEIR OWN CUSTOMARY MEASURES TO RESOLVE SIGNIFICANT TRANSGRESSIONS, POLICE WHO ONCE TURNED A BLIND EYE ARE NOW LEGALLY OBLIGED NOT TO DO SO. [iii]

 

* * *

 

At 11.44pm, prisoner Warren McDonald activated the call button in his cell. It is clear from CCTV footage that he and other prisoners were looking across to Kwementyaye in Cell 9. The Coroner writes that, “it is likely that the prisoners in Cell 16 were seeing Kwementyaye in the last moments he was alive and at the last opportunity police had to save his life. I heard from Warren and Kyle McDonald and from Mr Impu that they could hear distressing noises from Cell 9, described by the men as coughing, gasping and choking. A review of CCTV footage shows that the last movement of Kwementyaye’s body was a very slight twitching of his limbs, at 11.42pm, just two minutes before the call button was activated.”

The call rang three times over several minutes. Constable O’Keefe answered the call a few minutes later, however, he hung up the receiver, “because when he glanced up at the CCTV screen in front of him and could see that the prisoners in cell 16 were seated back on their mattresses.”

The prisoners gave evidence that they also tried to get the attention of police on more than one occasion, by calling out. The report notes that, Officer Kershaw had “shut the door between the corridor and reception area, in order to block out the noise of a prisoner who was at the end of the row of cells where Kwementyaye was housed.”

When Sen. Sgt Barram returned to the Watch House at 1.30am, he commenced a round of cell checks and at 1.41 am, he noticed that Kwementyaye had not moved from the position he had last seen him in at 11pm. The Watch House Commander moved straight to Cell 9, entered it and found that Kwementyaye was not breathing. He yelled for an ambulance to be called and commenced CPR, but his body was cold. According to the Coroner’s report, “he had probably passed away around two hours earlier.”

In October 2012 Deputy Chief Minister Robyn Lambley ruled out taking disciplinary action against any of the Police officers involved. This is the story of so many Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. All the facts and figures in the world cannot account for this level of institutionalised racism. There is nothing post- about colonialism in Australia.

* * *

 

ABORIGINAL & TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER PEOPLE COMPRISE 2.5% OF THE TOTAL POPULATION IN AUSTRALIA, & YET THEY COMPRISE 26% OF THE TOTAL PRISON POPULATION.

 

 

ABORIGINAL & TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER PEOPLE COMPRISE 32% OF THE TOTAL POPULATION IN THE NORTHERN TERRITORY, & YET THEY COMPRISE 82% OF THE NT PRISON POPULATION.

 

 

THE IMPRISONMENT RATE OF ABORIGINAL & TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER PEOPLE HAS RISEN 46% IN THE NORTHERN TERRITORY IN THE PAST DECADE & CONTINUES TO RISE. [iv]

REST IN PEACE KWEMENTYAYE BRISCOE & ALL WHO HAVE DIED AT THE HANDS OF POLICE WHILE IN CUSTODY.

 

 

 


[i] All in-line quotations taken from the Coroner’s Report: http://www.nt.gov.au/justice/courtsupp/coroner/inquestlist.shtml

[ii] Chris Cunneen (2011)

[iii] Jon Altman & Melinda Hinkson (2012)

[iv] Bureau of Statistics (2011)

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Current social issues, Indigenous Rights

More exclusion please: Gove Land Rights (1971) and Justice Blackburn’s ruling against Yolŋu claimants

 

Private Property

 

The Gove Land Rights case – Milirrpum v Nabalco Pty Ltd, (1971) 17 FLR 141 – was the first litigation on Native Title in Australia. Justice Blackburn ruled against the Yolngu claimants on a number of issues, rejecting the doctrine of Aboriginal Title in favor of terra nullius. His ruling says a great deal about the Balanda (white people, European) concept of ‘private property’ and the social relations that comprise it.

 

‘I think that property, in its many forms, generally implies the right to use or enjoy, the right to exclude others, and the right to alienate. I do not say that all these rights must co-exist before there can be a proprietary interest, or deny that each of them may be subject to qualifications. But by this standard I do not think that I can characterize the relationship of the clan to the land as proprietary.

 

It makes little sense to say that the clan has the right to use or enjoy the land. Its members have a right, and so do members of other clans, to use and enjoy the land of their own clan and other land also. The greatest extent to which it is true that the clan as such has the right to use and enjoy the clan territory is that the clan may, in a sense in which other clans may not (save with permission or under special rules), perform ritual ceremonies on the land. That the clan has a duty to the land-to care for it-is another matter. This is not without parallels in our law, which sometimes imposes duties of such a kind on a proprietor. But this resemblance is not, or at any rate is only in a very slight degree, an indication of a proprietary interest.

 

The clan’s right to exclude others is not apparent: indeed it is denied by the existence of the claims of the plaintiffs represented by Daymbalipu. Again, the greatest extent to which this right can be said to exist is in the realm of ritual. But it was never suggested that ritual rules ever excluded members of other clans completely from clan territory; the exclusion was only from sites. The right to alienate is expressly repudiated by the plaintiffs in their statement of claim.

 

In my opinion, therefore, there is so little resemblance between property, as our law, or what I know of any other law, understands that term, and the claims of the plaintiffs for their clans, that I must hold that these claims are not in the nature of proprietary interests.

 

That disposes of the question in general terms, but it is proper also to consider the applicability of the Lands Acquisition Act 1955-1966. That Act does not define “property” but defines ” interest,” in relation to land, as “(a) a legal or equitable estate or interest in the land; or (b) a right, power or privilege over, or in connexion with, the land” (s. 5 (1)). The earlier Act had substantially the same definition, applied to “land,” with the inclusion of the word “easement.”

 

The Solicitor-General submitted shortly (the point, in his submission, did not require extensive argument) that the Act does not apply to any interest other than one already known to the law of property at the time when the Act was passed.  It therefore could not protect the plaintiffs’ interests. I do not think I need decide the theoretical question whether a proprietary interest of a new kind which was created, or held to exist, after the passing of the Act, would be protected by it. Mr. Woodward submitted that the words “right, power, or privilege over, or in connexion with, the land” were wide enough to cover “communal native title” which was shown by the evidence to be vested in the Rirratjingu and the Gumatj in respect of the land attributed to their respective clans. With respect, I think this is begging the question. It amounts to saying that whenever aboriginal natives are found in occupation of land under a system which does not recognize private property in land, that is “communal native title,” and that that alone is sufficient to attract the protection of the words “right, power, or privilege over, or in connexion with, the land” in the Act.’

 

 

Federal Law Report, Milirrpum and other v. Nabalco Pty. Ltd and the Commonwealth of Australia (1971, pp. 272-273)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Current social issues, Indigenous Rights, Thesis/Yolngu related writing

An excerpt from my fieldnotes (2008): ‘Welfare quarantining’ and the feeling on the ground.

 

Fieldwork photo (2008)

Fieldwork photo (2008)

 

The following excerpt is taken from my field notes (2008). They are notes on a rather tense meeting between senior Yolŋu people and government representatives when ‘welfare quarantining’ [4] was first introduced in Arnhem Land. I have noted major edits or omissions with ellipses.

 

Fieldnotes, Friday 8th February 2008

 

Yesterday was the day of the mala-leader [1] meeting at Galiwin’ku Island. The plane flew in at 9am to pick up yapa, wäwa, wiripu wäwa and myself. The pilot apologised for the delay and explained that we were doing a ‘round trip’ – we had to stop at Doinji and Marparu before Galiwin’ku yet. Yapa wasn’t impressed, given we already running late, and teased the pilot accordingly, “I don’t usually do the round trip . . . I always go straight there – I don’t want to go straight to the hospital – I should tell dhuway to start digging my grave right now!” The pilot wasn’t quite sure if this was banter or complaint. He looked a little flustered and reassured her it wouldn’t take long.

 

It was lovely to fly over Country that I haven’t seen before. As we flew away from camp yapa began pointing out this and that – where the flag-song travels following the contours of Country, where she got that big scar on her forearm down there near the point on the rocks, pointing out and naming different features of the broader landform – the backbone Country, the open Country where there’s dharrwa gatapunga, dharrwa, dharrwa (‘heaps of buffalo, heaps and heaps’).

 

We arrived at Marthakal [2] when everyone was taking a break for morning tea. Yolŋu’yulŋu (‘Yolŋu people [plural]’) were milling about in the walkway between buildings. Yapa rolled a cigarette, chatting and introducing me to gurrutu (‘kin’) I hadn’t met yet. After about ten minutes we made our way into the meeting room, where we took up seats arranged in a semi-circle facing a desk at the front of the room. Yapa sat on the floor in front next to Kathy (the strong Warramiri woman), and Jane who was also wonderfully articulate and outspoken. All the women were seated on one side together and all the men on another side, just as is. The government or Centrelink [3] Representatives (three women and one man) were sitting together at the desk at the front of the room, along with Richard the Balanda (‘white person, European’) CEO of Marthakal, the Yolŋu Chairman of Marthakal (whose name escapes me), and gathu David, the Manager.

 

We were given a sheet of paper with the agenda, as well as an official Centrelink ‘information sheet’ explaining a little about the new welfare quarantining measures. The Centrelink Reps introduced themselves – they were asked where they were from, if they had children, and how long they had been working in Aboriginal communities for. (This is fairly standard request in these intercultural ‘meeting’ contexts.)

 

One of the Centrelink Reps began to deliver an introductory talk about the new welfare quarantining measures. Galay, a senior Yolŋu man and long term cultural broker, stood near the front of the room and translated as he spoke. He was not long into his introductory talk when one of the mala-leaders requested a moment of pause for questions or comments thus far. Dhumungur, Galay’s son, was the first to speak up: “I’m going to speak in my language” he said, though his English is impeccable. Galay translated as he spoke:

 

“This is going to be a hard question for you, not as a Centrelink worker but as a person – Andie – as Andie – do you think these are fair or unfair? How do you feel, as a person?”

 

‘Andie’ exhaled in one deep breath and stood up: “You’ve asked me a really hard question . . . [exhale] . . . just before I say anything, I want to say that I’m doing a job, and what happens is that one person tells another person what to do, and they have to do it – that’s what’s happening here today okay. But you’re asking me personally . . .  well, I think there’s some good and some bad parts to this policy, but if the stories in The Little Children are Sacred [6] report are true . . . if this can help [voice quivering] . . . ” He seemed about to burst into tears. He resumed his seat and took a few deep breathes. All the mala-leader representatives felt immediately worrying and sorry for him, gumurr-djararrk.

 

For my part I have to admit that I was more skeptical. I wasn’t sure whether he was feeling emotional because he had to be the one to explain these new discriminatory, punitive policy measures – or if it was something to do with the actual content of The Little Children are Sacred Report. Either way, this set the parameters for the meeting. The Centrelink Representatives were there to deliver a message. They were ‘just doing their job.’

 

The rest of the meeting ran thus: The Centrelink Reps explained some key piece of information about the new welfare quarantining policy, galay would then translate it into Yolŋu-matha, and then the floor was open to comments and questions.

 

For the most part the Centrelink explanations were over-simplified and condescending. The Centrelink Reps drew two columns on the white board. $500 was written on top as TOTAL pay, with $250 written at the top of each column. In one column was listed:

 

FOOD

RENT

ELECTRICITY

MEDICINE

CLOTHES

NO GROG!

NO GUNJA!

NO GAMBLING!

 

At the top of the other column was written YOUR MONEY. When explaining this, the Centrelink Reps repeatedly said: “We don’t want to know about that money – that is your money to spend however you want.” In order to use the “Centrelink half,” however, “you have to ring Centrelink and talk to them about what you want to spend it on” they explained.

 

Yapa spoke up, gently out of turn: “We just in the deep shits. That’s where we are . . . . What about all the people who don’t speak English? This is one example that I am giving to you, about why this is putting us in the deep shits.”

 

One of the Centrelink Reps replied: “We’re not going to lie to you – it’s going to be a lot of work. If you ring up Centrelink and say you want $100 sent to the shop and then you change your mind, you’ll have to ring them back and say ‘stop that money, I want to spend it somewhere else.’ It’s going to be a lot of work.”

 

One of the mala-leader women began to explain that they had been actively dealing with issues of alcohol and gambling for a long time, and had long-running community based programmes to do so. “We know this is a big issue for us,” she said, “but we need to work together.”

 

The Centrelink Rep acknowledged that this was indeed the case, before saying (rather out of nowhere): “I hear this from a lot of people – that they feel caught between two worlds.”

 

Dhumungur interrupted: “Actually we feel dominated by the white people and the white world. And what’s the reason for all this? From that report about child abuse? Whose children?? And can you tell us then, when will you know – when will you think you know – if those children are safe?”

 

Many of the following comments, concerns and queries from the mala-leaders followed in a similar fashion. One of the Centrelink Reps interjected and suggested that we “try and focus on the smaller issues – like how this quarantining is going to work.” It seemed to me, however, that the mala-leaders knew these measures were a fait accompli (and that they would therefore learn about them in time), so they were taking this opportunity foreground and appeal to the larger issues – the perceived injustice of these policy measures. Further comments from mala-leaders that I noted at this point included:

 

“Are we like an elephant or monkey – ‘look can we teach them to read and write and talk?’ Is that what we are like for this government??”

 

“When this Intervention started, myself and other Yolŋu people – we felt like a concrete block had fallen on us. That is what it felt like when that John Howard and Mal Brough introduced that thing. And since then, we feel that concrete block on top of us.”

 

“If they are worried about Yolŋu people learning about saving their money why don’t they bring the education program that we had here at Galiwin’ku, that Money Business[7] that we had – instead of just cutting our money in two. We were happy running that Money Business here – learning for our own people about the money. We are not stupid.”

 

“See those three ‘g’s on the board there? Grog, gunja and gambling – they not a Yolŋu disease, they are a Balanda disease. And on the Homelands we stopped them long long time ago. They a Balanda disease in the towns ga cities.”

 

“Many of us have certificates – ‘diplomas’ – I was the first Yolŋu to get a diploma in horticulture. But those bits of paper – that you Balanda always tell us that we need – well, then they stay in the Balanda cupboard. We work, and we have those certificates – those qualifications – so why aren’t we on the Salaries like you Balanda? We work just the same, but we just get that CDEP – that sit-down money. Is your Balanda paper more powerful that you get those salaries for doing the same work, and we just get sit-down money?”

 

Notable among the last of the comments was the beautiful ‘kind of parable’ from Kathy (one of the mala-leader women). She spoke in Yolŋu-matha, and galay translated into English.

 

“This is a kind of parable. There are two people. They are different and have separate lives. One knows his destiny, the other is travelling. The traveller says to the other, follow me. And he says ‘no’ this is my home and my people and I have to stay here where I belong. But the other person says you have to come with me. That man says, if I go with you, you will be my eye. I will have to go with blind faith.” She paused for galay to translate, before continuing: “You have to understand that that is the position we’re in. We can’t have anything except blind faith if you make us come along with you. But there is no trust here.”

 

As with all meetings of this kind that I have attended, there wasn’t enough time to hear everyone’s concerns. The sense of frustration was palpable. The meeting was supposed to close for lunch, but it went on and over into lunch-time because the comments and concerns from mala-leaders kept coming. At some point, noticing that the Centrelink Reps were making a move to ‘pack up,’ Jane (one of the mala-leader women) asked, nay implored them to write down the concerns and questions that were being voiced: “Write it down and take it back with you to the government. Take these two big words back with you on that paper – ‘fairness’ and ‘human rights!’ We are Australian citizens! We should all get the fair treatment, black or white! Write those words down!”

 

Others echoed her call, urging the Centrelink Reps to make a record of what was being said. They didn’t, of course, I doubt they were prepared enough to do anything of the kind. They did, however, repeat Jane’s concerns aloud, demonstrating that they would remember (i.e. they needn’t write it down because they would remember). Jane was still talking when the lunch was brought in in two boxes. People wanted to be heard out. Balanda Richard (the CEO) attempted to draw things to a close, explaining that the Centrelink Reps would be available to sit down with people individually after the meeting. His attempt to quell concerns had little affect. People continued to share their comments and concerns, politely but firmly, in turn. This continued for about ten minutes before one of the Centrelink Reps declared “Lunchtime!!!!”

 

The meeting was over.

 

People milled around to get drink and food. The Centrelink Reps hung around for a little while longer too. Yapa B grabbed two sets of sandwiches and we were about to make an exit when one of the Centrelink Reps approached to say: “We hear that Homelands find it hard and we are going to do everything we can – ”

 

“Yo, manymak (‘good’), that’s ok . . . ” said yapa. I interrupted, though I knew it might be speaking out of place:

 

“One of the many problems is the fact that one single shopping trip costs more than $700 for people living on the Homelands, so if you quarantine their money they won’t be able to pool their money to pay for a flight let alone collectively buy food. And – ”

 

“Yes I’ve heard about that, and Centrelink might have to speak to the airlines to arrange that, even $10 be deducted from people’s pay each week to put towards a plane.”

 

I explained that this wouldn’t be nearly enough, but she was clearly intent on saying ‘yes, I’m listening carefully to your concerns and I’m really interested’ in any or as many ways as possible with an understanding tone. And we were running late – we had to rush off to catch our plane home. Waku David was waiting for us, engine idling. We all clambered into the back of the Troopy and waku drove us down to the hangar. There was a storm rolling in. . . . The flight home rough (and terrifying for me, not for anyone else). After dipping and rising and swerving around the darkest and most dense of the cloud clusters, the engine finally eased and we started to descend. As we glided down gently onto the gravel strip I spotted little gaminyarr running parallel to us over near the houses, racing us up to Top Camp. Balanda dhuway was waiting for us under the mango tree on the mat with Bäru, waving as we taxied to a stop.

 

We began to relay stories from the meeting and the day:

 

Balanda waŋanha waŋanha waŋanha true!” (The Balanda talked and talked and talked true!’)

 

It seemed that yapa, wäwa and wiripu wäwa were still really angry and frustrated. And then I realised – not only had they been denied time and platform to voice their respective concerns and ask questions – but the regular mala-leader meeting had been totally eclipsed by the Centrelink agenda. And now I recall, of course, that they had collectively requested that a number of issues be listed on the agenda some weeks ago – issues crucial to our capacity to maintain essential equipment and basic infrastructure (e.g. the plumbing!). Now I realise that the meeting must have been doubly frustrating and upsetting for them . . . on top of the horrible Centrelink policy stuff. An overflowing toilet for another few weeks it is . . .

 

 

 


[1] The term mala refers to group or collectivity. In an intercultural context ‘Mala-Leaders meetings’ are attended by a delegate or representative from each bäpurru (‘clan’) in the relevant region. This arrangement between Yolŋu people and representatives of Balanda institutions – and the associated intercultural decision making process and structure – was established by Yolŋu people in dialogue with a few individual Missionaries of the Methodist Overseas Mission in the early 1940s.

[2] Marthakal is the name of the local Government Service Provision Agency at Galiwin’ku Island)

[3] ‘Centrelink’ was, until very recently, the name of the social welfare branch of government.

[4] Welfare Quarantining was one of many policy measures comprising the Northern Territory Intervention into Aboriginal Communities (2007). See the latter half of this post.

[6] This is the report that was the alleged catalyst – reason and justification for the Intervention. It is now widely acknowledged that this was used as something of a Trojan Horse to fast-track the cluster of policies comprising the Intervention.

[7] Money Business is a program run by Mission Australia, it ‘provides individuals and families with money-management information and support. Money Business builds self-reliance and improves individual, family and community wellbeing. It also provides people with the skills and information to make better decisions and reduce the risk of getting into greater debt.’

*this may need further editing, and yes, I realise it is rather long*

3 Comments

Filed under Current social issues, Ethnography, Thesis/Yolngu related writing

A critical note: ‘Marriage’ and its applicability in ethnographic description

 

IMG_1176

 

This is an updated version of an older post, revived for students in my tutorials today.

 

There are infinite possible kinds or forms of long term intimate relations, or at least as many as there are possible combinations of persons alive at any given moment. It is unsurprising then, as feminist studies of kinship remind us, that there exists a great deal of diversity when it comes to socially recognised forms of intimate long-term relations. And yet pick up any ethnography, turn to the index, and there you will find the term marriage duly noted in between those things that come before and after. (Birth and death or maq– and mas-.) Flick back through to the relevant page and there you find an ethnographic description of marriage practices and marriage relations in the society or region in question.

In using these terms unproblematically anthropologists risk unwittingly translating over or effacing whatever it is that might be different, unique or idiosyncratic about socially recognised forms of intimate, long-term relations in the culture or region in question. Moreover, such habits of methodology unwittingly reproduce dominant norms[1] when it comes to understandings and expectations of what is ‘normal, proper and right’ in intimate relations. (“You mean they don’t have marriage!?!? *imagination goes wild*)

 

What is marriage?

Marriage relations are contractual relations (i.e. alienated relations) between two persons recognised, conferred and regulated by the Church and/or State. The relationship between husband and wife is first and foremost an exclusive status recognised, conferred and regulated by the Church and/or State (i.e. the personal relationship existed before and outside the institution of ‘marriage,’ it did not come into existence as a result of it.) In conferring this exclusive status the centralised authority also confers certain exclusive rights to persons involved who agree, by way or means of a binding contract, to accept certain obligations in turn.

There are further defining characteristics of ‘marriage’ which include: the ceremonial ‘signing’ of said binding contract;[2] the fact that the contract can only be terminated by the Church and/or State (i.e. a married couple cannot just ‘declare’ themselves no longer married), and crucially –  the fact that the exclusive rights conferred upon persons involved include rights and interests to persons and property, which significantly affects (if not determines) socio-economic patterns of succession/inheritance (i.e. the intergenerational transmission of socio-economic rights and interests to persons and property).

 

This doesn’t really sound like an ahistorical, cross-culturally neutral concept or institution, does it? So why do anthropologists so often employ it as if it were? A number or combination of reasons I think, chief among which is the difficulty in describing terms and concepts that do not have direct equivalents in the language in which the anthropologist is writing. Writing ethnographic descriptions of culturally recognised forms of anything, is a lot more difficult and involved than drawing on familiar terms and concepts from one’s own language and culture. Thick description takes forever! [3]

From Schneider and Strathern to Keen and Morphy, many anthropologists have written about and proposed ways and means to avoid translating over social and cultural difference. The most recent I have come across and enjoyed is the Introduction in Howard Morphy’s ethnography Becoming Art: Exploring Cross-Cultural Categories (2008), where he writes, in part thus:

 

‘The development of a meta-vocabulary for anthropology, consisting of categories that are applicable cross-culturally, can be justified on a number of different bases. The pragmatic justification is that the meta-vocabulary is simply a formalisation of something that anthropologists do anyway. An anthropologist brings certain concepts with her or him into the field and uses them as an aid to analysing the data gathered from that society. The concept is then re-defined in terms of the categories and concepts of that society: so that gender in Melanesia, for example, is differently constructed or conceptualised than it is at a particular time and place in European history (see Strathern 1988).

 

It is better that anthropologists apply these terms in a considered way that reflects , even challenges the sense in which they are understood within the discipline than that they should apply them unreflexively and without definition.

 

A more theoretical answer is that the meta-vocabulary that anthropologists construct is indeed an acknowledgement of the existence of cultural categories that have general relevance. Not all cross-cultural categories are going to be universal; some may apply regionally or temporally. . . . To be valid in the sense in which I am using it, however it [the cross-cultural category] needs to be interrogated in the contexts where it is applied and to make sense to the people whose categories are under scrutiny. In practice such testing of the proposed category will proceed through ethnographic research . . . ‘ (2008, pp. 5-6).

 

In closing, a final note from Howard Morphy:

 

‘It is quite possible that as a result of investigation the anthropologist concludes that no such phenomenon exists in the society concerned, though it is more than likely that something will have some relationship to the phenomenon marked by the cross-cultural category. Of course it is precisely this mismatch that can result in a revision of the category itself’ (2008, p. 6).


 

 

#Occupy your own tools of analysis

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Assumed/dominant norms in the anthropologist’s culture or context (is what I mean here).

[2] As a cultural ceremony or ‘ritual’ most weddings follow Victor Turner’s three phases of ritual down to a tea: separation, transition/liminality and reintegration/incorporation.

[3] For non-anthropologists, ‘thick description’ is a term coined by Clifford Geertz. See the relevant wiki-entry, here.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Anthropology, Current social issues