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August 2007

Bagarap (1) how not to read census numbers

Uncertain future for town's new arrivals
Simon Kearney, Yuendumu | August 27, 2007

LIFE will be a lottery for the 25 children born this year in the remote Northern Territory Aboriginal community of Yuendumu.

Based on last year's census, it is likely that only two of these children will finish Year 12 and five of them will grow up without any command of the English language.

What Kearney must have done is take the percentage of all Yuendumu inhabitants who don't speak English, and base his 5/25 figure on that. Conveniently forgetting that most of the non-English speaking Warlpiri are old people. Kids learn English at school.

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Digital archives of photos, films and recordings are springing up in Indigenous communities, and some of them are even Getting Funding, hurrah! The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is giving a million US dollars to the Northern Territory State Library System:

"a 2007 Access to Learning Award recognizes the Northern Territory Library for providing free computer and Internet access and training to impoverished indigenous communities... The award honours the innovative Libraries and Knowledge Centres (LKC) Program, which provides communities with free access to computers and the Internet, and helps Indigenous Territorians to build digital collections of their culture through the Our Story database."

They've got Knowledge Centres at Milingimbi, Wadeye, Peppimenarti, Umbakumba, Angurugu, Pirlangimpi, Milikapiti, Barunga, Ti Tree, and Ltyentye Apurte.

.....As well, "Microsoft, a Global Libraries initiative partner, will donate US $224,000 in software and technology training curriculum to upgrade the organization’s 300 library computers." [Weep for us Mac users]

The Our Story database is an adaptation of the classic Filemaker Pro Ara Irititja program developed by the artist and historian John Dallwitz for the Anangu Pitjantjatjara.

Ara Irititja, a project of the Pitjantjatjara Council, commenced in 1994 when it was realised that a large amount of archival material about Anangu was not controlled by or accessible to them. This material was held in museums, libraries and private collections. Items held by private individuals were often at risk of being damaged or irretrievably lost. To date, a major focus of Ara Irititja’s work has been retrieving and securing such records for the benefit of Anangu and the broader Australian community.

The great advantage of Filemaker Pro was that it was basically off-the-shelf and basically fairly easy for people to use. There have been elaborate proposals, but going beyond glamour to making things work in remote communities is a very large step.

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... doom other people to repeat it. In this case, the other people are Aborigines.

Govt hails passage of NT indigenous laws, August 17, 2007 - 12:39PM, The Age

"A historic day for Aboriginal people", according to the Government. Indeed, and this is what Bob Brown wants us to remember it for:

Senator BOB BROWN (Tasmania—Leader of the Australian Greens) (7.50 pm) Hansard 16/8/07
... We know from experience right around the world —from the Gaelic experience to the experience of people in the Americas — that the loss of language brings great anguish and depression, which visits people for centuries afterwards. Yet this government seems to have put that aside in the move — which must be very clear about here — to say to Indigenous people, ‘Take up the predominant culture or else.’ [...]. I want that on the record, so that no-one reading about this moment in history 10, 50, 100 or 500 years from now can say, ‘If only they had known what they were doing to Indigenous culture in Australia.’ We all know. The government has made its choice. It has the bulldozer; it has the numbers, and we do not. But let nobody in this place say that it did not know what this would do to Indigenous culture, custom, law, language, pride and wellbeing into the future of this nation.

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It's been a rich week for lovers of indigenous music.

On Tuesday (14 August) in Maningrida I attended the launch of the new Wurrurrumi Kun-borrk CD from Sydney University Press (which you can order online). In attendance were the songman Kevin Djimarr and notes-writer Murray Garde.

To quote the blurb on the flyer:

Kevin Djimarr, one of Western Arnhem Land’s pre-eminent composer-performers, presents a complete repertory of traditional kun-borrk songs from the Maningrida area. The album was recorded with the support of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and Maningrida Arts. Murray Garde's extensive notes, which accompany the audio CD, include authoritative translations and explanations of Djimarr’s song texts. They open up this extraordinary music to a national and international audience, while remaining true to Djimarr’s own particular artistic vision, communicating in a lively and accessible fashion the unique qualities of his work.

The CD is the first in a new series from the National Recording Project for Indigenous Performance in Australia. We are currently seeking funding to enable us to continue the series: please let us know of any thoughts!

On Friday night (17 August), the University of Sydney's own Professor of Musicology, Allan Marett, is presenting a free public talk as part of the Darwin Festival, "Why should we know about Aboriginal music?" Location: MAGNT Theatrette, Museum and Art Gallery of the NT, Date / Time: 17 August 2007, from 4.30pm.

And as I write we are gearing up for the 6th Symposium on Indigenous Music and Dance, hosted by Charles Darwin University's School of Australian Indigenous Knowledge Systems, to be held on Saturday 18 August at Charles Darwin University's Casuarina Campus (Building 22 room 01). Registration is free but please do so online.
This will be a fantastic event, with participation by a number of indigenous performers.

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Update: "unjustified, racist and obscene:" see end for explanation
Update 2 I missed the 140 extra DEWR people to manage the CDEP changes, and a few others.. up to 725 thanks Bob!

The National Emergency Response is about job creation - 350 new Centrelink workers and 150 new FACSIA staff. Just 66 additional police. Fewer than one per targeted community. That eats up most of the $500 million. No money for the housing shortfall, sexual abuse counsellors, new classrooms.....

The Senate votes on Tuesday 14 August on whether to pass the NT National Emergency Legislation. If you want them to delay or modify it, write to your senators now. Individually, or GetUp has a campaign.

Heaps more material has appeared on the site of the Senate Inquiry into the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007 & Related Bills

- 80 or so extra submissions since when I looked. I checked every 10th - all opposed.
- extra material tabled
- the transcript of Friday's hearing
- answers to questions asked by committee members

[Update: you can now download the Senate Inquiry report which includes the transcript. Further comments on the report at the end:]


(Guest post from David Nash)

The snowclone title I owe to Mark Liberman's LanguageLog post.

I've continued to track which communities are being targetted by the "Howard/Brough plan" (last update on 22 July).  Last Tuesday we learnt which communities will get a 5-year lease to the Commonwealth.  These are set out in the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007 and its Schedules, wherein s.2(1) specifies commencement dates of the leases.

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The wind dropped in Canberra this morning - just as well for the small demonstration following the La Perouse community's Aboriginal flag up the hill to Parliament House. A mixture of the Green Left, the young, and many grey and white-haired people with long experience in Indigenous communities. The main message was - tell Australians that the NT National Emergency Response legislation won't stop child abuse, that it may make matters worse, not better. Far too many Australians believe that the proposed legislation is Doing Something About Child Abuse. They don't know that it may well be Doing Something Bad About Child Abuse.

When I got back, I found an e-mail from GetUp! who are running a campaign for signatures to delay or modify or vote against the bills - before this Tuesday (14th August) when the Senate votes on it.

Did you know that receiving an e-mail publicising a demonstration could be illegal on public computers in most Aboriginal communities in the NT once the legislation is passed? (And as for porn - if their spam filter doesn't work, they're stuffed). Sloppy drafting.

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For a clear account of problems with the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Legislation, a list of possible unintended bad consequences, and some solutions to some of the problems, go to the Submission of the Human Rights And Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) to today's public hearing on the legislation by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee.

Here are just a few of the possible bad consequences they note:

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I don't want to think about the legislation the Government rammed through yesterday- Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007, No. 2007(Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) A Bill for an Act to respond to the Northern Territory’s national emergency, and for related purposes. I don't want to think about the Opposition supporting this bill.

Many Indigenous people have sought asylum in the remote communities - freedom from alcohol, racism and demeaning treatment. But now the government is taking control of Aboriginal communities, and taking away the right of Aboriginal people on those communities to determine what they eat, who comes into their community, how they spend their money, who runs their stores, who manages their community, what buildings are built on their land. And a Government rep can attend any meeting held by an Aboriginal organisation. Rather like a mental hospital really, except that there's no independent overseer of the Government-imposed managers. From asylum to asylum.

No government should have such power over its citizens.

You can find the bill through the Parliament House website. And the Parliamentary Library has provided a digest [.pdf].


A small glimmer of good news amidst the increasing storm clouds of concern about how the loss of the Community Development Employment Program will make some Indigenous Australian communities unliveable and unviable.

For the first time, an Aboriginal person who was removed from his family as a child has successfully sued a state government for compensation. In the South Australian Supreme Court, Justice Thomas Gray ordered the South Australian Government to pay Bruce Trevorrow $525,000 'for injuries, loses and false imprisonment".

In an earlier Stolen Generation case, the pain that Lorna Cubillo and Peter Gunner endured in telling their stories led nowhere for them. Let's hope the South Australian Government doesn't tarnish Trevorrow's victory by appealing it.


Excellent news! The Economic and Social Science Research Council of the UK has just awarded a £1 million grant to Adam Schembri for what sounds like important work,  The British Sign Language (BSL) Corpus Project: Sociolinguistic variation, language change, language contact and lexical frequency in BSL (2007-2010), which builds on the work he and Trevor Johnston and Louise de Beuzeville and others have been doing on the sign language of the deaf community of Australia, Auslan (e.g. the Auslan corpus project and Adam and Trevor's recent book. Adam got his PhD in 2002 from the University of Sydney, for a thesis Issues in the analysis of polycomponential verbs in Australian Sign Language (Auslan)).

Adam's the Principal Investigator - based at University College, London, and other investigators include Bencie Woll, Kearsy Cormier, Frances Elton, Rachel Sutton-Spence (University of Bristol), Graham Turner (Heriot Watt University), Margaret Deuchar (University of Wales Bangor) and Donall O'Baoill (Queens University Belfast). Here's the project summary.

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