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In the chaos of starting first semester, three excellent events have passed unnoticed in this blog (but not in my thoughts): Tony Woodbury's Master class and workshop on speech play and verbal art T (February 13 2009) at ANU, National symposium on assessing English as a second/other language in the Australian context (20-21 February 2009) at UNSW, and the State Round of OzCLO, the High School Computational and Linguistic Olympiads at the University of Sydney (starring Wemba-Wemba, Pitjantjatjara and a brilliant problem on Japanese braille).

What must be passed on, however, is this message from the Reverend Dr Djiniyini Gondarra. Longterm readers of the blog will remember his appalled and very moving reaction to the heavyhandedness of the Intervention in the Northern Territory in 2007. Things have not improved.


Sunday 8th March, 2009

Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra OAM

Aboriginal leaders need to have a mind of their own which is grounded in the empowerment of their own people, and who are able to fight the system they are victims of.

We need to learn from the past leaders who have gone before us, like Mabo, who’s struggle was not just for his own people, the Islanders, but all Indigenous in Australia.

All Aboriginal leaders must come together and set the same agenda, one that is of their own. And the Government of Australia must follow our agenda, as we are always forced to follow theirs.

Gandhi’s method was powerful.

We Indigenous Australians also have to be able to say ‘no’ when we think things are not right. And to find the courage and confidence to stand up for what we think is right.

We have not been able to say ‘no’ we won’t wear your clothes, or eat your food or participate in your legal system, because we are scared and we are not empowered.

So in the meantime, we remain slaves.

There are 2 kinds of slaves

The slave who works, sweats and tries to do something, he/she is whipped, tortured, rejected and / or locked up. Mastered Slaves, who’s hearts have been brainwashed by the master. They do what the master says, and is always thinking, ‘What is there for me?’ They get the handouts, the pensions, or the big pay cheques from Governments because they do not have the guts to say what they truly feel. Their spirit is poisoned.

Our people have been crippled, we are less and less likely to get our own natural foods, speak in our own tongues and participate in our own cultural practises. We are forced to live by the balanda (white) way, without the choice to decide what is best for us.

I am frustrated, sick and worried for the leaders, for the people, and for the young children.

I wonder, what is the empowering weapon for the people now?

The government is always listening to only 2 or 3 Aboriginal people like Marcia Langton, Warren Mundine and Noel Pearson, who do not and can not represent the rest of us.

These Aboriginal people have been brainwashed with the white way of thinking. They cannot speak on behalf of me, or the people.

I am saying to these people, stop being the bait.

As long as we Indigenous are divided and fighting amongst ourselves, we will never be achieve what we want for ourselves.

If we are divided, we are conquered.

Reconciliation cannot happen if we are still being hurt by government policies like the NT Intervention and being forced to sign 40-year leases on our lands in return for basic citizenship rights.

The healing will not happen if you are still torturing us, taking our land and killing our culture.

Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra, OAM
Galiwinku, Elcho Island.

FYI - press release / comments / blogs - please circulate. If you would like to be put in touch with Djiniyini Gondarra contact 0424.722.705.


Aboriginal responses to the intervention in Arnhem Land are a bit more complicated than Djiniyini would have us believe. The intervention is a mixed bag, but some aspects (certainly not all) have been soundly applauded by Arnhem Landers outside of Djiniyini Gondarra's orbit. Ask the women of Oenpelli what they think about the stricter controls on the sale of alcohol there, to name just one issue. Djiniyini delivers a nasty personal attack on 3 of the country's most important Aboriginal luminaries and then goes on to talk about the importance of unity amongst Aboriginal leaders. Ahem. A diversity of views is great, but let's have dialogue about the details, not ad hominem attacks.

As for the right to "participate in our own cultural practises", from my experience, it was Elcho Island Christians who were some of the most vociferous opponents of traditional Aboriginal ceremony in central-north and north-east Arnhem Land when I lived in the region. Almost no one from Elcho ever attended the big regional cult ceremonies. "Brainwashed" by the church I suppose.

I think Peter Sutton (2008 Griffith Review 21) sums this subject up well in his essay 'After Consensus':

"Truthfulness is not necessarily a good uniter of people. Fictions, or mere
simplicitudes, so often better bind us – at least for a time. The end of political consensus on Australian Indigenous policy has been a casualty less of the standard left–right tensions of ‘race politics’ than of a battle to get vested interests to acknowledge and deal squarely with the various profound failures of policy and practice, rather than to re‐emphasise alleged solutions that will magically materialise after further changes in stratospheric rights."

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