Friday, December 19, 2008

Last Drinks: The Impact of the Northern Territory Intervention, by Paul Toohey

This is a beguiling and somewhat hard to follow essay by journalist Paul Toohey on the subject of the Northern Territory intervention. I’ve said before, there are those writers who seem to mumble or largely talk to themselves. This is one of them. You have to lean over and strain an ear, trying to follow what’s being said. With most writers on the subject of Aboriginal affairs, you at least know where they stand. I couldn’t figure out what point Mr Toohey wanted to make.
Rather he seems intent on highlighting what a mess the whole situation is. If that's the aim, well, fair enough.

Despite all of the above, I did find this an interesting essay, even if I couldn’t follow the theme of the essay.

Like most people, I have a minimal knowledge of what life is like for Aborigines. Nor do I have much of a clue about Aborginal politics, or how we should ‘solve’ the Aboriginal problem. My information on Aboriginal current affairs is gleaned from television segments, or newspaper reports. It's not substantial.

What we all do know is that Australia’s indigenous people live in third world poverty and die far too young.

Every one seems to have an opinion on how best to ‘fix’ things. People on the right sling mud at lefties, and lefties sling it back again. In the end it just seems that the poverty and humiliation that Aboriginal Australia experiences will never be fixed.

Most white Australians just wish the problem would simply go away, which basically means ignoring the problem. As far as most Australians are concerned, the concept of terra nullius is a valid one. If it were to be questioned and completely overturned, then Australia as we know it would collapse. (It’s interesting to note that the one time John Howard really and truly lost it was at that Aboriginal reconciliation talk where he defended his ten point plan on native title and started thumping the lectern and haranguing his listeners. He came became completely unhinged.)

Anyhoo, after all of that, I must say that I found this essay quite absorbing and densely written. Most Quarterly Essays in my opinion are light and fluffy, trying to puff themselves up into a seriousness that the author thinks the subject demands. Mr Toohey’s essay however is a solid read that negotiates the politics and personalities of Aboriginal welfare in the North. The fact that he lives in the Northern Territory and has hands on experience of what he writes of course makes all the difference. He is personally engaged in what he writes about.

Although I can’t claim to have a clear understanding of all the subjects raised in this essay, or the politics discussed, Toohey has at least shown me what a deep, deep mess many Aboriginal lives are in.

He ends with the story of Sophia Moreen, sentenced to 2 years and 3 months for assault. Her history is one of unremitting trouble, the legacy, Toohey tells us, of being born Aboriginal. ‘Hers was the real story of the Northern Territory,’ as Mr Toohey finishes his essay.

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