Thursday, January 03, 2013

Missionary Aborgines

I am not offering an opinion here, just stating what I have observed and noted.

I watched a tv show about young female Mission Aborgines evacuating Croker Island, off the coast of Australia's Northern Territory, during World War II.

The women in 2012 are obviously much older now. They seemed to have lived quite suburban lifestyles, as non Aborignal white Australian's do. They were well spoken, and nicely dressed in an age appropriate manner. The programme was quite moving as they revisited where they grew up, and met up with long previously unmet family.

What struck me was that they are just like us. Us being white Australians. They talked like us, dressed like us. Hey they could almost be honorary white Australians, except they were black. (to forestall the well meaning defenders, that is irony).

I mentioned the tv show to our NT ex policeman/politician friend and he readily agreed. He said that the Mission educated were so clean, well dressed, organised, intelligent and dealt with their extended families very well. They were well respected by their kin because they were educated and knew white person ways.

Could the mission educated woman from Croker Island be an example for a direction for the future welfare of our Aborigines? Well, it is hardly a traditional way of life for Aborigines. Some, or most of these women when they were girls would have been abducted from their family.

It is a complicated and messy business, and brighter minds than mine have addressed the matter. Of course none of the problem impacts on me in the Highrise, but I would like my country to work better for its original inhabitants.

There must be an in between  way. One thing I am sure of, education is a key.

Perhaps all Aboriginal boys should be sent to Melbourne Grammar, and the girls to Presbyterian Ladies College.


17 comments:

  1. I was keen to read your post as that is the first time I have read an Australian blog that has written in some length about the Aborigines. As an outsider who has recently visited your country I don't feel at liberty to comment but I found the lack of intergration surprising. However, I did come across some Australians who were uneasy about the plight of Aborigines. As one man I met in Alice Springs said,'We don't even know any of their language!'. Whether my impressions reflect the true story I don't know. It is very easy for tourists to misjudge situations.

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    1. Fun60, you possibly know as much about our Aborigines as many Australians do. There is integration, but I would suggest that it is generally successful and thus invisible. They have so many different languages, which should be learnt? I think everyone feels bad about their situation and everyone is very good at wringing their hands, but that is about it.

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    2. Actually, that is not true. Many work very hard at the problem, in fact devote themselves to it. But is easy for them to become disheartened.

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  2. I think it is sad that we censor our comments about Indigenous Australia for fear of being branded elitist, rascist or worse when folks like you & I just want to move forward with a workable solution. I too believe education to be the key - but education about WHY education is the key is required before it will happen; along with consideration of 'crossover' curricula in both traditional and mainstream sectors.

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    1. Red, students would receive culturally appropriate education, along side traditional education? Why not?

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  3. Personally, I am an advocate of assimilation but in some circles here assimilation is looked upon as being close to dismantling of an entire group of people because they see assimilation as a loss of their culture. However, people have always had a difficult time with those different from themselves and I think it will always be that way regardless of how hard we might fight our prejudice.

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    1. Rubye, would there be any of your native peoples who still live a traditional lifestyle? Quite a number of ours almost do. The gulf is immense and there needs to be answers for the different levels of assimilation.

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  4. Laughed hysterically when you said brighter minds than you have addressed the matter. Jenny Macklin, Minister for Indigenous Affairs? Education is one key and I agree crossover curricula are important. We whitefellas don’t need education about this issue, what we need is political will [i.e. budget allocations]. Information abounds but nobody does anything with it.

    Like Red, I notice how carefully a decent man like you has had to word this post. Proposed changes to the constitution are going to suppress meaningful discussion even further. Traditional Aboriginal culture and western culture are in many ways incompatible. Where Aboriginal culture cannot adapt it will disappear altogether.

    Change has proceeded at different paces and in different ways as colonisation occurred. The question is what factors made mission education work more successfully than other forms of education?
    They are many and they are complex. Here is just one hint: Someone once suggested to me one reason the Jews wandered in the desert for 40 years after Moses led them from Egypt is because we cannot build a free people from a slave generation. Similarly, we cannot westernise indigenous peoples by knocking them on the head with a nulla nulla.

    In instances where the mission system worked, the harshest things done elsewhere didn’t happen. The people still have some access to their own country. They were not necessarily brutalised or massacred, and there is little collective memory of atrocities that would make them regret change. They were persuaded to adapt their culture rather than forced to abandon it totally and immediately. They were permitted to see parallels between their own spiritual beliefs and Christian beliefs, and allow the two systems to meld together. Perhaps the paedophiles went elsewhere.

    The more common and varied exceptions to the mission system – or at least where it did work - have caused the worst problems we see today. We no longer simply need to coax people to adapt. We need to provide legal interpreters, health workers, and access to services. Etc Etc. If we can’t send indigenous children to PLC or MG then perhaps we should stop subsidising privilege and spend the money elsewhere. Oh, bugga, now I’m getting worked up. Time for a strong cuppa coffee.

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    1. FC, I think you are among the brighter minds than mine who have thought a bit a about the issue.

      Culture won't adapt and will die. Yes, I think so.

      Maybe things will improve with each generation? At the moment we do seem to be coming off what is to be hoped, the lowest base.

      Part of the problem for providing services is the huge physical area to be covered. The portfolio needs to given to a visionary with access to a lot of carefully monitored funds.

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  5. plenty of elite schools have indigenous-specific scholarships. In 1969 the first 'traditional Australian' who I ever met, in Bondi, was gay. A waiter at a friend's restaurant. It was a double cultural leap for me. They are all the same as 'we' are - there are fine upstanding high-achiever ones and bogan-ny ones. we are one.

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    1. Brownie, there are plenty of scholarships, but are they appropriate? What happens when the educated goes back home? Do they still fit into the family structure? Funny, we (in my adult life) met our first Aborigine at a bar in Oxford Street. He too was gay and a very funny guy.

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  6. Education is definitely the key, but it has to go both ways. For instance immigrants from other countries come into our schools and in turn our students learn foreign languages like Greek, French, German, Indonesian, Chinese etc, and their cultures and histories too, yet none of us are taught any of the Indigenous languages or cultures. Aboriginal students in "our" schools are expected to learn our language and lifestyle and totally forget their own. Which leads to another tangent...."foreign" students accept our ways, but continue with their own cultures in their own homes. I don't see why Aboriginals can't do the same, but to get to the point where they can, they need education and more acceptance from whites. Or something. The other end of the argument is that they have to want this assimilation.

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    1. River, the only thing about that is that the foreign students are already educated and if they are studying here, they are not from poor families. I guess I am thinking about the ones who don't live any sort of white person's lifestyle, but nor is their tradition lifestyle working for them either. They caught in two worlds. Whether many would want assimilation is a good question and I would expect very varied opinions.

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  7. I would go along with the educational theme here, but nothing makes up for the abduction of small children from their families. Even decades later, those children, now middle aged or elderly, have no family roots that can inspire and direct them.

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    1. Quite true Hels and it should not be forgotten when considering what needs to be done.

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  8. What FC said Andrew, and I need a cuppa too after all this, gosh you sure know how to bring up the controversial topics don't you. There was a similar situation when we were in Africa, and yes again it all boiled down to opportunity and education. The difference in Africa being the worst enemy of the average African was the rich, corrupt African, not the white people at all!

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    1. Grace, good that it promoted some thought and opinions. While hardly on the same scale as Africa, there have been Aboriginal empire builders here too, who have taken advantage of their own people.

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Whenever I wish I was young again, I am sobered by memories of algebra.