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I have a dream

By John Tomlinson - posted Tuesday, 15 June 2010

I have been to the top of the mountain and I have looked over and I have seen the glory of the coming of the Kadaitcha man. I looked into his face and saw the sorrow - the sorrow caused by disasters foisted on his people whose land had been taken on unjust terms first by the early settlers, then by developers and, more recently, by the Commonwealth government who came with lawyers to make his people sign away their land in return for housing for which they would have to pay the same rent as white people who had only recently come to live in the towns of the Northern Territory.

I saw the sorrow in his face and felt the anger on his breath. I watched as he listened to women who told him how they’d been insulted by a Woolworths shop assistant telling them to line up at a separate checkout to use their Basics card to buy groceries. The women said it was like in old rations days on the mission. I watched as he talked to the men who had worked 30 hours a week for the Shire Council but were only paid unemployment benefit and half of that was not paid in cash but put on their Basics card which meant they could only spend it on government approved things at government approved stores. These men felt shame but they also knew anger. They reckoned the Rudd Government lied to them at the last election and they would not be tricked at the next.

These men and these women knew he was an important law man but they didn’t know he was a Kadaitcha man. Only senior law men know who is Kadaitcha. He had been trained in the law by his uncles and his grandfather on his mother’s side. He knew where the sacred Turingas were hidden. The old man told the women and the men that he was going to spend time with the Turingas in the secret cave and think about what they had told him and work out what should be done. An hour later the dust from the tyres of his Toyota trailed off in the distance and the people at the outstation got on with their business.


Two weeks elapsed before the old man returned with a freshly killed emu and a kangaroo lying in the back of his ute - not standing proud as depicted in the white government’s coat of arms. He shared out portions of each animal in strict observance with his cultural obligations. He told the people at the outstation that they should remain calm and that things would be all right.

The next morning saw him heading for Alice Springs where there was to be a big gathering of people to see the Minister for Indigenous Affairs and tell her she must end the Intervention, return their land and restore the protections enshrined in the Racial Discrimination Act. The people met with the Minister who refused to accept what Aboriginal people were saying. She said she had evidence that her plans were working and that women and children wanted her to maintain income management and the Basics card and the leases the Commonwealth had obtained would mean more housing for people in the longer term. With that she was off to a civic reception held by the white mayor.

That night the Minister hosted a reception for Labor Members of the Territory’s Legislative Assembly at her motel in Alice. Some cheeky young Aboriginal men and women held a protest outside the motel until the temperature dropped below freezing and they wandered off in small groups to their town camps or down to the dry bed of the Todd River where they huddled for warmth round small fires.

In the darkness the Kadaitcha man conducted a ceremony to make himself invisible and to impart magical powers to his emu feather shoes which were made from the down feathers of the emu he’d recently killed. These shoes are so soft they leave no footprints. He wore a kangaroo skin belt carved from the kangaroo he had shared with his community. Several objects were supported by the belt but they are too secret to tell you about. Finally he covered himself in red ochre and now no one could see him. He waited outside the motel until the last of the members of the Legislative Assembly had left. He walked into the foyer when the night porter was helping an overly drunk white patron to his room. He looked through the hotel register and pocketed the spare key to the Minister’s room. Then he waited in shadows in the corridor near her room.

Half an hour after she turned off her lights, he went in and stole her kidney fat and left the spare key on cupboard near her bed so she would know someone had been there.

Sometimes people who have been visited by a Kadaitcha man get sick and die within a few days; sometimes people have prolonged illness and seek forgiveness from senior law holders. If they make proper amends for their wrong they may grow well again. I don’t know what will happen this time.

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About the Author

Dr John Tomlison is a visiting scholar at QUT.

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