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Moral outrage

By Barbara Biggs - posted Monday, 22 May 2006

I don’t know about the rest of Australia, but I’m panicking.

The moral outrage about the Aboriginal child abuse and petrol sniffing problems, after just a day, is already beginning to look like the quick-fix, knee-jerk reactions which, to my mind, caused the problems in the first place. Or at the very least, created more.

I’m all for moral outrage. We should all be phoning, writing, making as much fuss about this issue as each one of us can, so that finally the problems can begin to be addressed.


It’s the quick fixes and moral judgments that worry me.

When are we going to realise that Indigenous people are, in many cases, only a few generations away from a pure, nomadic lifestyle? And that our values and solutions, in isolation, don’t work.

It was our quick fix solutions to our forefathers’ moral outrage and colonisation problems, that led to alcohol, processed white flour and sugar being traded to people whose bodies had had no chance to adapt to the intake of these substances and which are now causing chronic diabetics, alcoholism and obesity.

In the mid-1980s, when visiting the Central Australian settlements of Mimili and Indulkana as part of my tribal singing course at Adelaide University, I heard a typical story that has been ringing in my ears for the last couple of days.

A journalist visited one of these communities and returned to Adelaide to write a story about the “horrific” state of housing in the settlements. Within months, at huge expense, semi-loads of building materials were trucked up and western houses built.

Within a year, stories were wired around the world about how the Australian natives were tearing up the floorboards and using them for firewood. “Ungrateful animals too primitive to know how to make use of good handouts,” was the new subtext outcry.


But nobody thought to consult with the communities about the suitability of concrete bunker housing, in a dry and dusty desert setting, for a people who lived, cooked, ate and slept outside. Heaven forbid: good, durable - but not pleasing to the western eye - humpy material might have been more beneficial.

On ABC's Lateline last week, I heard Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mal Brough full of palpable moral outrage vowing to stop child sexual abuse by throwing the Indigenous perpetrators in jail.

As if this solution even works for our society.

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About the Author

Barbara Biggs is a former journalist and author of a two-part autobiography, In Moral Danger and The Road Home, launched in May 2004 by Peter Hollingworth and Chat Room in 2006. Her latest book is Sex and Money: How to Get More. Barbara is convenor of the National Council for Children Post-Separation,

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