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An Indigenous reflection on 2008

By Stephen Hagan - posted Monday, 29 December 2008

Alexander Chalmers (1759-1834) an doctor from Aberdeen, turned celebrated journalist once said: “The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.”

As Mother Nature’s late afternoon sunrays dim to welcome in a dusk accentuated on the horizon by a myriad of spectacular colours, Australians in unison start the December countdown to surrender yet another year in the new millennium. And what an eventful year it was!

The year started with a political buzz that engulfed the nation on February 13, when Prime Minister Rudd fulfilled his pre-election promise to make an apology to members of the Stolen Generation and their families on the first day of his new parliamentary sitting. As the nation sat transfixed to the live broadcast Prime Minister Rudd’s 141st unambiguous word signalled his genuine intention when he said “sorry”.


And guess what? The world did not implode, and the polls did not drop dramatically as predicted. This was an historic event that proved the critics wrong: John Howard’s supporters who were fanatically indoctrinated by Andrew Bolt (social commentator) and his xenophobic cohort’s rhetoric that there was “never a stolen generation”.

The polls from that day forwards had a positive trajectory that has slowly increased over the year and incongruously had the causal effect of displacing one opposition leader, and perhaps another in the near future.

The sentence: “For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry,” precipitated tears that trickled, then cascaded, down the sober faces of millions of Australians as they sat motionless absorbing their Prime Minister’s eloquent and poignant words. He spoke from the public stand in the House of Representatives, and he was heard on the lawns of Parliament House; in bars and restaurants, office lounges, and residential premises around the nation.

The public apology by our Head of State was indeed a special occasion that moved our nation to unabashed raw passion, the likes of which had not been seen since the 1967 Referendum results were declared.

Sadly this year, which saw Indigenous Australians do exceedingly well in sporting and business endeavours, also saw a vast majority of our people wallow in dysfunctional communities; bereft of leadership and consumed by extreme poverty, alcoholism, drug and gambling addictions, child abuse and despair.

The continued endorsement - even by the progressive Rudd administration - of the Northern Territory Intervention Policy also highlights the failure of political and bureaucratic figures to address the social dysfunction afflicting these discrete Indigenous communities in remote and rural parts of the Northern Territory.


Perhaps the real problem lies with the people delivering so called “quality and informed” advice to government. Unless there is a total overhaul of political advisers; government and non-government, then it will become apparent to all concerned observers that not a lot will change from this draconian policy initiative, or others, directly affecting our people.

A few public servants and Indigenous political advisers will amass significant moneys for their retirement fund from the NT Intervention. But after the tax payer’s well has dried and the blame game commences in Canberra, without the desired outcome, these public servants and political advisers will be sited far from the dysfunctional communities, sipping skinny lattes in their favourite alfresco diner awaiting the arise of another Indigenous crisis. And when another crisis arises - and sure as day turns to night, it will - we will see a similar plan of action implemented. Once again the phones will run hot between the select few Indigenous advisors from public servants in Canberra, high on income but low on ideas, calling them to go forth and rescue those poor Aborigines from themselves.

If those sentiments sound painfully evocative of the mission day mantra impressed with the religious vigour of a bygone era - well, they are.

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About the Author

Stephen Hagan is Editor of the National Indigenous Times, award winning author, film maker and 2006 NAIDOC Person of the Year.

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