Sunday, July 05, 2009

Sunday Snippets - the Belshaws, Aboriginal Australia

I don't feel like writing anything too intense today. So bear with me while I just meander a bit.

In Just back - and another book to complete! I referred to the story of the Pacific Belshaws. I have just finished an Armidale Express column on the same topic.

The Belshaws are not a dynasty in the conventional sense of the word, yet we are when looking at our history over several generations. It's just that teaching, writing, academic life and public service form the core.

Growing up in a small community where my grandfather was member of parliament, my father professor of economics, created a burden of expectations. It was worse for brother David. Fifteen months younger than me, he had also to deal with my wake.

As a kid with some ambition, I used to worry about measuring up. I still do. I suppose I always will. Yet if I have learned one thing, it is the need to take what is best from one's family and not to worry too much. I remain proud of our achievements, but I would never want to place the pressure on my own girls that I experienced. They will be what they will be.

In Musings on Australian Indigenous disadvantage I returned to one of my long standing themes. There are things I can and cannot say here because of my current contract work, work that is slowly altering some of my attitudes because of my growing contact with Aboriginal Australians.

My last post in some ways reflected my growing view that present policies are setting up Aboriginal Australia for another failure. Any manager knows that growth comes from successful experience, failure comes from imposing un-real expectations on staff. Something similar applies in Indigenous policy.

I really have to think through the issues here. Last week I attended an Aboriginal mentor/mentoree training session, a session that influenced my subsequent post. Until then I really had no idea of the nature of the pressures created on Aboriginal young and leaders.

At the same time, I have to be very careful in what I say because I simply do not know enough.

To this point I have met perhaps 130-150 Aboriginal people, around one tenth of one per cent of the NSW Aboriginal population. I have been taking notes as I go along. I also have the benefit of my historical studies because they provide a context. I can understand to some degree the dynamics and divisions with NSW's Aboriginal community. Yet I simply do not know enough yet to be too prescriptive.

That said, I do know that current policies at State and Federal level are unlikely to work to the degree hoped because they are based on false premises.

Time for lunch.


For more on Indigenous issues, see:

  • Neil's post Some serious reading for all Australians. This includes a link through to an interview with Peter Sutton reflecting disillusion with past enthusiasms. I think that everybody now accepts that past policies and enthusiasms were wrongly directed.
  • An article in the Australian by Galarrwuy Yunupingu. Perhaps not surprisingly given my background, I have never accepted the position that Aborigines should be forced to move from home territory to urban areas. In the absence of other changes, all this does is created new and more concentrated centres of disadvantage.
  • An article by Noel Pearson. As Mr Pearson says, it is Indigenous people taking responsibility for their own future. But, and as I have argued, to try to make Indigenous people responsible for their own future when they have no power or resources to resolve problems is a recipe for failure.

I will leave my comments here for the moment beyond noting one thing. Present policy, and this can be seen very clearly in the Productivity Commission report, is indicator based.

Homelessness is a problem, as is overcrowding. We must therefore build more homes to overcome this.

We do need more Aboriginal social housing. Yet homelessness as presently defined does not accurately reflect Aboriginal culture. The Aboriginal man who returned to his home territory in Western New South Wales to live in a humpy that he built for himself is not homeless, just living in a different way.

Accurate statistics are a problem. Yet, at least to my mind, we need far less reporting, far fewer statistics, far fewer indicators. Instead, we need more analysis, more understanding of difference, more recognition of variety.

I have said that current universal indicator based policy must fail.

I may be wrong, I hope that I am, but I see absolutely nothing in current Federal Government policy that really addresses the very complex and varied nature of on-ground Indigenous problems.


tikno said...

I read that you met perhaps 130-150 Aboriginal people. Maybe something interesting if just one posting donated specifically for their voices. Their feelings, thoughts, hope, or whatever they are want to say through your blog. Perhaps there is no censor.

Jim Belshaw said...

That's an interesting idea, Tikno. Obviously the posts that I write reflect my perspectives - I am a filter, if not a censor.

There are one or two that I could ask to write something. Certainly, and I have been meaning to do this, I could just write down what people say.

There are some issues here that I need to think through. I am cautious about drawing too much attention to my writing in a present work context. I haven't made any secret of the fact that I blog, but I haven't made an enormous feature of it. I have also been reasonably cautious in what I say to try to avoid drawing a direct, identifiable, on-line connection to where I work.

I also try to be very careful in what I say about particular individual views. There is a lot I don't write about (at least not directly) because conversations are private.

Once I finish my present contract work I will have somewhat greater freedom. Until then, it may just be too difficult to do what you want.

tikno said...

I understand, Jim.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, Tikno