Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Our Aborigines - practical success stories

Photo: Message from Moree, ABC TV

In my post Immiseration of Public Policy - a personal note I said that before proceeding further on my analysis of problems facing NSW's Aboriginal people and the lessons for public policy, I would tell some positive stories that I thought had broader policy implications.

I was going to tell a number of stories in one post. Instead, I am going to break them up in a number of short posts.

On 10 January I carried a short story on the New England Australia blog, New England's Aborigines - Moree success story. I did not spell out the details, leaving it to readers to follow up the links.

Aborigines make up 17 per cent of the population of Moree Plains Shire, a proportion that is growing. Moree is just the type of community I was talking about when I said that Aboriginal social and economic deprivation was a mainstream issue, not an Aboriginal policy issue, one that had to be sorted if black-white relations were not to tear communities apart.

I have been unemployed. I know the way this tears self-esteem apart, leading to self doubt. But at least I have past successes to remember. Think how much harder it is if you come from a community with high unemployment where some people have never found a job.

Moree has had a difficult record in terms of black-white relations. This was one of the towns targetted in the 1965 Freedom Rides. While those days were gone, enormous problems remained.

Dick Estens, a local European cotton grower, decided to do something about this.

Recognising that unemployment was a key Aboriginal problem, he set out to look for practical solutions. He did this by establishing a program that would introduce Aboriginal kids to the workforce. This was not a Government work for the dole program like CEDP, but one that gave kids access to real jobs and work experience.

In doing this, Estens had to overcome prejudice in both the black and white communities. He did so, in so doing helping transform Moree.

No comments: