Indigenous Indifference

A few weeks ago I saw an inebriated Aboriginal woman fall down in a Kings Cross street. A car narrowly missed running over her. While the driver jumped out of his car and rushed to her aid, a crowd of drinkers at the nearby Bourbon hotel laughed at the woman’s plight and several shouted out, “Get a look at that drunken Abo”. What fascinated me was that the men and women jeering and laughing at her did so without apology as if they knew no one would criticise them. You forget that such casual racism is still a part of our national character.

Yesterdays SMH has a powerful and, for me, moving article on the racism and, more importantly, the indifference that the Aboriginal people of this country have to contend with.

The article is written by the playwright Louis Nowra – who was involved in the SBS production First Australian, who relates stories from his relationship with an indigenous woman, Justine Saunders, his friendship with an indigenous drag-queen who told everyone that he was Indonesian because he did not hated being called “a boong”.

He says that the history of the indigenous people since the arrival of the white man is one of:

…great men and women, evil doers and flawed men, bloodshed, corruption, ideals and government deceit, racial conflict, broken treaties, love and hate, ideological warfare, bad science, companionship and the survival of a people who were thought to be dying out…

The most painful comment in the article comes from a friend of Louis, who say in reply to his lament on the viewing figures for First Australian (300,000 versus around 2 million for the family drama Packed to the Rafters) as to why she didn’t watch it:

“I don’t have any excuse,” she said. “Actually, to be honest, I am totally indifferent to the whole subject of Aborigines”.

I know that a few of the blogocrats have more first-hand knowledge than most of us in Australia – and maybe that ignorance and indifference is something we should address. I know that my great grandfather was a full blood, but that is the extent of my knowledge – and for that, I don’t have any excuses.



23 Responses

  1. This is a thorny thread…why is it considered that the indifference to the Aboriginal issue is any different to say CC, the GFC or any other issue of the day?

    A good proportion of our population could not give a stuff about these issues because they live in their own bubbles which is their right!

    Or maybe they are sick of billions of dollars being thrown at them for next to no result and won’t wear the guilt trip anymore?

    I do not see any change to their situation until they take responsibility for their actions instead of blaming white man for their self induced predicament, I won’t wear the blame for them taking drugs, alcohol consumption, women beating and the sexual abuse of their young…they can wear that honour!!!

    If they do not want to assimilate into the twenty first century then they are welcome to live their culture, that is living off the land with no assistance or technology at all as obviously this half and half experiment has failed.

    Many Australians have held their hands out to assist only to have them speared, myself included.

  2. scaper,

    I accept that, but does that give us a right for being racist?

  3. First a few facts. Health surveys by the ABS in 2001-02 and 2004-05 show that approximately 15% of the Indigenous adult population engaged in ‘risky’ and ‘high-risk’ alcohol consumption. That figure is comparable with that of the non-Indigenous population (14%), based on age-standardised data. BTW, the 1% difference is not statistically significant.

    On the other hand, when it comes to tobacco use, Indigenous people are more than twice as likely to smoke as their Non-Indigenous counterparts.

    The fact is we are more likely to ‘tut tut’ the black drunken woman and possibly smile at the pissed white, young socialite who falls down at the Melbourne Cup.

    As for “won’t wear the guilt trip anymore”, I for one don’t see it as a guilt trip. Rather I see it as a human urge to help those in trouble and to continue to so do because it is the ‘right’ action to take.

  4. My thoughts are that we firstly have to start with some semblance of a level playing field. For example, communities that have been waiting 3 years for anything resembling a regular garbage collection. If you are in downtown Adelaide, Sydney or Brisbane imagine what your street would look like. And imagine in your own community, irregular electricity supply, a most often polluted supply of water – a school that doesn’t have enough seats for the students. A few exceptional dedicated teachers, but more often service providers with more problems than those who they are supposed to be caring for.

    As for the drunken abo comment, it could just as easily have been a drunken Jew, a drunken wog/wop, a drunken poof..the reaction would have been the same.

    And hello joni, new little grandie’s other granny is a full blood Torres Strait Islander and of this I am very proud.

    As a family historian, racism came fairly late into the piece. Early history via factual information aka births, deaths and marriages (in spite of several attempts to rewrite history) indicates an acceptance of inter-racial marriages viz Aboriginal, Afghan and Chinese.

  5. joni, I don’t see indifference as racism…intolerance is.

    I would have to agree with Min’s take of that statement…only a generalisation with no real malice.

  6. Hello scaps..indifference is indeed racism. Indifference is the ‘who cares’ attitude such as who cares if the abos are living in tin sheds..and it’s their own fault anyway.

    Whereas (to me) intolerance is the jealousy thing, such as an abo receiving AbStudy. Whereas my kid only gets Austudy. Anyone see anything amiss with the above oft repeated opinion.

    It’s malice..just as it’s malice towards Jews, Muslims, Abos, Gays.

    The point that I was making is that most of these prejudices (being a family historian) are modern occurrences rather than as some people would like to suggest, historical. It seems that we have regressed rather than progressed since great grandfather’s day (with recognition of some very ugly moments in Australia’s history such as Lubra baiting). I stand by my bdm records re inter-racial marriages in the 19th century and oral family history from many sources that a Chinese husband in those days was ‘a good catch’. The Yellow Peril thing came later.

  7. As I said in my first post…”because they live in their own bubbles which is their right!”

    Because people do not choose to care is not racism…ignorance comes to mind.

  8. Whoops..time warp thing. Youngest suggested that previous post might not translate well viz: And hello joni, new little grandie’s other granny is a full blood Torres Strait Islander and of this I am very proud…

    I didn’t mean..Well..helllooo. I just meant hello.

  9. This is no “they”. We have to move beyond stereotypes whatever the race.

  10. Kevin, maybe it is a two way street?

    “We” is the operative word…until then.

  11. “joni, I don’t see indifference as racism”

    I agree! While indifference can have its own moral problems, ‘indifference’ is not ‘racism’.

    ‘Racism’ flows from the belief that ‘race’ is the root cause of capacity, ability or behaviour; all broadly defined. It’s ‘all in the genes’ as it were, and therefore it’s possible (even desirable) to make assumptions about ALL individuals on the basis of their racial backgrounds.

    BTW, racism doesn’t mean that a ‘racist’ makes assumptions that different races are ‘bad’ or ‘undesirable’. On the contrary, some racists assume ‘good’ attributes about ALL people of a particular race. Scandinavian women, for example, are ALL assumed to be blue-eyed blondes and sexually promiscuous. Usually, however, ‘racism’ is associated with pejorative judgements based on obvious differences such as shin colour.

    In some ways, racism is akin to sexism. Both share the notion that one can generalise about others and treat them according to your preconceived stereotypes.

    If one wants to have a serious discussion about the treatment of Aborigines in Australia or minority groups in general, then one needs to move beyond racism and explore the concept of ‘ethnocentrism’ which brings ‘culture’ and its influences into play.

  12. ‘shin colour’ Lol. Try ‘skin’.

  13. Kevin,

    “We have to move beyond stereotypes whatever the race.”

    I agree. No stereotypes, then no ‘racism’.


    “Kevin, maybe it is a two way street?”

    Ideally, that’s the case. But the important difference here is the power differential. If most of the power players in our society were ‘black’, then ‘racism’ as exercised by Aborigines would be a real problem.

    The truth is, that by and large, the power players in our society are white and therefore ‘racism’ as used by whites is much, much more significant that the ‘racism’ in black heads.

    Yes in many instances Aborigines get ‘special’ treatment and it’s because they are so disadvantaged,

    Anyone want to trade places? Anyone want to trade ,,, whatever? But the only condition is you can’t ‘cherry pick’.

  14. The point that I was making is that most of these prejudices (being a family historian) are modern occurrences rather than as some people would like to suggest, historical.

    That’s a pretty “modern” long bow you’re pulling, Min

    All Norsemen went a-viking and were therefore vicious thugs and rapists…?

    Scots were a rabid lot of savages and were uncontrollable – hence Hadrian’s Wall…? As were the Welsh…

    …and of course the Normans were far superior to the Saxons…

    The American indigenous people were just savages – as were, the Mayans and the Incas…

    The Egyptians believed the Jews were, well, only useful as slaves…

    In history the Romans recognised other races – as did the American indigenous…

    …as a Caucasian…I do get a bit p!$$ed off with the tag of racist …just because my skin is white …and I get that from other races as well as my own…

    …red, white, brown, black, yellow, if you are a good guy your a good guy, if your not your not!

  15. TB

    “if you are a good guy your a good guy, if your not your not!”

    Yes we are all in favour of ‘good’ guys’. But whose measure do we use? Were the settlers who massacred Aborigines at Myall Creek ‘good guys’? Well, they were all acquitted? Lol.

    Check the following list.

    Given that we are on an the case of the Aborigines, I have only provided a reference to those ‘bads’ but one doesn’t have to have a great knowledge of history to know that all nations and races have skeletons in their closets.

    Nevertheless, to simply say that because all races and nations have less than perfect histories, then we need do nothing about current ‘wrongs’ is a cop-out.

  16. 15. Nature 5

    I agree, N5

    What do you suggest we do?

    BTW I noticed saying, sorry, helped a lot…

  17. “BTW I noticed saying, sorry, helped a lot”

    Actually it did to those or at least their relatives who had been abused for generations. A ‘recognition’ rather than a ‘denial’ was very important psychologically to those affected.

    TB, even at a minor or relatively unimportant level such as a spilt drink or an accidental bump can be ameliorated by a simple ‘sorry’. Agree? Even if it’s an ‘off the cuff’ remark, it still means much. Howard could never grasp that or when he did he recognised that most voters didn’t and therefore he could use it to inflame passions.

    Imagine if the ‘wrong’ was magnified X times and those responsible refused to acknowledge their error. Imagine an official government policy akin to Hitler’s policy re the Jews, that was officially applied to Aboriginal people and their off-spring across Australia. Ever heard of Cecil Cook or A O Neville?

    Maybe not, but Aboriginal leaders have.

    As for “what do we suggest we do”?

    I have said on any number of occasions, I have no definitive answers. But I know that morally, we must keep trying.

    Perhaps the first thing we could do is to stop demonising Aborigines. Sure some, but certainly not all, have their problems – alcoholism, drug abuse, petrol sniffing, lack of educational achievement, bad health etc. Indeed they are like indigenous communities across the world.

    Indeed they are they are like ‘poor white trash’ who fly beneath the radar. Perhaps because they are white?

    We must start by eschewing racist stereotypes. That would be a good beginning.

  18. Indifference is the flip side of racism. Racists take their comfort from this, if the majority of people don’t give a stuff then racists can maintain their repugnant attitudes with impunity.

    Indifference means acceptance and it is not ok to be indifferent to dispossessed people.

  19. #16. TB Queensland

    BTW I noticed saying, sorry, helped a lot…

    Actually it has helped a lot.

    Also where are all the wingnuts that screamed, yelled, flamed, conjured and ridiculed the apology for it would lead to an immediate flood of compensation claims bankrupting the nation and making a handful of corrupt Aboriginals wealthy.

    Just another example as to the accuracy of Howard’s cracked crystal ball.

  20. Tom of Melbourne

    “Indifference means acceptance ”

    In furious agreement here. While ‘indifference’ is not racism, it is a political stance. It’s what once was called the New York syndrome. When there are ‘incidents’ there are never any witnesses, It’s the case of everyone saying – ‘I know nothing’; ‘I heard nothing’; ‘I saw nothing’.

    When one sees injustice, one either condones it or objects. I is impossible to ne politically neutral.


    “Also where are all the wingnuts that screamed, yelled, flamed, conjured and ridiculed the apology”

    They are still there. Just lying low. Nothing has changed.

  21. As Edmund Burke said:

    All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

    Which is why I was trying to highlight the central point of the quoted article – that until we should learn the true history and current situatioon we will never have the compassion to change anything. And that includes myself.

  22. Racism? I think this term is thrown out there much too often to the point of losing any legitimacy these days; especially when we have real incidences of racism to reflect upon. People are simply becoming more callous these days, nothing more. Claiming “racism” simply gives us the convenience of an explanation when in many instances there is none. Like I have said before, it is much easier to find fault in some “specter” than accept our own failings or that of fellow human beings.,27574,24850910-38195,00.html

  23. When is the study of Aboriginal history and their culture going to made a compulsory part of the curriculum? Knowledge goes a long way to combat racism.

    It is an indictment of an inherent racism in Australia’s culture that the vast majority of Australians can readily name North American native tribes, heroes and history but know zilch about our own. Cherokee, Ute, Blackfoot, Cheroke, Sioux, Apache..Geronimo, Chief Sitting Bull, Cochice. And equivalent knowledge of Australian history is..??

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