I like Bess Price and think she has something important to say and hope the whole country hears it. Never before have we had the opportunity to learn what really goes on in Alice Springs and now we have another point of view - not from an academic living in Sydney who looks white but claims to have Aboriginal blood, but from a real, true, traditional woman who lives there. This is her story.
My name is Bess Nyirringali Nungarrayi Price. My first language is Warlpiri, English is my second and there are five other languages that I understand. I was born under a tree at a place called Yuendumu, where the airstrip now is. My father was 10 years old when he first saw a white man. My mother was a little bit younger. They were both born in the desert out of contact with the rest of the world.
I came from a family of eleven. My Mum has now outlived 8 of her children. We have lost eight, but I had a happy up bringing. I spent my childhood living in yujuku my father built, what whitefellas call ‘humpies’. I was always warm, dry and comfortable. We ate both whitefella food and our own bushtucker. We camped on my Dad’s country every weekend, walking a round trip of around thirty kilometres from Yuendumu and back, but we always got to school. When I was too young to go my older sister and brother rode to school on a donkey all that way. My teachers were good, hard working people. I had plenty of white friends as well as the company of my own extended Warlpiri family. I learnt both ways before we had what we now call bilingual/bicultural education at our school. My teachers and my parents taught me well.
People think Aboriginal people all think the same. They are wrong. We have Aboriginal people who live in cities, towns and in the remote parts of Australia and we all have different issues. The issues and needs are totally different. The politics in the bush are so different from the way southern blackfellas think. They, the yapa, are gullible at times and they accept anything that’s put in front of them, without a question. They are easily lead whether it’s in good faith or not. Others blame colonization for the reason that our people are the most disadvantaged group of people. But nobody can explain why that is … I don’t see it that way. All I see is that they are hunters and gatherers and they were vulnerable then and they are vulnerable now. They know nothing about how everything else operates outside of their communities and how they need to change in order to keep up with the rest of the outside world. They need to be given the tools and the mechanism to move forward.
We have had so many self-appointed people, black and white, who have decided to be our spokespeople, who know nothing about us and our issues. They are the people who have been running the show all these years without ever asking us whether it’s okay for them to do so. They are the ones who want to keep our people in the dark as if we are some sort of stone age people. It had to take urgent measures by the government in order to help our people, for them to recognise what was happening to them, and to do something for themselves before it was too late.
I am one of those people who embraced the government’s move, what is now called the Intervention or the NTER, the Northern Territory Emergency Response. To me it meant at last somebody was acknowledging that there was a crisis and that it needed to be addressed. For a long time our peoples’ lives have been in a state of crisis, spiralling downwards, rapidly, uncontrollably.
Before the Intervention three of my brothers drank themselves to death on the Alice Springs town camps. Two nieces, one 21, one 26, did the same. My granddaughter was murdered on a town camp. She died because she was stabbed by her ex-husband, my cousin. The ambulance wouldn’t go in there without a police escort because the drunks attack them when they go there to save a life. So she died waiting for them. This is what the town camps have been for us, places of sickness and self-destruction. Yet there are those in Alice Springs who call it racism and an attack on human rights when the government tries to help us make the camps decent places to live and raise kids.
I could go on all day about the violence I have seen. It has happened to so many of my loved ones. My own body is decorated with scars. Yet the protestors, the whitefellas in Alice Springs and those who come from Down South, who think they are supporting my people, have treated me like an enemy. They have tried to tell the world through the internet that I am a drunk and that I only support the government because it pays me to do work for them. They aren’t interested in the truth. They aren’t willing to open their ears and listen.
They have never given me a chance to talk at their rallies. They bring white students and cranky kooris and murris up from Down South who know nothing about us and who hate whitefellas. They look for local people who think like they do and try to keep the rest quiet and away from the media. When the UN’s Special Rapporteur came to Alice my people were not told of the meetings. I was only invited the day before. The meetings were very carefully controlled and orchestrated. It was a joke. He didn’t hear from the people with the problems, the ones living with the violence and the misery. He heard from those with a vested interest in the present situation.
My people, the ones with the problems that the Intervention is designed to address, were deliberately excluded. They were lining up down at the pub and the bottle shops as they do everyday or sitting in filth in the camps worrying about their kids and waiting for the next round of grog fuelled violence. People are given a fairytale version of our culture by people who don’t live by our law. They want you to think that it is the government that causes all our problems. That is an outrageous lie. The government gets it wrong because it consults with the wrong people. It gets it wrong because it cannot help people who won’t, or don’t know how, to help themselves. We want to be able to help ourselves.
My people don’t use money the way white people do. They don’t save, they don’t budget, they can’t say ‘no’ to relatives even when they are drunks and addicted to gambling and drugs. They need help in spending their money wisely. We are very happy that the government has decided to extend income management to everybody. That is what we have always asked for. Don’t stop doing it for us, do it to everybody who needs it if you are worried about racism. Even Warren Snowdon, our ALP Federal member admits now that it is working. That is a big change for Warren.
We still have a lot of other problems. Education is one of the biggest. Education has not worked for our mob for the last thirty years. White people told us that they wanted to preserve our language so now my people can’t express themselves to the rest of the world and rely on white people and city blackfellas, who know nothing about us, or who want to keep us in ignorance to do it for them. I went to school before the bilingual program started yet I speak both Warlpiri and English better than our kids and our grand kids. Our young people now need their grandparents to speak for them to the outside world. The old ones speak better English. Most of our kids now can’t read and write English or their own language. They are not learning to speak their own languages properly. They are losing the best of our culture but not learning the best of the whitefella’s culture. They are learning the worst instead. They are losing on both sides. Bilingual education is a wonderful idea but it seems to me that it has never been done properly. We want our kids to keep speaking our languages but we also want them to be able to speak and read and write English. My people are linguistically talented. Many speak several Aboriginal languages. Our kids are intelligent and want to learn. Why can’t whitefellas teach them English? It should be easy.
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