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Business as usual: Don Dale torture is 200 years in the making

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“This is a turning point,” says one bipartisan head on the telly this morning. Another pops up to agree that,” Something must be done”. A third emerges to praise the Prime Minister, who is also of the view that this is a turning point about which something must be done and today, even the most conservative and cruel columnists are using terms like “shock”, “disgrace” and “royal commission”. This must never happen again.

CCTV footage aired last night on ABC1’s Four Corners is the document of an atrocity. The torture of children at Darwin’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre is not a practice that any reasonable mind could vindicate. The newspapers are all agreed: our national redemption begins this morning. This must never happen again.

This, of course, is a noble and human response to a low, institutional sin. There is no way to respond to the abasement of human life but with a call to action. What moral instruments we have agree: this is a cold, dark day. We will fill all our remaining days with warmth and light. This must never happen again.

Today, we are unified in our response to a scandal. By tomorrow, though, we’ll be divided about exactly what must never happen again. We’ll continue to agree, of course, that small black boys should not have gas sprayed directly in their faces. But frankly, this is a cinch. To say “I don’t approve the state-endorsed torture of minors” is no kind of test of our moral courage. It’s a bit like agreeing that cancer is a horrible disease.

This was not an Isolated Incident. This is history doing what it has been prompted to do.

The real work rests in answering the question of what you don’t want to happen again. And, if the answer is simply that you would prefer it if the eyes of indigenous minors are no longer showered in poison, well, congratulations. You are not, in fact, the ethical leavings of Satan’s meanest dog. If, on the other hand, your answer gives rise to more questions, then you might have actually ascended back to earth.

The question of what happened at Don Dale Youth Detention Centre is, of course, one that must be directly addressed. But, if we do not permit this question to provoke much broader ones and if the ambition of our policy makers does not exceed an interest in tear gas alone, then down we go. Back to a limbo where we permit ourselves to think that an objection to torture is the same thing as moral courage.

It is not particularly noble to cry at the spectacle of a kid being tortured. It is not particularly principled to argue that the guards that did this to him must be held to account. It is not even enough to say, as nice liberals are wont to, that the measure of a good society is how it treats its most vulnerable children. Perhaps, a better measure of a good society is how it learns its history.

History brought us here. It wasn’t a few bad employees.

History brought us here. It wasn’t a few bad employees. It wasn’t a handful of negligent politicians. It wasn’t anything as simple as a lack of “respect”. It is two centuries of policy that brought us here and if we are to think of what happened to these boys as a “scandal” instead of something inevitable, then we will not ascend.

Tear gas in the face of a kid is just the logical endpoint of illogical policy enacted at different times by different legislators. And, there’s really no need to return to 1788 to trace the origin of the torture we saw last night. From the mandatory sentencing introduced first in WA by Labor premier Carmen Lawrence to the so-called “Intervention” of the Howard government, indigenous Australians have been subject to institutional discipline and cruelty that can only produce agony and devastation.

The same policy settings that have stripped indigenous Australians of property, health, self-determination, cultural memory and longevity are those that produced what we saw on TV. This was not an Isolated Incident. This is history doing what it has been prompted to do. If we permit ourselves to see this as anomalous or shocking and not as the very predictable outcome of ongoing institutional paternalism, then we permit ourselves to see nothing at all.

The time to view such moments as “scandal” has long since passed. This is not a scandal, but Australian business as usual.



50 responses to “Business as usual: Don Dale torture is 200 years in the making

  1. LEST US NEVER FORGET: That’s what we say: now we MUST do just that. How sadistic must the administrators, wardens and staff be of this ‘Institution. My belief is that all these people involved ought to be charged and put on trial..never never swept under the carpet.

  2. Where are the CRIMINAL assault charges (for it was an illegal criminal assault) against the guards concerned, and the minister, who not only had responsibility, but was actually present, and authorised and encouraged the use of tear gas?

    1. It would be unfair to charge the guards. They simply act they way most people would act in the circumstances. It is the people who created the circumstances who are to blame. And basically that is all of us.

      1. John. I remember being struck in the gut with this thing that I had long known about the profound alienation of those employed to perform violence when I visited Stradbroke Island. I was in the museum and asked the curator what function the building previously had. She told me it was a “sanitarium”. A place, she said, built on an island in a bay to keep the men who had “cleared the land” away from the general population. These white men employed to kill black men had their lives destroyed, too. Not so brutally and completely, obviously. But the point, is, institutional violence claims many victims.
        It is a nonsense to say that this is a shock, the work of a few bad eggs. It’s the same shit that’s been going on for years. Anyone who has ever known any indigenous Australian in more than the most cursory way will know how closely all black lives here are touched by the cruelty of institutions. This is not news. It’s an old habit.

      2. Unfair to charge the guards? Nothing justified sadism and cruelty….those guards are psychos laughing at the suffering oof the childrens…they are malicious criminals and nothing else….

  3. We can’t be divided on this. We MUST do something, and immediately. Like today. What action can be taken TODAY to ensure this does not happen again, what guarantees can the nation have Mr Turnbull? A Royal Commission is good, but no further child should suffer in the interim. and how do we make reparation to the children so brutally harmed already?

  4. The show revealed what had been recorded by CCTV. There is no reason to believe that similar crimes do not occur when young offenders are sent to jail and allocated to share their cell with known, sadistic, homosexual rapists. No CCTV is permitted there. In any case strange things happen to CCTV records. They will not be coming out of places like Don Dale again once the fix is in. Everyone empowered to use the coercive powers of the state arbitrarily against another must be held accountable without fear or favour. Unless the bureaucracy and particularly enforcement agents are audited by an independent, outside authority this will never happen. Criminal charges and impartial judgements by our courts must follow automatically and not be discretionary.

  5. Thank you Helen for pointing out the tragic and depressing truth. Would that the racism-deniers might make the connection. Depressingly, after 200 years of history including this horror, a national awakening seems so far away.

  6. Any well-researched history of white invasion and settlement of Australia will show that the first Governor and his military backers demonstrated clearly what they intended as future relationships with the original Aboriginal inhabitants. within six months of arrival they had started ‘friendly’ negotiations with local Aboriginal groups long enough to promote a level of trust and to identify potential opinion-leaders. They they caught and imprisoned their targeted aborigines. Within a few months 3 of the 5 captives were dead. One escaped. The other was held prisoner, permanently shackled, etc for several years. The intent of incarceration was justified as needing to establish ‘better communications’ (learning a local language). Thank heavens, civilisation had finally reached Terra Australis with a flourish. And white people still know and understand little more than that the same level of relationships exists today. I wonder why? Must be the fault of the aborigines, of course.

  7. Read the Senate reports on what happened to children in institutions in the last century. Some of this has come out at the Royal Commission, despite its limitation to investigating sexual abuse, but there is much more to be uncovered. We have been treating children cruelly in institutions, whether in detention or in ‘Homes’, for far too many years now. Power over the more vulnerable brings out the worst in some people. Constant transparency and oversight will help, but the voices of the children themselves – and of the adult survivors – must be heard, and heard on an ongoing basis. This isn’t just a Don Dale issue, even today; look at Tasmania’s detention centres too, and make sure other states don’t get to tut tut on the sidelines. Helen sums it up in her title. We have a lot of soul searching still to do. Let’s hope that it does result in better experiences for children this time around. And good for the ABC! This is why we need them, eh.

  8. Thanks to Helen for this piece. We should also recognise that the NT Parliament’s Youth Justice Act provides virtual immunity for corrective services staff in the settings represented on the screen on the 4 Corners program; that the same Parliament authorised the installation and use of the extraordinary confinement chair and routine that left a child in terrifying isolation for two hours; and that the Minister misled the public (and presumably the Parliament) in reporting the incident at the focus of last nights reporting as a riot. Coupled with the story that preceded 4 Corners on the indefinite detention of a school girl and wife of an Australian who has the support of hundreds (and now thousands) of Australians who are distressed (to say the least) at their understanding of how our national government responds to humanitarian needs of young people, we see the foundations for loss of trust in governance and the risk of angry responses. This is a point at which Turnbull’s Royal Commission must seek to hold Parliaments as well as individual offenders to account.

  9. We are a cruel nation- let us not faff around about this. A frontier nation built on cruelty and incarceration and we have not grown out of it.
    Don Dale was also the scene of another horror in 2015 when women and children were separated from husbands and fathers, taken to empty Don Dale, stripped of all clothing in middle of the night, pushed into showers and then dressed in overalls and sent to Nauru.
    No camera footage but a written report from one of the women and verified by others but Australians cant see it so it did not happen.
    The same cruelty and bastardry that is being enacted on Aboriginal children, their mother fathers uncles and brothers is being done to people in our detention camps. Both the first and the last must suffer at our hands.

    None of this ‘if only i knew hand wringing- Politicians and bureaucrats know and shut up about until it is in their faces on TV.
    Thats the Australian way.

  10. To quote Zimbardo,

    “Upholding a Good-Evil dichotomy also takes ‘good people’ off the responsibility hook. They are freed from even considering their possible role in creating, sustaining, perpetuating, or conceding to the conditions that contribute to delinquency, crime, vandalism, teasing, bullying, rape, torture, terror, and violence.”

    Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil

  11. ‘200 years in the making’! What a cheap shot.

    Is there no limit to the way leftist wrist-wringers attribute everything bad about the way aborigines treat themselves and others back to first settlement?

    1. “Wrist wringing” is not a phrase I’ve previously encountered. Perhaps this is related to my tedious “leftist” habit of supposing that a group of persons who had their land stolen, their lives codified and their history effectively revised by another group of persons (who barely scraped by to an arts degree) as one of “self-inflicted harm” is not quite just. I can’t see good sense! If I could, I would know that this ten year old person brought this injury on himself. He clearly had his own hand on the nozzle. This has nothing to do with history.
      Joe. Your compelling and intellectually fearless post is proof alone of the greatness of the culture that produced you. You really have earned your privileges.

    2. As I wring my leftist wrists, which is not easy to do Joe, perhaps you could enlighten us all as to how first settlement was beneficial to Indigenous people, and how it did not led to the present situation?. I await with wrung wrists.

  12. Thank you Helen
    Agreed that it has been a long time coming. It is institutional, and goes to the highest level of elected and non elected government officialdom. The pleas that they were unaware or weren’t told directly should not be a free pass from culpability. Any political operator with an ear to the ground would know.
    The brutality now accepted by a significant portion of our citizens, tolerated as the ends justify the means, is slowly eroding this country’s humanity. It is a decline into immoral and unethical territory, with imperceptible steps into what appear to be grey areas then without even feeling it, into the abyss. I am becoming more and more ashamed of how we are behaving as a country (not by all, but a blind eye turned by too many that allows the cruelty to go on). Nationalism and bigotry have historically led us to unspeakable atrocity, time to turn the corner, not just for this example of extreme wrong doing but to have a genuine conversation about how we can do better and bypass the fear mongers and racists and get on with living a life in a community we can be proud of, with all its diversity.

  13. It is not unfair to charge the guards. Nobody threatened to spray them in the face if they chose to behave like rational civilised adult human beings.
    It would be unfair to get all outraged about this and then get distracted by the next startling disgusting revelation (what was that about children in offshore detention? or suicide rates among gay youth?)

  14. Hi John, I disagree that it would be ‘unfair’ to charge the guards. That’s how crime and punishment works. What disincentive for them and others to torture if they make that same leap of non-responsibility that you just did? It’s an uncomfortable fact of life that some folks will respond more to fear of the economic penalties of crime (loss of job, reputation, freedom) than to the understanding that you shouldn’t tie up and torture a living thing, even if it has been antagonising the living sh*t out of you every shift for the past month and probably called you a c*nt and you have the world’s shittiest job. I agree that this is some big, historical, bloody-colonial-history-thing. But you can’t disagree that if those 3 or 4 guards were good people who abhorred torture on principle that they wouldn’t have gone so berserk taking out their work stress on the bodies and minds of those not-quite-grown-up boys. So this is absolutely about history, and absolutely about workplace stress and training, and absolutely posiloutely about individual accountability on the job. Haven’t you seen all those apologist german movies about the war?? Individual accountability! Acts of bravery in the face of peer pressure! Being really, really sorry afterwards! No one’s putting you on a meat-hook for refusing to gas a criminal child in NT, I really think that a person of good character and standing could have avoided doing what they did with ease. Sorry, but I’m done feeling sorry for institutionalised stooges.

    1. But, crime and punishment doesn’t work, does it? You’re apportioning faith in a system in which you should have none.
      It may certainly make you feel better to know that a couple of men have been subject to the same treatment that made us all justifiably sick. It may trouble you to think that these men were workers enacting the will of apparently reasonable policy makers. But, unless you start thinking that a system permits this behaviour and not just a few bad eggs, you are retaining your faith in that system.
      Of course, I feel personal loathing for this guards. Big deal. Unless we are able to see beyond revenge fantasies and to the system that produces such cruelty over and again, we will never “progress”.
      Seriously. This is not a TV drama. It’s history.

  15. 30 years ago a mate of mine was gaoled for a car offence and got put in with a rapist of young men. someone tipped him the wink so he knew what to expect. When the guy got comfy my mate whacked him a few times with the shit bucket. Lucky it was steel then, now its plastic. Next morning the guy wasn’t too fit but my mate didn’t stagger out with blood running down his legs. The screws were very disappointed. Usually some young bloke staggered out begging the screws for another cell – huge joke. We started as a prison and obviously some politicians think it still is. If you give screws gas or cattle prods or bull whips they will use them.

  16. I agree with the ‘business as usual’ characterisation – particularly as the response appears to be following the ‘continuous improvement mantra’ that gets shoved down our throats at every opportunity. Regardless of the sphere or incident you can expect the following response:

    “something has gone wrong, we will own it, we will get better”

    That somehow small tweakings will result in a best practice outcome that will resolve the issue. That history is not only ‘dead’ but irrelevant.

  17. Mmm … The Royal Commission you have
    when you don’t want one into the banks and financial industry.

    Why, f’rinstance, is the Royal Commission isolated to the Northern Territory ?

  18. While a Royal Commission is a nice idea, there’s no need to wait the months that it will surely take the politicians to draw up and then water down the terms of reference etc etc.

    In that appalling footage we all saw last night, is prima facie evidence of criminal assault- at an absolute minimum. More than enough for the police to immediately arrest and charge those guards involved and place them before a Court. There’s absolutely no need for anyone to wait for that to happen. I’ll be it doesn’t though!

    1. As others have offered here, though, Craig: what end does this serve but revenge? Of course, the men who enacted this violence should be charged. But if we’re to think that this will make one dint of difference to the countless Aboriginal lives that have been and will be ruined by institutions, we are deluded children.
      This is not an isolated incident. This forms part of an ongoing and documented institutional habit. Indigenous Australians are incarcerated in disproportionate number and the policies and practices that produce this terrible fact will not change if we continue to be appeased by a few arrests.
      I understand that the reflex is to make a few people suffer. But, if you really don’t want this to happen again, ask the party for whom you vote what they have done to address this ongoing problem.
      The “gap” that separates indigenous from non-indigenous Australians has been widening these past decades. If you are worried about this, please don’t think that a little moment of justice will do a thing to address it. Broad-ranging and radical reform is what is needed. Not a satisfying moment of TV justice.
      By all means, be angry. But put your anger where it is needed.

      1. Spot on. Please don’t let this head of steam be wasted on trying to nail people for assault or politicians for doing what their community, and ours, seem to love. Let’s try this time to deal with why the kids are locked up in the first place and let’s work with Aboriginal people sensbly to find solutions.

  19. All applicants for positions in any institution and for management positions in any enterprise/corporation should undertake a test to determine psychopathic/sociopathic tendencies. These are present in four percent of the population and are disproportionately represented in these occupations. History has shown that these inhuman things happen repeatedly at all levels of governance. I want a movement to ensure that this becomes standard practice in all appointments.

    1. Again, I’d like to repeat: it is history that has done this. It is the product of institutions. Not of bad individuals.
      If we want to change it, we must change the course of history.
      If the problem in the world is, as you say, a genetic tendency to selfish behaviour, then this would play itself out equally on the bodies of all people. Not disproportionately on a particular class of people. ABoriginal people cop it due to an INSTITUTIONAL madness. Not a private one.
      We can fix this problem. We do not fix it by saying, again and again in whatever way we choose, “this is the result of a few bad people”. The policies are there to read. So is the history. Please. Take a broader view for a broader problem.

  20. If 4 Corners had broadcast similar footage from Mary, would have been sent to gaol for the mandatory 2 years. Oh that is right our Government keeps it hidden behind legislation. The end justifies the means and we continue on with our eyes averted, our conscious clear.

  21. Thank you Helen for your article. This latest example of sadistic cruelty to these aboriginal children is indeed entrenched and an outcome of our history – and is the responsibility of everyone of us who overlooks and accepts the ongoing marginalisation and assault on the rights of our indigenous people. I have already been struggling with our inhumane treatment of asylum seekers in Nauru and Manus Island. The terrible images in the Four Corners report have left me in despair. It is us, the Australian population, who can and must stop it; who must change our attitudes, our racist beliefs.

    1. I totally appreciate what you’re saying, Dee. But again, I think to individualise the matter and to say that it is personal racism that permits it gets us a little off track.
      This is a system. This is a history. This is a path that unfolds in policy and even were we to magically erase all personal racism, the institutions that are committed to uphold it would remain.
      I am not saying that the deep and personal revulsion many white Australians hold for traditional owners does not play a part. But, it’s not everything. There are very humane people, like the otherwise lovely Carmen Lawrence, who enacted policies that caused this stuff to happen. The path can be set and maintained by something bigger than people. What we need to do is change its course. Guilt is an indulgence non indigenous Australians cannot afford. There’s a big problem. We need to fix it institutionally. After that, we can have a little talk with our racist unconscious.
      But I do appreciate your sentiment.

      1. Yes the individual interpersonal issues are created by the ignorance of the system and history. And people need to understand how pain, anguish, fear, etc are carried and how they live with each and everyone of us, how they affect our behaviours and how that living pain can be passed on or inherited through generations.

  22. I wonder how long it will take for this Royal Commission to go moldy, like that which enquired into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody a quarter of a Century ago. Most of it’s findings have been ignored.

    And BTW, is there not a national cultural resonance with the cruelty being practiced, apparently embraced by the majority of us, and ignored in regard to our “Border Protection”?

  23. I read somewhere to-day that we should see the sacking of the entire NT government. Then we could sack the Brough-led NT Intervention planners & implementers – including John HOWARD – then we could do similarly to the Planners and Implementers of Christmas Island excision and what followed – to Nauru and Manus – I am referring to both Politicians and Bureaucrats – Tony Abbott & Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison & Peter Dutton included – and and then we could call in the UN to oversee the changes. And proper compensation to the children so abused – way back till whenever – and OAMs to the people who have broken ranks!

  24. not shocked by 4 corners program, as stated in this article, been happening for 225 years. the institutions that have been responsible for much of the misery inflicted goes to the abrorgation of responability to NGO’s usually religious organisations. it has had the authority of “god” from the start. Royal Comission must reach back and investigate all of that sad history. listening to the “hand wringers”is, quite frankly
    nauseating, knee jerks from Turnbull smacks of hypocrosy of the first order.

  25. Difficult kids are not restricted to to Aboriginal people, although they are over represented in the Aboriginal population. Difficult white kids go to “special schools” where the teachers are trained to deal with the acting out behaviors of abused children. Whether these special schools end up teaching the kids to be able to regulate their emotions, gain positive social skills and end up having happy lives that keep them from the justice system, I really don’t know. I know one thing however, that a load of white blokes trained in nothing much in particular and led by a government that has no basis for existence will not deal effectively with the youth of a minority that have undergone a trauma of a magnitude that surpasses the Jewish Holocaust .

    The Northern Territory is a joke. Why do a population of 240,000 get virtual statehood? Geelong, has a population similar in size, but they haven’t been granted statehood. Newcastle, is jbigger, yet somehow they don’t aspire to statehood either.

    The money that has been spent on the public buildings for the Northern territory arms of government is one of the greatest rorts on the rest of Australia that government has perpetrated, with the exception of the GST. Get rid of the Northern territory, subsume it into South Australia, and while you are at it get rid of that other silly nonsense the ACT.

    State Governments themselves are an anachronism, they are really just over blown city councils, but to perpetuate the fraud of the Northern Territory on the rest of us is why we are doing Aboriginal Groundhog day over and over again.

    These poor kids need highly trained special teachers, psychologists, opportunity and understanding not another lawyers picnic.

    The problem we have with our political system is that everything is viewed through the economic and legal prism, because our content free politicians are mostly grown from these barren fields.

    Ask any of them about Bowlby, Aisworth, Shore et al they will look at you like you came from Mars. They know nothing about childhood development, yet the pathologies of child abuse. yet they will bang on over and over about family values and how important the family is without ever understanding and really caring until the Ad break comes on

    I really do despair.

    1. You have forgotton the other mendicant state of Tasmania that has with a similar population become the source of such luminaries as Erica Betts and others who seek to assume power and influence federal politics by the undertaking the least possible effort. It should be a suburb of Melbourne.

  26. I am sad to say that whilst shocked at last night’s footage, I was not surprised. As your piece so eloquently points out – this is a historical institutionalised debasement and dehumanisation of people who have done nothing more than have the misfortune of having some white fellas show up on their land 230 odd years ago and treat them like dirt ever since.

    And I don’t have any optimism that this will change. The Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister said whilst he’d heard of the videos before last night they didn’t ‘pique [his] interest’. And he didn’t watch the show until the Prime Minister told him to. Sorry, but what the actual f*ck. If your well paid job is to be the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, surely the abuse of indigenous minors in a state run facility should ‘pique’ your interest. Or at the very least make you mildly curious that your moral compass might be a little bit borked.

    How much systemic change will occur? I hope a lot. I fear that not a lot will. The issue is already a political point scoring match. And what of the kids? Not to come over all Helen Lovejoy but there are still kids around the country in custody. There are kids who are about to enter custody. And there are people who will lose their lives in custody, before any Royal Commission swears in its first witness.

    And I had to ring the ABC this afternoon after their announcer in a very upbeat tone said ‘there’s been so much bad news today, so I’m going to have today’s show all about positive good news stories’. Indicative of how we deal with these issues isn’t it: ‘oh thats bad, enough thinking of that – here’s some stories about my favourite singing duo’.

  27. Charging the prison guards and others responsible is important – to give hope to the child victims. It says “This was wrong – these children did not deserve this.”

  28. Thank you Helen. We must beware our sense of indignation and outrage. Is it not the same sentiment that’s harnessed by the state to make this torture legal? As others have pointed out, the use of the constraining chair on minors was legislated for by the NT Parliament. We see footage of it being used and are surprised..? And why are there so many Aboriginal kids in detention? Because of mandatory minimum sentencing that again is legislated for by politicians who are elected by (outraged) people.

  29. Robb Garnett nailed it with “the Northern Territory is a joke” .. something needs to happen in the north .. development .. big cities .. east west transport infrastructure .. and population. We are stuck in a Federation time warp .. same major cities .. limited new development outside them .. There is a job to do in Australia .. we have to provide our indigenous brothers & sisters a future .. and we have to stop putting the most resourceful of assylum seekers in off-shore concentration camps .. we need population .. our domestic market is far to small .. i could rave on all day .. as for putting people in detention centres .. we need to lock up dangerous criminals .. but ? do we need to lock up kids and battlers who commit minor and non-violent property / illegal substance crimes. .. sort of harks back to the old “transportation to australia for stealing a loaf of bread”.

    1. The Northern Territory is not a joke. Alice Springs, for example, has the highest rate of tertiary educated people in the country. The problem stems, as Razer points out, from the 250 year history of institutionalised racism in this country and a deliberate turning away by the vast majority from what has been enacted against Aboriginal people. To suggest the NT is a joke is to dismiss the connection between Australia’s history and the NT’s – it is to polarise the “good” Australia and the “bad” Australia. Few stop to analyse the fact that the parts of the country we tend to demonise have the highest percentage of Aboriginal people. We act as though NSW behaves differently to Aboriginal people, or Victoria – but we don’t. We just have far less people for the institutionalised racism to become overwhelmingly apparent. This is not about the NT but about a country that allows things like this to happen, for to question our history and how it operates in the present would be to admit the vast wrongs done at settlement, the fact that this country was invaded and settled by force, the economic consequences of which are far too alarming for the robust economies of the major cities… This is a nation-wide issue, one that demands we take a good long look at ourselves – not simply reverting to type and blaming those in the far north.

  30. Just another thought.

    Remember the Bodies in the Barrel murders. Poor, hopeless people were preyed upon by a psychopath, Bunting and his camp follower Wagner Between them they brutally tortured and murdered as I remember twelve people. A young boy, Jamie V. was drawn into this web and ended up as an accomplice. He first saw Bunting as a role model, then realized he was dealing with the Hannibal Lectre of a particularly uneducated and nasty kind. He ended up telling the truth of what happened and got a twenty six year jail sentence as a reward. He was no older or wiser or more dysfunctional than any of the Aboriginal boys on the four corners program. Why did this happen? What is the root cause?

    The answers are not complex, or difficult to fix, but they require a deviation from the values and baggage of the Judeo, Christian mindset of evil v’s good, sin v’s vitue, blame v’s forgiveness, ignorance v’s knowledge. Cause and effect are far more fertile grounds to explore if we wish to achieve the bromide and cliche’ of :

    “We must NEVER let this happen again”

    The problem society has in preventing re-occurrence is that they have to educate themselves about the issues. They must set aside their cultural and religious baggage and engage rationally with the issues. This takes intellectual effort. The use of the cerebral cortex rather than that vulgar mid-brain.

    Sadly such intellectual labor is very unlikely. We have a society which is entranced by a phone app that places fictional, infantile creatures on their glowing screens at places pointed to by a rather clever, but somewhat prosaic system designed to ensure that the US military could bomb the crap our of the Russians with pin point accuracy.

    I despair even more!

  31. Might I add, that if we were to flick the NT .. and create a new territory that covered most of our arable north .. we could take the world’s dispossed and with the current funding that goes into refugees internationally; and with the labour of the aforesaid refugees, do something that we haven’t done since the Snowy Scheme. (where we gave the dispossed generation after ww2 a new start in life) .. both our Indigneous People and those who want to join us .. need a fair go … we have enormous potential .

  32. Thank you Helen for this very important piece of writing. The “few bad apples” argument holds no weight whatsoever – not in this context nor any other where there is opportunity to perpetrate cruelty. Violence against Indigenous Australians is systemic, institutionalised and as you point out, encoded by history. And that history is the present; it is not behind us. This is the way unresolved trauma works. We are a nation in the grips of PTSD – or more accurately, Complex PTSD.

  33. Thank you Helen fot seeing that this ugly story is about more than just the particular individuals, or current institutions involved. I live in Darwin, and have the ‘privilege’ of voting in an election here in 4 weeks time. One of the most confusing things to me is that Adam Giles is of aboriginal background. Guess it goes to show how entrenched and pervasive the outcomes of 250 years of colonial attitudes and reign are.

  34. I came to the Northern Territory as a mature aged teacher. It has been a great experience and broadened my experience and knowledge. I am a different person now, I have learned to share life with people in remote communities and not tell them how to live their lives. I have learned that good ordinary people work on the land and get on with their lives and try and prosper like we all want to do.
    I have learned that not everyone thinks like I do and that I can’t change the way they think.
    I have learned that Politicians and career public servants are not to be trusted and must be held to account. The only way to do that is speak up and keep speaking up until the public shame causes them to change the policy they think is right for us.
    This year is the 50th anniversary of the Walk Off led by Vincent Lingiari at Wave Hill.

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