The above poster - seen in a few places around the Northern Territory - sums up well the massive cultural difference between life here in the Territory and inner Sydney where education is a god.
'Out in the park some black people sprawl and share their money on flagons ,
There's s so much here to be understood,
before coming out here like Robin Hood,
And the do gooders do more harm than good,
with out really knowing the Isa.'
John Williamson singing about Mount Isa but he could be cautioning me about the observations I am about to make about life in the Northern Territory.
I don't really know the Territory but here are a few early observations.
1 Employment and Purpose. It has been enormously disturbing to see so few indigenous people in real gainful employment. And even fewer men. Unemployment is a massive problem. Someone was telling me that there are now families up to their third generation of complete unemployment. Grandfather, father and son have not had jobs and have only lived on government handouts.
Of the employed people I met: there was Jimmy Hooker, who was a tourist attraction at Tennant Creek, Russell who was our tour guide on the Katherine River. A woman who efficiently worked the office at Uluru and another lady who made a complete hash of attempting to process our entry to the museum at Tenant Creek.
Add to that the eight or so women who were working at the Pink Palace, producing native style art in Tennant Creek.
But, when you count this against the number of people we have seen hanging around on street corners with nothing to do. It is truly alarming.
And particularly alarming that the men are so directionless.
One man said to me (and this is a crude generalisation) that he thought the women have a role - the role of wife, mother and sometimes artist. But the men have lost their purpose. And so just hang around directionless, dependent, waiting for the government handout.
Our social policies have led to a culture of complete dependence.
It was such a delight to speak to our Katherine River tour guide yesterday (see my seperate note on Russell). In this system he seems to be a success story. He is mid twenties. Left school towards the end of year ten. Didn't like his casual job so went back for year eleven then left school.
2 Alchoholism is a massive problem. I have not seen so much consistent daily widespread consumption of alcohol before. The pubs and bottle shops open at midday. And so yesterday at 11:15am on the steps at the Bottle Shop at Katherine we saw 16 aboriginal people, sitting four to a step, four steps deep, waiting for the bottle shop to open.
I've only bought alcohol once in the territory. I had to have my driver's license scanned in. It was explained to me that there is a 24 hour limit on how much alcohol one person can consume.
The security guard at the shop was critical of what he saw as a paternalistic policy. I think one would need the wisdom of Solomon to work out how to handle these issues best.
3 Town Camps. There is a system of 'town camps.' There are for example in Alice about 20 of these camps. Each have about ten houses. They are aboriginal only settlements. Liquor and Pornography are banned. Whites are not allowed in. Large amounts of money have been spent on these camps. The different camps are places for the various tribal groups to stay when they have business visiting Alice Springs. They are apparently quite separate from one another.
The one aboriginal lady I spoke to who lived there thought that it was better having the 'town camps' than having an integrated system where aborigines were provided with houses in regular anglo dominated streets. She said there would be too many complaints to the police about people hanging around chatting, drinking and singing on the front verandah late at night.
But these town camps all look squalid. I suspect they look worse than they are. From our perspective and priorities they look very bad. I was not able to detect a sense of each family caring about the rubbish in their own yards for example.
4 Kids. Visiting one camp out of Alice I saw a naked ten year old boy just hanging around. My companion asked me later 'Did I notice that the boy was eating a raw chicken leg.' Contrast this with the petrol station at Mataranka where I chatted briefly with three aboriginal kids from a tiny school 200 kilometers south of there, who had been with a teacher visiting a trades expo at Katherine for the day.
5. Dependency. The mining leases paid out to the traditional owners mean that there are some who don't have to work. They get lots of money. Have lots of time. And hang around doing nothing, causing resentment amongst those who are aboriginal but perhaps not from the tribe that gets the mining money. There are some also, who get a payment every time someone takes an official photo of Uluru apparently.
6. Violence. The minister at the Alice Springs Lutheran Church David has been there a year. His first three funerals were murders. One a member of the church. They have a violent stabbing in their church community roughly once a week. And it's likely that the Christian community will be significantly better off in this regard than the wider indigenous population.