Saturday, September 22, 2007

"Food cards doled out in the NT"

I just saw this article on Message Stick (on the ABC website), and I feel a bit sickened by it. Not that I haven't seen plenty of little kids looking like they could do with some more fresh food, or even adults, drunk on the streets of Katherine trying to scrape together to by something to eat (or maybe drink). The thing is that you know, even if you don't think about it, that they (Centrelink) are giving out these cards only to Aboriginal people. Doesn't that ring a little strange?

Doesn't the word paternalism (in its very worse sense...) loom ominously on the horizon- even a sense of sub-citizen status, people who are having their income spent for them- their right to choose whisked away on the back of an electoral stunt.

Why is this 'food card' issue so quiet?! Where are all the clamouring warning bells? The riots- the protesters and incensed left wing professionals? Something is seriously wrong here, and stepping back in time to methods of disempowering people as a way to 'help' them unfortunately has become the latest flavour of the month.


It reminds me of first year engineering where you are taught about 'closed systems' and learning to consider all of the influencing factors on that closed system and calculate what kind of actions would have what kinds of results. I think in science this can be very helpful, but applying this kind of methodology in human society seems simplistic and reactionary. I feel like someone has just thought: 'ok the problem is: some Aboriginal people in some communities are spending their money on things other than food- to the detriment of themselves or dependents'.

In a closed system perhaps the solution is: to restrict what these people can spend their money on, and encourage buying of food in this way. The problem is, people and human societies are not 'closed systems', they have an infinite variability of inputs, and ways of interpreting as well as spontaneous creativity. I suppose to put it bluntly- they are people- not 'systems' or equations that you can solve with a simple answer.

Someone, at some point (I'm sorry to say this to you John Howard), is going to have to go to talk with Aboriginal people in communities and say- 'whats up?', they are going to have to get deep down and dirty with trauma, death, and the scariest of all: difference. And learn about what kind of solutions might work in with different people in different places. Someone, at some point is going to have to listen.

And for that they will need an interpreter(!).

Friday, September 21, 2007

Post VSU

So now that voluntary student unionism has come into play ( it used to be mandatory to pay to join the student union), the student union and its services have diminished considerably. At least here at UNE, there is no longer a discounted student dentist available, and after talking with the VC it sounds like it is very hard to get any student groups motivated to 'do' things and create university spirit anymore.

But even worse- the state of the food at UNE is pathetic. There are two places to buy food, open only until about 2pm, one is an expensive sit down and eat kind of restaurant ( about 12-15$ a meal), the other is a small cafeteria with boxed and packaged foods- sandwiches and drinks, on average you would spend 10$ on some food and a drink for lunch. It used to be open all day and it used to give discounts to students...

There also used to be a grand long table with different kinds of salads hot foods, fruits and pies, a full bar and a bustling lunchtime trade where you could spend as much or as little as you wanted. When I asked about it on my return to UNE, the guy said- 'oh that hasn't been around for ages'...

Bobala (sp!) me I have to go home at five pm or I die of hunger! Where is the all night coffee and sandwiches?!

Ironically the health and fitness centre at the uni was given a grant to support it through the hard times and is building a huge extension!

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Someone pointed out to me once that blogs were a difficult media in that you never knew if the information written in them can be verified. I thought about this for a while and then realised I only really read blogs of people I know. So if I am really concerned about the legitimacy of what people are writing I can either personally ask them or leave a comment.

This is the good thing about blogs, in this sense they are only as 'true' as you wish them to be. I tend to trust the things my friends say more than journalists ( which surprises me!). For example a friend of mine I met travelling many years ago in Laos, has just started a blog about his life going to university in Beijing. He is an American citizen, but I believe he has Chinese heritage. The interesting thing is I find myself much more interested in what he says and much less cynical than if I were reading a news report. Maybe because he has no agenda to sell papers or bag out Chinese political stance. For example he writes about the internet restrictions ( for example blogger and wikipedia) that Chinese people endure, I was shocked. I think I might have read it somewhere before- but I never realised it was true, if you know what I mean.

It made me re-realise something I thought a lot about when I was an exchange student in Costa Rica (age 15, year 10 at high school), which is that people really relate to and believe what people say when the people that are talking are 'like them'. After a year in Costa Rica I felt much more at home in Costa Rica than I would in any other foreign country and even considered going to university there. The reason I like and believe the things my friends write on their blogs is because in some sense I feel sure that they are like me ( or me like them) and we are trying to understand the same things, have the same values and can easily communicate.

This wasn't the case when I first started school in Costa Rica, I was at a public school with 1200 students, none of whom spoke English (even the English teacher), very few had any real sense that Australia was a place somewhere. I felt very distanced and lonely. But this is ideal motivation to learn to speak another language and culture and after a while I did.

Afterwards, in what now feels a little naive, I always wished that those leaders that started wars, had been to high school for a year in the country they were invading/bombing/occupying. Then they would feel very strange, because they would know if they just spent a bit of time with any of the people in that country they would know how to communicate well and feel some solidarity with the population. The negative aspects of 'us' and 'them' largely dissolve when you get comfortable communicating linguistically and culturally.

I must admit this is one of the things that impresses me most about Kevin Rudd, I know at least that he has some sense that behind every 'other' (Chinese/Iraqi/French/Russian persons) is a human he could communicate with if he learnt how, because he went to the trouble to learn Mandarin well.

So are bi-lingual people more tolerant to other cultures and languages? Can they cope with socially difficult situations more comfortably? And I know at least some of you have also been on exchange also- what do you keep with you from that year, how does it influence your career and work?

What do ya think bloggers.....?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Kul- Nyus in creole

I was just browsing the ABC online news and came across this. Which is ABC Radio Australia in Tok Pisin, a creole language from Papua New Guinea. When you hold your mouse over the headings they have English translation. So the Fran Pes is the 'Tok Pisin Home Page', and the Nius Blong Nau, I am guessing is the 'breaking news'. It gives me a heady feeling of excitement to see something so official and professional and important in a creole language- and so close to Australia- in fact supported by our own ABC.

Ngukurr again...

In a few weeks, after our rather short repose here in Armidale, Eyal and I will pack up again and head for Ngukurr via Adelaide and Alice Springs. I have the usual feelings about going, which is the a kind of vague anxiety about it not working out or doing something wrong or noone remembering me etc. mixed with excitement at being back and seeing everyone again, and bringing Eyal with me.

This time it is coupled with the worrying reports of what is happening in Ngukurr as a result of the government's latest fiasco. I am reading a book at the moment called Carpentaria by Alexis Wright (winner of the Miles Franklin Award), which is a beautiful novel and worth a look at, especially if you have or ever will spend some time up around the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Today I received a copy of the Olgaman, NJ's obituary in the Australia Aboriginal Studies Journal. It has been just over a year since she passed away.