Friday, October 26, 2007

(notes) from a visit from the Intervention Task Force

This week was my first experience with 'The Intervention', it started with a woman appearing at the door to the language centre saying quickly- after 3pm next Tuesday expect a visit from The Intervention. It seemed a little unofficial and almost clandestine, I asked her who specifically she meant and when and how long for. She replied very vaguely 'oh about 10 people, including General Chalmers'. But I was glad she came and appreciated having a little notice. After she left I realised she didn't tell me her name (I didn't even see her car!), or leave anything typed or informative with us.

Oh well. The next Tuesday we were at the school doing language classes after 3pm, when a minibus full of whitefellas showed up and we guessed it was them. Their guide ( a local man) told us they were having ameeting at 4pm and we should come along. I went back to the Language Centre to wait for their visit. Perhaps time was short because they just slowed as they drove past and continued on.

The meeting was small, about 10 Intervention (ists?) Task Force and about 12 community members. Quite a few of them whitefellas (from the Ngukurr community). From the Government there was General Dave Chalmers, Sue Gordon ( a magistrate from WA), a rep. from the Prime Minister's Office, the newly appointed Government Business Manager for Ngukurr, 2 media persons, some kind of doctor and the General's Aid (secretary type person).

Chalmers started off, saying they were there to address issues of houses/schools being overcrowded, looking into Aged Care Programs and Safe Houses for families. Initially they said this was not the result of the Little Children Are Sacred report but a repsonse to the violence and use of drugs and alcohol in Aboriginal communities ( later Sue Gordon said it WAS because of this research and that to protect children the entire community needed to be supported). They said they report directly to Mal Brough. There was no professional interpretor present and almos the whole meeting was conducted in English. General Chalmers said he worked for the Govt. not the Army but wore camoflage Army gear all the same.

Chalmers said by Christmas there would be 3 more classrooms at Ngukurr School (these had been long promised). The school has to stagger some of its classes as the overcrowding becomes more of an issue.

That 60-70 more Police would be in Remote Communities in the NT. None for Ngukurr ( we have two- this is enough they say).Two Council members asked for more Police prescence here, Chalmers said Ngukurr had been decided to have adequate Police presence.

Chalmers said that early February would bring the Health Check team, who would offer a 'general check' to children, height/ 3200 children have been checked already and over 1000 referred for follow up ( hopefully there are resources available to actually do the followups). That 100 million 'committed' (by the NT govt.? is it dependant on the election?) for health support for children. Is this more than usual? Supplementaty to what is already in place?

There will be 20 government business men for the NT, a 'face of the government' in the community. They will not be 'in control, or a CEO', they will be 'in the community all the time, addressing issues of health, housing and jobs' ( and earning 100 000p.a.).

In Ngukurr, May next year will bring the transition of CDEP to 'real jobs' 'training' and 'work for the dole' programs. The work for the dole and real jobs remained part of the discussion- we never heard about training programs again.

At this time the 'income managers' will arrive, anyone on govt. benefits will have 'at least half' of their income allocated to buying food, and that it be 'good healthy food at reasonable prices- or we will make it that way'. Centrelink will spend three weeks here 'transitioning' , interviewing everyone. DEWR will come to transition CDEP over 6 weeks, and 'please use of any leave you have before then'.


KR " community needs to come up for some ideas, incentives of their own, otherwise this is a backwards step"

SUEGORDON " this is not about controlling your lives, you have been treated not as citizens, but as 2nd class citizens as you have been up until now (no superannuation not paid properly for the work you do etc.)"..
and then something further about a 700million dollar housing committment for the NT over the next four years.

DD: "We are caring and sharing people" we take care of our community, don't tell us we dont take care of our children.
DD: We have 50 young boys down there learning discipline in Ceremony right now- do you (whitefellas) ever do that?

SN: Have any one of you here today read any of the prior research or information about this community before coming here today? Have you looked at what has worked before in the past? Are assured your policy will work into the future

Chalmers: Brough was not prepared to wait after hearing what was happening to children, he decided to act now. We are seeing too many communities and have no time to read about them. But I do see your point.

SN: What is the research that indicates that abolishing the Permit system will be useful to this cause?

Chalmers: At the moment it is just for govt. reps. so they can move easily between communities, we have acquired a five year lease of the Ngukurr community area, roads and landing area. Within 6 months we will allow any people to these communites without permit. They will be restricted to the community, not allowed into houses. This six months is to allow people to put up signs for visitors. THe reason for it ultimately is to "normalise the economy".

DCITA will hopefully offer up funding to keep on the 4 CDEP workers here (Chalmers said it may be difficult). I hope the reality of all this possible change isn't just putting everyone nto work-for-the-dole.

There was more and it went on for ages, I got to ask lots of questions and feel satisfied to hear directly from the Task Force themselves.. alot of it was Chlamers saying , "I appreciate your point of you, or I can see what you are saying, but this is the policy etc.'

I cam away from it all feeling exhausted. Though somehow relieved. It was good to talk to people about it really, even though there wasn't many community members, and nothing in some ways, was really said, it did seem that despite the policies there are some people really concerned and dedicated to making a difference this time, Sue Gordon for example and that guy from the Prime Ministers office. Even Chalmers.

After the meeting I gave them a bit of humbug about not having more information or interpreters, or any translations. I told Chalmers most people here speak Kriol. He said, 'what is that?'. I hope he knows now. It would be a pity to visit 73 Aboriginal communities and not know what Kriol was (not that it is everywhere).

I felt it was a pity that they had just come to tell us how their new policies wouldbe implemented, some one said "it is like we are being blown around, like leaves, this way and that ( by the government)'. That there will be little agency for the Aboriginal communities, very little positive decision making and planning within the community. Just more beaurocrats coming to 'implement' some policies, I hope at least that they improve some issues.

As usual the visiting government mob flew out as the sun set, not beofre they had been thanked for coming by Council members, and the Task Force thanked everyone for speaking up andmaking it a 'lively' discussion..

Friday, October 19, 2007

Mrs Kumunjayi Joshua (née Foster) Obituary

Australian Aboriginal Studies 2007/1:p211-213
Mrs Kumunjayi Joshua
(née Foster)
On 6 July 2006 we saw the passing of
Mrs Kumunjayi Joshua (née Foster), a
Warumungu woman who had a wideranging
impact on linguistics and applied
linguistics for Aboriginal languages in the
Northern Territory, in a career spanning 30

She was born 17 June 1951 at the Freweena
Roadhouse, Rockhampton Downs,
in the Northern Territory, and grew up at
Warrabri (now Alekarenge (Ali Curung)).
Her father was known as Snowy Jampijimpa
Foster, and his family’s traditional country
is around the Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles)
area. Her mother, Ivy Tuala Napangardi
(or Tualla Nalli) Foster was related to
Warlpiri, Warlmanpa and Warumungu.
Mrs Kumunjayi Joshua’s dreaming was
Aakiy ‘bush-plum’, and her skin name was
Nangali (Warumungu), Nangala (Warlpiri)
or Apwerle (Kaytetye).

Mrs Kumunjayi Joshua (also known
as Nangala), spoke many languages: she
learnt her parents’ language Warumungu,
her father’s language Kaytetye, and her
mother’s language Warlmanpa as well as
Warlpiri; she also learnt English at the
Rockhampton Station (Northern Territory).

She met her future husband when they
were fellow students at Batchelor College,
and they moved to his country at Ngukurr,
while continuing to visit her own relations
in the Tennant Creek area. In Ngukurr,
Nangala learnt to speak Kriol and some of
her husband’s mother’s language, Marra.

Mrs Kumunjayi Joshua could communicate
with people from all walks of life
and challenged many cultural barriers
to complete a degree in teaching, and she
continued to teach all of her life.

Nangala earned a Bachelor of Education degree
in 1987 from Deakin University in the
‘D-BATE’ (Deakin-Batchelor Aboriginal
Education) program jointly with the then
Batchelor College. Along with Mandawuy
Yunupingu, she was among the first native
speakers of an Aboriginal language to do
so. When she graduated it was a source of
great pride and joy to her family, especially
her mother.

Her achievement was recognised. In
1987 she was named NAIDOC Aboriginal
Scholar of the year. In 1995 she was awarded
a Graduate Certificate in Education
(Hearing Impairment) from Batchelor
College; she also earned an Associate
Diploma in Applied Linguistics. Later
Nangala began working towards a Masters
degree and a Diploma in interpreting.

She was a brilliant teacher. Jane Simpson recalls
how in 1995 Nangala rescued a CALL
Warumungu language class by running
demonstration lessons, showing how to get
children interested, and drawing diagrams
labelled in Warumungu to explain her
approach. As a further tribute to her unfailing
commitment and enthusiasm, in 2005
she was chosen as leader for the Indigenous
Women’s Development Program for the
Office of Indigenous Policy.

Mrs Kumunjayi Joshua was a linguist in
both senses of the word. She was a NAATI accredited
Warumungu/English and Kriol/
English interpreter, and believed in the
importance of understanding and identifying
cultural differences and prejudices
and exposing them as the underpinnings
of miscommunication between the ‘Anglo’
Australian community and the Indigenous
Australian population. Due to her in-depth
knowledge of English, her interpretations
were descriptive and complex and she
stayed true to the speaker’s individual way
of communicating.

Her exceptional accomplishments
and determination, as well as
humility, made her an inspiration to both

Nangala was also a language analyst and
had an obvious love of academic linguistics-
you could find her writing verb paradigms
in Warumungu or plant names
in Marra, explaining demonstratives or
speech act verbs in Kriol, or getting excited
about the concept of polysemy; why
should ‘beetle’, ‘charcoal’ and the ‘pupil
of an eye’ share a form in Warumungu,
she wondered. Her younger sister, Barbara
Foster, recalls collecting big old tins of
spaghetti and corn beef with Nangala when
they were children. They would take them
back to camp and Nangala would sit down
with people, including her grandparents,
under a shady tree and she would say ‘sound
these letters out’ they would sound them
out and Nangala would teach them how to
say it properly. She would also sit around the camp fire with the old people and spell
words out on the ground, they would then
sound out the words together until they got
the pronunciation right. She was a born
linguist, teacher and storyteller.

Nangala bridged the gap between the
Indigenous people of Australia and the
mainstream ‘Anglo’ world. She did this in
practical ways, by translating documents
related to health and the law into languages
that Indigenous Australians could access
more comfortably, and by dusting off the
Ngukurr Language Centre, both figuratively
and literally. Under her supervision from
2004 and driven by her vision and determination
the Ngukurr Language Centre has
flourished against many odds.

Mrs Kumunjayi Joshua maintained
strong commitment both to her adopted
community of Ngukurr, and to the
communities where she came from. For
example, she read and checked her family’s
genealogy for the Warumungu Land Claim
(1993) and worked closely with the Central
Land Council. She returned to Karlu Karlu
(Devils Marbles) often for meetings. Her
last visit was in 2005; she was not well, but
spent two weeks there with her families
talking about the old times, hunting, bush
foods and medicines. She translated everything
that was said by her families speaking
in four different languages: Warumungu,
Warlpiri, Kaytetye and Alyawarr. Every
night she and the other women stayed up
late and sang the songs for the country.

Nangala was also an artist and craftswoman
of high calibre, and spent many
years painting for the Ngukurr Arts
centre, incorporating traditional dot painting
designs from central Australia with
contemporary colours and themes.

Mrs Kumunjayi Joshua will be sadly
missed, but her legacy is a strong one. She
inspired many people to learn — as well as
to teach. Her memory acts to remind us to
strive to overcome the challenges and prejudices
inherent in cross-cultural communication,
to live and work together in
harmony with mutual respect. She taught
— by example — to tirelessly support
endangered languages, and the rights and
voices of their speakers. She was brilliant,
diplomatic, kind and graceful.

Her untimely passing is a great loss not only to those
of us who were her friends and colleagues
but also to the linguistic community of
Australia. We have lost a talented, generous
and enthusiastic colleague, whose love for
languages was extraordinary.

This obituary was collated with the
assistance of Greg Dickson, Barbara
Nangala Foster; John Joshua, Francine
McCarthy, David Nash, Jane Simpson
and Kim Webeck.

S. Nicholls, Visiting Fulbright Scholar,
University of California, Santa Barbara, doctoral
candidate, School of Languages, Cultures
and Linguistics, University of New England,

(Reproduced here with the kind permission of AAS)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ngukurr again (letter to friends and family)


These last couple of weeks we have been up in the NT, in Ngukurr. We
flew from Adelaide to Alice Springs and then drove one long hot day
all the way to Ngukurr, about 1200kms right though the belly of
Australia, and then took a right -and here we are nearly at the coast.

It has been really hot the last week or so, probably up around 40
degrees everyday, and humid in a way that you can feel your energy
soaking away, every movement breaks a sweat, a great thrumming
sauna... it makes you appreciate airconditioning and iced coffee like
never before.

It is great to be back in Ngukurr, to see people again. We went to the
cemetary and I saw the resting place of a very good friend, as well as
some other people I knew well. It was hard, standing in the hot red
sand, little plastic flowers sticking out of a mound of earth, a
couple of small children playing in the dust, drinking soda from a
can. It was hard because for nearly a year I had imagined reaching
this place and then believing that she was really gone, not just away
visiting or at home sick- there buried under that earth. But somehow I
stil couldnt... maybe it is best not to imagine someone you love's
body buried beneath all that earth.

It surprises me how hard it is to really believe in death even through
experience. I cried a bit to myself and the hot wind and red dust
blew my tears away. We picked up the children playing in the ground
and waved good bye to everyone resting at the ceremony in a cheery
kind of way and went back around in all our little circles of life.

It is hard because she was such a
central part both of our lives here at the language centre, but also
the heart and feeling of what was important.
On our way up to Ngukurr we drove past the Devil's Marbles, big round
red rocks that sit in the desert, this old woman was a Traditional
Owner of this part of Australia-
Maybe it feels the lack too,
Maybe it misses her too.

With a team of many we are teaching at the local school, 5 different
languages, we create one unit and then do it for a whole term- the
kids really seem to be learning, and certainly the community language
teachers are learning more too, about their languages- computers-
spelling- you name it.

There is an ethnobotanist ( someone who studies how different cultures
taxonomise plants and animals) coming to visit next week, we have been
working hard to get all the information together - what we have on the
languages of the region- most of it is archived,as there are very few
speakers left of these languages- when you see the volume of knowledge
in the languages you feel sad that they are not spoken any more.

A few days ago some big trucks roared in- dug up the road, and then
left. So now we have a huge mound of red earth and rocks for a road( I
am assuming they will replace it at some point!), in the evenings,
like now, it draws all the little kids out ( tens of them) to play,
they bring strollers and other small toys and bikes and spend hours
lost in games. I like listening to them, and feel pleased this
inconvenience to some is of great fun to others.

The other day a huge lightning storm gathering, red dust and the sun
setting made the sky look surreal,and great gusts of wind tore across
the community shaking the trees- loud thunder broke and then everyone
stepped outin wonder, hands outstretched as rain fell, lovely and cool
and fresh breaking the heat, and opening the heart.

It has been a bit cooler since then.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ngukurr October 2007

We arrrived in Ngukurr about two weeks ago. So much has happened since then, its hard to know where to start. It is really lovely to be back. I surprised myself by feeling much more relaxed this time around. Having Eyal with me is great ( especially since he enjoys it here), and the language centre is thriving.

The entire community looks well actually, things look a little cleaner and greener, there are no petrol sniffers around, and these last weeks ceremony has been going strong here.

Every morning three, sometimes four language workers come to language centre, create resources for teaching at the school , look things up in the dictionary, or ring around for words or spellings, sit around making tea and laugh a lot. It is much easier to feel satisfied that I am doing a good job, and I don't feel responsible for the running of the language centre. Sometimes much the opposite, the workers here take it on themselves to take me to the school and introduce me to the teachers, drive around and pick up other people for work, and generally take pride in creating and organising many parts of the language centre- good onya Wamut, and good onya all the language centre mob! Its great to be here.

More soon! I had to start somewhere....