Shifting Fortunes: Mount Nancy

21 Jun 2012

The BasicsCard is very discriminating, it’s very shameful when going shopping. You have to scan items to make sure you have enough on your card to pay for food or other essential items. And the attitude of other customers in the shops as well as the shop assistants is very terrible, it is like they don’t even want to look at you or serve you when you have a BasicsCard.

My name is Barbara Shaw and I’m a descendant of the Kaytetye, Arrernte, Warlpiri and Warumungu people. I live at Mount Nancy Town Camp, now a prescribed area since 2007 under the Northern Territory Emergency Response (the NTER or the Intervention).

On Tuesday 19 June 2007 I remember watching Noel Pearson talk about welfare reform and land tenure on The 7:30 Report. The following Thursday evening I was in my living room with my mother, father, brother, sister-in-law, my four daughters as well as my former partner, and watched John Howard and Mal Brough announce the Northern Territory Emergency Response. My heart dropped to my gut, and I just thought how hard it would be for people to understand the legislation, how confused they would all be, especially for people such as my grandfather who can’t read or write very well, also my grandmother who is probably eighty-five or more. How would they understand this Intervention and its impact and how their communities would be affected?

Since 2007 things have actually gotten worse.

We still have the urban drift from prescribed areas to the major town centres. I have family ties to many prescribed areas. Families come to town from the bush for various reasons such as education, training and employment, health, to take part and enjoy annual events such as Bush Bands, the Show, and football; for meetings; to visit family members in hospital, at school and in prison; and to shop, because the food in the stores in remote communities is so expensive.

It’s worsened because I see the effects on people who live out bush, where alcohol is not around them every day, and once they get into town they get on the grog, get on the drugs, go street walking, get caught up with the crime. I see the urban drift and people coming in off their homelands or off their communities because there’s nothing really out there for them, they’re more disadvantaged than they were before. So now we’ve got a lot of non-Aboriginal people living in the major centres that complain about the influx of Aboriginal people.

When it comes to autonomy and decision making roles in the communities, also in 2008 all Indigenous community councils were abolished and amalgamated into the nine super shires in the Northern Territory. People were very angry and frustrated about the shire council and Intervention. Today people are still angry, and they’re more frustrated because the Intervention and the shire councils have promised so much to Aboriginal people, but those promises haven’t been delivered.

The lack of autonomy and decision making powers within the Mt Nancy Housing Association is slowly worsening. As a resident here I am starting to notice that we don’t have as much decision making role any more or the autonomy as a housing association.

Me as a town camper, I have a BasicsCard, yet I found that Centrepay (a voluntary income management scheme offered by Centrelink and run by the Tangentyere Council) was a more effective and efficient way to help pay bills and it was more convenient. When I paid bills through Centrepay I didn’t feel the shame that I do now being on income management. The BasicsCard is very discriminating, it’s very shameful when going shopping. You have to scan items to make sure you have enough on your card to pay for food or other essential items. And the attitude of other customers in the shops as well as the shop assistants is very terrible, it is like they don’t even want to look at you or serve you when you have a BasicsCard.

People want to do things, but there’s a lack of financial resources in the bush, a lack of economic development. We ask why it is that Aboriginal people are the most researched people in Australia and they can’t even fix our problems. Yet Aboriginal people have got their own solutions for their problems but we’re not being listened to. We wonder why is it that we’ve got government agencies running services and programs in prescribed areas. Our own organisations should be delivering the services that we need. We have qualified people in our communities but we are trained over and over again instead of being employed.

We keep wondering why it is that we aren’t allowed to think for ourselves and why the Intervention laws were brought in. Kevin Rudd when he got into power admitted at a COAG meeting in Darwin that there’s no paedophile rings or rivers of grog flowing into prescribed areas. Australia can get criticized in the international arena and then stand by their policies. Why they don’t feel shame?

We have a Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody report with recommendations, and yet still today we have people dying in custody. The government said sorry to the Stolen Generations, but kids are still being removed under the Intervention laws because of suspicion. And when Aboriginal people get caught up in the system and the BasicsCard doesn’t work or income management fails, how do we provide for our families then? I wonder why am I, as a single mother of two girls, demonised and stereotyped as a person who can’t even provide for her children.

We ask why CDEP (the Community Development Employment Program) is being scrapped and everyone put in the unemployment line. On the other hand, we are promised jobs, yet the jobs go to people from interstate. We’ve got non-Aboriginal people running services in the bush and in our town camps, and they don’t have a clue about our traditional culture. There is all the trouble out at Yuendumu and they’re not allowed to sort it out cultural way. There’s more drinking now than there was before the Intervention.

I feel angry and frustrated. I feel sad about what’s happened. I talk to family from different prescribed areas. They’re not going to get anything to improve their lives.
The government has deemed smaller communities such as Tara unviable and is financially starving them out of existence. That isn’t going to help people.

Policies are being made in Canberra and Darwin, but they don’t even live in the areas we live in. I’ve had enough, and that’s why I want to make a difference. People have got their own solutions for their problems that they face on a daily basis, but they’re actually being ignored. They were ignored through the NTER Review, they were ignored at the consultations. We don’t know what more we can do. We’ve talked over and over until we’re black and blue in the face.

Nothing will change until every community stands up and says we don’t want any part of your federal government or the Intervention, or NT government officials coming into our communities. Democracy’s not working here.

What we have to do is look at how we’re going to survive in the future, as Aboriginal people, and as people who want to have their own autonomy and decision making powers within their organisations, in their town camps and in their communities.

In order to try and make a difference, and be a voice of the people, in 2010 I ran as an Australian Greens candidate for the federal seat of Lingiari. Someone had once advised me, if I wanted to make a difference on the inside I actually need to get on the inside. It is the only way to keep the bastards honest (as they say) and holding them accountable for all their actions. That’s what I’d like to see, and that’s what people want.

I am still here fighting and I won’t stop until our rights are recognised under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, implemented through policies in regards to Indigenous affairs.

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