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Understanding Indigenous Health

Rollo Manning
A Special Report on Indigenous Health from Northern Australia

Issue 72: June 2008
Page: 1 of 1 Author's Profile | Send to a Friend | Printer Version
Editor's Note: Currently there is a greater focus in repect of Indigenous health.
And about time, some would say.
Only very small pockets of the pharmacy profession have attempted to come to terms with this major problem, and they genuinely need your management assistance.
Rollo Manning could well be regarded as the pharmacy expert in indigenous health, and he vigorously defends the rights of indigenous people to enjoy good health - just like the rest of the Australian community. Rollo's sympathetic insights reflect his long association with, and understanding of, the issues surrounding indigenous health.


June 2008 edition of i2P e-zine

Text Box:

You never stop learning

A personal journey with I2P correspondent Rollo Manning

In the world of work with Aboriginal people one never stops learning.

Today we have a dispute between a Prime Minister and a former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs who thinks he should have been appointed to a National Policy Commission to develop innovative proposals to improve the provision of housing in remote Indigenous communities. The former Howard Government Minister, Mr. Mal Brough, believes his experience can contribute to the work of the Commission. To many people this is true because they applaud the intervention into Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. But to many others, and no doubt the majority, the intervention was a cynical political exercise intended to win votes for Howard et al in the November 2007 Federal Election. The result – out with Howard and Brough and the entire Liberal-NCP Government.Text Box:

Mal Brough’s knowledge comes from nothing but “seagull” visits to a large number of communities and conclusions reached after sitting on the ground for the cameras apparently in deep discussion with community elders. His understanding and statements would have been formed after talking to advisers who form their opinions from similar exercises with Canberra bureaucrats renowned for flying in and out of communities for two hour visits and leaving to solve the problems of that world.


Text Box:  This is not the way to understand the Aboriginal “problem.” There are too many people in powerful positions influencing decisions on Aboriginal disadvantage with paper thin knowledge of the needs compared to white people who have spent years living among Aboriginal people and far have better deserve a seat on the PMs Commission for Aboriginal housing.

Something must be done to bridge the gap between the aspirations of the politicians and the effective delivery of resources to the people who need them most. This was the subject of recent comment in the National daily, The Australian newspaper.

When I think back to 1998 when I moved back to Darwin after 10 months in the Katherine region following my first exposure to remote Aboriginal life I thought I knew a lot – but now looking back I knew very little.

A colleague said to me before I started with the Tiwi Health Board – “you only start to understand Aboriginal people when you live with them” – a true anthropological approach and so much the truth.

Certainly today after over ten years of close contact and work with these ancient Australians I am still learning and marvel at the broad scope of subjects we take for granted and yet for my Aboriginal friends they have not embraced and even started to appreciate as a possibility.

Text Box:  Kids going to school – something we dream about before the child is born when we wonder whether we should book them into a school for five to six years hence or maybe just for secondary school. From the day the child is born we start teaching it and read to it and help it learn to count. For the Aboriginal child the parent may not be able to read, write or count let alone pass this knowledge on to the child. We have activities like little athletics on a Saturday morning where someone has to write down the names of the participants, count how many are in a race and then time the speed of the run. All educational in value and bringing parents together to be proud of their children and share the joy of parenthood with others. And yet on Saturday mornings in an Aboriginal community there is rarely anyone on the football field with it just waiting for the grown-ups later in the day for their single grade competition. There is not even a competition for the younger kids although they just love practicing their kicking and marking and pretend to be playing a game.

The value and place of money in our society is understood and we probably had our first money box before we started school and knew that it was to be saved, spared and spun out for as long a time as possible. Unlike the Aboriginal person who may not have seen money until they were 10 years old if born around 1960 and lived in a remote location. The view is to spend it as quick as you can before someone else gets it and if that means buying grog and ganja to not have any for food “tomorrow” then so be it. Someone will give us food.

It is necessary to develop an understanding of the people before you can make any significant contribution to improving the lot of remote living Aboriginal people.

For too long we have tried to make them like us but that will never happen. They are not like us, do not want to be us, and must passionately retain their strong and rich cultural values if they are to succeed in a modern developed world. Aboriginal people must be allowed to develop their own program of assimilation if that is what they want and to get there at their speed – not hurried because of some political aspiration of a person struck with a passion for their own ego.

A correspondent to the Sydney Morning Herald said in a letter this week:-

Text Box:  As a resident of the Tiwi Islands for the past 3½ years, I have been deeply saddened by the path that Brough and his supporters on the Tiwi Land Council are pushing Tiwi people onto. Brough often speaks about "what indigenous people want" and claims that they ask for the things that he puts forward. But how is he to know what Tiwi people want? In my time on the islands I have never heard a Tiwi person express a desire to own a house. Yes, they want better housing - they don't want to share a house with 15 other people. But does this mean they want to do away with communal ownership of land (which is central to their culture) as Brough suggests? Of course not.” (Rollo’s emphasis).

And Chris Graham, Editor of the National Indigenous Times had this to say:
“…the problem is Aboriginal Australia doesn't need another showman, it needs solutions. Brough doesn't have any now, and he didn't have any in office. …. Brough may be fun to watch and he may make for great sound bites…. But he's all sizzle, no sausage. Hold your ground Kevin Rudd.”

 The National Director of ANTaR, Gary Highland said:
“…during his time as Minister, Mal Brough failed to act in a bipartisan way and alienated many Aboriginal people by his heavy handed tactics.  He's therefore unsuitable for a bipartisan commission of this kind."

Next time you see or hear Mal Brough just remember- you have to live with them before you can understand them and commit yourself to pay a visit, stay awhile and then put your dreams for them into action.

In the words of Robert F Kennedy:
There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.

Remote living Aboriginals need some dreams. The dreams they had have been destroyed by Governments with a passion to have them be like us. It will not happen – they are people too – and they do have a conscience, a love for their children and a desire to move ahead. What we have to do is facilitate their dreams so success can come and by example the children will at last see a reason to want to go to school.

29th May 2008

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