Archive for John Tomlinson

Aboriginal assimilation: the Hub of the matter

Posted in OPINION with tags , , , , , on 31/05/2009 by D

Since anthropologist Donald Thompson visited Arnhemland in the
late 1930s and early 1940s missionaries and governments have not
been able to keep from interfering in the lives of Aboriginal
people in the Northern Territory. Perhaps the worst form of
intervention has been the forcing of Aboriginal clans to assemble
at one point for the convenience of white administrators. This in
the past led and continues to lead to internecine disputes
between rival clan and language groups.

At one level the suggestion is that white “saviours” intervene in
the lives of Aboriginal people to “protect” them from the ravages
of other whites. But it can’t have escaped the notice of such
“saviours” that removing Aboriginal people from their traditional
lands opens the way for other whites to lay claim to recently
vacated Aboriginal land.

When it comes to testing the bona fides of such “saviours” one
only has to look at the record of police and other protectors in
Queensland who, according to historian Dr Ros Kidd, stole the
present day equivalent of $500 million from their Aboriginal

Assimilation has been forced on Aboriginal people throughout
Australia, including the Northern Territory. The process is
allegedly employed to assist Indigenous people to accommodate to
the demands of White Australians and thereby ready themselves for
life in the mainstream. Even at its most benign level,
assimilation separates the Aboriginal person from their culture,
kin and belief systems – that is, assimilation separates
Aborigines from their Aboriginality and hence any specific claim
to separate treatment on account of their prior ownership of this
country. This further privileges the white power holders. No
serious commentator has ever suggested that the place Aboriginal
people were offered was mainstream.

The Howard government, led by then Minister Amanda Vanstone,
started the latest attack on the outstation movement by claiming
that any community of less than 1,000 people was not viable and
would be amalgamated with other communities or abolished. The NT
Labor Government then did not support such a frontal attack on
Aboriginal sovereignty. Now that the Rudd Government has handed
control of such matters to the Northern Territory Government, and
grossly underfunded the program, it has wedged the NT Henderson
Labor Government to set up a process of 20 hub communities which
will be funded to provide schools, hospitals and other services.
In their crazy white minds, this will justify denuding even the
larger of the outstations of resources such as schools.

All this comes on top of the Brough/Macklin Intervention into
Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory which
necessitated the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act so
as to force Indigenous people to comply with the quarantining of
half their Centrelink money. United Nations Committees have
condemned such action as racist.

Macklin will now be able to insist that parents who wish to
receive Centrelink payments must enrol their children in school,
even if there is no school in their community. Parents will have
to shift to hub communities or forego welfare payments that all
the nice white people in towns and cities all over the rest of
Australia get without such requirements. Alternatively, it will
involve sending their children away to school in hub communities,
leading to a new round of stolen generations.

The Rudd Government is in the process of destroying the Community
Development Employment Program (CDEP) before establishing an
employment program to replace it. The CDEP, first introduced by
the Fraser Liberal Government on the advice of Nugget Coombs, has
managed to employ 30,000 and to provide necessary community
services to hundreds of communities in the Northern Territory and
elsewhere in regional Australia. These services will not now be
provided in the Northern Territory outside the hub townships.
This will further increase pressure on Aboriginal people in
remote communities to drift into hub communities.

Much of the important cultural artifacts, the production of which
the CDEP has encouraged in recent years, has occurred on remote
outstations. Much of the Aboriginal spiritual revival has
occurred on these outstations. The health profile of people on
remote homelands is generally better than those living in larger
communities. This is not a mysterious phenomenon; it is because
people are more at one with their Aboriginal identity and more
bush tucker is consumed in such communities (Anthony 2009).

Perhaps it would not matter so much that people from remote
communities were pushed by economic factors to come into town if
there was any hope that the hub communities could accommodate
their needs. The absence of any proper plan to prepare for
transmigration is the real betrayal in the NT Government’s plan
to push Aboriginal people into these 20 hub communities. Vacant
houses are not available in the hub communities for the
new-comers to move into. There are no jobs awaiting the
newcomers. Community services and schools are already

Just in case anyone is foolish enough to think that hub
communities are a brand new idea then it is time to think again.
Wadeye, formally the Catholic Mission 400km southwest of Darwin,
is typical of hub communities. It is a town of 2,500 people and
has been the site of constant upheaval for the last decade. As
Mark Whittaker wrote in November 2007, youth gangs “are based
loosely on ancient divisions between the town’s twenty clans and
seven language groups, but also interwoven by marriage to make
them more complicated. They had kept the town in a perpetual
state of hostility as historic rivalries turned to modern

The whites in Darwin, Katherine, Tennant Creek, Nhulunbuy and
Alice have amply demonstrated their racist intolerance of iterant
Aboriginal families in their towns. Forcing people into hub
communities where life is going to offer them very little will
lead to many drifting to the white enclaves of the Territory
frontier and in turn to increased criminalisation and social
dislocation. Criminalisation and social dislocation combine and
eventually lead to premature death of those subjected to these
twin processes.

If younger families with children are forced by Macklin’s racist
intervention to move into overcrowded houses in hub communities
and young able-bodied people shift there in search of work, the
old and people with disabling conditions will be left to fend for
themselves on outstations without the kin support to make life
tolerable. Their health will deteriorate and they will die
earlier than they might have – so much for Rudd’s mealy-mouthed
slogan of “Closing the Gap.”

Rudd is just the last of the colonisers who have waged a
relentless race war for 220 years against the Indigenous owners
of this country. The Labor Party in Canberra and in Darwin won’t
stop foisting their ill-thought through plans on Aboriginal
people until the last Aboriginal person gives up their last claim
to land or separate identity.

By John Tomlinson