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Culture critical thinking and choice


We can no longer just listen to the opinion of one Aboriginal person or persons of Aboriginal descent from somewhere in Sydney or any southern city and apply that to the circumstances of all Aboriginal people.

Speech by Jacinta Nampijimpa Price to the Killarney Heights Forestville Branch of the Liberal Party, NSW

16 May 2018

To begin with I thank Tony Abbott for inviting me to attend as a guest speaker here this evening and would also like to acknowledge the messages of encouragement and support I have received from Tony over the last couple of years. Your support has been most appreciated.

I often frequent Sydney these days and almost feel as though I am a local. I have to say however that I am a Newcastle Knights supporter and I hope that doesn’t offend anyone but if it does I am sure you will get over it. However, this also means I am a passionate Blues supporter in the State of Origin. The reason I have a close connection with Newcastle and NSW is because my father was born and raised there.

Now, my Dad is a whitefella who was born in Awabakal country. He likes to think he has Pig Iron and Coking Coal dreamings from the sacred sight known as the BHP Steelworks that are no longer standing. What now stands in its place is the steel memorial to the generations of workers in that place created by my very own cousin and prominent Newcastle artist Julie Squires. So that is my connection to this part of the country.

My mother on the other hand is from the desert, a place called Yuendumu 300 kilometres north west of Alice Springs. I was born in Darwin because my parents were working on Melville Island during that time. My dreamings are crocodile and deep water as my baby spirit came from the Tiwi Islands but my inherited dreamings come from Warlpiri country. They are ngapa – ‘rain’ and warlu – ‘fire’.

What does all this mean for us Warlpiri? Well our beliefs are that at the beginning of time, during the dreaming, the spiritual beings known as Jukurrpa warnu, our creator ancestors came down from the sky and up out of the ground. They travelled the land creating its features as they went along. The whole of the landscape has been made in this way so the dreaming stories tell us of how places came into being. A rock formation may resemble shields, and trees may resemble spears that were used during combat, for example. Boulders can represent the transformed bodies of possums, and river beds the tracks of giant snakes. All of these stories explore what it means to be human a vast in a harsh landscape, in all of our complexity.

We inherit our dreamings through our fathers and mothers. We share these dreamings with our families.

As the creator beings travelled they also left behind in the land their spiritual essence. Some of this essence becomes child spirits which enter the bodies of passing women forming new life in their wombs. This gives us our very own personal dreamings. This is how we are connected to our country forever. This is what connects me to Tiwi country.

But, apart from these spiritual beliefs, we have been in constant physical contact with the land for 60,000 years with no floor or vehicle, not even the sole of a shoe or bedding at night, separating us from the earth. The only time my people were not in contact with the earth was when they were carried in the arms of a loved one, a family member. Everything we needed we took directly from the land. When the creator ancestors finished creating the land, died, or were killed they either were transformed into a land formation, sank into the earth or flew back up into the sky to become a star formation.

The dreaming stories underpinned all of our society. They gave us intricate maps of our country, knowledge of resources, water and food, and how to access them to survive, morals to live by and laws to uphold. The dreamings, however, have always evolved to suit the circumstances of the time and this is rarely taken into account in this day and age. We are told by those who are removed from traditional culture that we must maintain this culture that has been with us unchanged for 60,000 years. Of course no one knows a culture like the people who live it and many in the cities who claim Aboriginal descent do not know our traditional culture or are never clear on what it is they are attempting to hold onto.

Culture differs from person to person and each individual’s upbringing. I once reminded Linda Burney of this while discussing Indigenous issues on a panel. Her instant reaction was to remind the audience that Aboriginal people are a varied bunch and just because one does not speak an Aboriginal language or know the traditional culture does not make them any less Aboriginal. This is the mantra amongst those whose status and income rely, not on their knowledge of the old ways, but on contemporary identity politics. Yet too many of those same people will not hesitate to tell the world what is good for those who do still speak one of our languages or try to live by traditional values.

In the politically correct world that we now live in, there is far too much romanticism about Aboriginal culture. The politically correct are not interested in facts. Those, like the Linda Burneys of the world who romanticise our culture, don’t understand the cultural factors that have contributed to the current problems of the most marginalised Aboriginal people. Being able to address these issues is the starting point to being able to solve the most difficult of our problems.

For many years Australia has learned about Aboriginal people and culture through the media and through Aboriginal rights activists who have shaped the debate around Aboriginal issues and policies. These activists have come mostly from backgrounds based on western world views and therefore cannot really understand traditional culture and what its detrimental influences might be. Because they have lost connection to their traditional culture, they now want to salvage, reinvent and focus on the romantic aspects of culture without acknowledging the privileges the western world has bestowed upon them. This hinders their ability to address the critical and life threatening circumstances now being experienced, out of sight and out of mind, in Australia’s remote communities. We can no longer just listen to the opinion of one Aboriginal person or persons of Aboriginal descent from somewhere here in Sydney or any southern city and apply that to the circumstances of all Aboriginal people.

It is because this is what has been done for some time that those who have suffered the most and whose lives are impacted the most by poverty, family violence and substance abuse, but whose culture is still mostly intact, are not being heard. Aboriginal issues have been debated politically for so long in this way that when someone like me gets up and starts to speak on behalf of those who have not been heard, those who have been the talking heads for so long shaping the Aboriginal viewpoint for so many years now shout out that I do not speak for them. I have never claimed to speak for them. Their followers who have been influenced for so long by their politically correct ideology don’t realise their own capability to think for themselves.

We in the Northern Territory come from mixed cultural backgrounds. Thirty percent of us claim Indigenous descent; black issues are the business of all of us. We have to find answers to all of these complex problems together. Failure to do so affects all of us, we all pay the price of failure. We don’t want identity politics and political correctness to get in the way. We are, after all, the final frontier. We want to hold close to our traditional Australian values forged by the coming together of many different cultural backgrounds and heritages. The best of traditional Aboriginal values are part of that fusion, part of that tradition.

We need all of this to solve the problems we now have that my Aboriginal grandparents could not have even imagined, that they had no tools to deal with. We need to combine their wisdom and those elements of their culture that still have relevance, that still work, with modern ways of thinking that evolved to deal with modern problems.

It is this willingness to evolve, to adapt, that has made this country one of the world’s most decent, open and tolerant societies, one of the greatest on earth. We have all made it this way. There have been plenty of courageous and determined Aboriginal people who have helped make it the way it is. Somewhere along the way we have lost sight of this. Somewhere along the way we have lost our confidence to overcome the greatest of the problems we face. I learned from my grandparents to never give up, to be willing to learn from the white people, and anybody else for that matter, when they had something worthwhile to offer; to adapt and survive while keeping a pride in my identity, always refusing to become somebody else’s victim.

My life has been a blessing so far. I have had the privilege of understanding two very different cultures, of being a product of reconciliation. While some in my position may claim it is hard to have to straddle two worlds I would say life is only as hard as the attitude you choose to have while you face its challenges. My life is a walk in the park in comparison to the lives my grandparents lived, from both sides of my family. I have had a life that has given me insight into two different cultures and an upbringing that has encouraged me to have an open mind toward all human beings and their backgrounds.

I have been lucky enough to grow up in a country of opportunity. Even while I see my family suffer because they have not yet learned how to harness the tools to survive this modern world, I still have faith that this can change. It is about bridging that gap and creating understanding and I am obliged to be part of that.

The western world has been able to progress because constructive criticism is embraced. Progress cannot be made if one cannot be challenged. But this means having to be honest. This means having the same standards for everyone. An Aboriginal child is an Australian child and all Australian children should have the same rights. If any Australian child is in danger of abuse or neglect then that child deserves the right to be protected not on the basis of that child’s race but on the basis of that child’s rights. We cannot continue to sacrifice Australian children in the name of culture.

The Aboriginal people I know in this country want the same as other Australians. They want to be part of this great country. They want to understand how they too can take advantage of the wonderful opportunities this country has to offer. We want economic empowerment like other Australians and to be able to stand on our own feet to achieve this. Ask Warren Mundine next time you see him. He travels this country learning of those first Australians who have recognised their own capabilities and taken advantage of economic development opportunities.

Education is the most important tool any person can obtain. Education is freedom and the understanding that one has choice. The knowledge that is acquired through education is not white man’s knowledge. It belongs to all of us to make of what we will. All of these things are attainable if we can come together as Australians to make this happen. We can do this by sharing those parts of our culture that enrich us and move us forward instead of focusing on that which makes us different.

We are, after all, the same species and it is only our thinking that separates us. It is time we started believing in the Australian spirit again and applied that in our daily lives instead of allowing others to dictate how we should think. The Australian spirit is what inspired a Warlpiri woman, who was born under a tree and whose first language was not English, to one day grow up to become a Minister of the Crown. And it is the Australian spirit that has inspired me, her daughter, to walk in her footsteps, to challenge the status quo and to stand up for our traditional Australian values so that the lives of all Australians may be enriched.

This is what I take with me to the next federal election as a proud Australian woman.

Councillor Jacinta Nampinjimpa Price is an elected member of the Alice Springs Council and the Country Liberal Party’s endorsed candidate for the Northern Territory federal seat of Lingiari.

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Posted by Elizabeth Henderson on May 18, 2018

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