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Cultural Afternoon

Written on: Thursday July 26th, 2007

A journal entry from: Elective

The afternoon had been set out for us to get a brief grasp on some of the history behind the Aboriginal culture, and Angela had arranged for a couple of Aborigines to come and speak to us. We watched an hour long DVD to begin with, which was very interesting, but as I was so tired, I found myself having to prop my eyelids open to stay awake.

The DVD was a documentary, following an old Aboriginal man, who described the story behind their history. The Aborigine people are indigenous to Australia, and it was only later on that white people moved here. Aborigines have a strong affinity to the earth, and lived quite happily out in the bush before the whites came along. They had no clothes, no money, and yet no need for these things. They were self-sufficient, hunting their own food, taking care of their own people, managing their own communities. Everything was in good working order. They were happy. Until the whites came along, that is.

White people decided that the Aborigines needed 'breeding out', and so they forced themselves on Aboriginal women, getting them pregnant, and creating what is now known as 'The Stolen Generation'. Their enforced unions created children who were half-caste, which threw a spanner in the works of the Aboriginal communities. Before this happened, they worked with skin types, and this dictated who could marry who, preventing people from the same family marrying, and producing strong and capable children. As the children of the Stolen Generation had a completely different skin colour, they could no longer fit in with the way things worked, and so everything began to go wrong. Children were taken away from their families, and placed in white communities, to attempt to integrate them gradually.

The Aboriginal people found it difficult to come to terms with the white ways of living, and still don't in many areas. This has created many problems, which become increasingly worse each day. Now obviously there's a lot more to the story, and I'm only recounting this from memory, but the history of the Aboriginal people is very interesting, so if you want to look into it a bit more, there's plenty of information available on the Internet.

After we watched the DVD, we had a chat to Vanessa and Henry, the two indigenous people who had come along for the afternoon. They told us a bit about their own family history, and discussed various aspects of Aboriginal community life, outlining the major problems that they have to face.

Due to being forced to live in a white world, the Aborigine people are looking to alternative ways to cope in a strange environment. They mainly live in communities, outside of town - Mowanjum is the nearest, and possibly the roughest in this local area. The communities are like campsites, but with tin houses instead of caravans. There can be anywhere up to twenty people living under one roof, as usually family groups stick together. The health can deteriorate quite quickly therefore, if one person in the household gets sick, creating yet another problem that has to be dealt with. However, the main issue that Aboriginal people have in the present day, is alcohol dependence. Out on the streets of Derby, you can guarantee that several inebriated Aboriginals will be lolling around in the sun, shouting verbal abuse to no-one in particular, and fighting amongst themselves. In some communities, an alcohol ban has been enforced (though often unsuccessfully), and anyone caught with alcohol will receive a spear through the leg. This is the Aboriginal way of dealing with a problem, and barbaric as it may seem, it has worked in some communities!

Another problem comes in the form of petrol - sniffing petrol to be exact. Some of the Aboriginal kids have nothing better to do, and no encouragement to change their lifestyle, so turn to drugs as a way out. Petrol is not the only drug of choice either, with marijuana becoming more popular and even heroin in some communities. The health service are struggling to cope with this ever-growing issue, particularly with the lack of staff on board, as people find it depressing, and do not want to get involved.Abuse is also a common problem in the communities, with many girls having had their first sexual experience by the age of 12 - often non-consensual. This leads to a life of promiscuity, disease, and early pregnancies, which is yet another burden on the community, but without help, nothing can be done.

As you can see, the public health issues facing the Aboriginal communities are huge, and the Derby Health Service is struggling against problems that possibly will never be fixed. It is eye-opening to see the amount of work that needs carrying out to help these people, and yet the distinct lack of resources to go towards their care. I don't know how this problem will ever be solved if things carry on the way they are, and it seems that the communities are doomed to a life of ill health, alcoholism and subsequent misery.