When Ownership Of Land Is Threatened

The Age

Saturday August 18, 2007

Tracee Hutchison

SOMETIMES the twists and turns of life are so deliciously ironic there's no escaping the idea that there's no such thing as a coincidence. That there really is a higher power - be it God, Buddha, Allah or the Rainbow Serpent - watching over the madness we're creating here on Earth and reminding us how stupid and shallow we are.

And what a reminder we've had this week.

As the international financial markets went into meltdown, causing analysts to shriek that the end of the world as they knew it was nigh, stocks plunged and home owners all over Australia prepared to lose their homes.

So dire was the fiscal outlook the banks started predicting mortgage rates would rise, even if the Reserve Bank kept the official interest rate stable. Heady and unsteady times indeed.

So what an exquisite twist of fate it was that while those of us who've bought into the great Australian dream of home ownership were contemplating life on the footpath, those of us whose lives have more to do with the great Australian Dreamtime were preparing to decamp as well.

You really had to hand it to the Australian Government for setting up a situation in which black and white home-owner dreams converted to nightmares simultaneously. What a triumph for good governance and financial imperatives this week has been.

Everybody lost. Brilliant stuff. Particularly as both ministers were so quick to duck for cover - the Treasurer insisted that the bottom falling out of the market was actually a boon for his Government while the Indigenous Affairs Minister confirmed that he hadn't read the 500-page legislation his department had prepared for Parliament.

What should have been a spectacular admission by the minister - on Jon Faine's ABC radio show - seemed merely to confirm that some kind of double-think-inspired lunacy was prevailing. No one else had read the legislation so why should the man whose portfolio responsibility would preside over its implementation read it?

(Clearly the minister and his colleagues have much more important stuff on - what with all that resource-rich land about to be acquired in the Top End - but did they really have to stitch up that uranium deal to India THIS week?)

But back to Mal Brough and his ABC radio interview that had me so transfixed. The way the minister was telling it - that Aborigines' connection to the land wouldn't be affected by the loss of control of it - was so convincing in its doublespeak that when the interview was over it seemed legitimately possible to think that other people listening would have believed him.

Somehow his mangling of the English language - his manglish - justified him not having read the legislation. Or something like that.

It wasn't so much an irony as an agony to recall that at one stage Brough admitted to an Aboriginal heritage. I haven't heard him do that for a while so I wondered whether he was manglishing lyrical on his appointment to his new portfolio or whether that was still true.

In any event it seemed like a good week to muse on it.

But there was no time for musing in the Northern Territory. This week the folk at Yirrkala, in north-eastern Arnhem Land, wasted no time kicking out the Government's so-called survey team of public servants and military who'd gone in for a reconnoitre as part of "The Intervention".

The same week the permit system for Aboriginal homelands is on the legal chopping block, the custodians of the land made it known in no uncertain terms who is welcome and who is not. Even the NT police know the abolition of the permit system won't succeed. Ironic?

Yet these are the same local people who have just hosted thousands of people from all over the world to their internationally renowned indigenous cultural festival, Garma. The festival is a healthy injection to the local economy through attendance fees, art sales and the capacity-loaded planes that fly in and out.

These people know a thing or two about self-determination. It's written in their 1963 bark petition hanging in the Federal Parliament building. Perhaps the sitting members -on both sides of the house - look the other way these days.

Coincidence? Irony? Or maybe just a reminder of how poor our prevailing dollar-driven values system makes us all in the end.

Tracee Hutchison is a writer and broadcaster.

© 2007 The Age

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