Still here 

I haven’t updated you in a while – life, kids, work, art, fighting the fight – takes up all my time! But there have been significant developments that I want to share.

I met again with Tim Ryan and Tony Harrison – this time, Tony seemed to have been genuinely receptive to my reccomendations and has addressed them. Things that can be implemented, have been – but there is a long way to go. Some of my reccomendations it seems, were borne from misinformation. The principal of one Anangu school spoke of being in the red – and allegedly took artwork from the school and auctioned them to purchase iPads for the school. It seems that APY schools are not as under-funded as it seems – I wonder if the issues are with the allocation and use (or mis-use) of funding instead? 

It was a positive meeting and I left feeling that perhaps I might finally be able to see the change that I’m striving for. But Tim Ryan summed it up – when I posed the question to them both: “what would you do, if you had unlimited funds and resources?” Tim said that he thought that nothing we can do right now will end sexual violence and dysfunction in community altogether right now – but if we get it right, and get it right now – we will see a positive generational change; a shift in attitudes and a shift in behaviour and conduct. But we need to do this thoughtfully and meaningfully. 

I also met recently with Tammy Franks – the Greens MP – who gave up a significant amount of time on a Friday night to listen to my story and my concerns. The plan going forward is this:

  • To speak to Joseph (Eddie) Hughes – the sitting member for the seat of Giles which encompasses the APY lands. 
  • To speak to the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Stading Committee about presenting to them – in whicb parliamentary privilege would extend to me, indemnifying me against people who would try to have me silenced. They are waiting for a response from the minister before we move forward – I’ll be very interested to hear what she says.
  • Nigel Scullion…. I can’t say I’m optimistic about contacting him – but as my opinion on Steven Marshall has completely flipped – possibly I need to wait and see! 
  • To draft a submission to the Nyland inquiry
  • To draft a submission to the Premier’s inquiry about early years education and the impact of disadvantage here. 
  • To draft a reflective piece for submission and hopefully publication in education, health, or social science journal/s. I have a wonderful academic who does much peer reviewing on board to help me here! She suggested this as an alternative means to get this information to the foreground of academia – where possibly it will be noticed. I like this idea and need to make time to sit down and do this! 

In recent days I’ve received some feedback from someone I have an enormous amount of respect, time and admiration for – that she was concerned about my lack of communication and consultation with Anangu Elders – namely the women. Which would be difficult from the city – but not impossible, and perhaps I should have tried harder. I knew that not everyone would agree with my ideas, my process, my goals. I also know that much of the information regarding my campaign and my actions that has filtered through will largely have come from Pirinpa (white people) up there, who have openly criticised, mocked, questioned, disparaged and denigrated me – and I’d suggest that information isn’t necessarily reliable. But even if this information came first-hand from my words alone – it isn’t Anangu way. I know that. There is a bitter conflict in my heart about what I want to change, but how I know I should behave – and it hurts me. It hurts me deeply. But what hurts me more, and what I cannot walk past, is those tiny little souls who’s life-path, sense of being and sense of self, is being damaged. I under stand that not everyone can be a whistle-blower, for a hundred different reasons. And some people can scaffold and support from the inside, and do more good by keeping silent than not. 

Anangu – Nganana! We all need to work towards a better future for our tjiitjii. Please know that everything I do – I do for the betterment of our children’s lives and for the future of Anangu – to preserve our culture and our way. I know I don’t speak for Anangu. I just so desperately want to end the prolific sexual abuse of children. I’m sincerely sorry if I need to step out of line to do it. 

An Update. 

Today, Steven Marshall, Liberal leader of the Opposition asked some questions to the Minister for Education and Chikd Development on the subject of the APY Lands in Question Time. This is the her reply, as taken from Hansard:

  Mr MARSHALL (Dunstan—Leader of the Opposition) (14:19): Is the minister aware of a situation involving a teacher on the APY lands who was initially denied a transfer on compassionate grounds, despite the alleged sexual assault of his wife and children on the grounds of the school?

                The Hon. S.E. CLOSE (Port Adelaide—Minister for Education and Child Development, Minister for the Public Sector) (14:20): I am aware that a case has been raised which is probably consistent with what you are saying, but in no way do I therefore endorse and say that what you have raised is a correct allegation or is even an allegation that has necessarily and in exactly those terms been made to you. But I believe that I know the case that you are making reference to, however accurately or inaccurately, and I am aware that work is occurring within the department on that.

                Mr MARSHALL (Dunstan—Leader of the Opposition) (14:20): Perhaps the minister could outline to the house what action she has taken to prevent situations like this occurring in the future?

                The Hon. S.E. CLOSE (Port Adelaide—Minister for Education and Child Development, Minister for the Public Sector) (14:20): ‘Situations like this’—I was just very clear that the allegation that the leader has constructed may or may not be the allegation that has been made by someone who has raised that and may or may not in fact be the allegations that have been made to the department. So, it is an impossible question to answer when you say ‘situations like this’.

 

               Mr MARSHALL (Dunstan—Leader of the Opposition) (14:21): Perhaps the minister could clarify what part of the allegation she does not support?

                The Hon. S.E. CLOSE (Port Adelaide—Minister for Education and Child Development, Minister for the Public Sector) (14:21): No, I will not be clarifying.

I’ll be meeting again with the Ministers Chief Of Staff and Tony Harrison next week, and Tammy Franks from the Greens. I will not stay silent – I will not stop fighting for Anangu 

I won’t walk past. 

CARL

CARL – or the Chikd Abuse Report Line; is vastly under resources and underfunded. The way in which mandated notifier s report abuse, needs a drastic overhaul- and it cannot come soon enough. 

In my capacity as a Registered Nurse, I’ve made countless reports to CARL, and it’s always a challenging process. Usually I need to lock myself away in the nurses station because I’m anticipating a considerable wait – sometimes up to 2 hours. But the number of reports I’ve done, is nothing compared to the number of notifiable incidents or suspicions that are reported, or should be reported in the APY Lands. Teachers on the lands have told me that they have waited up to 3 hours to make a single report. And it’s an unreasonable expectation that staff should make reports in their own time. Understandably, many events that would otherwise go reported, are pushed aside until teachers have time, and then forgotten; and not reported. This contributes to the ignorance of the gravity of the atrocities occurring on the APY by management and ministry. Worse still, there is an entrenched culture of acceptance of sexualised behaviour – things that should be reported, are not. And that’s a big problem. Having spoken with child protection staff, they reveal that many reports go unread and not acted upon, because there is only so much they can do with limited time, funding and resources. You can’t help but understand why teaching staff, armed with the knowledge that their report may never be read, might choose not to spend 3 hours on the phone to CARL reporting it. Because what’s the point? 

There is a teacher on the APY lands who probably should not be there. This teacher was allegedly witnessed by another staff member to be physically abusing Anangu children in his capacity at the school. This was reported and seemingly ignored. Furthermore, it has been alleged by senior service providers outside of the school, that somewhere in the order of 96 mandatory reports have been made about this man and the harming of Anangu children. Many of these reports were made by CAHMS workers themselves. Reports were also made on behalf of Anangu families, whose children had been harmed by this man. Rather than this man being removed from the classroom and the APY lands, he has just been awarded a 5 year contract as a permanent relief teacher, where he has less accountability and more capacity to abuse. CAHMS workers in his current schools have allegedly been told to “watch him” 

I wonder if the CARL had appropriate funding and resources, if this would have been addressed. How many children have we failed? 

How many more tjiitjii need to be abused before we act? 

Swimming upstream.

Amata is one of a handful of APY communities that have a swimming pool. But pools are inherently challenging in the APY – hard to staff, hard to manage. When I was living in Amata, I spent a couple of weeks hanging out at the pool because I was the only person with relevant medical training and a DCSI clearance that was available.. The pool manager, was quirky; but efficient, and I largely got on well with him despite some angst between him and the school staff. The pool is open only during terms 1 and 4 and closed for the winter – and the job of the pool manager is a contract for that term.

Currently, Amata Anangu community is the only community on the APY lands whose swimming pool is closed. No big deal right? Wrong. Unfortunately when the pool is closed the Anangu kids find more innovative ways to keep cool in the scorching heat of Central Australia – but their creativity is laden with risk. Kids will try and swim in the town water tanks, which compromises the health of the water supply and is quite dangerous – the tanks are elevated and the risk of drowning is much higher here than in a supervised pool. They swim in the water-treatment storage ponds that are colloquially known as the “kuna ponds”  – which translates to the shit ponds – they are literally swimming in shit. This is why I was happy to help – the thought of kids becoming unwell or dying because they couldn’t access the pool was too much. 

The job for the pool manager has been advertised twice now, and the pool has remained closed because presumably there was a lack of suitable applicants. This is despite the previous pool manager and the manager before him expressing their interest in the role and being turned away. This is complicated by the fact that the Deputry Prinicpalis living in the “pool house” – hence a lack of housing is another barrier to the pool being opened. However the Department of Premeier and Cabinet have a house that has been previously accessed and “leased” to the department of education. 
The pools continued closure may seem like a trivial issue, but for every day that it remains closed – kids are being put at risk. Come on DECD – act on this immediately. 

Cultural Appropriation and the Baby Wearing community 

Today, I was witness to a particularly heated debate  on the internet about the use of the word ‘papoose’. Essentially, it was a discussion around whether or not the use of this word is offensive (the answer is yes and the reason is eloquently outlined here). It evolved into a discussion around Cultural Appropriation, and I was reminded of an article I wrote some months back. Earlier in the year, I was privileged enough to be invited to contribute to Baby Wearers Western Australia‘s spring edition of their e-magazine, Carried Away, discussing Cultural Appropriation in the Baby Wearing community, the link to which can be found here.

I’d like, however, to share it here also. 

Enjoy! 

Cultural Appropriation

By Elizabeth Close

So, it’s late. Too late, really. Dead-of-night late. So late that most reasonable people are fast asleep. I’m breastfeeding my baby and facebooking, and someone has tagged me in a thread about cultural appropriation. A comment was made by an Australian babywearer, words to the effect of, “This is all so over the top! Why are we wasting time with this politically correct stuff? Isn’t babywearing about holding our babies close?! This is just a waste of time!” Deep breath, Liz. Deep breath. The fact is that I encounter this type of vague, privileged commentary often: middle-class white people who often can’t see past their white privilege enough to be able listen and learn from marginalised groups. And as an Aboriginal woman, babywearer and someone who has taught cultural competence, I aim to politely and succinctly share my perspective. Often it isn’t received well, but I figure I have to try, because that voice has to come from somewhere. Back to the matter at hand – so what is the problem with what she said? The inherent problem with dismissing cultural appropriation as a concept is that it comes from a place of privilege. It means that white people can ignore the effects of cultural appropriation because it doesn’t affect them because of the benefits afforded to white people through white privilege. For more information about white privilege, I recommend this article. 

As a term, cultural appropriation isn’t widely understood. Often when people are accused of appropriating the culture of others, they automatically assume they’re being called racist, which just isn’t true. So what is cultural appropriation? In its most basic definition, cultural appropriation is “When someone adopts aspects of a culture that is not their own.” (Johnson, 2015). However, a far deeper understanding on how and when this becomes problematic is more to do with power imbalance: “When aspects of a culture that has been systematically oppressed, are adopted by members of the dominant culture that has oppressed them.” (Johnson, 2015). So how is this related to babywearing? Babywearing is an ancient practice, borne from necessity. Whilst there are examples of babywearing in early Europe, the overwhelming majority of babywearing happens in developing countries, and happens through necessity with whatever fabric they have to hand. It is learnt woman-to-woman. It is the antithesis of middle-class white women learning to double hammock with a $200 purpose-made woven wrap and a doll, while watching YouTube. And this isn’t to say that the developing world has ownership of babywearing, just that we need to be aware of, and acknowledge our position of privilege and pay homage to those women. 

Regarding cultural appropriation in the natural parenting community in general, (Sian Hannagan 2015) sums it up perfectly: “When it comes to the physiological nurturing of infants, no one ‘owns’ that relationship you build with your baby. However, having an awareness of how we integrate elements of other cultural approaches into our day to day nurturing is important. Many people feel they are honouring a certain culture when they take traditions into their own cultural narrative. But this is not always based on a true and honest exchange.” 

Cultural appropriation of designs and iconography in the babywearing world is another topic that has been hotly debated of late. Indigenous designs on woven baby wraps and whether or not they constitute cultural appropriation has been discussed with gusto. Scottish company Oscha recently released a woven wrap with a Maori design that was not designed by a Maori artist. Rather, it was a copy of a Maori design, drawn by a non-Maori woman. Oscha, after much discussion, pulled the release. Listening, learning, acknowledging and changing. People then questioned whether or not Oschas other designs such as their Japanese and Celtic designs constituted cultural appropriation. The answer is murky; whilst on face value one could say yes, one also needs to consider whether or not the culture at the source of the design is currently marginalised or oppressed. If the answer is no, then it’s far less likely that the use of the design will be viewed as theft of sacred cultural iconography. Hence, context is important. However, no cultural group is one homogenous group, there will always be differing opinions and those opinions must be listened to, and acknowledged. This coincided with my own collaboration with Oscha, one that was an excellent example of what using Indigenous art looks like when it’s done right. A true collaboration where the artist has creative control and is remunerated, credited and celebrated. It’s so wonderful to be able to work alongside babywearing companies that are truly ethical and strive for inclusiveness and diversity in their ethos. I’ve discussed these issues at length with Oscha and my opinion has been truly listened to and acknowledged. I’ve worked with Babes In Arms, the Australian distributor for Ergobaby, to get carriers to mothers in remote Aboriginal communities. I’m working with Ankalia, an Australian wrap company, to develop wraps woven in my designs. At all times I’ve felt valued, respected and celebrated. My artwork has been far more than an aesthetically pleasing design, it tells an important story. The point of all this? It’s not about making this issue go away, because it won’t; babywearing is inherently appropriative and we can’t stop that. But what we can do is listen. Rather than silencing marginalised groups by dismissing what they have to say – stop, listen, acknowledge and respect. Nothing is lost in doing this, and the potential to gain is exponential. So, let’s circle back, to 3am, in the cold darkness? Isn’t it about holding our babies close? It absolutely is. But I do not see how being receptive to the opinions of others, especially members of our community that are marginalised in wider society, detracts from the enabling of caregivers to carry their children. Let us not further marginalise them. Let us listen. And that brings me back to a saying that I’ve heard Elders in the APY (my people, the Anangu), use when they talk about the sharing of knowledge with pirinpa (white people): “Tread lightly, speak softly. Listen to the people around you. Respect them, and respect yourselves. Learning is never ending.”

 

References: Sian Hannagan. Maisha Z. Johnson.

Racism, Sexism and the hand of Silence

I’d like to take the time to respond to some claims being made about me, and my decision to speak out. Why bother? I hear you ask. Why dignify it with an answer? Well, normally I wouldn’t; haters gonna hate and all that.  This I feel, however, is a teachable moment.  I’d like to use this to start a national conversation about how we respond to people who speak out. I’d also like to highlight the inherent racism, sexism, and misogyny spewing from the mouths of white service-providers in the APY lands in response to my actions. The very place where family violence, sexual violence and violence against women is endemic. The very place where service-providers are acutely aware of this, and yet appear to be perpetuating stereotypes that silence Anangu. 

I was talking to a friend of mine recently, an important and highly-respected member of the Kaurna Community here in Adelaide. He and I were discussing a situation where he was trying to stand up for the rights of Aboriginal Artists. Something he said stayed with me and I am. reminded of it now – he said (words to the effect of): “I could have made a song and dance about it, but I didn’t bother because then I’m just the ‘Angry Black Man’ and they won’t pay any attention”. 

Then I’m just the Angry Black Man and they won’t pay any attention. 

So essentially, because of his race – his anger is unwarranted and unjustified, and therefore, his opinion deserves to be dismissed. 

Now, one could argue that in this instance, no one had actually stated that he was just an Angry Black Man, or indeed dismissed his opinion; but one does not come to be but a weary traveller, approaching black/white interactions and discourse with such a bitter cynicism without having experienced or witnessed this firsthand as a symptom of systemic racism. 

I however, have been called an ‘Angry Black Woman’, by service providers employed by the government, in response to my decision to speak out about the endemic sexual abuse of Anangu children in the APY lands, dismissing my views and lived experience. Silencing me. 

Now, there’s an added layer of complexity here. Because not only is this racism; it’s sexist and misogynistic. Because of my race, and my gender – my opinion doesn’t count. Because I’m Aboriginal, I’m dim-witted. Because I’m a woman, I’m hysterical and dramatic; bitter because my hopes and dreams of returning to country didn’t pan out. Because I’m an Aborignal Woman, my opinion isn’t worthy of consideration. 

That is racist. That is sexist. 

Huda Hussein, author, activist and advocate writes: “It seems to me that the Angry Black Woman (label) serves to silence women, and in particular to erase our identification of racism and sexism. Although black women exist at the intersection of these two systems of oppression, black women couldn’t possibly be righteously upset about either (or both). We are angry because it is in our nature. We are angry without cause.”

Moreover, do we really want pirinpa (white people) up there, on Anangu land, servicing Anangu communities, if they perpetuate these revolting stereotypes that do nothing more than further marginalise an already marginalised group? Silencing the silent? 

To conclude, author and activist Leah Sinclair writes: “these specific stereotypes of the angry black woman and black girls with attitude are directed specifically at us, originating from an institutionalised system that has historically demonised, criticised and mocked black women. We have valid, complex emotions that we are entitled to feel and express. Do some of us have an attitude? Sure. But is that a problem or a valid excuse to dismiss black women’s opinions? No. I personally wear my so-called attitude with pride. I have confidence and conviction in what I believe in, and will express my opinion when I feel I need to. If that’s having an “attitude problem”, then, sweetie, you just have to deal with it.”

I have confidence and conviction in what I believe it and will express my opinion when I feel I need to. Deal with it. 


References: 

http://www.buzzfeed.com/hudahassan/the-twilight-of-the-angry-black-woman#.vymlAGABDg

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/08/stereotype-angry-black-girls-racial


The Other Side 

I went to the podiatrist yesterday. I’ve never been to a podiatrist before, but then I’ve never had a problem with my feet before. Years of nursing – walking the floor for nearly a decade, months of warm dry conditions and a habit of almost always being barefoot has caught up with me. Painfully. I’ve always been self consiousnof my feet, but I worked up the courage to follow a tall, genetically gifted young man into a room, and as he closed the door, whilst cursing myself for not doing more research and finding a stern, no-nonsense, grey-haired, 67 year-old-woman with half-moon spectacles and a heaving bosom, he says: “so how’s your day been so far?” “Oh you know, I just met with the leader of the opposition”. 

Why? Why did I just say that? Now he thinks I vote liberal! I don’t know why I said that. People ask questions like that and almost always expect you to say “oh fine! And yours?” because let’s face it, no one actually cares either way. It was too late to back out now, so I’m mumbled something about “long story” and got back to being embarrassed about hot-podiatrist looking at my horrendous feet. As it turned out, he was exceptionally professional and having worked in the lands, was genuinely interested, so I told him about my meeting and the events that preceded it.

Having felt largely that my meeting with Tony Harrison was a waste of time, but yet holding out hope that the Chief of Staff to the Minister might yet help me bring about some change, I reconvened with my media contact and we decided that the time has come to talk to the opposition. I felt conflicted; I haven’t voted for the Liberal party since I was 19 and at that time my political ideology reflected that of my parents; right winged and conservative. Does this make me some kind of traitor? And who am I to ask a party I don’t support, for help? Later that day I received a call from Steven Marshall’s policy adviser; she and Steven were leaving for the APY Lands the next day, as he has done every year for the last six years. We scheduled a meeting, and there I was, in Parliament House, waiting to meet the Leader of the Opposition. 

Full disclosure: I’ve never been a fan. I’ve always liked Jay Weatheral, and by default I suppose, I viewed Steven Marshall as being at odds with my own, grown-up political ideology which is very un-conservative and very left wing. I also viewed him in the same vein as the Liberals in power at a Federal level – governed by the far right with homophobic and racist policy; tarring the Liberals at state level with the same brush. On the one hand it stands to reason that they would need to toe the party line, but I was curious to meet the other side. I left with the impression that Steven is a compassionate man who doesn’t want to use this as a political football. He and I agreed on many things and I truly felt that this was a far more constructive meeting than my one a few streets to the Sourh-East. 

Steven and two of his policy and media advisers seemed genuinely keen to help. He genuinely gave me the impression that this is an area of interest to him. We discussed the issues, they listened and then we discussed the issues from the perspective of “what can we (they) do to help?” The plan from here is this: 

  • To consider making a submission to the Nyland Royal Commision
  • To engage with the Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement 
  • To engage with the Anangu Lands paper tracker, which keeps track of all media that surrounds the APY and holds government agencies to account for promises made
  • For Steven to pose some direct questions to Susan Close in parliament. I’ll make Hansard available here as it comes to hand. 

I note now that DECD has revealed plans for a strategic plan for Aboriginal Education, which includes (yet another) executive position; the Director of Aboriginal Education. They’ve also released details of curriculum for Anangu students that meet the Australian Curriculum in an enaging and culturally relevant format. The Chief Education Officer made reference to units of work that link Anangu teachings and Australian Curriculum; I politely pointed out that I knew exactly the units of work that she was referencing because my husband wrote them. These are moves in the right direction. I urge DECD and the minister to take this opportunity to carefully examine the current context. To truly tread lightly and speak softly – to listen to Anangu. We have much to offer if you but listen to what we have to say. 

For now, as I sit in the cool dark of night, the glow of my phone reflected on my face, the soft breathing of my children the only noise, and I reflect. Why am I doing this? Because I benefit from white privilege and I walk in both worlds, I was able to get my kids out. But I left many of my family behind. Many of them already damaged and broken. And as I sit here in the dark I know that every night, probably at this very moment; a child is being abused in unspeakable ways. The standard that you walk past is the standard you accept. 

Don’t walk past.