Archive for the 'Aboriginal issues' Category

A Child Wife

Kath Walker, Aboriginal Poet

from the National Portrait Gallery

Portrait by Clif Peir

A Poem written by Kath Walker aka Oodgeroo Noonuccal
First published 1966.

A Child Wife

They gave me to an old man,
Joyless and old,
Life’s smile of promise
So soon to frown.
Inside his gunya
My childhood over,
I must sit for ever,
And the tears fall down.

It was love I longed for,
Young love like mine,
It was Dunwa wanted me,
The gay and brown.
Oh, old laws that tether me!
Oh, long years awaiting me!
And the grief comes over me,
And the tears fall down.

Happy the small birds
Mating and nesting,
Shrilling their gladness
No grief may drown.
But an old man’s gunya
Is my life for ever,
And I think of Dunwa,
And the tears fall down.

‘From The Dawn is at Hand’ Jacaranda Press 1966

A poem by Kath Walker aka Oodgeroo Noonuccal

Daisy Bindi

Slavery at Roy hill, to our shame profound,
Wages for the blacks nil all the year round,
Slavers given free hand by police consent,
Winked obligingly by Government,
But a woman warrior when aid there was none
Led her dark people till the fight was won.

Salute to the spirit fire,
Daisy of Nullagine,
Who unaided resolutely
Dared to challenge slavery.

Tall Daisy Bindi, she rode like a man,
Mustering and stockwork from when dawn began,
And long chores indoors that made life bleak
Year after weary year for nothing a week,
Till Daisy of the stout heart organized her clan
To strike for native justice and the plain rights of man.

High praise and honour to
Daisy of the Noongahs who
Fought and routed tyranny,
Dared to challenge slavery.

Oh, the boss men threatened and the boss man swore,
They called the police in to help break the law,
And dark men and women were forced and assailed,
For fighting degradation they were bashed and jailed,
But Daisy the militant no man subdued,
Who championed her people out of servitude.

ending the groundhog day of educational reform

Some notes on a talk given by Noel Pearson on the launch of his book, Radical Hope, in September, 2011 :

Bringing Explicit Instruction to remote aboriginal schools in Cape York, Queensland

Primary school education was the hardest domain for us to penetrate. NAPLAN results over the past 3 years provided useful evidence to break out of failing education programmes. We could say to professional educators: “We can no longer leave the future of our children in your hands”. We could end the groundhog day of educational reform

The grandmothers in Cape York are more literate than their grandchildren. The Missions had succeeded in teaching children to read and write in their own indigenous language. Over the past 40 years indigenous children have become illiterate in both their native and English language

We arrived at the conclusion that in the Reading Wars, the Explicit Instruction / Phonics side of the war was correct.

MULTILIT (Making Up Lost Time in Literacy) and all Explicit Instruction programmes have their genesis in Direct Instruction, an American programme developed by Professor Siegfried Engelmann at the Universities of Illinois and Oregon. In early 2009 we visited the USA and subsequently formed a partnership with the American National Institute of Direct Instruction.

We established this programme in two Cape York primary schools: Aurukun and Coen. The programme consists of Class and Club. Class is the western curriculum. Club is indigenous culture.

The compulsory school day runs from 8:30 to 2:30. This is followed by a voluntary programme which runs from 2:30 to 4:30.

The new programme commenced on January 28, 2010. The first few months were marked by chaos, controversy, revolt and alarm. But eventually things settled down. There were 65 kids in the Time Out room one week. Then there were 3 kids the following week. This transition marked school acceptance of the new programme.

There is regular coaching of teachers in the required methods every 3 months. Each week there are mastery tests of the previous 5 or 10 lessons. Students do not move to the next level unless they achieve a 90% achievement score.

Every Tuesday morning there is a conference with coordinators in the USA with the Principals of Auruken and Coen. The operating assumption is that if the student has not learned then the teacher has not taught. There is no alibi for the teacher. The Principals main task is to lead instruction.

When kids experience success, then behaviour changes and interest engages.

Aurukun was possibly the worst school in Queensland. In 2009 police were called to the school 160 times, for a school of 230 students. The attendance rate was 30%. We are now 18 months into this educational reform.


Welfare System
The welfare system must be reformed from unconditional welfare to conditional welfare. Parents must meet four conditions to continue receiving welfare:
1. send children to school
2. children free from abuse or neglect
3. meet housing tenancy obligations
4. don’t break the Law

The welfare system has been funding dysfunctional lifestyles. The Commonwealth government has been paying for people’s drug habits. There has been unconditional financing of dysfunction. Welfare is not a wage, it is social assistance which comes with conditions.

Trust Accounts
Trust accounts were created to cover educational expenses (uniform, tuckshop, equipment, computers). The money comes from the parents. They are completely voluntary.

At Coen there was a 100% signup to the trust accounts. The trust accounts now contain $1500 per child and over 1 million dollars in total. The swift uptake of trust accounts persuaded us that parents care deeply about their children’s education.

We use DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy), which is more informative than NAPLAN, to assess the progress of students. This tells us that:
– the top 30% is progressing at double mainstream speed
– 50% are progressing at above mainstream speed
– poor attenders continue to have poor results

Lack of Support from Education Department Bureaucracy

A Cairns Principal who was prepared to run a Direct Instruction stream was banned from visiting Aurukun by the Department!!

What sort of teachers are required for Direct Instruction?

The DI programme has been described as “teacher proof”. For Pearson the biggest surprise was that they are making progress with the stock, standard issue Queensland trained teacher. As long as the teacher is amenable to the program there are good results. However, teachers college has not taught these teachers how to teach reading!

audio: Noel Pearson: Radical Hope (the above notes are made from this extract)
video: Radical Hope Book: A Talk by Noel Pearson (the whole talk including an informative Q&A session)

On the correlation between Noel Pearson’s and Mao Zedong’s dialectical outlook

I’m not saying that Pearson has even read Mao. I wouldn’t know. I suspect he hasn’t because he has invented his own terminology, which is different from classical marxist terminology. This is not unusual. Dialectics has been discovered and rediscovered many times in parallel fashion. eg. quite a few scientists employ some sort of dialectical method.

Mao’s explanation of dialectics is the clearest that I’m aware of. Partly because of that I see it as a useful exercise to outline the connection between Pearson’s philosophy and Mao’s. The fact that Pearson has invented his own independent terminology – and in all likelihood has come to his philosophy by a different pathway – makes the comparison all the  more interesting. “Great minds think alike” – or something like that.

Most of the quotations below come from the following two essays:

White guilt, victimhood and the quest for a radical centre by Noel Pearson (2007)
On Contradiction by Mao Zedong (1937)

Dialectics as the way in which things develop


The fundamental cause of the development of a thing is not external but internal; it lies in the contradictoriness within the thing

Qualitatively different contradictions can only be resolved by qualitatively different methods

This dialectical world outlook teaches us primarily how to observe and analyse the movement of opposites in different things and, on the basis of such analysis, to indicate the methods for resolving contradictions


My contentions are these. First, it is important to correctly identify the fundamental dialectical tensions that define human policy and political struggle. Second, the resolution of each of these tensions lies in their dialectical synthesis, and not through the absolute triumph of one side of a struggle or a weak compromise. Third, other subsidiary struggles fall out of these classical conflicts. Fourth, complexity arises because questions of human policy are not confined to the neat and isolated categories of a ten‐point list. Rather, they involve a number of tensions simultaneously

Importance of all sided, concrete analysis and the identification of the principal contradiction


Lenin … said that the most essential thing in Marxism, the living soul of Marxism, is the concrete analysis of concrete conditions … Without concrete analysis there can be no knowledge of the particularity of any contradiction

Lenin said:

“… in order really to know an object we must embrace, study, all its sides, all connections and “mediations”. We shall never achieve this completely, but the demand for all-sidedness is a safeguard against mistakes and rigidity”

There are many contradictions in the process of development of a complex thing, and one of them is necessarily the principal contradiction whose existence and development determine or influence the existence and development of the other contradictions … in studying any complex process in which there are two or more contradictions, we must devote every effort to finding its principal contradiction

Aboriginal people are faced with a wide variety of problems – substance abuse,  dependency on passive welfare, racism, dispossession and trauma.

Out of this variety of issues Pearson identifies the main problems of the aboriginal people as substance abuse and dependency on passive welfare

He doesn’t reject or dismiss the importance other problems (racism, dispossession and trauma) but he does distinguish clearly between the current main problems and the longer term historical legacy, putting these latter problems in a secondary position for now.

“When abusive behaviour is deeply entrenched in our communities it is not the material destitution , the social ills and historical legacy that fuel the abuse epidemics. It is the epidemics that perpetuate themselves.”
On the human right to misery, mass incarceration and early death (October 2001).

This analysis gives hope and real guidance because it means aboriginal and white people can get on with tackling real and urgent issues rather than becoming passive (paralysed by the complexity) and possibly guilty about a huge morass of unresolved issues. Pearson rejects “symptom theory thinking”, that the main reason for substance abuse is the despair, hopelessness, social dislocation of aboriginal communities and other “underlying causes”. He identifies such thinking as a real problem, causing paralysis.

Identity of opposites (Mao); pyramid and radical centre (Pearson)

Mao’s identity of opposites:

Lenin said:

“Dialectics is the teaching which shows how opposites can be and how they happen to be (how they become) identical–under what conditions they are identical, transforming themselves into one another,–why the human mind should take these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, transforming themselves into one another”

It is only the reactionary ruling classes of the past and present and the metaphysicians in their service who regard opposites not as living, conditional, mobile and transforming themselves into one another, but as dead and rigid, and they propagate this fallacy everywhere to delude the masses of the people, thus seeking to perpetuate their rule

Pearson’s pyramid and radical centre metaphors:

We are prisoners of our metaphors: by thinking of realism/pragmatism and idealism as opposite ends of a two‐dimensional plane, we see leaders inclining to one side or the other. The naïve and indignant yaw towards ideals and get nowhere, but their souls remain pure. The cold‐eyed and impatient pride themselves in their lack of romance and emotional foolishness: pragmatism and a remorseless Kissinger‐esque grasp of power make winning and survival the main prize every time. Those who harbour ideals but who need to work within the parameters of real power (as opposed to simply cloaking lazy capitulation under the easy mantle of righteous impotence) end up splitting the difference somewhere between ideals and reality. This is called compromise. And it is all too often of a low denominator.

I prefer a pyramid metaphor of leadership, with one side being realism and the other idealism, and the quality of leadership dependent on how closely the two sides are brought together. The apex of leadership is the point where the two sides meet. The highest ideals in the affairs of humans on Earth are realised when leadership strives to secure them through close attention to reality. Lofty idealism without pragmatism is worthless. What is pragmatism without ideals? At best it is management, but not leadership …

Idealism and realism in leadership do not constitute a zero‐sum game. This is not about securing a false compromise. It need not be a simple trade‐off where one splits the difference. The best leadership occurs at the point of highest tension between ideals and reality. This is the radical centre. If the idealism is weaker than the realism, then optimum leadership cannot be achieved. And vice versa. The radical centre is achieved when both are strong

Development is uneven, equilibrium is always temporary


In any contradiction the development of the contradictory aspects is uneven. Sometimes they seem to be in equilibrium, which is however only temporary and relative, while unevenness is basic. Of the two contradictory aspects, one must be principal and the other secondary. The principal aspect is the one playing the leading role in the contradiction. The nature of a thing is determined mainly by the principal aspect of a contradiction, the aspect which has gained the dominant position…. Nothing in this world develops absolutely evenly; we must oppose the theory of even development or the theory of equilibrium


“… it is difficult for the same actor to play several roles in the dialectical process. It is possible for the same person to have an overall intellectual analysis, but practical politics and the production of theory are not the same thing. For example, in a socially and economically successful country, there is competition between interests and forces which represent capitalist principles on the one hand, organisations which represent communal and socialist ideas on the other, and inspired political leaders who perform the synthesis between these contradictions. It is possible for an individual to have an intellectual appreciation of this, but that individual can hardly play all three roles …

I will finish by setting out some reflections on my experience of driving an agenda of rights and responsibilities in Indigenous policy. By the end of the last millennium, it was not possible to continue in this area without facing up to the gaping responsibility deficit. It was a deficit of which I had long been aware, but the prevailing currents were averse to this particular R word. Two other Rs – rights and reconciliation – were ruling. I have never doubted the correctness of our claim to rights; I have made a contribution to the struggle for the rights of my people in Cape York Peninsula, and have continued this contribution. Our rights to our traditional lands, to our languages and our cultures, our identities and traditions are a constant part of our work for a better future for our people.

When I decided that we could no longer go on without saying that our people held responsibilities as well as rights, is was not a repudiation of rights. It was just that all of the talk, all the advocacy, all the analysis, all the leadership, and all the policy and politics was about rights. There was no talk about responsibility. So when we talked about child malnutrition, we spoke of the rights of the children and the responsibility of governments, but we didn’t talk about the responsibilities of parents. We didn’t ask “how come children are malnourished?” It can’t be because the parents have no money, because in Australia the government provides money to all those who don’t have an income. It can’t be because there is no food available – there are shops in these communities where the malnourished children live, as well as bush food.

There was a widespread refusal to even think about responsibility. If there were no practical consequences to our failure to talk about responsibility – and strong strategic reasons not to make the responsibility concession to the political right – then this situation could have continued. But there are practical consequences galore! It is simply not possible to see how any social or economic problem can be solved, or opportunity seized, if we don’t first accept responsibility. No progress can be made without filling the gaping deficit.

My view is that the main reason why people have refused (and still refuse) to talk about responsibility is not for strong strategic reasons, but because they actually believe that better health and better education and better housing and better life expectancy and better survival of traditional languages are rights that can be enjoyed if other people – specifically governments, but also the wider society – take the necessary actions to make them materialise. It amounts to this absurdity: my rights depend on you fulfilling your responsibilities to me. Who in world history has ever been saved by anyone in the way we hope whitefellas will save our people?”

Any thoughts about these and / or other principles of dialectical philosophy and how they can or should be applied to the current local or world situation? eg. What is the principal contradiction in the world today?

Pearson’s radical hope

noel pearson

Noel Pearson:

I need to revisit the first point I made in my 2009 essay Radical Hope. Quoting Jonathan Lear, I said what made the hope of a people who lost their old world radical was that “it is directed towards a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is. Radical hope anticipates a good for which those who have the hope as yet lack the appropriate concepts with which to understand it”.

Closing the gap in education, and Aboriginal Australians’ internalisation of the Enlightenment, are necessary for my people to take their rightful place in the national and global communities. But those things don’t transcend our present understanding …

We do need economically and socially sustainable lives; but it is our cultural link with the past – a link that would break without language – that makes our lives spiritually sustainable as members of a conquered people. What we need more than anything else is to see that our tongues are not dying languages spoken only in a few homes but languages with a future: growing, officially recognised languages of Australia
Speaking one’s mother tongue is vital

I’d be interested in the thoughts of others about this passionate article by Noel Pearson.

I read his Radical Hope essay when it was published in 2009 and was persuaded that behaviourist based delivery (the ever controversial Pearson has opted for Zig Engelmann’s “Direct Instruction”) was essential to jump start his Cape York education reform. However, note that the Cape York educational system was designed to be well and truly bicultural as well as behaviourist.

It is Pearson’s grasp of dialectics that enables him to plan and implement a scheme which draws from opposite sides of educational philosophy. It is also clear from the article that his grasp of dialectics has enabled Pearson to significantly influence the thinking of Tony Abbott, in a similar way to his previous influence on John Howard.

Aboriginal Communities and the One Laptop Per Child deployment

Rawa Community School, WA, 7 Apr 2009

One Laptop Per Child Australia has done a good job of deploying laptops to roughly 400,000 children in remote aboriginal communities:

View One Laptop Per Child Australia in a larger map

Ear-marked or has expressed interest for deployment
Scheduled for deployment
Partial deployment
Full deployment – one laptop per child

This is best viewed at Google Maps but even in this version if you click on map icons you can obtain more detail of the deployments.

shock tactics in alice

The Weekend Australian (Feb 19-20) ran an article, Destroyed in Alice by Nicolas Rothwell exposing the severe alcohol and drug abuse problems amongst aboriginal people in Alice Springs.

In response, some have deplored Rothwell’s “shock tactics”

In some ways this is already an old discussion. Rothwell’s so called shock tactics ought to be welcomed. The taboo of not discussing the most shameful features of our society is now long broken. How does not exposing shame assist the shamed? No one has ever explained this. The taboo was broken by Noel Pearson many years ago, for example, in his Charlie Perkins memorial Oration, On the human right to misery, mass incarceration and early death (October 2001). This set the precedent and the taboo has been broken on an increasingly frequent basis since then.

Continue reading ‘shock tactics in alice’

Frances Widdowson and Noel Pearson

Frances Pearson is a Canadian author on Aboriginal issues there. Her blog, Offended by Offence, has a recent article “Developments in Australian Aboriginal Policy”. The article discusses the work of Noel Pearson and Peter Sutton.

It appears that the discussion here when we mentioned a review of Widdowson’s book “Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry” might have helped to connect Widdowson with Pearson’s work.

Aboriginal disadvantage is either getting worse or worse than we thought, or both

The Productivity Commission Report is worth a gander. It is called Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2009

As Paul Kelly in The Australian points out this two yearly report will start to make government accountable by showing whether its policies are doing any good.

Noel Pearson has an interesting piece in the same publication. He says that government bureaucrats cannot be trusted to come up with decent policies. Watching them in action is a bit like watching Ground Hog Day. The leadership has to come from the indigenous community.

Another piece from The Australian has a revealing quote:

“Mr Rudd admitted the unavailability of reliable data meant he was unable to say whether his $4.6 billion Closing the Gap policy package was having any effect in lifting indigenous living standards in crucial areas such as health and education.”

Review of “Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry”

Today’s Online Opinion publishes a review by Joseph Quesnel of Frances Widdowson and Albert Howard’s book “Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry: The Deception behind Indigenous Cultural Preservation”.

The book, which is available here, looks at the “Aboriginal Industry” in Canada, says that “Native people in Canada continue to suffer all the symptoms of a marginalized existence – high rates of substance abuse, violence, poverty. Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry argues that the policies proposed to address these problems – land claims and self government – are in fact contributing to their entrenchment.”

Quesnel’s review states that “insofar as Aboriginal communities remain focused on pre-capitalist, kinship-based thinking still attached to traditional conceptions of governance, corruption is the result in the modern context. It is, Widdowson and Albert assert, what keeps Indigenous people from enjoying the benefits of modernity.”

Quesnel also says:

Widdowson and Albert recount an experience while they worked with the Northwest Territories government. There, they discovered that the government was interested in aboriginal “traditional knowledge”, despite not being able to define it and which anyway interfered with actual science. The main problem, as they see it, is that this knowledge is derived from pre-scientific animistic beliefs. A central problem for the authors is the unavoidably spiritual dimensions of so much thinking on Aboriginal issues which, they caution, inform public policy and make empirical observations problematic.