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Wednesday, 29 August 1973
Page: 557


Mr MATHEWS (Casey) - It does not seem to me to be useful at this stage of the debate either for me to restate in my own words and with additional illustrations, the speech that we heard from the Treasurer (Mr Crean) 8 days ago, or for that matter to reply to the rehashing to which we have just listened of the speech we heard from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) last night. One of the aspects of the Budget to which I had expected that the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), who has just resumed his seat, would have referred in a positive spirit was the fact that the Department of Aboriginal Affairs has had its appropriation for this year lifted from $46m to $89m. This is a development I expected the former Minister to greet and set aside from the body of the Budget which he otherwise roundly condemns.

This Budget is being brought down at a time when the Woodward Committee which is looking into the subject of Aboriginal land rights has just presented its interim report. Land rights are a matter to which over the months ahead the Parliament will be paying some attention. In the circumstances, rather than retrace the ground which has been covered already so many times in this debate, I want to address myself to the question of Aboriginal land rights within the framework of the appropriation brought down in the Budget. I want to say something about the only project of this kind launched so far.

On 24 July 1971, the Governor of Victoria, Sir Rohan Delacombe, handed over to the Chairman of the Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust, Mr Charlie Carter, title deeds to 4,000 acres of land. The Governor said at the time that his action marked a turning point in aboriginal affairs. The Victorian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Meagher, said: 'We give you the land with the hope and expectation that you will hold and cherish it' and Mr Carter said: This is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to anyone'. But the Country Party member for East Gippsland, Mr Bruce Evans - the man on the spot said:

The plan to allow the residents of Lake Tyers to

Tun the reserve as a trust and to stand on their own feet has failure built into it. One third of the adult trust members are pensioners. The remainder are those who have been unable to respond to Government encouragement in years gone by to move out into the community, so naturally have at the best extremely, limited experience in or knowledge of farming operations and probably a complete absence of knowledge of the much more vital problems of farm economics. Further, with at the most four exceptions, all the adults are heavily addicted to drink, and are in fact extremely sick people.

The Victorian Ministry for Aboriginal Affairs responded to Mr Evans' remarks by initiating against him in the name of Trust members a writ for libel. It responded by appointing Europeans to 2 positions on the committee of management for Lake Tyers and to the position of farm manager. The writ was withdrawn when a number of the nominal plaintiffs declared publicly that they had neither anticipated nor desired the course of action taken in their names. The appointments have been a failure, despite the best efforts of the manager, whose undoubted professional competence, sincerity and good-will have not equipped him to help the people of Lake Tyers to overcome their formidable social problems, or rise to the challenge of community-building with which they find themselves faced. Today the man to whom the title deeds of the property were handed, Mr Carter, is a broken man, thinking about undergoing treatment for alcoholism at Larundel after serving 3 terms of imprisonment for offences associated with that sickness. The land which was handed over by Mr Meagher is being bought back by his successor Mr Dickie on behalf of the Victorian Government. The high hopes expressed by the Governor of Victoria, Sir Rohan Delacombe, have come to nothing.

Whereas shares in the Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust were assigned 2 years ago to 33 adults and 58 children, the number of shareholders currently living at Lake Tyers is 19 adults and 15 children. The number of shareholders who are willing to occupy their property has fallen over a 2 year period by twothirds. Shareholders with scrip worth up to $250,000 have been driven by despair not only to give up the occupancy of their property but in some instances to sell up their equity in it. The Secretary of the Trust, Mrs Johnson, was advised in a letter from the Acting Director of Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Renkin, dated 22 May this year, that the Ministry had become 'a registered holder of shares in the Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust on behalf of the Crown', and expected therefore to be represented at future Trust meetings. The people of Lake Tyers were visited only last week by an officer of the Ministry endea vouring to buy up still more shares. These facts illustrate clearly the Midas touch of failure which Victorian governments bring to all their dealings with the Aborigines of East Gippsland. They show why Lake Tyers has become a source of hope not for the Aboriginal people but for racists and critics of the land rights movement.

The Commonwealth Development Bank advised the Committee for the Commonwealth Capital Fund for Aboriginal Enterprises on 29 December 1970 that even the most feasible development program for Lake Tyers would have marginal prospects and depend for its success upon management of a high order. In choosing to ignore this advice and instead to hand over Lake Tyers to a group of Aborigines described by their own representative in the Victorian Parliament as having 'at best extremely limited experience in or knowledge of farming operations and probably a complete absence of knowledge of the more vital problems of farm economies', the Victorian Government showed a cynical disregard for the cause of Aboriginal land rights to which its spokesmen at the same time were paying lip service. The Government raised expectations both among Aborigines and in other sections of the community which it knew could not be satisfied. The first Chairman of the Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust, Mr Charlie Carter, told reporters at the time of the handover:

I feel a tourist area at Lake Tyers would be a winner. But as we don't have enough money for its development we will lease some of our land. This will bring in extra income and eventually the land that has been cleared and the buildings that have been erected will be ours. Then we will bring in more of our people and so on until all the land has been cleared and is productive. We need more people so we can develop both culturally and economically. And I'd like to see our own cricket and football teams giving the rest of the district a hiding.

Two years have gone by since Mr Carter articulated so clearly the aspirations of his people. In that period Mr Carter has served gaol sentences for drunken driving, larceny and destruction of railway property, and currently he is at Lake Tyers waiting on the result of his application for an invalid pension and, as I have mentioned already, considering entering Larundel for treatment as an alcoholic. Mr Carter is 41 years of age.

The second Chairman of the Trust, Mr Murray Bull, said shortly after assuming office in October 1971 - that is, within 5 months of the inception of the project - that the handover of Lake Tyers had been premature since 'we haven't got the knowledge yet', but he affirmed quite bravely, 'I think we can make a go of it.' Mr Bull who even now is only 25 years old, resigned within a year both as Chairman and as a management committee member and has left Lake Tyers for a job at Longford. The current Chairman of the Trust, Mr Con Edwards, is a 71 -year-old invalid pensioner who does his best for the people of Lake Tyers in the circumstances as he finds them and within the limitations of a bad heart. Not one of these men is a 'nohoper' but each in turn has been landed with the responsibility for an undertaking which had failure built in at the outset, and each in his own way and in his own turn has broken under the burden of that responsibility.

The number of Aborigines on the 7-man Lake Tyers committee of management has fallen from 5 to 2, and great difficulty is being experienced in finding replacements for those who have resigned. The prevailing despair of the community was expressed earlier this year by one of the few remaining active shareholders, Mr Freddie Johnson, who said: 'It's going backwards. There's not enough work around here and the pensioners aren't interested in the farm. I don't know what's going to happen.' More than half the 36 adult Aborigines resident at present on the Lake Tyers property are living on social security payments or waiting for approval as social security beneficiaries. There are jobs for only 4 adults on the farm itself and the 5 young people between 15 and 17 years of age neither work nor attend school. The aspirations, determination and self-respect of the Aborigines of Lake Tyers, no less than the health of Aboriginal children throughout East Gippsland-


Mr Katter - You are talking about the health of Aboriginal children and yet you are taking their free milk from them. What is wrong with you?


Mr MATHEWS - If I can encourage the honourable member to pay a visit to East Gippsland some time in the near future, I think he will see that an improvement is under way. These things have been sacrificed to the doctrinaire determination on the part of the Victorian Ministry for Aboriginal Affairs to 'make the Aborigine stand on his own two feet'. They have been sacrificed to the dogma that Aborigines must run before they have finished learning to walk.

Early this year men with a semi-trailer stole more than 100 new-born lambs from the Lake Tyers paddocks. Early this year Mr Carter's mother told reporters:

Things are bad. This is private property and every day and night there are these white blokes coming in here, and, you know what I mean - taking the women out. Not the younger girls, but the teenagers - taking them out in cars.

Questioned last year in the Victorian Legislative Assembly, .Mr Hamer, now the Premier, told Mr Evans that police from Lakes Entrance were frequently called to deal with drunken brawling and damage to property at Lake Tyers and that the Chairman and other Trust members had complained to the police about Europeans taking alcohol into Lake Tyers for the purpose of procuring young women. A writer for 'Nation Review' was told by the railway porter at Nowa Nowa that the amount of wine consigned weekly to a local motel had risen from 5 to 25 cases. He was told by a local police superintendent that the incidence of crimes associated with alcohol had increased since the handover of the Lake Tyers property to the Trust. These are characteristics not, as has been suggested sometimes, of a community nearing the end of heartbreak, but of a community for which heartbreak has become a way of life. Having lost respect for themselves, the Lake Tyers people are denied respect and exploited by the wider community of which they are a part.

Last year Mr Carter was hit on the head and lay for 3 days in a coma because there was no car on the property at the time and therefore no way of getting him to hospital. When an ambulance called to take a child to hospital for regular treatment, the driver refused to take Mr Carter as well, and only grudgingly agreed to arrange for another ambulance to be sent out for him. When Mr Carter reached Bairnsdale Hospital he was given a week's treatment for stomach ulcers before the authorities became concerned enough over his failure to recover consciousness to dispatch him to Melbourne, where a 2-week old brain haemorrhage was at last diagnosed. Even then treatment was held up because the Bairnsdale Hospital authorities had forgotten or not bothered to send on a case history or indeed any information other than the patient's name. Whereas frequent false alarms have made the Bairnsdale ambulance service reluctant to visit Lake Tyers in response to calls from Aborigines, it is th, policy of the Victorian Ministry that such calls should not be made on behalf of Aborigines by other people. It is not from a book or a film but from grim experience that the Aborigines of Lake Tyers have learned the meaning of 'Catch-22'.

Mr Carter'swife is dead, and he went to prison leaving his 14-year old daughter in charge of 5 younger children. The family hunted possums, scrounged other food where they could and slept where they could find beds until the local policewoman became aware of their predicament and said they would have to be made wards of the State. Friends arranged instead for the younger children to be fostered away from Lake Tyers, despite the insistence of a high official of the Ministry that they should be returned to the care of a 70-year old grandmother who was not in a position either physically or financially to accept the responsibility. The eldest girl also accepted foster care for a time, but then hitch-hiked back to Lake Tyers so that she could be there when her father got out of prison. She lived by killing rabbits with sticks and stealing cabbages and potatoes until starvation and an infestation of scabies drove her back to the foster home. Nobody commented on her 8-month absence from school, because it is taken for granted by the Ministry that Aboriginal children will be kept home not only by their frequent illnesses but also bv jobs like bean-picking.

The predicament of Lake Tyers is symbolised by the 3 Chairmen who have held office within a 2-year period and had their spirits broken in doing so, by the management committee members who have resigned their positions and the shareholders who have gone away or who now rely on the Department of Social Security for their incomes and upon alcohol as a substitute for self-respect. It is symbolised by broken-down farm machinery and the bus upon which Trust members depend for their link with the world outside being garaged in Bairnsdale because there is nobody at Lake Tyers authorised to drive it. It is symbolised by the Ministry sending out its officials to buy back from Aborigines the shares with which they were issued only 2 short years ago. It is symbolised by houses deteriorating for lack of maintenance and the wrecked school building which 2 years ago was to have become a community centre. It is symbolised by Mr Carter waiting for an invalid pension and the chance to dry out in Larundel, at the settlement where 2 years ago he planned to create a new home and a new hope for his people.

Shares in the Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust acquired in recent months by the Victorian Ministry for Aboriginal Affairs must now be reassigned to Aborigines who can make good those deficiencies in skills and expertise and leadership by which the Trust has so far found itself crippled. There is a need in particular for new Trust members trained in the techniques of community action and development and able to generate a new enthusiasm among the people of Lake Tyers and to crystallise the ideas for development of their property to which so far they have given only vague expression. The approach for a detailed feasibility study of the future development of Lake Tyers which has been made by the Trust to the Australian Government should be accepted immediately and backed up immediately with the resources of the Capital Fund. Arrangements should be made for the enrolment in Australian Government restraining programs of those residents of Lake Tyers - particularly women - who at present are unemployed dr under-employed, and for provision of the necessary training facilities either at Lake Tyers or in nearby centres. An Aboriginal motor mechanic should be recruited or trained to maintain the vehicles and machinery of the Trust and bring back the bus which is garaged at present in Bairnsdale. There must be better provision for the health care of the community and better incentives for its young people over the school leaving age to persist with their' education. It is in this way alone that we can make up to some extent for the humiliations, frustrations and disappointments of which this small, unlucky settlement has been made a victim.

Not the least welcome of the provisions in the Budget to which this House is now giving consideration is the emphasis which is given to the Government's sense of responsibility to the original inhabitants of this country. The honourable member for Mackellar, who preceded me in this debate, carved out for himself in the political history of this country a reputation for a sensitivity and a concern for the affairs of the Aboriginal people of Australia for which there was no precedent. I believe that in this Budget we are building on foundations which he laid. The only way open in this important matter for future governments is forward.







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