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Tuesday, 26 October 1971
Page: 2497

Mr KATTER (Kennedy) - During the time available to me I intend, naturally, to concern myself with Aboriginal welfare and with the way in which Aboriginals will benefit this year from the estimates of the Department of the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts. The speaker who preceded me in this debate was the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) who is, of course, well known for his pontificating on various subjects and for entering the electorates of other honourable members, wandering around generally and passing judgment on what is happening with respect to Aboriginal affairs in the remote areas. He made specific mention of my home town of Cloncurry. I regret that I did not know that he was visiting Cloncurry because I most certainly would have liked him to have inspected the transient home in Cloncurry. My goodness, what a description that is. This was a building constructed by a Labor government for Aboriginals who were passing through or spending some time in Cloncurry. It is a rather remarkable building. When constructed it did not even have the conveniences that are provided in some stables which are no more than 200 yards from it. It had an earth floor and no partitions. All in all it was an utter disgrace. I should have liked the honourable member for Wills to have examined this building while he was in Cloncurry. I am sure that he would have been terribly impressed with this shocking contribution, or so called contribution, to Aboriginal affairs in those days.

Many theories are advanced concerning what should or should not be done for Aboriginals by people who have not the slightest knowledge of how Aboriginals live, what their reactions are to specific matters, what their attributes are and what are their general attitudes. There is only one way of understanding the Australian Aboriginals and that is by living among them, sharing their way of life and understanding their attitudes to our way of life. They often say: 'When is someone going to talk to us and ask us what we think is the best that should be done for us?' I. will give an example. I refer to the participation by Aboriginals in development that is proceeding in various parts of Australia. I remember well when Mornington Island was in the electorate of Kennedy visiting that island with the honourable member who subsequently became Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the Honourable Bill Wentworth. One evening we met members of the local Aboriginal council. We sat and chatted with them, seeking their views. We were most successful in our efforts, if I may say so. They said: 'Look, let us face it. We cannot adapt ourselves to what other people think we should be doing. We excel at the things we know most'.

They mentioned particularly fishing in the waters in the vicinity of Mornington Island. They were sensible and constructive in what they proposed. They said: 'People are coming here with new equipment and new methods of fishing out these waters, but we alone know the habits of the prawns and the fish in these areas. We have been here from the dreamtime days'. Their corroborees and their entertainments are all based on what they claim is their dreamtime history. It is a wonderful experience to be present in the actualenvironment in which their folklore and corroborees originated. The Aboriginals know these areas. They had a sensible approach to participation in an industry 10 which they could make their contribution. They have a down to earth knowledge of the best way of fishing those waters. These people foreshadowed that if the acceleration of the intensity of fishing the waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria were to continue those waters would be fished out. This happened, but, of course, those waters have come good again.

I refer now to the development at Gove. The normal and logical approach to this development would be to permit the Aboriginals to provide the food requirements for the area. This is being done to some extent. They should be enabled to occupy the land in that area and to raise cattle, perhaps in the early stages under the supervision of people who understand the business side of such activity and the best way of producing the most from the land. If this were permitted there would be a sensible, constructive and gradual participation by Aboriginal people in the way they want it, and not as someone else suggests it should be. These people cannot be pushed. They do not want to be pushed. Some people, with the best intention, suggest ways in which Aboriginals can be assisted and they seek to press them into what they feel is best for them. I am not for one moment reflecting on the intentions of these people but, in many cases they smash the things that are most sacred to the Aboriginals - his family life and family unit. If this is done the Aboriginal is wrecked. Everything else becomes nonmeaningful because what he loves best in this world is his babies.

No-one will deny that there is not serious mortality among Aboriginal infants, particularly in the backblocks of the Northern Territory and in my own electorate. This is very worrying. It should not be suggested that the Government is not doing everything possible to try to cope with the situation. One should talk to the people who really understand this problem. I remember having lengthy discussions with the matron of a hospital which was dealing with maternal and child welfare in the Alice Springs area. She pointed out that Aboriginal mothers would come in from the tribal grounds in the Northern Territory and be trained to look after their babies. She said that the results were almost dramatic. The Aboriginal women had a natural ability to learn maternal and child welfare. The unfortunate thing was that these women could not be kept at the hospital indefinitely but had to return to their tribal grounds.

I am sure that the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) would substantiate this claim. He is regarded by all fair minded people in that area as having a deep understanding and deep sympathy for the Aboriginal people. Those people who are not influenced by political stirrers who come into areas that they do not even understand will admit frankly that the honourable member for the Northern Territory is highly regarded. Why should not the people in those areas by sympathetic towards him? He has lived for 30 years in the Northern Territory. He did not go there for purely political purposes. I have said it before, and I say it again, that those stirrers who come into the remote areas go through them like a brumby with his tail on fire. They are in and out like a flash, leaving trouble behind them. However they do not have much influence on local opinion and I am sure that when the results of the election held last weekend for the Northern Territory Legislative Council come out this will be clearly in evidence.

On the question of education of the Aboriginals it is interesting to note that at present there is one Aboriginal university graduate. A further 14 Aboriginals are presently at university and there has been a gradual building up of those who are capable of being admitted to universities. This, in itself, is progress, although not as fast as we would wish it to be. Here again the wishes of the people themselves must be considered. As long as I am a member of this House I will protect the right of the Aboriginal to maintain his own dignity, to preserve his own family unit and his desires to blend in and to enjoy progress and not to be pressed into it.

A few moments ago I referred to participation by Aboriginals in activities in their own areas. When planning is being undertaken for the Aboriginals it should be done in consultation with the local Aboriginal councils which comprise men who are highly intelligent, who have the confidence of people in the area and who understand and live with Aboriginals in the area. They have not only the confidence of their own people but of other residents. They can be a means of liaison which is extremely valuable. For goodness sake, let the Government take advantage of their knowledge. If this is done we will see the genuine advancement of our Aboriginal people. While I am a member of this House I will fight against the Aboriginals being exploited for political purposes, which is a shabby, distasteful and unacceptable thing which is happening throughout the country.

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