Friday, 15 January 2016


Today's blog post is a comment on the dark cloud of misinformation that hangs over Indigenous people.  

Or an alternative heading:  The difference between good news and bad news.
By Siv Parker

I'll start with a definition...
Doorstop:  An interview with a politician or other public figure (apparently informal or spontaneous but often planned), as they enter or leave a building. Source: wikipedia 
When I am talking about independent media and locations with significant Aboriginal populations, a 'doorstop' takes on a whole new meaning.

I'll being with some background.  An enormous amount of written material finds its way to Aboriginal organisations.  Medical centres, legal centres, land councils, council offices, cultural centres are specifically targeted for mailouts.

Government information kits, health campaign material, brochures, booklets and posters are plastic wrapped, boxed and sealed in canisters to make the long haul out to remote communities, country towns and the western suburbs.

A centre will often run out of wall space long before they run out of high gloss awareness-raising material to blue tac across it.

And then there are the publications from independent media.  Most prized is the fortnightly Aboriginal-owned Koori Mail Newspaper.  The Northern Territory mainland land councils have also produced high quality quarterlies of local Land Rights News for a couple of decades.

That’s the good news. The type of ethical news that penetrates rural, remote and city Indigenous population centres.  I remember a survey from some years ago, that calculated a single Koori Mail Newspaper could be read by an average of 11 people.  When I worked in the Northern Territory I kept a stack of Land Rights News in my car because I knew people wanted to read them.

And then there is the other kind of news - the deliveries that may not even make it through the council door. Stacks of unopened newspapers and magazines arrive with the barest of encouragement and are stacked on the outside of the building.  
I’ve seen them.  I’ve had to walk around the great lumps of paper, while navigating a door with a gap at the bottom big enough to let in scorpions and drifts of fine red dirt.
These stacks and boxes are useful to hold the front door open.  I’ve seen people recoil after being offered a free magazine, paper or activist newsletter from the unloved stacks at the door of a council building. I've seen the same cold shoulder to free offerings from swollen newspaper stands while people-watching during boarding domestic flights in Sydney and Melbourne.  You couldn't give them away.

In communities that have intermittent rubbish removal and no incinerators, the distributors of the vanity publications should take pity.  The plastic wrappers break down and perish in the harsh climate.  An open pack will litter a wind swept plain for miles.

I’ve heard a theory tossed around that when main stream media is severely biased against Indigenous people – independent media should position themselves way over on the other side.  I don’t agree.  
  • Apart from the slippery slope of giving anyone the green light to fabricate information, it's obvious that biased reporting does not make good business sense.
  • Over and over again, Indigenous people have seen publishing projects fail to keep afloat - they fall over and die.
  • There is a general unease at the tone of independent media, when it is a vehicle for sexism and lateral violence.  There is a limited audience for opinion when their inside voice is not Indigenous.
  • I don’t want propaganda. I want information I can use.  I want accurate information so I can participate in national debates. Quite frankly, I'd rather not look stupid or naive.
  • Others who like the news with a serve of bias and romanticism, well they are welcome to it.  But, talking up 'Aboriginal perspectives' - claiming some special insider knowledge - is too big a claim when an individual is only equipped to speak for themselves and as per their mandate.    
Consider this aside - There were no tanks used during the Northern Territory Intervention.  Not one single armoured vehicle was deployed in over two years of on the ground activity.  But from time to time, a reference to tanks used to intimidate remote Indigenous communities pops up.

Where this bizarre myth originated from, I have no idea.

Think about it - how did the tanks get to the remote communities? 

What's their average speed - 40km an hour? Driven over hundreds of kilometres?  This assumes access roads existed, when they don't for all of the remote 73 communities and the countless outstations.  Some places were only possible to get in and out of via small planes.  

And how many tanks were required? One? Ten? 

And why has mainstream or any other kind of media never produced ANY photographic evidence of a fleet, or a single tank rolling across Australia?  

This kind of imagery - needing a tank to enter an Aboriginal community...who does it favour?  It certainly doesn't do the community mob any favours to suggest that a tank was required.  After all, a tank is used to take out another tank.  Or withstand heavy fire.  

There are plenty of facts to draw on when the intention is to point out the inadequacies of the Intervention.  Setting aside the Racial Discrimination Act to enact special legislation, was roundly condemned by a number of inquiries.  If this grim action is not enough to get attention, consider the messenger or the delivery, rather than adding a tank, or a flame thrower, or a parachuting ninja.

I want to know what Indigenous people are thinking. Not just the voices that gather in small city groups around desk top publishing and websites. I need a diversity of views.
Indigenous people have been counted in the census since 1967.  It is not that hard to find out where they live.  
Total Indigenous population, June 2011: 669, 900 

Roughly, a third of the Indigenous population live in remote areas, another third in rural and regional centres, and the remainder are in the cities.

Indigenous issues cannot be limited to the large Indigenous population spread around the greater Sydney area.

A quick glance at an ‘Aboriginal land tenure’ map below reveals the obvious need to not exclude the rural and remote perspectives from the national debate.

Or to put it simply – the white parts have no authority – legal, moral or cultural - to talk over and shout down the coloured parts.  

Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land.  On that basis, Indigenous affairs is not a numbers game at all. 

NOTES:  For further information about Indigenous populations, take a look at the handy data sets compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

DISCLAIMERS:  I have contributed from time to time to the Koori Mail Newspaper. And amongst all the white of NSW I have a deep and abiding interest in a tiny speck of orange.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Filling the void

Filling the Void
by Siv Parker

Whispering through a keyhole from behind a locked door, hoping the passing foot traffic pauses and wonders where the sound came from.  
That’s how it feels to open an account on Twitter.  It can take more time than people feel is worth spending, to build an account and a profile.  

Twitter knows this is a deterent to people joining the micro blogging platform. The CEO of the social media (SM) platform recently announced it was thinking hard about increasing the size of a tweet from a whisper of 140 characters to an almost unimaginable, shouty 10,000 characters. 

Of those who cared – and not everyone does - the reaction from people at home on Twitter looked a lot like this.

I can go either way.  Being confined to 140 characters makes a person's writing tight.  I like the challenge of telling a yarn in tiny bites.
My pitch: Using modern technology to share the world's oldest culture 
It took me a while to adjust to the basics of communication when I moved to work in the remote parts of Australia.  In a recent account from a student doctor's first time to the Northern Territory, they mentioned the difficulty in adjusting to the silence, to feeling like she didn’t have to talk all the time.

Some people never savvy the silence.  When I read reports and inquiries into Indigenous issues, I can see where the silence has been filled with the researcher's voice, their life experience, their determination to stamp out what vexes them.  

In my travels north, once I adjusted to the feel of silence, it grew from a small space between me and the people I met.  It got wider, deeper. 

And it made me think about what noise I made to disturb the silence.  What I put out there would hang there.  Uncomfortably so, if I wasn't careful.

A tweet will hang in the air as well.  That wont change if the tweet box expands to 10,000 characters. 

It is possible to have a conversation in short grabs. 

After all, these days that is how many of us are now consuming the news sites.  It’s become all about the headline, the first paragraph, maybe a quote that’s pulled out.  Sure read to the end, no one is stopping you.  But increasingly, if a news story can’t make it work in the first eye grab, what lies beneath the neck isn’t going to be seen.  

Shallow?  Probably coincided about the same time as the emojis appeared.  Tweets became emotional, just by adding a tiny yellow face.  Timelines became a flicker festival, when we also realised that adding an image guaranteed a tweet would be read 82% of the time.

For those mortified at the thought of not reading to the end of an article, they’re going to love 10,000-character long tweets. So long as we can have the choice of a fast lane too – block the caravans and the people movers - everyone will be happy.

Ye olde days of twitter, a conversation went like this….

Income management (IM) is where a percentage of a person's social security, Abstudy and family assistance payments are withheld from them and placed in an income management account in their name. A basics card is attached to this account.
IM is highly contentious and safe to say, @iMusing and I come at it from different perspectives. That is not an easy conversation in a series of 140-character boxes.

I think there is more to IM than meets the eye.  But it continues to be a difficult debate.  I appreciate writers of intelligence and integrity who take an interest in analysis - and for this reason I retweeted a recent post on iMusing's blog.