An EOY Wrap

Journal: 025

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Christmas at Milly’s

This is one more end of year post than I ‘normally’ do, and I more or less wrapped up the end of my driving year in Season’s Greetings.  But thank you all for encouraging/putting up with my Journals. And here’s wishing you a prosperous 2019.

At the works Christmas party I spoke briefly to Dragan, but the trailers I’m planning to buy are away, Brisbane probably, so there’s no hurry on that score. I was just going to have one beer and leave, but Dragan’s mum got hold of me and made sure I sat down to salads, arancini and crumbed prawns – the others had roast lamb and pig on a spit.

My break has been busy ferrying family – Ms 15 to and from work,  children and sisters in law from the airport to Milly’s and so on, though Psyche is staying with me. I’ve already locked her out of both the toilet and the bathroom. I live on my own, I’m not used to doors being shut. We learnt in a hurry how to unsnib them from the outside! And then I locked her in the flat when I went out, rode my bike to Milly’s to retrieve the ute early Boxing Day morning, and deadlocked the screen door. Today we all went shopping forgetting she was out running and locked her out of Milly’s. She’s getting a complex.

Big family parties Tuesday AND Wednesday. Weight no longer under control.

Lou and Psyche are with us for another week then, big news!, Lou flies to Morocco, to Casablanca, for a teaching job in Rabat. I still can’t believe he cleaned his flat out in the few days between the end of the Victorian school year and flying to Perth overnight on the 23rd. Here and here are Michelle Scott Tucker’s marvellous photos from her work trip to Marrakech a couple of years ago. Lou’s initial contract is for 18 months and then I think he’s hoping to work with disadvantaged kids in East Africa. He has some paid flights home but I hope he uses at least the first summer holidays to jump over to Europe. Meanwhile I’m going to have to learn to Skype.

Up till now Lou has been my Mum’s only rello in Melbourne and being a good grandson, has trained out to lunch with her most Sundays. Now mum’s nearest family are B3 and all his lot, and our cousin Kay, in Bendigo, a couple of hours away. I’d better stick at interstate for a while longer and see if I can do more trips over there.

Having time on my hands today I copied the stats for the year’s reading onto a spreadsheet to reveal the following: –

208 books read: made up of 19 non-fiction, 43 Literature, 39 general fiction (mostly romance), 14 SF, and 93 crime/thriller/mystery; the all-important male/female writer split is nearly even, 105/103; countries of origin: Australia 43, USA 73, UK 55, Europe 26, Asia 9. That left 2 books I didn’t have a column for, sorry Canada! I tried also to analyse the year the books were written and came up with: 2010-18 114, 2000-2009 40, 1960-99 25, 1900-59 15, pre-1900 14. The median (most common) entry was Male, Crime, USA, 2010-18 which shows what the library buys, not what I’d read for choice. As I’ve said at other times I will use Project Gutenberg and if I’m really pushed, Audible to weight my reading (listening) back to classics, literature (and SF).

Finally, over the last week I published two posts on Tracker Tilmouth, the late Northern Territory Aboriginal activist. Sue and Lisa warned me you guys might be distracted! The following story highlights one of Tracker’s main complaints – that most money given to the NT for Aboriginal disadvantage ends up staying in Darwin.

The Territory has always made a convincing case for the disproportionate cash: the country’s worst life expectancy rates, poorest performing hospitals and schools, the worst health outcomes. But Indigenous groups routinely say the money rarely finds its way to the communities where it’s needed.

“We’re going to say we need [more money] because we have remote Aboriginal communities, then we’ll spend it on a water park,” [sacked NT Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ken] Vowles told Guardian Australia [24 Dec. 2018]

“It’s untenable, it’s disgusting. There’s a lot of anger out there. We have ripped off countrymen in the bush for many, many years to prop up the [Darwin] northern suburbs. The money not spent on Aboriginal communities is disgusting.”

I loved Alexis Wright’s Tracker, as I’ve been banging on since I started reading it. It will be one of the great biographies, up there with David Marr’s Patrick White and Brian Matthews’ Louisa.

Today (Thursday) I think Perth’s pre-xmas heatwave reached the Eastern states. It shouldn’t last long, it’s already considerably cooler here today. Time now to stretch out on the verandah and read a book.

Recent audiobooks

Joseph Conrad (M, Eng), Heart of Darkness (1899)
Josephine Wilson (F, Aust/WA), Extinctions (2016)
Camilla Lackberg (F, Swe), The Ice Princess (2009)
Carrie Fisher (F, USA), The Princess Diarist (2016)
Vikas Swarup (M, Ind), Q&A (Slumdog Millionaire) (2005)
Lee Child (M, USA), Never Go Back (2013)
Ann Lewis Hamilton (F, USA), Expecting (2014)

Currently reading

Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel
Arthur Upfield, Cake in the Hat Box (1955)
Anuradha Roy, All the Lives We Never Lived (2017)

Books I gave for Xmas

Haruki Murakami, A Wild Sheep Chase (1982)
Tricia Sullivan, Dreaming in Smoke (2018) SF
Morris Gleitzman, Help Around the House (2018)
Bill Condon & Dianne Bates, The Adventures of Jellybean (2018)
Sarah Krasnostein, The Trauma Cleaner (2017)
Ruby J Murray, The Biographer’s Lover (2018)
Iwaki Kei, Farewell, My Orange (2013)
AS Patric, The Butcherbird Stories (2018)
Kenta Shinohara, Astra Lost in Space (2016/2063) Manga

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Tracker, Alexis Wright

Michael Winkler reviews 'Tracker: Stories of Tracker Tilmouth' by Alexis Wright

Tracker (2017) is Alexis Wright’s Stella Award winning ‘biography’ of Central Australian Aboriginal activist Tracker Tilmouth (1954-2015). Known during his childhood as Bruce, and officially as Leigh, he should now, I think, as a late Arrente man be called ‘Kwementyaye’ Tilmouth, but I will continue as his friend and biographer Wright does, with ‘Tracker’.

Tracker is a giant of a book, 620 pp, a collage of overlapping interviews and stories, told by Tracker himself with very occasional prompting from Wright, and by his friends and colleagues.


Tracker Tilmouth: My political education began at a very young age when Lois Bartram, the housemother of our cottage on Croker Island Mission, read … to my brother William and me … Cry, the Beloved Country.

I went to Croker when I was three or four years old, with my younger brothers [William and Patrick].

Lois Bartram: I went to Croker in 1956, and Bruce came in 1957. I was twenty-five … I had done general nursing training and mid and infant welfare.

My family and grandparents on both sides lived in Nullawil … in north-western Victoria, and were farmers in the area.

We heard at the beginning of the year that these three brothers were coming but then they didn’t come… I learnt years later when I met the boy’s Aunty Doreen that she and her husband had gone to court to gain custody.

The law that said children could be removed had just been changed. It had been repealed so that they could no longer be removed but the same bureaucrats were still in power, and they got around it by charging the kids with being neglected.

Patrick Tilmouth: Sister Bartram was a good lady. And a tiny lady, she was only tiny. She put the fear of God into all of us.


And so it goes on – these are only excerpts, each ‘story’ is generally two or three pages. The Arrente people are from the area around Alice Springs, but it was policy to send the children far enough that they could have no contact with their families, and so the boys went to Darwin, to the Retta Dixon, a “drafting yard” from whence children were distributed. Their five older half-siblings, “because their skin was fairer they were sent south.”

They were lucky with Lois Bartram, who loved and educated them, took them home with her on holidays (Tracker caused Nullawil’s first race riot during a game of cricket when he refused to be given out); and also with Croker Island where they were free to roam about and catch and ride the local ponies.

Tracker eventually does a bit of high school in Darwin, returns to Alice Springs, spends some years on a cattle station, meets his father, does a lot of hell-raising, begins to be involved with the Central Land Council, gets a degree (in Agricultural Science, I think, though he refers to himself as an economist) at Roseworthy in South Australia, lives and works with communities, particularly around Docker River on the WA border, and finally, with little fanfare, we find him assistant Director and then Director of the CLC. And from there he goes on to Indigenous politics, prawn farming, and advising on Aboriginal economic ventures.

Tracker’s story, which as you can imagine, does not proceed in straight lines, concerns his wide range of contacts through Indigenous, State and National politics, as well as of course all the actors in the Central Land area, and indeed throughout northern Australia; and his core belief that Aboriginals must achieve economic independence, and that all else is just gifts from their white masters.

So you have this assimilation process running at a hundred miles an hour, parallel to the dysfunction of Aboriginal communities. And they have to be kept dysfunctional because you do not want any models to evolve from the Aboriginal community. (p. 424)

Self-governance for Aboriginals is a myth. Property rights are a myth. The land is vested in the Commonwealth Government and indigenous people are permitted to live on it with conditions. Aboriginal bodies are invented, funded, appointed by Government. Government chooses from whom it will take advice – Tracker is very, very angry, and often very funny, about Black intellectuals, about the Dobsons, Marcia Langton, Warren Mundine; White people, failures down south, come to communities as workers, mechanics and end up Administrators; Black bureaucracies, the Northern Land Council in particular, follow the rules, “Stay between the lines”, collect their salaries, their constituency not communities but their paymasters, Government.

Tracker is a lifelong member of the Australian Labor Party, was certain to become a Senator, but was sabotaged, vilified by the man he was to succeed, Bob Collins, who subsequently suicided before he could face charges relating to sex with children. Nevertheless he is adamant that property rights for traditional owners, which logically flowed from Mabo, was hijacked by the Government acting for white interests, first by Paul Keating and then John Howard, that the Native Title Act confers nothing, no right to occupy, just the minimum of royalties from mining, soon squandered on salaries and fleets of white Toyotas.

Tracker led the CLC to buy up cattle properties in the NT, as there was a sunset provision in the Native Title Act which meant that up till a given date Native Title would be automatic on Aboriginal owned properties. His big success was Mistake Creek which has always been profitable, but his dream is horticulture based on the good soils and underground aquifers of much Aboriginal land.

Eventually, another case will make its way to the High Court, the Native Title Act will be thrown out and the original inhabitants will be granted full property rights to all unalienated land.

The next task is to find a model for community ownership. Tracker was greatly attracted to the Israeli Kibbutz Movement, both for their successes in desert agriculture and for their communal governance. The Governments’ policies divide and rule, deliberately causing divisions even within language groups. Abbott, at the time of writing still prime minister, in particular attempting to enforce a ‘white picket fence’, assimilationist, individual ownership model.

Tracker Tilmouth was a man bursting with ideas, and I have barely touched on them here, bursting with stories, riding racing camels, driving, camping, living in the bush, friends with everyone he met (maybe not Peter Garrett or Jenny Macklin), sitting on Bronwyn Bishop’s lap and asking her if she wanted to make babies (I will never get that out of my head!), driving major negotiations, Jabiluka, Century Zinc, telling the young Marandoo Yanner, a leader in the author’s own country at the bottom of the Gulf, that you don’t say you have sovereignty, you’re not given sovereignty, you take sovereignty, the sovereignty is yours and has 60,000 years of history.

If you’re serious about Reconciliation – and Reconciliation is just a token without Aboriginal property rights – then read this book.

 

Alexis Wright, Tracker, Giramondo, Sydney, 2017

see also:
My post, Tracker Tilmouth on … (here)
Lisa at ANZLL’s ‘thoughts’ (here) but – sorry Lisa! – don’t stop after 250 pages. This is a fascinating book from beginning to end. Not just the ‘life’; not just the format, story telling, which Wright has contributors discuss in the last hundred pages; but the knowledge of what worked and what didn’t, why so much of what we nice, liberal whites do is wasted, mired in bureaucracy, or runs headlong into racist government (every NT government) and dickheads like Malcolm ‘take your Statement from the Heart and shove it’ Turnbull; and whatever else you read, read p.499 on the community running Ali Curung Horticulture who kept the minutes of their meetings as an enormous ever-growing dreamtime mural.

Tracker Tilmouth on …

TRACKER,-GREG-CROUGH-KALKARINGI-CONVENTON.jpg
NT Aboriginal Constitutional Convention, Tennant Creek, 1993 (Central Lands Council archive)

Self Determination: The last thing [white people] want to do is have Aboriginal people escape. Escape through the fence and go into the paddock where you can dream the unthinkable dream. They were very worried for Aboriginal people, that democracy would break out, rather than guided democracy which we enjoy at the moment. The guided democracy is still in place. And so Aboriginal people do as they are told, when they are told, by whom they are told because they do not have any control over the finances. Anyone who says Aboriginal self-determination, I would say you really want to think about that statement before I hear it again. (p.264)

Negotiating: My main argument is that you cannot go to the table with a begging bowl. If you are going to exercise your rights, and your rights are enshrined in the ownership of land, your rights are also enshrined in the economic power that you bring to the table. You cannot negotiate from a point of, Please be kind to me, I am a coon. That goes nowhere. The only time you negotiate is when you say, Righto! If you don’t listen to me it’s going to cost you. And it is going to cost you a lot more than you thought. It is delaying your project, it is delaying your resource development, it is delaying everything. (p.351)

The Intervention: The minute you saw the Intervention in the Northern Territory you thought this is madness, absolute madness. It had taken so long to get people to start [working on] self-determination, and to understand what self-determination means, and then as soon as they nearly grasp it, [the government] takes it away from them…

Even under Australian government policies of self-determination, self-management was never really happening. It was words. When there is an invasion of land, where there is an invasion of policy, whether it is an invasion of money, you cannot [win]… The minute you rely on somebody else you are gone. You adopt their policies and politics…

So you have this argument that is coming, and it has not stopped coming, and it is that the next boom in the Northern Territory will be gas and oil, and they are going to say, Righto! What have you got to offer and how do we take it off you?

Diminished through the Intervention. Totally sat on our arse. Totally sat on our arse because the Intervention was the worse thing that ever happened. Did we get any arguments from Labor politicians about the Intervention in the Northern Territory? None. (pp. 374-6)

Paul Keating: The agenda [during the negotiations to develop the native title legislation in 1993] … had nothing to do with Aboriginal people and that was day one on native title. What does the government want? Not what do you want, not how do you want it, nothing like that, so [Michael] Mansell, Clarky [Geoff Clark], and those blokes and me were pushed out the door … We were thrown out … never invited to another meeting. It had nothing to do with what Keating could deliver to you. It was about what you could deliver to Keating. Keating saw them coming a mile away. He did them cold. And today the argument that is continuing is about property rights on native title and the delivering of native title was not a discussion for Aboriginal people, it was a discussion by the leaders to deliver the Aboriginal people on a plate to Keating…

So yes, the native title debate was an absolute sellout by Aboriginal people who should have had a lot more understanding of what were the rights of Aboriginal people going forward. We lost all the ground that Faith Bandler and those people gained for us. Lost all the ground that Charlie Perkins gained for us. Lost all of that. (pp. 246-8)

Property rights: This is the disconnect that land councils keep falling over, this question about what role has native title got in relation to the [NT] Land Rights Act? The answer is very simple, the Land Rights Act is the political process by legislation… Native title is a legal decision by the High Court of Australia which supersedes any political process … So there is no need to have the legal debate. It is a question of going down to the High Court and exercising your native title rights….

Native title property rights goes past the Land Rights Act, to where you actually own the land, not the Commonwealth. Whereas under the Land Rights Act the Commonwealth owns the land under a land trust. So there is an argument there that people are really, really scared of pursuing. (pp. 372-6)

Recognition: That is why the Dodsons are wrong about advocating for recognition in the Constitution. It is not our Constitution, it is their Constitution. If you want to be invited to a shit sandwich, off you go. It is not ours, it has nothing to do with us. So we have the stupidity of recognition. What do you recognise? You recognise we own it? If you want to recognise we own it all, give us a treaty. Give us our rights. Give us our property rights. Return the stolen land. Do those sort of things. Do not talk to us about recognising us because you can do that on a piece of paper, it is not going to mean anything. (p.407)

 

‘Kwementyaye’ Tilmouth (1954-2015) was an Arrente man, from the country around Alice Springs, and a leading figure in NT and Australian Indigenous politics. The extracts for this post are from the extensive interviews which make up Alexis Wright’s recent, innovative (and Stella Award-winning) biography of him. A review follows.

 

Alexi Wright, Tracker, Giramondo, Sydney, 2017