Review essay "Coercive reconciliation"

“Coercive Reconciliation: Stabilise, Normalise, Exit Aboriginal Australia” Edited by Jon Altman and Melinda Hinkson Arena publications ISBN 978-0-9804158-0-3 RRP $27.50

For details about the book please read the publisher’s blurb at

Then proceed to the following:

“Coercive reconciliation” is a collection of some 30 articles in response to the Howard government’s Northern Territory National Emergency legislation. The ‘national emergency’ itself was declared making use of the “Little Children are Sacred” report as a pretext for implementing an entirely different agenda to the recommendations of the report.

The collection of articles in “Coercive reconciliation” was put together in near record time by Arena – a special issue of sorts. The publishers deserve full credit for getting this most timely book out well before the coming Federal election.

While there is no doubt that there is a ‘national emergency’ in regard to indigenous well-being in the Northern Territory – people have been crying out for resources for decades – it is entirely back-to-front to focus on this whole-of-life crisis in the name of sexual abuse of children.

The Howard government, in office for 11 years, has been part of the process which has produced this national emergency.

First Peoples are dying far too young; subject to enormous physical, emotional stresses due to the negation of the core of their Being; lacking necessary community health services and follow-up specialist treatment … a comprehensive listing of the negatives would provide a long list.

In the book many aspects of this complex situation are examined, with two chapters arranged in terms of “Stabilise, Normalise and Exit” framework employed by the military mind of Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough.

As the title of the book suggests, there is a world of difference between having something done to you and having something done for you. In the latter case those trying to help will listen to what you have to say, and work with those who have already built up a large body of understanding of the problems, what has been tried in the past and either worked or failed, and what new solutions are worth trying now.

All the contributors agree that working closely with indigenous people and indigenous communities – getting the process right from the outset – is a vitally important ingredient for any healing program.

Many of the contributions in this book provide the benefit of such advice and hard won experience.

Some of the best contributions to my mind are those which clearly demonstrate how First Peoples are able to deal with the problems which arise in their lives as a result of the long occupation of their living countries by hostile regimes.

It is extremely hard to review a book made up of 30 separate contributions, since each article is worthy of comment and consideration. All that can be done here is to provide something of the range of themes which run through the eclectic work, and some problems of perspective and omissions as viewed through the selective prism of my own interests.

A better approach may be to encourage interested people to order their own copy ( order form on the arena website) and to join in an ongoing debate and actions with others
(see )


Reading the 30 odd contributions in this book invariably raises a host of issues for anyone who takes an interest in dealing with ‘the European problem’ in Australian life.

The focus of the collection is a reaction, by a variety of people, to the Howard government’s headstrong intervention into the lives and communities of indigenous people in the Northern Territory in the name of protection indigenous children from sexual abuse.

The range of contributors runs from a former Western Australian Governor (Lt General rtd John Sanderson) to Secretary of the Aboriginal Provisional Government (Michael Mansell) at the other extreme.

At the present moment, when a massive and completely unethical social experiment is underway in the Northern Territory to refashion indigenous lives to comply with suburban norms, an enormous amount of money is being given to farming families – “ our brothers and sisters” says PM Howard – in order to allow them to simply leave the land with dignity.

Concerns about farmers mental health and stress are quickly translated into generous taxpayer assistance packages, to complement the already generous arrangements which allow farmers to earn substantial off-farm income.

By comparison, a tiny amount of money is directed per head to a social experiment effecting the lives of tens of thousands of indigenous peoples, expecting them to lead meaningful lives (as gauged by suburban values) in the absence of all those parts of life which actually provide the meaning.

In places where indigenous people have been able to cobble together something workable out of the frugal funding of the CDEP scheme, they will now have to scrap all that and move into the ‘neoliberial’ punishment camps of Work for the Dole:

John Sanderson sums up the situation succinctly:

“Unfortunately, the current strategy, if there is one, shows all the signs of remaining that of assimilation: the widely held view that the only hope for Indigenous people is to become like ‘us’ in the Australian mainstream, living in urban concentrations, having a job, having debt and equity, and joining the market on these terms. The market forces approach demands that we solve this problem once and for all, turning Aboriginal people into productive units and getting them off the debit side of the ledger – one way or another. “Work makes you free’, is the age-old theme that has re-emerged to drive the latest efforts in this process. Little recognition is given to the much studied and widely understood deleterious impact on physical and mental health of both social and cultural disempowerment.” (Page 35).

I am not sure of the difference between neo-conservative and neo-liberal and will need to learn more to see if they overlap but the association of the ‘age old theme’ and ‘neo-liberalism’ points to the true ‘neo’ spirit underlying these processes. Neolithic in origin, perhaps, but last seen truly florid in Europe circa 1890-1945, and now spreading globally faster than equine influenza.

The paper by John Hinkson takes up some of the issues to do with the role of a neo-liberal market replacing the modern market and its impacts on the policies of whoever is in office.

The problem for John Howard and other is that they cannot deny citizenship to Australia’s First Peoples and ship them to offshore islands. This would get them off the books! But it was tried during the 20th century and did not work. So they must turn to the other part of their toolkit – cultural genocide – ethnocide. Designed to leave the body intact and kill the spirit.

Sanderson says:

“The nation’s failure to come to terms with the responsibilities of its inheritance of an entire continent has resulted in the lack of respect for and abuse of the original peoples.”

True, but ‘inheritance’ is a little rich given the history of forceful dispossession from Phillip onwards (i.e by British naval and military governors).

That same inheritance, presumably, is that institutionalised in the (White) Australia Constitution which states:

“1 Short title
This Act may be cited as the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act.
2 Act to extend to the Queen’s successors
The provisions of this Act referring to the Queen shall extend to Her Majesty’s heirs and successors in the sovereignty of the United Kingdom.”


Guy Rundle’s contribution on “Military Humanitarianism in Australia’s North” wins the best quip in the book with the observation that:

“With the creation of a ‘national emergency’ … and the use of the military to occupy towns and communities in the Northern Territory, Australia has become the first member of the Coalition of the Willing to invade itself.” (page 37)

Things may be getting weird as ‘modernity’ struggles with the contradictions which riddle it.

Generally speaking, nearly all the contributors appear to accept that the nation established by this constitution provides the only acceptable framework for resolving the problems confronting surviving First Peoples in the Northern Territory and Australia.

Pat Dodson says:

“The benign use of government language – mainstream services, practical reconciliation, mutual obligations, responsibilities and participation in the real economy – cloaks a sinister destination for Australian nation building. The extinguishment of Indigenous culture by attrition is the political goal of the Howard Government’s Indigenous Policy agenda. Our nation is confronted with a searing moral challenge. A cultural genocide agenda has been foisted on the Australian public …” (page 23)

”Redeeming the nation” is the name of this game, rather than reforming Australia’s living arrangements in order to allow First Peoples to Be. Most people involved in reconciliation and indigenous social justice groups remain contained within the bounds of that One Nation conceptual prisonhouse. Life is telling us that, in order to solve the problems which face us, is time to move on.

This places the Australian ‘nationalist’ within a ‘modern’ tradition which automatically privileges the arrangements ‘introduced’ into – and forcefully imposed onto – Australian life. It also automatically excludes First Peoples and consigns them to the margins. There is only a little coverage of such matters in this collection.

What real alternatives exist? Two Peoples? Different areas of responsibility for different aspects of life? There is no real sense of recognising original Australian systems of law in this collection. The “Two laws” approach of the late Wenten Rubuntja has been replaced with ‘realists’ who work for limited reform within the framework supplied by the monocultural Anglo-Australian state. Well, as the expression goes, “The idealist is the only realist.”


Too many of the contributors systematically privilege the modern nation-state at the expense of the well-being of First Peoples for my liking.

Allowing for the real gems of hard-won wisdom to be found in many of the pieces, for the most part there is no acknowledgement of the place of First Peoples as captives within the modern nation-state.

One of the key issues has to be about getting our relationships right in order to affirm the core of First Peoples lives. This will not happen while we systematically privilege the norms of the Australian state and treat indigenous norms as non-existent.

There is no ‘writing from the fringe’ here. And, more to the point, no writing from the fringe-camps of places like Tennant Creek. The language employed by the contributors is that which fits seamlessly with what I understand are called ‘policy intellectuals’.

The policies are not those which come from First Peoples, but designed for Canberra. We have to get away from placing Canberra at the imaginary ‘centre’ of all things

The paper by Tim Rowse raises some possibilities in separating notions of indigenous jurisdiction from territory. Without being able to do justice here to his argument and its relation to notions of self-determination he says “In particular we should avoid thinking that a bounded land estate is a metonym for jurisdiction.” (Page 48)

He restricts his analysis to an indigenous field. In order to provide a place for First Peoples in Australian life it may be time for non-indigenous people to start to think creativity about divisions of labour and a separation of powers which bring First Peoples world-views into the very core of ‘modern’ life. Dreaming, after all, is everywhere.

Michael Mansell’s paper recognised the opportunity provided to promote a new form of representative body by the Howard government’s abysmal dismissal of the need to consult with First Peoples when it rushed its National Emergency legislation through the Parliament.

His aspirations have already come true with the recent formation of the National Aboriginal Alliance (but major issues of legitimacy and genuine representativeness remain).

The Secretary of this (very) provisional government at least lists the issue of sovereignty and self–determination (and what they mean on the ground) as matters which such a national body could promote. (see page 83)

Spread between that unlikely pair – Sanderson and Mansell – is a range of indigenous and non-indigenous contributors who (with minor exceptions) occupy a variety of positions all of which, in some way, involve dealing with the lives of First Peoples in the Northern Territory.

At one end there are high profile indigenous people like Pat Dodson, Mick Dodson, Pat Turner, Tom Calma, Larissa Behrendt. And some hard working indigenous organisational people from Alice Springs like David Ross, William Tilmouth.

There is also a host of people involved in some capacity as researchers and workers in communities.

One of the curious things which struck me about the contributors, in a book which deals with the lives of First Peoples in the Northern Territory, was the number of contributors whose biographical details identified them as being ‘directors’ or holding some kind of executive or ‘high’ position. I counted about 19 out of 30.

So you might consider this take on the NT National Emergency as being something of a ‘directors cut’ from the position of an alternative elite rather than from a peoples movement.

Questions of indigenous leadership and representation are touched on by some contributors. Tim Rowse, in raising issues to do with self-determination and the notion of indigenous ‘jurisdictions’ , also subjects Helen Hughes (not a contributor to this collection) to full critical scrutiny for her apparent loathing for an emerging indigenous middle class involving indigenous “Big Men” (and “Big Women”).

These are the indigenous people who occupy larger-than-life positions as a consequence of their place in a largely non-indigenous power structure.

Nepotism is a known problem for so-called “Aboriginal organisations” – Western style organisations which are intended to deliver services to indigenous peoples – kinship is known to be the enemy of bureaucracy – rather than denying it the challenge is to come up with new organisational designs which allow for it.

Indigenous peoples already have their own forms of organisation. These neither count, in the minds of bureaucrats or academics, as “Aboriginal organisations’ nor feature in relation to the problems of the mismatch between “Aboriginal organisations’ (which have flourished in the second half of the 20th century) and indigenous forms of organisation. Out of sight, out of mind – except if you have the opportunity to talk with indigenous people in their communities, where you will consistently hear very different stories.

There are always some very good “Aboriginal organisations” which work very closely with people in their communities. They do a fantastic job, no doubt about it. Tangentyere Council in Alice Springs, Julalikari Council in Tennant Creek are two examples (of many).

Read the chapter on why Tangentyere Council could not accept the desperately needed $60 Million, and what the Minister, in the name of seeking to help, did next.

Why is it that politicians elected to represent all our interests find themselves bitterly opposed to any form of rights in land which do not comply with the needs of land to be a commodity in Western real estate markets. The article by David Dalrymple dismisses some of the myths relied upon by those in high office to convert country into commodities.

While there is plenty of room for debate in the relationship between Directors of Aboriginal organisations and the people in whose name they work, the real issue regarding indigenous men – for this reader at least – requires us to see past the larger than life figure of the Big Men and Women to the group sitting quietly in the background, waiting patiently for us to recognise them.

“Where, in this collections, are the voices of indigenous authorities of the kind represented by senior indigenous lawmen and where is the coverage of the indigenous men’s needs in this matter (which abuses their existence as a ‘surmise’ for indigenous child sexual abuse)?”

The contributions in the book are most certainly not an account of the National Emergency from the indigenous peoples in their communities and on the ground.

So, while it represents a valuable ‘section’ of opinion from part of the spectrum, it is not to be confused with what First Peoples themselves actually have to say about things, should anyone ever get around to asking them.

Of course, the whole of modern Australian life suffers from this communication difficulty, and the editors of Arena can’t be expected to solve it in the short 8 weeks between the announcement of the National Emergency and the arrival of their book at the printers.

One troubling question which runs through the debate of surrounding ‘child sexual abuse’ is the lack of definition of ‘child’ . In some of the cases reported as ‘child sexual abuse’ it is clear that a very wide range of activities are clustered together in that one highly emotive category.

Without seeking to trivialise the serious abuse, would teenagers playing doctors and nurses (for example) be able to be categorised as ‘child sexual abuse”? If so, then there is something very wrong with the use of language.

There is also a host of culturally specific matters such as promised marriages which deserve far better treatment. Which ‘norms’ is it that are deemed to apply when we are invited to imagine First Peoples lives as ‘normalised’?

One of the contributors touched on this, saying that the norms are those of a non-indigenous Australian town. In 1990 anthropologist Chris Anderson brought to our attention the fact that all the major indigenous communities – which we tend to take as a ‘given’ – are themselves artefacts of colonialism.

From the perspective of the norms which inform the lives of tradition First Peoples these communities are highly abnormal – and the concentration and confinement of too many people from too many different groups results in a mass of extremely difficult social problems.

Also, in Central Australia, at least, there is a very marked point at which ‘boys’ cease to be ‘boys’ and become ‘men’. These initiation ceremonies continue to be a high point of life for many peoples. By Western standards, they may still be considered as ‘children’.

There is a very real process at work in all of this debate which imposes – in the most heavy handed way possible as we have just witnessed with the Brough intervention – an entirely one-sided set of cultural values onto the lives of First Peoples.

Ernest Hunter, a psychiatrist from Queensland, briefly touches on this sensitive issue is relation to whether or not subincision on a young man may count as a form of child abuse.

He uses the highly loaded emotive term ‘genital mutilation’ for a cultural practice which, in a similar form and for other peoples, can equally represent a covenant between man and the Creator.

Any account of such matters in the 21st century, which presumes to privilege such a narrow view of life cannot be accepted as well-formed. For one thing, it will render us all speechless should we encounter a genuine form of mutilated genitals (such as results from torture). There is no comparison. Such language itself represents an attack on indigenous culture.

While this is a relatively minor matter given the general scope of the book (but does provide compelling evidence for the absence of the voices of senior indigenous lawmen in the collection) it raises the much more significant matter of the use of the key term “child sexual abuse”

With the whole area of ‘child sexual abuse’ being highly charged with emotion – and the images called up by that expression left largely to the imagination of the hearer – there is little room for consideration of the finer points upon which life actually depends. Neo-racism makes full use of the ‘surmise’ to achieve its ends.

I must admit that, having read the book, I am none the wiser on what is meant by the emotive key expression ‘child sexual abuse’. There is no discussion of what is and what is not included in that category. There is no breakdown of comparative data for different types of activity which might be included (or excluded) by ‘child sexual abuse’.

The paper by one of the authors of the “Little Children are Sacred” report (Rex Wild) completely omits such considerations. Perhaps these matters are fully covered in the report but his article moves over these issues in complete silence, dealing instead with the reaction to the report

Ernest Hunter touches on this subject, having read the initial report and states:

“In terms of hard data the report is unavoidably light, although a substantial amount of non-indigenous information is provided, including the results of retrospective prevalence studies. For Aboriginal populations these do not exist, and the report draws primarily from other sources such as rates of teenage pregnancy, reports of sexual activity, contraceptive use and sexually transmitted diseases. These, however, are markers of sexual activity and are not necessarily indicators of abuse… Ultimately, much of the report’s emphasis relies on anecdote…”” (p. 122-3)

Anecdote – well, there is a minefield for the unwary, with all manner of factors entering the picture, not least those social ones which can distort information at its source in order to produce results which are intended to please questioners, and to promote other agendas.

Are any of the cases of ‘child sexual abuse’ which prompted this national emergency cases which involved young people who may be otherwise called ‘juveniles’ in criminal cases? What happens when we talk, in specific cases as appropriate, about ‘teenagers’ rather than ‘children’ etc?

How did the age of consent come to be set at 16 for young women in the first place? It certainly wasn’t done in acts of cultural partnership with First Peoples, who had their own ideas about such matters (and I refer to practices which represent the core of community norms, not to individual experimentation or deviance).


What would be a useful addition would be an examination of the role of the media in playing into the hands of those who seek to extinguish indigenous law. It is not just a matter of the shock jocks. The ABC TV program Lateline played a major role is setting up the hysteria necessary for the intervention by manipulative people like Minister Mal Brough in the name of child sexual abuse.

There is another demon at work here to that of those who are sexual predators – another form of predation which hides behind a mask represented by the image of a sexually abused indigenous child.

Melinda Hinkson says:

“This discursive ploy enables Brough to undercut the legitimacy of Indigenous representative organisations, community councils and spokespeople who called for a more considered and consultative response to Little Children are Sacred.” (page 7)

We need a name for the demonic life force which cowers behind masks of this kind (child sexual abuse) in order to implement what it hides in its heart – knowing that should what is in its heart become visible the same decent people it seeks to manipulate would quickly round in it and drive it back into the lair where, although we cannot eradicate it completely from life, at least we can keep it contained.

Genocide and ethnocide are two names for that life force – and the quality of journalism brought to the issue of ‘child sexual abuse’ by the Lateline reporting revealed itself to be completely gullible in that regard.

The suburban values which inform the lives of media people meshes seamlessly with the suburban values of those many others who are so sensitive to the rights of helpless infants and totally blind to the ongoing destruction of a whole peoples.

This is well understood by people like John Howard. Mal Brough and Noel Pearson who answer any probing question with the invocation of the image of a helpless child being sexually abused (by an imaginary Black man).

The reporting of the incidents of child sexual abuse in the media have been marked by a complete lack of detail – so that we never know if child sexual abuse involves teenage experimentation or something far more sinister.

The widespread sexual experimentation by many non-indigenous people under the age of 16 could equally be represented as a ‘child sexual abuse national emergency’ by the standards of reporting used to attack the role of indigenous men in Australian life.

But it is not about that. Community norms are given full accommodation when it comes to non-indigenous people. Only Aboriginal people’s lives are to be subject to military style intervention in Australia, in keeping with long standing habits that First Peoples are the playthings of Western politicians.


Some contributors argue for a ‘child centred approach”. This seems completely back to front to me.

In order to produce the happy laughing children which indicate all is well in any social arrangement, we need an Elder focused approach, and – given the psychic war waged against indigenous men in this country since 1788 to the present – to focus on the well-being senior indigenous law-men in particular.

I do not mean the exceptional few who may qualify as “big men” in western style Aboriginal organisations, but the many senior lawmen across the NT who would never qualify for such positions since they do not speak that kind of bureaucratic language.

An Elder centred approach may also fit with the view of some indigenous peoples (Inuit) that you have to look to the Elder within the child – a view which may not be that far removed from those contributors who realise the importance of childhood treatment and experience for the future adults.


An Elder centred approach may also provide a means of seeking to correct deviant behaviour amongst junior men – in the first instance, through instruction.

It is entirely back-to-front to address the real emergency in indigenous life by focusing on a child cast in terms of a ‘child of the nation’ – with his or her cultural identity removed.

What is the point in ‘saving’ the child if there is no meaningful adult life awaiting them?

I believe it is true to generalise and say that the real inheritance of indigenous children in the Northern Territory comes from a very different means of relating people and country than that understood by western politicians and policy makers.

This is not merely a matter of ‘culture and language’ but much more specific – how their Being as signified in ‘Dreaming’ terms relates to the rest of life (other people and country) cast in those same Dreaming terms.

No Western system can achieve this.

In stark contrast to the ‘child centred approach’ the initiation practices of senior lawmen is identified as ‘man-making’. They take the ‘boy’ and make him into a ‘man’ fit to live in social life with his fellows.

To neglect the role of senior indigenous men in all of this is to leave out a crucial ingredient in resolving a good part of the many issues.

We should all insist on hearing the point of view of senior indigenous lawmen before we hear any more from non-indigenous sources.

The absence of coverage of the needs of indigenous men is one of the serious lacks in the collection. Indigenous men have been negated and marginalised by the peculiar process of colonisation in Australia. Their well-established role in managing life has been suppressed as part of the cloning process which seeks to insert exploitative Western values into the core of Australian ecosystems.

The contributions which most appealed to me were those that gave some sense of life in indigenous communities – and which demonstrate the people in community have ways of responding to the chaos and problems which are a direct result of being captive within the modern Anglo-Australian nation-state.


The contribution on “Caring for Country” by Joe Morrison hits the nail right in the head in finding a solution to part of the problem of affirming the role of indigenous men:

“The problem is not so much the current and future availability of work, but the definition of work. Many customary activities associated with country, such as ceremonies, hunting, burning, the production of arts and crafts, and wildlife use account for considerable work effort. The problem is that the free market fails to recognise the contributions of such efforts.” (p 258)

Well, the place of the ‘free market’ in our thinking is in need of a complete rethink as we move into an over-cooked world as a result of its simple-minded approach to life. There are communities everywhere which are being wrecked as the real assets of life are trashed since they don’t feature in the one-sided account books of private corporations.

There is a place for the market and the market place mentality – and, as we increasingly recognise, it ain’t the whole of life. Maggie Brady’s paper, which touches on the real costs of alcohol, demonstrates the need for our systems of governance for a much better means of counting all the costs.


One of the real problems of our age is that we are governed by clever people who have one side of their brain (and Being) overdeveloped and the other side repressed and adolescent. A whole brain approach is required to keep life balanced.

This one-sided overdevelopment is a real risk for intellectuals as well. Instead of looking too hard with Western eyes, we can help to solve (and dissolve) problems by learning to see, feel, act with a more Eastern yin-yang approach.

Instead of aiming to leave this planet, we – who presume to have something worthwhile to contribute to ‘policy debate’ – need to learn to make better connection with our true surroundings.

The risk of over-intellectualising everything – seeking to press thought into more and more remote realms of abstraction in order to find solutions as though dealing with a mathematical problem – does not lead (by itself) to healing solutions.

Rather than concentrating solely on best practice policy in the name of the nation state, solutions come from finding better ways of relating between indigenous and non-indigenous cultures. For this, non-indigenous people will have to change.


As several of the more down-to-earth contributions in this book demonstrate, First Peoples-in-community have a great capacity themselves to identify and solve the ever-evolving series of problems which result from contact with chaotic Western complex life systems.

“Morning in Marangrida” by Bill Fogarty and Mathew Ryan provides a very good account of a functioning community. It clearly demonstrates the ability of First Peoples to get on with life under the conditions of long standing European occupation – since there is no real alternative. The arrival of Cyclone Mal will just be another problem for them to overcome.

Tristan Ray’s account of youth well-being in Central Australia also provides good material of successful programs working with people-in-community.

Getting adequate resources to them – in recurrent forms and in the right hands – is the art part for those who manage Australia’s systems of patronage – and to do so in ways which remove the whole plethora of ‘unconscious’ control trips which invariably go with money.

We can learn from indigenous wisdom here. While money on alcohol is “Money going wrong way” it is possible to reverse this global trend by recognising the vectors of cash flow and work to ensure that money starts going the right way.

Paying senior indigenous lawmen to perform cosmic maintenance ceremonies and to mentor young men is an example of a right way money flow.


We non-indigenous people need to stop looking at indigenous life “too hard” with modern Westernising eyes as this is part of a process which is killing people.

This is especially relevant to those who find themselves in the neo-colonial positions of Minsters of the Crown in general, and Ministers of Indigenous Affairs in particular.

Mal Brough’s gaze – in which First Peoples count for no more than inert objects to be played with as though toy soldiers – will cause more hardship for those upon whom his Ministerial eye falls. His eye, as must any which incorporate the spirit of the Constitution, is blind to Australian realities.

Raymond Gaita says, in his contribution, that:

“The Aborigines have no power worth speaking of. If their voices are to be heard, if they dare to speak from their hearts seriously to challenge our assumptions, be they assumptions of the Right or the Left, then it will be because we – the non-Aboriginal population – will have been moved by the spirit of justice to listen.” (page 305)

First Peoples have plenty of power – well worth speaking of – they always have had. Much of their power has gone into surviving in the extremely hostile conditions forced upon them by British imperialist attitudes of cultural arrogance enshrined in the same Australian Constitution which excluded recognition of First Peoples.

We non-indigenous people have to learn to start using both sides of our brain and to learn to reposition our Being so we can begin to engage in genuine acts of cultural partnership.

The article by on ‘Healing and Public Policy’ by Gregory Phillips touches on these issues and warns against mistaking the practical and down to earth process of healing with ‘new age’ dreams in which First Peoples are again cast as mere extras in the fantasies of others. Against this, it must be said, there are global changes underway which will produce new and effective alliances.


One of the problems with ‘directors’ is that concept (as opposed to ‘coordinators’) embodies the same self-privileging ‘vertical’ metaphors which are part and parcel of the modern nation state. The empowerment of those “on high” – Ministers of the Crown – comes at the expense of indigenous authorities. Mal Brough’s will is translated into action – indigenous peoples voices are silenced.

Pat Dodson, in his contribution, asks” Whatever happened to Reconciliation?” The short answer is that those in key positions have failed to nourish a true peoples movement – one which would survive the withdrawal of support from a hostile Federal government.

Reconciling Anglo-Australia to indigenous realities is a political struggle.

In such a struggle we have to find alternatives to the ‘vertical’ arrangements which substitute the voices of a few heads of NGOs – talking across to others on the same ‘high’ plane . Some ‘horizontal’ realignment is long overdue if the full potential of the talents and skills of committed and dedicated people is to be realised.

To date, a peoples movement has failed to materialise (let alone mobilise) to provide an ongoing and independent financial base for a hard working secretariat and a membership of active and engaged local and regional groups.

Well, now’s as good a time as any for this to happen. Amongst the things which have happened since the publication of the book are the formation of the National Aboriginal Alliance and the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Especially important is the need for new forms of representation in Australian life. The formation of the National Aboriginal Alliance may provide the nucleus around which, with support from non-indigenous peoples as well, something new can emerge.

Maybe the coming ANTaR Congress in Canberra (12 -14 October) will provide a timely opportunity for progressing the issue of ensuring a voice for indigenous people (in the NT and elsewhere) in Australia’s systems of governance, and for promoting a true spirit of cultural partnership.


Bruce Reyburn
29 September 2007

(Suggestion – for more on “Coercive reconciliation” do a google search using the title.)