Tuesday, September 14, 2004


Black activist Noel Pearson speaks:

"In the '60s my family lived in a two-bedroom fibro house, like everybody else in the Mission you know. No hot water, outdoor toilet, bones and tripe to eat at night, you know, terrible diet. Terribly poor. I think the highest wage cheque I ever saw my father draw was $45 for a week's work, you know? And yet despite that material deprivation we were socially strong. There was not the degree of alcoholism as there is today, violence was almost non-existent; there was nobody in jail back then. And yet today we've got all the benefits of life on the safety net and we've got scores of people in jail. Violence week to week, and these tremendous problems. There's a lot of people who share my sense of question about what has happened and it's those people who I think are seriously saying the same thing I am, that we've got to get out of this dependency, because the dependency has killed the will to live really, the will to work. You know, it sounds terribly conservative and terribly old-fashioned to talk about the fact that we've got to restore work, and work was part of our traditional life, you know, a huge part of our traditional life. It was harder work than it is living in this modern society, and yet we tend to think that Aboriginal people and work are somehow foreign to each other".

Journalist comments:

"At the core of Pearson's thinking is a concept very difficult to many people and it sits particularly uncomfortably with the Left. In Cape York, he says, the practice of each individual getting awelfare cheque, with no strings attached, doesn't work. Welfare without responsibility has made many communities of Cape York 'the most dysfunctional societies on the planet', he says. Noel Pearson is only talking about Cape York, and his 'mob' as he calls them. It's part of the Aboriginal tradition that you speak only for your own 'country', or area.

In white society the idea that each eligible individual has the right to welfare and the right to spend it as he or she sees fit, is fundamental to the welfare system. That's fine, says Pearson, but Aboriginal cultures are based on family and family responsibility.

To the progressive 'Left' his ideas can sound like paternalism. But Pearson is actually talking about giving people more control over their lives. He's adamant the problems will only be solved if the bureaucracies come together as one, and then hand over some of the responsibility to Aboriginal communities themselves".

Pearson speaks again

"I think I've come to a very late-in-life view about the problems of the bureaucratisation of Aboriginal affairs and Aboriginal society. We are inmates of an institution, an historical institution, these communities; and these communities can be really debilitating of individual endeavour and family responsibility and family. I think that we've got to break out of those bureaucratic structures and create more room, more freedom for people to take up opportunities and solve problems. Those are the two things we've got to do. Seize opportunities, solve problems.

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