Opinion

The challenges that sadly await indigenous people

By Shepparton News

Last week I meet an indigenous girl, she was just six weeks old, and beautiful.

The first weeks of her life have been shadowed by the protests and events following the death of American black man, George Floyd.

Watching her lie on the nearby couch with her spectacular crop of hair and bathed in innocence, I struggled to understand how and why this small black girl, well, at least her colour, could have such a seismic-like impact on the world.

It was a knee on the neck that killed George Floyd and it saddened me to contemplate the challenges ahead for this tiny girl.

Yes, we will have our “knee” on her neck and unless we change our behaviours, and that’s almost completely, this tiny black girl faces difficulties that us “white-fellas” simply don’t understand.

Azaria is family and interestingly, and coincidently, that connection runs much deeper as I went to secondary school with one of her mob, worked with another and knew the third through a rock band all three played in.

The trio of brothers have been remarkably successful - the eldest, whom I worked with, was born in Mooroopna after his parents were among those who walked off the Cummeragunja Station near Barmah to protest poor living conditions and settled at “the flats” just off The Causeway been Shepparton and Mooroopna.

Clive was a printer, and I a young reporter at Echuca’s Riverine Herald, when we first met and Clive, who has travelled the world, is now a celebrated commercial artist.

His young brother Graham, whom I went to the Echuca Technical College with, has long played a lead role in social justice and land rights for indigenous Australians.

The state government’s Aboriginal Victoria website says: “Graham Atkinson is a community leader committed to social justice and empowering individuals. The Dja Dja Wurrung and Yorta Yorta Elder is an untiring advocate for Traditional Owner groups and was one of the architects of an alternative system for settling native title claims in Victoria.”

Their brother, Wayne Atkinson, is an honorary doctor of political sciences lecturing at the University of Melbourne - Azaria has impressive linage.

Racism in Australia is, despite what many think, deep seated and this tiny, absolutely innocent and beautiful girl has a difficult path to walk as she confronts stereotypes dating back to the arrival of white man in the 18th century.

Attitudes to our indigenous people have barely changed as we have always brutalised and killed them, marginalised them and at every turn put them in the category of the “other”, and always, despite those injustices, most have remained silent.

Talking with Ben Fordham on 2GB, our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, lamented what was happening in America and then went onto to say: “And I just think to myself how wonderful a country is Australia. We have our problems. We have our faults. We have our issues. There's no doubt about that. But when I see things like that, I'm just very thankful for the wonderful country we live in.”

Well, that “wonderful country” appears to look the other way, close its mind and remain silent when it comes to caring for our indigenous people.

A 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody documented 99 deaths in custody and since then more than 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died while in our care.

Yes, 432 deaths in custody and not one perpetrator named.

Let’s repeat that, 432 indigenous people have died in our custody and no-one has been held accountable.

Charges subsequent to that string of tragedies were rare, none were proven and we, as a nation, have sidestepped responsibility at every turn.

I wish Azaria well and I wish, Australians would do more to ensure no knee with ever be pressed upon her tiny neck.