Monday, 14 July 2014
I have committed to spending, since 1994—20 years ago—two weeks of my working year in remote Australia. I am pleased to have had the privilege to spend a week in the Arnhem community of Ramingining, including a weekend. There is no better opportunity than to be there on a weekend and to hear the dingoes howling at night, to hear the card games being played in the evening, to watch the sport being played and of course to see the ordinary operations of a community that we often do not get to witness when we just fly in and fly out. Brokering this visit and giving me the chance to make a few observations tonight was John Japp, who is the head of the Arnhem council; Barnambi, the senior Indigenous member on the council; and locally in Ramingining Peter van Heusden, Lynda Reid, Gary Wise and community council liaison officer Richard Bandalil. The three key community elders, together with Aunty Judy Ramingining Nulmurrun, are Matthew Dhulumburrk and the two other senior men, Bobbie Bununnuggurr and Billy Black, the now actor who was departing the community as I arrived. He has very exciting times ahead. We are delighted that Rebel Films have decided to pick up four of these young Ramingining men who are members of the Black As group, as they describe themselves—Joseph Smith, Dino Wanybarringa, Chico Lilipiyana and Jerome Lilipyana. They all have an exciting career ahead in film, and that obviously follows the fantastic film Ten Canoes, which was based in the community or Ramingining.
Ramingining was originally an outpost of Milingimbi, on the Crocodile Islands off the Glyde River. It was established for greater water security in the 1950s and 1960s. Around 1,800 adults moved between Ramingining and Milingimbi communities and more distantly down a goat track to the Arnhem Highway, giving them access in the dry to Gove and to Darwin and Katherine. In the wet, of course, they would make just an 85 kilometre trip to one of the larger communities where they do have access to a few additional services.
I want to recognise the important work that is happening in a community like Ramingining. It is a snapshot of what is happening in Indigenous Australia. But I have to note that there are also areas of great concern. What we have here is a hundred dwellings, and $3.4 million of housing repairs are needed in that small community. Fifteen per cent of the total budget to maintain those dwellings is collected from this community. Of the 1,800 people in these two communities, just two per cent are currently what we would term retirees over the age of 65—two per cent of the community living to the age of 65. Of the 330 young people between 15 and 24, just 18 have a job. There is a five per cent likelihood of getting a job when you leave school. They are not functional economies where we see a cycling of money through the public and the private sector; there is virtually no visible private sector in these communities. That means money is spent at the store and, with a single economic pass, it is lost to the community. To put it another way, in this single community around $20 million is paid in fortnightly pulses of welfare. Virtually all of it disappears in a single pass, without any form of demonstrable non-public sector financial activity.
We need more attention on the zero to five year group. Ramingining was a community that missed out on an Indigenous early education centre because of its size. Strategies in school attendance have yielded a 10 per cent increase in school attendance, but we have so much further to go. The walking bus is showing some glimmer of promise. School principals need to be CEOs answering to a traditional community board. I am glad that that is working relatively well in Ramingining, though I did not have a chance to meet the principal, Sue McAvoy. The school council chairperson, Albert Waninymarr, is doing hard work in that area. Ben and Paddy, the police, have a great hand on what is happening there and in Milingimbi. We have Ben Wallace leading Bula Bula, probably one of the major private sector activities outside of the store, selling world-renowned art and fostering and cultivating the great artists of the future, and of course there is Chris Hayward and Liam Flanagan, the Training and Employment Services manager and the operations manager of RJCP respectively.
I was also hosted by Dr Buddhima Lokuge and the health clinic, with Rhonda Golsby-Smith, Jennifer Banaka Lilipiyana, Bruce Reid and Brett Ionn, and there was Carey Peterson, who heads up the Homeland Resources Centre. They all taught us that beyond the culture of kava, cards and chaos there is genuine effort to find employment opportunities for every young person, starting from the age of 15. They know in Ramingining that they can break this cycle of despondency and welfare reliance, but it will take a full-frontal attack on traditional and vested interests. I wish them the very best in their important steps ahead through the RJCP.