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The Northern Territory National
Emergency Response (also k nown as
‘ the Inter vention’ ) was int roduced by the
Howard government in 2007. Michael
O’Connor reflects on the Inter vention
through the insights contained in a new
anthology by Rosie Scott and Dr Anita
“ Yes. Yes, of course the government
should do something...But not this...”
So said esteemed Aboriginal writer
Alexis Wright to esteemed Aboriginal
writer Melissa Lucashenko concerning
“ Bad programs, appallingly delivered,”
writes Eva Cox. And she shows why
and how. A vast number of dollars for
limited benefit and enormous human
deficit, with the assumption that “lack
of progress stems fro m recipients’
failures...not bad processes by policy
In 2007, the soldiers came with their
guns. The first experience of the
Intervention for many was terror. Do
we run into the bush to prevent their
taking our kids, to avoid being shot?
The dread and panic is palpable in the
relating. Rachel Willika’s eloquent and
power ful telling inspired Rosie Scott to
compile this anthology.
Twenty of our finest Indigenous and
non- Indigenous writers, memoirists,
poets, commentators and elders come
together to inform, appal and inflame.
Words versus words. The words of
those impacted, and their supporters,
are “an inspiring antidote to the spin
and disinformation which has been the
official language of the Inter vention up
until now”. Currently called “Stro nger
Futures”, it is “Stolen Futures” to Deni
Langman, Traditional Owner of Uluru.
I worked for 'the Welfare'. My first
district in the late 1970s was Windale,
Newcastle’s ‘problem’ area. White
wisdom had warned me that Aboriginal
parents wasted childre n’s mo ney
on blow-ins from the bush. A g ross
misrepresentation, I found. It was
hospitality, generosity, sharing, a spirit
of belonging. I was edified, but still
had to do something about the kids’
welfare. I sat down with women –
grandmothers and aunts – i nfluential,
wonderful women. They made my
job easy. Three years there, and I
removed no Aboriginal child. Lis tening,
understanding better, and working with
respected elders kept me from being
more damaging when I intervened.
Why, in 2007, was the army sent
in? Why was discrimination revived?
Why were paternalistic practices re-
introduced? Under the guise of child
protection was it the lure of El Dorado,
a land grab? The pretext, “the ‘national
emergency’ that had sat neglected for
over thirty years”, is shown up for its
Incredulity, lament and frustration come
through in this anthology. Then anger.
Why were successful Aboriginal
Why was the key recom mendation of
the Anderson-Wild Inquiry to work
with Aboriginal communities ignored?
How does Indigenous control of their
lands tie into the issue of child sexual
Why are factual reports on the
failures of the Inter vention not given
Why does it continue against the
The wisdom of Indigenous ways
is clear in these writings. The
contrasting inhumanity of bureaucratic,
ideologically-driven paternalism cannot
be missed. Good governance contrasts
with control. Respectful dialogue
contrasts with brutal imposition.
“ Thousands of years’ custodianship
versus two centuries of contes ted
‘ownership’,” opines Brenda L Croft.
Rodney Hall invites us to imagine
how we would have felt if the
Japanese invasion had succeeded, if
hordes of foreigne rs had imposed
their ways , discarded ours and set us
under their superior heel. Imagine ,
too, “what an outcry there would
be if the government sent the same
army personnel to intervene after
is an eye-opener. I wasn’t taught
about humanity’s first bread makers;
about explore rs discovering houses ,
towns, ovens, food preservation,
grain and flour silos (from which they
stole); about intricate systems of fish
har vesting – probably the world’s
oldest construction; about Aboriginal
gardens with irrigation. Why does
damaging ignorance about Aboriginal
This history, ancient and current, needs
to be known. The human suffering has
to be felt. Intervention as imposition
Read, evaluate, and determine to work
together for a more glorious, shared,
The Intervention: an anthology, edited
by Rosie Scott and Anita Heiss, was
launched in Sydney on 1 July by
Professor Gillian Triggs, President
of the Australian Human Rights
pener. I wasn’ t taught
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