Saturday, November 20, 2010

This weekend I'm grateful for... just about everything

Cartoon by Nicholson, originally published in The Australian:

For this weekend's Maxabella-inspired Grateful Post, I had started building a list early in the week. Then on Thursday and my list was blown apart by a seminar by Professor Jonathan Carapetis from the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin. He presented a lot of facts to describe the challenges faced by Indigenous Australians, especially those living in remote communities in the Northern Territory. In some ways I knew the rough gist of the facts, but to have them presented in a clear, single package in a format I understood, and without obvious political undertones, was sobering.

Completely sobering, and depressing. Especially because the problems are so big that it's hard to see many immediate fixes.

To think about how being a mother with two small children in suburban Melbourne differs from being a mother in a remote Northern Territory community makes me extremely grateful for just about everything. And I suspect that anyone with the means to be reading blogs can feel the same. Not preaching, just suggesting...

I was most affected by one of the first pictures- small children, like my kids, joyfully playing in water in a remote Northern Territory community. All very nice, until we realised that the water was an open sewer. And the hard facts weren't any easier to take.

I've had trouble finding a single source for all the facts I remember from the seminar, so I'm just going to repeat what I remember- with an apology if there are glaring inaccuracies- and refer you to the ABC Indigenous Health site and the Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet for more information.

How can I be anything but grateful for what I have when there are Indigenous families facing:

- a child death rate TWICE that of non-Indigenous children (and not much better than adults). And a sobering fact that in any Australian population, the less education a mother has had, the higher her children's risk of dying. Completely scary fact.

- overcrowded housing where in some communities the average number of people sleeping in a two bedroom house each night is SEVENTEEN.

- diseases like rheumatic fever and parasitic infections which have been eliminated from non-Indigenous populations.

- a substantial proportion of babies being born to already-malnourished teenagers, resulting in long-term health problems for both the mothers and the babies.

- the standard growth curve for children in remote communities being fairly normal growth to around 6 months, and then weight gain in the average child STALLS until around one year, presumably because of the inavailability of appropriate infant food. Forget about worrying about when to introduce wheat or dairy, or whether you're feeding your kids organic or not- it'd be insignificant if you had to decide whether you have any food suitable for your baby.

What can be done? Good question- Closing the Gap is a start, but the message I got from Prof Carapetis was that there is no doubt that even more money is needed (even though we are already spending huge amounts of money), and this money needs be spent in carefully considered and monitored ways to ensure the most benefit per buck rather than political gain per buck. More than that, it's too easy for all of us in the comfortable suburban blog-belt (and our neighbours) to forget what's happening in other parts of our country, making it easy for the inequities to persist.


Maxabella said...

Sobering, _vTg_. I grew up in the Territory and later on the South Coast of NSW so I have always been very aware of the issues that Aboriginal communities face and I have kept up to date with research and stories. It's a very hard topic to form an opinion on if you're not "in it" but I believe there are some things in life that money can't buy and this is one of them. Australia needs to be more creative and innovative in our approach to helping our Aboriginal citizens back on their feet. Whatever we've been doing up to this point, it has not been working. I don't think the correct solution has been "invented" yet, but if the current funding is to be best spent it needs to be spent on getting our very best minds behind developing a brand new approach, a new way of doing things. x

ANB said...

The indigenous crime rates are as depressing as the health ones - indigenous adults are 11 times more likely to be arrested than non-indigenous, and for indigenous 10-14 year olds it's *29* (!) times more lilely. If you go out to the juvenile detention centres in Perth the numbers of Aboriginal kids in there are overwhelming, and according, anecdotally, to the guards, some re-offend deliberately so as to wind up somewhere with a bed and regular meals. Walk around the courts and see how many Aboriginal families (with small kids in tow, often in cheap strollers guzzling Coke) are in the waiting rooms. You are so right that we all have plenty to be grateful for.

allison tait said...

You're so right. We need to be very grateful for what we have - and angry enough to try to do something to help those who don't have it.

_vTg_ said...

Relieved to know that those with more direct exposure than me feel the same way- it feels a bit phoney to preach from suburban Melbourne...

M- agreed on the need for creativity. And coordination, from the speaker who said that there are heaps of small programs (eg AFL, mining magnate-sponsored) that do a good thing for a small number of people but are all operating completely separately. Agree that it's not just a problem that money will solve, although one figure from the seminar was that $1.7 billion (?) had been committed to improving housing, but the thought is that about 3 times that was needed, purely on a "(X) number of people will need (Y) number of houses, which cost (Z) dollars each"- where Z is surprisingly high given the remoteness of many of the communities.)

ANB- the thought of 10-14 year olds needing arrest is scary... as are the rest of your observations. You reminded me of my main direct exposure to indigenous issues, being people who hang out near where we used to live in Collingwood. There was a baby who was maybe 6 months older than BB who would sit strapped in his stroller while his family hung out (etc)- I can only hope that something happened to get him away from all that.

Kymmie said...

Thank you for this post. My husband and I work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. We're very passionate about our work and the facts are sobering. And visiting these communities is a whole new issue. We lived in an Aboriginal community in remote WA for 6 years (hubby) and 3 (me). I learnt more in that time than any other experience in my whole life. Thank you for sharing this important info.

And even though I've visited from time to time, I am now a follower. You're welcome to pop in and visit me anytime too:

Shamozal said...

Brilliant. Thank you for sharing. This is one of the many reasons I love reading other people's blogs. I'm very grateful for my perhaps not suburban comforts (we live in the middle east) but definitely for my comforts. Being an Australian expat I'm quite often asked about the Aboriginal community and am always deeply inadequate for answers, your blog is a timely reminder that because we don't often see the problems on main stream media it doesn't mean they're not there. Thanks again, Kirsty (Shamozal)

Christie said...

This is a tough issue. I spent over 20 years living in the Territory and some of these working in Indigenous housing. We need to commit to more than just replacing houses and spending more money on "housing". We need to give back a sense of purpose, a sense of self worth to our Indigenous. If a child was brought up with no expectations, given money to stay quiet and saw no hope for their future, how could they be expected to becoming contributing community members? Those that can rise above this are truly remarkable.
This is where we need to begin, we need to start putting expectations on our Indigenous, teaching them they can achieve more, that they should expect more and no more sit down money. Time for stand up and be counted money.

Hear Mum Roar said...

This is a fantastic post, as it highlights just how clueless so many of us whites are. I hope things can improve

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