Domestic violence does not go away until you empower the family unit and its members. When men, whether they’re Yolngu or Balanda, are disempowered, and can’t be the heroes for their families anymore; whether they’re providing for or protecting them, and then suddenly they just become somebody out on the edge, it’s devastating. As one Yolngu man said, before he took his own life:
“I’m just a social security cheque now. I’m not the man that goes out hunting for food and bringing it back.”
A whole social security system was brought into Arnhem Land from down south. Well-meaning people believed, “they must have access to welfare too!”, but the end result of these outside decisions as to where people are at here, are issues like domestic violence. There are many, many reasons that lead to domestic violence of course, but to realise the underlying causes you’ve got to go back and find the fundamental reasons why these interactions are happening.
A mining company moves into Nhulunbuy and requires alcohol in town because it’s white fella culture. This decision means a lot of families in the area are going to be violated. Richard Trudgen, co-founder of Why Warriors, sat beside a Yolngu lady in a clinic waiting room. He noticed her bruises and cuts and said “what’s happened here?”, “I’ve been attacked by family members,” she told him. “Is this the first time?” he said. “No it’s happening now, in Yirrkala, close to Nhulunbuy,” she replied. “So it’s a new experience for you?” he asked, and she said, “absolutely, family members protect each other, we don’t attack each other. What’s doing this?” RI’ichard asked, “was alcohol involved?” and she said “oh yeah. Of course the person involved was drunk.”
This is the experience that comes from alcohol. People have a lot of anger against society out here. But they don’t kick out against society. Occasionally they get into an argument with a policeman or taxi driver, but mainly they come home to where they’re safe and kick out against their own people. We’ve got recorded cases of it all over Australia. We see it in communities where factories have closed down and people have lost control over their lives. And all they’ve got left is just to go and get drunk and then they come home and take it out on their families.
Domestic violence is not part of Aboriginal culture. It is part of the result of mainstream programs and practices aimed at Aboriginal people. It’s part of the new culture that we have created.
Learn more in Q & A no. 52 here.
For our podcast in Yolngu Matha around alcohol and Hepatitis C click here.