In the middle of a cross-culture war?


By Richard Trudgen, author and community educator with Why Warriors Pty Ltd.


Many people are angry about what is happening in the NT at the moment.

Every night, more break-ins occur and vehicles are stolen. Will this continue until all the potential offenders are locked up in jail? If so, we had better start building massive super jails.

Or maybe we could stop and ask the question, why is this happening? Why are these young people doing this? What is the driving force behind their actions?

But do we really want to know the answers? Even the ABC – which has historically presented more nuanced reporting has trouble moving past the very tired old “lack of housing” argument. But housing is not the problem here.

Aboriginal people built their own traditional housing for tens of thousands of years. Then from the 1950s to the 1990s, Yolngu and other Aboriginal people built Western-type housing effectively and efficiently. Then the construction of their housing was taken out of their hands. Now outside contractors build most of the housing on Aboriginal communities. They build ‘modern housing’ that is unnecessarily costly, destroys culture and sickens children and adults alike.

In addition, Aboriginal people traded internationally for centuries, but now they own almost no businesses, even though their estates are dripping with resources. Something is seriously wrong.

Their whole existence has been stolen

Aboriginal people feel like they are locked out of everything. Many now believe their whole existence has been stolen and their right to life itself is disappearing. They have the highest incarceration rates in the world, high levels of unemployment, and the highest death rate across Australia, driven by the highest rates of diabetes, renal failure and rheumatic heart disease in the world. Attempts at schooling and higher education fail, leaving many lost and caught between two worlds, broken, disillusioned and angry. Indeed, many who tried the English-language Australian education system hit an uncharted English ceiling during the process and are the very ones now rebelling.

It is, therefore, not all about housing. The people’s loss and anger come from several things, the main one being that they are cut out of the contemporary English information loop. They say information is power, and when you have no access to the lingua franca, you lose all power and access to important contemporary information and knowledge.

Speaking Australian

Traditional Aboriginal people speak Australian languages, not English, which only turned up 200 hundred years ago. This means that they also think and store information in that language. They need that information in their languages in order to access education and learning, know why they are dying so fast, or why all the businesses and employment opportunities have disappeared.

Because of the lack of access to information, many parents and elders just want to drop out or go off and get drunk because nothing makes any sense anymore. But the young people act out their anger. They want to make the mainstream English speakers pay for the injustice they feel towards their own people.

We have a war going on, and no one wants to know about it.

There are always two sides to a war. But when one side can not speak into the English-speaking media and the other English-speaking side does not want to hear, the war will go on as an endless tit-for-tat, cat-and-mouse game.

Let’s stop the game and look for the real reasons for this very unjust cross-cultural war.

The answers are there if you will only listen.


What is the short answer?

The people need answers to their questions in their own language, told through their own worldview. In this way, knowledge and understanding build on a strong foundation of what they already know, their cultural knowledge base; things they already know are true and real. This approach requires specially trained bilingual, bicultural community educators.

This bilingual, bicultural conversation is possible, as we have demonstrated on our Yolngu Learning Djambatjmarram Site, which has over 500 podcasts and videos.

Unfortunately, most of the information delivered by government departments “from on high” will not answer their questions and only adds to the anger.

Let’s do something to stop the war. We do this by first understanding the issues.


For those that want a more information

Three main underlying problems;

  1. Intergenerational Transfer of Trauma
  2. Intergenerational Transfer of Confusion and
  3. Inherited Structural Violence


Intergenerational Transfer of Trauma

Intergenerational transfer of trauma is fairly well understood. This is where the trauma that Indigenous people’s grandparents and parents experienced in their lifetimes is transmitted unknowingly to them. Then their own real-world experience reinforces this trauma and further shape their lives.

Intergenerational Transfer of Confusion

The intergenerational transfer of confusion comes from a time when these young people’s forebears couldn’t understand the English-speaking world. These previous generations remain confused about the central underlying mainstream knowledge about a whole range of things, including Western economics, law and even new diseases and sickness that were introduced.

Many now believe that government provides all the money for all businesses to operate. This leaves them with many questions like, how come they miss out? This confusion has to be lived to really understand it.

Inherited Structural Violence

Inherited structural violence comes from the unintentional inherited structure of violence that is passed on from generation to generation in the mainstream English-speaking community in how they relate to Aboriginal people and their culture. This structural violence becomes a form of community violence that is the precursor to most other forms of violence that is now evident in Aboriginal communities.

It is an unrecognised form of violence due to the fact that:

  1. it is entrenched in the very fabric of the mainstream English-speaking culture, so the mainstream cannot see it, and
  2. Aboriginal people who live, speak and think in an Australian (Aboriginal) language struggle to interact with this English-speaking world.

So this community violence never gets called out.

Why Warriors at a glance


For online or phone interviews, please contact Richard Trudgen

Email:   or call 0400 880 954

Richard Trudgen has been working with Yolngu people in Arnhem Land for over 50 years. He speaks Djambarrpuyŋu and is the author of Why Warriors Lie Down and Die. He is the CEO of Why Warriors Pty Ltd, a community development social enterprise company that empowers Yolngu and other First Nations people by providing access to information and building capacity and understanding between Australian Aboriginal people and the Dominant Culture.

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Richard Trudgen