By Richard Trudgen, CEO of Why Warriors – Author, Community Educator and Business Developer Worker with the Yolngu people of north-east Arnhem Land.
Some people are suggesting that the colonisation of Australia did not and does not continue to harm Australia’s First Nations people. They suggest that the British colonisation has only brought improvements to the lives of the Original Australians.
Their arguments rely on the changes to people’s lives wrought by modernisation, which has brought both benefits and harms to all cultures.
However, to argue that past and present actions of colonisation in Australia have not dramatically affected the Original Australians is patently false, given the lived experience of groups like the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land. The proof that colonisation delivers ongoing harm has been demonstrated by the abject failure of Closing the Gap efforts.
Living with Yolngu people for over fifty years
Having lived and worked with the Yolngu for over fifty years, I know that colonisation has destroyed the Yolngu people. Because of colonisation, they now suffer from the highest death rates in Australia, massive underemployment, low academic attainment and high incarceration rates. They have also lost their business mastery, academic languages, systems of governance, teaching institutions, midwifery skills and other high-level medical expertise.
I originally wrote about this 20 years ago in the book Why Warriors Lie Down and Die, and the destructive change since then has been accelerated, especially since the massive injection of public money through Prime Minister John Howard’s very Intervention into the Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory in 2007. This short-sighted, destructive policy set back these communities by at least 30 years.
What is going wrong here?
Modern-day Australia is a direct result of actions taken over 200 years ago at the beginning of the British colony. Since then, many on both sides of the cultural divide have struggled to find effective solutions to closing the gap between the two cultures.
To find answers, we need to look at what is still causing the division and failure in program development for people like Yolngu. Without looking at the continuing underlying problem in the structural relationships, nothing can change for the better.
Unconsidered colonial factors still in play today
The lived reality of the Yolngu people includes post-colonial factors, like the intergenerational transfer of;
- derogatory naming
- subconscious or implicit bias
- structural or community violence
The colonial basis for some of these factors is understood by sectors of the mainstream English-speaking community. However, others are not well understood.
If Australia is going to Close the Gap, we need to understand and discuss all these real-life contributing factors. As with any problem, until you fully understand it, you cannot effectively deal with it.
Colonialism is alive and well
Colonialism is alive and well in Australia today and still impacts First Nations people, whether or not they have been fully assimilated into the English mainstream.
The lives of Indigenous people could be very different with appropriate awareness, knowledge, skills, and the roll-out of appropriate language-based information and educational services for both the original Australians and mainstream English-speaking people.
This ongoing disaster does not have to destroy future generations of people. However, these underlying issues need to be addressed. Otherwise, the tit-for-tat battle/s and the disastrous statistics will continue.
For online or phone interviews, please contact Richard Trudgen
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0400 880 954
Richard Trudgen has been working with the 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 October 2023