“There are many sorts of noises, but there is only one silence”, so said German writer Kurt Tucholsky (1890-1935).
But are we really a silent race of people, attempting to ride out the rough times while our world caves in around us, or are we a misunderstood race whose voices are simply being ignored by people in authority?
It’s a bit like the white man at the train station who asks a black man the time. Just to double check the accuracy of the answer he then asks a passing white man the same question, who in turn gives an identical response. The black man, who is grossly offended, remarks, “Now you’ve heard it in black and white”.
It sounds familiar to a story I heard on an ABC TV current affairs show recently where a white female prosecutor in the Northern Territory echoed the words, on the delicate topic of child abuse, of many Indigenous females around the nation.
As the debate on this controversial topic continues to occupy prominent media space, weeks after the ABC story, I decided to have a look at it from a different perspective.
I wasn’t particularly interested in reading about recent theories, but wanted to look at old studies; empirical data, clinical observations, theoretical conceptualisation and general understanding of normal human behaviour, or normatology.
To make matters more difficult for myself I sought to research a study that didn’t necessarily apply to Indigenous Australia, but as an alternative, looked at a typical dysfunctional community that could exist anywhere in the world - for comparative analysis.
A book that I chose to read goes by the innocuous title of The Sterling County Study of Psychiatric disorder and Socio-cultural environment by Leighton, D., Macklin, D., MacMillan, A., and Leighton, A. 1963. These authors’ collectively proposed that social disintegration generates disintegration of personality. In arriving at their appraisal they devised the following ten indices of disintegration as a guide:
- instability and low level of income;
- cultural confusion - in this case weak, confused, conflicting values;
- secularisation - that is, the absence of religious values;
- frequency of broken homes;
- few and weak associations in groups, both formal and informal;
- few and weak leaders;
- few patterns of recreation and leisure-time activity;
- high frequency of hostile acts and expressions;
- high frequency of crime and delinquency; and
- weak and fragmented network of communications.
In evaluating these indices I provide a subjective Indigenous perspective with the following observations.
Instability and low level of income
The gross weekly income for Indigenous people in 1994 was $374 and $394 in 2002. The $20 rise in eight years just about says it all about the priorities governments of all persuasions place on narrowing the gap between the wages of non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians: an elusive figure of $200.
The 36,000 Indigenous people who worked for CDEP (Community Development Employment Project) wages up to June 2004 were listed in government statistics as being employed. If you take into account the unemployment rate by factoring in those currently engaged on the work-for-the-dole scheme you’ll develop a more realistic picture of a typical community: it will also explain the high level of instability created by poverty.
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