'Too Many Die Young': Aboriginal Call For Justice At Garma
"Sometimes I don't know where I belong."
With the Garma Festival dominated by talk of Indigenous Australians being given a "voice to parliament" it is tempting to wonder how relevant it is to Aboriginal people living in poverty around the country.
But it does matter and it's the personal testimonies at the remote Arnhem Land gathering that drive home why rather than speeches delivered by big-city academics.
"I cannot speak my own language, I have grandchildren but I was denied my mother and father," says William Tilmouth, a member of the Stolen Generation and brother of activist Kwementyaye "Tracker" Tilmouth.
"Sometimes I don't know where I belong, where we're going or who the hell am I."
He was not recognised in native title and former prime minister Kevin Rudd's apology "meant nothing to me", he says.
His speech drives many of those present, including Indigenous academic Marcia Langton, to tears.
Barayuwa Mununggurr, a Yolngu man and former local councillor, emotionally tells how he nearly died seven times after a six-hour operation to remove a cancerous bladder tumour.
Royal Darwin Hospital failed to properly inform him he'd been diagnosed with cancer and didn't ensure he or his adult daughter understood, he says.
After a friend organised him to fly to Melbourne to be treated he walked out of the hospital, which his family believes saved his life.
He claims the hospital was guilty of behaving unprofessionally in dealing with an Aboriginal patient.
"Too many of my people die young, perhaps 30 years younger than non-Indigenous ," Mununggurr says emotionally.
"We want hospitals to be culturally safe; it means being called by my correct name, it means not racist, it means choices being heard, understanding the cultural context and spiritual context."
The stories continue those of the 230 years of colonial history since the arrival of Captain Arthur Phillip and what author Richard Flanagan described at Garma as "a war that never ended" for Aboriginal people.
Last weekend was the 20th year of the festival hosted by the Yolngu people who have protected their ancient culture better than most and produced prominent Australians like singer Gurrumul Yunupingu and the acclaimed band Yothu Yindi. Garma often welcomes visiting "balandas" (non-Yolngu) who can perform the Bunggul dance with locals in front of sunset views of the Arafura Sea.
Djawa Yunupingu, a leader of the Arnhem Gumatj clan tells Garma "we live side by side - two people, two laws, one country".
The Northern Land Council's John Christopherson says through a treaty Australia could be proud and lose 230 years of colonial rule but "gain 65,000 years of history and become the oldest occupied country in the world".
There are fiery speeches from activists such as Noel Pearson who are as happy to make politically progressive white folks in the audience as uncomfortable as conservative politicians.
He gives two speeches. One vows Aboriginal Australians will never give up fighting for the constitutional voice Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has denied them. He then attacks the Greens for wanting to lock up Aboriginal land and stop it being developed, and bloated government departments and NGOs for swallowing up money meant for Indigenous causes.
"That is a strong belief that government can never do anything for us that we are unwilling to do for ourselves," Pearson says.
"Our friends on the progressive side of politics have not understood our argument in this respect but it is a basic argument that nobody is going to save us except ourselves."
There is a sense of despair that nothing has changed for remote Aboriginal people since the 2007 intervention in relation to disadvantage, imprisonment, domestic violence and abuse, housing and poor health.
Pearson says he believes his community is getting it right with its Cape York Agenda, a 15-point plan practising the self-help or "Indigenous agency" he preaches.
It covers many areas from prenatal care to reforming the education system, building a lifelong work ethic and creating sustainable industry.
Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has backed it as "the most exciting thing" happening in Indigenous affairs and invited Aboriginal groups from around the country to submit proposals to similarly regain control of the land, service delivery and funding in a plan known as Pama Futures.
"We are on the cusp of significant change. A number of things will be resolved before the next Garma; the Closing the Gap agreement will be in place ... that won't be just targets but targets with a plan and resources," he says.
Rather than treaties and a voice to parliament, Scullion prefers to talk about what he sees as progress such as ranger programs or the Weipa Indigenous -owned company Wik Timber he visited after Garma to announce $4.5 million in funding for.
But some like Fraser government Aboriginal affairs minister Fred Chaney say the provision of jobs is one of the federal government's biggest failures. He points at what he calls a racist work-for-the-dole Community Development Programme.
Remote Aboriginal participants must work up to 25 hours a week for 46 weeks a year, far more than about 20 hours a week over six months for city job seekers. In some areas they are subject to cashless welfare cards.
Scullion is yet to keep his promise of introducing a "wage-based system with add-ons" - the ability to earn top-up money, Mr Chaney says.
The majority of those who breach work-for-the-dole from remote communities and can be punished with up to eight weeks without pay. That contributes to people being driven off country and into towns to become fringe dwellers, he says.
"There has been neglect of remote regions for a long time ... when they do get attention from leading politicians it is when there is a ghastly crisis.
"The prime minister and two senior ministers come to Tennant Creek because, horrifyingly, a two-year-old child has been allegedly raped."