In an Aboriginal settlement of a hundred or so souls, people gathered under trees to escape the heat of the day. Some whiled away the time playing cards, others just sat there doing nothing. Though it was a school day, groups of children roamed the streets, milling with the stray dogs and rubbish.
The air of despondency and despair was palpable.
Driving through these communities, I wondered why don’t they pick up their rubbish, look after their houses, and send their children to school.
But after a while, I began to realise that perhaps residents were too depressed to care about such mundane things as picking up rubbish and maintaining their homes.
Speaking to an Aboriginal woman in Alice Springs, I was saddened to hear that over the course of three days, three people close to her had died: her sister, a young man of 24 who died from pneumonia, and a small child who was run over by a car in one of the town camps.
In the short time I was in Alice Springs, two women were brutally attacked, stabbed and left for dead.
I was told the horrific story of a woman who was found hiding in the dry river bed, drunk and in a lot of pain. Her partner had set fire to her genitals because she had ‘looked at another man the wrong way.’ By the time she was taken to hospital, her burnt clothes and flesh had melded together and started to rot.
People need love, a sense of purpose, and something to look forward to. Unfortunately for many remote Aboriginal people, relationships are frequently fraught with violence, they don’t have jobs, and years of broken promises and inept policies have taught them not to hope for much or dream of a better future.
The absence of hope is evident in the high suicide rates of remote Aboriginal people. Recently in the NT there has been a spate of suicides with 15 Indigenous people taking their lives in 16 weeks. Similar sad tales emanate from the Kimberley and the APY Lands.
Amnesty International’s report ‘The Land Holds Us’ paints a rosy picture of homeland communities, using the findings of one medical study of a community called Utopia to argue that people who live on their traditional lands are healthier than those who don’t. Although this may be true in some cases, it is equally true that too many remote Indigenous Australians are dying before their time.
Sara Hudson is a Research Fellow with the Indigenous Affairs Program at The Centre for Independent Studies. She visited communities in Central Australia earlier this month.