‘De-Prioritising Truth’ in Remote Communities

‘De-Prioritising Truth’ in Remote Communities, by Alistair Crooks, a retired geologist with extensive experience in outback Australia.

The setting is a bush pub in outback Australia. It doesn’t matter where. I’m sitting in the front bar, and across the table from me is a young woman playing idly with her drink. We exchange pleasantries. I’m a geologist just passing through on my way to a drilling project. She is a remote-area nurse working in an indigenous community, also just passing through. She adds, unnecessarily, what appears to be a well-rehearsed formula:

“I love my job. Indigenous people are so wonderful. It’s such a privilege to be able to help them.” It’s a formula I have heard many times.

I express a little scepticism. She tightens up, on the defensive. I relate a few innocuous anecdotes from remote communities that I have stayed at or visited. She begins to relax; she is not alone, but in the company of someone who also knows about remote communities. She adds a few light anecdotes of her own. Is it the isolation of the remote communities? The lack of non-indigenous companionship? She gets more chatty and starts to talk. The trickle becomes a river; the river becomes a flood. As I sit opposite her nodding my head quietly, the anecdotes become more personal, more brutal. Is it my lack of surprise? The lack of shock at the nature of the stories she tells? The stabbings? The beatings? The botched circumcisions? All passing through her clinic. Suddenly the floodgates burst. She is unburdening herself of all her deepest worries.

Maybe she mistakes my silence for sympathy, but she would be wrong. I have heard all these types of anecdotes too many times in too many pubs across the remote areas of Australia to be surprised or shocked. Too many remote-area nurses, teachers, maintenance workers, policemen and even anthropologists.

No, what fascinates me is not the stories, but the staggering volte-face that I have just witnessed as, in a matter of just a few minutes she, just like the others, has moved from “It’s such a privilege …” to describing the nightly terror of drunken figures lurking in the dark just outside her bedroom window. I wonder how she can reconcile the reality of daily life in her remote community as she describes it, with the lie—no, perhaps lie is not the right word here; we will come back to that later, but for now we will say the fiction of her outward public show that all was wonderful. …

It seems that with respect to Aborigines in remote communities, Australians at large are divided into two groups; an “in group” of those who, from close association, are aware of the realities of life of remote communities, and an “out group”, those who are not. Perhaps the continued employment of those in the “in group”, like my remote-area nurse, depends on the suppression of this reality and the ability to present an appropriate public face to the “out group”. The “in group”, in essence, takes it upon itself to protect the “out group” from the reality. …

What the “out group” appear to want is “plausible deniability”, and they rely on the “in group” to keep as many of the facts suppressed within the walls of the gated communities for as long as possible.

This terrible burden placed on the “in group” by the knowledge of the hopelessness of their situation in attempting to reconcile the contradictory government objectives of “Closing the Gap” while ostensibly preserving traditional indigenous culture, and at the same time bearing the responsibility of providing plausible deniability to the government about the obvious failings of their policies, has been described in a recently published book, Trapped in the Gap, by Professor Emma Kowal. …

The “out group” appears to be comfortable living with the delusion, as it serves their purposes well to believe what they are being told by the “in groupers”: that things are improving in the Aboriginal lands and that money is being well spent. On the other hand, many Aborigines themselves seem to be comfortable with the delusion of the “out group” as long as they are left alone and funding is maintained. Meanwhile, the “in group” hollows itself out in a moral vacuum in between the two, trying to maintain the delusion. …

It is a matter not so much of the inability to learn from past failures as the inability to admit any failures in the first place; to re-cast failure as success by the re-definition of words; the seemingly infinite ability to unlearn anything that threatens to teach.

The aboriginal situation in Australia is political correctness on steroids. There is a huge and obvious gap between reality and the politically approved version of reality.

No one wants to face up to the fact that the average IQ of full-blood aboriginals is very substantially below that of whites, or to insist on the non-racist ideal of treating everybody the same regardless of their race.