Sunday, November 23

Indigenous care for indigenous people

It's been around our region for 21 years, but I'd never heard of Daramulen Home Care until the other day when Kirsty Bissaker came to our monthly Central Coast Reconciliation Group meeting to tell us about this specialist service for Aboriginal people.

Ms Bissaker, the acting service co-ordinator, explained that Daramulen's clients are mostly elderly, some are children with disabilities, and about 20 per cent are adults aged 25 to 40.

Staffed by indigenous people, Daramulen operates alongside the government organisation which provides home care in the wider community. But it offers more for its indigenous clients – help with housework, social get-togethers called “yarn-ups”, and the extra benefits which come from the carers' cultural sensitivity.

Impressive. So I asked Ms Bissaker: “If Kevin Rudd gave you some of this money he's splashing around, what would you spend it on? What's your biggest need?”

She didn't hesitate. “Medical transport.” With low incomes, without cars, and often living in areas poorly served by public transport, her clients face real hardship if, for example, they must get from their homes to a medical centre three times a week. Adding to the problems of disabilities and infirmity, some clients are illiterate and find it hard to access those services which do exist.

The following are my comments, not those of Ms Bissaker (although I hope she'd agree). Sometimes people ask me why we should provide special social services for indigenous people. Surely we're all Australians, and if we're in need there should be no discrimination.

You might assume the whitefellas who ask this question are rednecks, but often they are not, and they deserve a considered reply.

Cultural sensitivity? Well, that's true – but we're not going to win hearts and minds if we argue in abstractions. Here are the answers I give:

  • If you're fifty or over, and you went to the flicks in many country towns, you'll remember when indigenous customers sat up front on wooden benches.

  • Even if some of your playmates were Aboriginal kids from down the road, they'd often be barred from joining you in the swimming pool. That exclusion generally held firm until after the 1965 Freedom Ride through outback New South Wales.

  • In country towns in NSW, and probably elsewhere in Australia, whites had a “local option” to exclude indigenous pupils from government schools. For example, when European settlers in the Manning Valley finally pushed the indigenous owners off their land and resettled many of them on a mission, the good people of Taree asked the government to bar the children from their schools, and the government set up the Purfleet Aboriginal Provisional School. Up and down the coast, in towns like Kempsey, or inland, in towns like Walgett, the story was the same.

  • What would you say if your Dad came home from the war in 1945 and tried to put his name down for a soldier settler block, only to be told “abos” weren't eligible?

  • And try to imagine this. You're playing with your friends, when Mum starts shouting, “Git! Git! Git outta here fast.” As rehearsed, you run for the bush or down into the creek bed. You peek through the scrub, see a couple of cars pull up, and some whitefellas stride into your homes. When you creep back, your sister is gone. Your Mum and your aunties are inconsolable in their grief.

All of these things happened within my lifetime, and therefore within the lifetimes of some of Daramulen's clients.

It's no reflection on indigenous people to say such experiences turned too many into an underclass – people who cannot assert themselves at school interviews, or know how to dispute local council rulings, or negotiate their way through our complex and overstressed health system. People who may be functionally illiterate after rudimentary education in mission schools.

Today, one can see rapid improvement in the pride and achievement of Aboriginal Australians. And while most do appeciate the goodwill and efforts of whitefella friends, it's clear much of the credit should go to indigenous workers and organisations who understand the special needs of their people.

1 comment:

  1. A critical multicultural approach situates cultural differences within the wider nexus of power relations, and helps overcome the negative stereotyping that often prevents inclusive, self-determined care. Recommendations are suggested for change at the societal, professional and individual level.
    exposure marketing