We've got news for you.

Register on SowetanLIVE at no cost to receive newsletters, read exclusive articles & more.
Register now

Australia's deprived citizens

WHILE the Australian population is so proud of their country which is somewhat self-sufficient, one topic they would wish did not exist is the question of the indigenous people, the Aboriginals, who are the original inhabitants.

Right through across the length and breadth of the massive pacific island one hardly notices the Aborigines, who claim they have been relegated to being third-class citizens in the land of their forefathers.

A discussion with members of the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council, an organisation that is currently fighting for the restoration and claim on land of their forefathers, revealed a deep sense of pain as they explained how their culture has been systematically destroyed.

The council is the native title representative body of the Noongar people, who are the traditional owners of the southwest of Australia. It works with members for the resolution of the Noongar native title claims, while also advancing and strengthening Noongar culture, language, heritage and society.

The council claims to have 2500 members representing a Noongar population of about 30000 in Western Australia.

Council members say they were only granted citizenship rights in 1967 and despite that they are third- class citizens in "our own country".

Council regional development manager Daniel Garlett, who speaks the Noongar language fluently, says they are trying against all odds to preserve and keep alive their dreams of winning in their struggle to preserve their cultural heritage.

Garlett bemoans the fact that none of the 150 indigenous languages are being taken seriously and also that they are struggling to claim titles on their land.

"Unlike in other areas, we are finding it tough and I think it is because we have bundled together six underlying claims and approached it as a group. I think we are penalised for having stuck together as a group," Garlett said.

It seems, however, that the labour government has shown an interest in the welfare and plight of the Aboriginal population.

Only last week Aboriginal Affairs Minister Grace Portolesi was quoted as saying apologising to the stolen generation was not enough and that the government must do more for indigenous Australians.

The minister was interviewed by a local newspaper, The Advertiser, where she said she wanted to shake up government services for indigenous people and "find a way to translate our words into action".

Portolesi said she would like to see the government move towards a "one-stop shop" model, making it easier for Aboriginal people to access government services.

University of South Australia dean of the Unaipon College of Indigenous Education and Research Peter Buckskin labelled the targets "admirable", but remained sceptical of the government's ability to achieve outcomes given past failings.

"I've dealt with at least 10 Aboriginal affairs ministers, all coming with admirable charters but they don't seem to get it up in their cabinets."

Professor Buckskin agreed with Portolesi that money alone was not the solution - "it's the quality and efficiency of the public service".

To negotiate a settlement and recognition of the Noongar native title over Perth and the southwest of Western Australia on December 17 2009, the state government signed a heads of agreement with the council aimed at resolving the six Noongar native title claims over the region by negotiation rather than by slow and costly legal action, which has been running in the federal court for 12 years.

The negotiations are expected to take up to two years to complete, and will cover a wide range of issues including recognition of the traditional ownership of Noongar land, a range of health and education programmes, and possible joint management of some national parks, as well as other initiatives aimed at strengthening Noongar culture, and community self-determination.

The signing took place at Parliament House and was witnessed by Noongar elders, council directors, and supporters of a negotiated settlement.

Chairperson Graeme Minister and chief executive Glen Kelly signed on behalf of the council (in its capacity as the native title representative body representing the traditional owners), and parliamentarian Graham Mischin signed for attorney-general Christian Porter on behalf of the West Australian government.

Would you like to comment on this article? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

Commenting is subject to our house rules.