The community project

What Northern Territory communities need is a sense of community. We call them communities but I wonder about that. If they were then the disconnect caused by boredom wouldnt be there. Boredom is the big killer and boredom happens when we are not constructively engaged. The destructive engagement with alcohol, drugs, petrol and associated abuses is an indication that a culture of constructive opportunity to act is missing in these places. Dont underestimate the energy and focus that is required to get hands on substances for abuse which leads me to think it has little to do with laziness. Strongly focussed projects work. The energy spent on the project of getting some petrol could become the project of fixing up a vehicle, or creating a childcare centre or writing a song in a band. A community is about constructive connections and needs and expectations and duties between people in the community. Having some expert people wandering around the countryside saying this and starting that and then disappearing never to be heard of again wont create stability or security or allay boredom in the long term. If I was living in one of these places I would be expecting Pat Anderson or Rex Wild to kick things off and introduce me to the new government teams Id be curious about these teams and pretty interested as well and would feel the beginning of a connection if I was introduced to them by someone who knew them and me as you do – I wouldnt feel connected to them at all if I wasnt introduced properly.

One thing that galvanises people together is work. Lots of times when people work together a great positive bond is formed. When strangers work their way out of a natural or unnatural disaster bonds develop between them. Project work that has strong beginning and end point can develop a sense of community and quite wonderfully that sense of community connects people after that project has finished. Project work has to do with the pragmatic stuff that constructively binds you as a group to a cause that has a beginning and an end point outside your own individual self.

In the communities I was fighting boredom. I get the impression that I was not alone in this feeling. Boredom is a big problem in these places. I found them incredibly boring. I relieved that boredom in all sorts of silly ways but the best way was when I was part of a purpose driven project for a few weeks.

Lots of the teachers and health workers I met lived in relative isolation in some cases it was deliberate and self-imposed and in others just imposed by the situation. I think that if workers go to communities they need to feel as if they belong and have a positive sense that they are there to achieve something beyond a wage or a years study leave. The people in the community also need to feel as if everyone who is there should be there. Project based work with a beginning and a specific end point that has proper funding creates direction and a proper connection between people who are strangers and it develops relationships between people who have not worked together before.

It is easy to be negative about decisive action but it might be dangerous to be desperately positive. Jumping on the Howard/Brough bandwagon smacks of this kind of understandable desperation. The extent to which all this attention to the problems in communities actually connects anyone to anything constructive will be the extent to which these problems are humanised and this means developing intimacy and familiarity.

Working together gives us that community a so thats what youre really like understanding, so does being together for a long time. You get to laugh at each others strengths and weaknesses, exercise tolerance and flexibility and imaginatively accommodate available resources to achieve a concrete outcome. Along the way community and interest and beating boredom will have jhappened too. While people wander in and out of these remote communities even with best personal intentions, nothing much will change regarding current values in health and education and law and order because no-one knows anyone, or knows why they are there. The strong stuff of community cant happen.

Funding fixed term contracts and work that is clearly project oriented that involves newcomers and old members of the community will and does create a focus that dispels boredom and can engage people in making life richer and safer. – Creates community. It works and is working now in part and in pockets of the NT just ask.

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6 Responses to The community project

  1. Link says:

    Great post Jen. Sensible with feet firmly placed etcetera. Refreshing.

  2. Michael says:

    Community is one of those glittering generalties which are very attractive. The term Aboriginal localities might be a more accurate descriptor.

    The idea that an Aboriginal ‘community’ is a cohesive, homogenous grouping is a common if unvoiced one. Acknowledging the different communities in the ‘community’ might highlight the need for the kind of work you’re suggesting.

  3. wmmbb says:

    To me one of the striking sentences in the Little Children Are Sacred Report was the observation:

    The disempowerment of Aboriginal men and women requires urgent attention.

    Sadly, some young people, especially males, do not it seems have pride in their own culture. I take that to mean their own identity and their own history, and the dominant culture, the medium for the alcohol and the pornography, could do more. All cultures, much like individuals, need to interact, continually change and adapt and be resilent.This I recognize is no easy matter. Take Aboriginal languages, which I understand can change radically within the span of a few generations, as if in an analogous case for English the Canterbury Tales was written in the 1960’s or 1970’s. In my opinion, self respect and respect from others, are the seeds for resilience. We can be a community of cultures, and there is much that the wider society can learn, and want to learn, from the original human inhabitants of this continent in whose footsteps we tread, often in blind ignorance.For example, I do not know the name of the people on whose land I live.

    Others have suggested that people should leave their isolated settlements and make new lives in towns. From what I have read, for example in regard to Alice Springs, this transition is not necessarily a successful one, and there are good reasons for staying on their own land, although that seems to imply marginalization from necessary services, such as health care and education. Aboriginal history has been one of dispossession. Their desire on their own land might be seen as similar to the Palestinians of Northern Israel who were determined to stay put despite the barrage of rockets from across the border in the latest outbreak of war there last November.

    So Jen. I rather like your idea of project work toward constructive ends rather than destructive ends, which involves roles and goals that build on need positive links to the outside community. I do not know how that could work.I am tempted to think it might be better to look at business models rather than just rely alone on government funding.If that were the case, it would be interesting to know what business models have worked and might work.

  4. Jane says:

    It’s very sad that the call for volunteers and the posing of this as a National Emergency doesn’t bring in the people on the communities. They’re being talked at, and not with. It must be very bewildering to have all these volunteers coming to your community to do something and not to be a part of it yourself, but to be the object of it all. This could have been a golden chance for the people themselves to have been involved in changing their lives for the better. And what exactly will the volunteers do? And ths soldiers? Apart from play football with the kids and show them that the Army’s a good employer?

  5. bernard says:

    Jen, I think you make some really interesting insights into how communities have to be ‘made’. What we know of the National Emergency plan thus far does seem to indicate a talking ‘to’ or ‘at’, rather than a more capacity and community building negotiation, as Jane points out. At the moment, there does seem to be a social engineering basis to the longer term aspects of the plan captured in the notion of stabilisation and normalisation. Anyway, I think the verdict is still out on the long-term aspects and these will, in the end, be the most important steps as they are what Indigenous people need so that their future does not contain the inevitability of another National Emergency Plan.

    Related to the point about work, I think the timing of CDEP changes is a little worrisome. Precisely when any sort of capacity building is necessary, I find the cutbacks to CDEP, especially in seemingly successful programs, to be counter-productive. Sure, CDEP is not ‘work’ in terns of full engagement in the labour market and there are many cases where the program is exploited. But when the economy is unlikely to go to the communities, isn’t the best method of building skills that may aid either economic integration or self-sufficiency? I sincerely hope CDEP isn’t ditched in the midst of all these reforms without, at the very least, being replaced by something that is equally or even more supportive.

    As for the deployment of the Army, I ask you: who else is going to do it? Here in Alice Springs it takes two weeks to get a glazier to come and fix your window. It took a guy next door just on four weeks. Apart from a skills shortage in the Centre, there is a clear preference for town life for much of the skilled labour. Many people who work supplying a variety of services out bush eventually get burnt out – the long trips, having to build a life between bush and town, etc. Not only that, but it’s expensive. Without any sort of incentives to get services out bush, these remote communities are going to remain without.

    One big possibility for better integrating service delivery in Central Australia is infrastructure development. Building roads is probably one thing that many Aboriginal people have been asking the taskforce as they have rolled through the communities down here. Easier access to and from such remote communities may help bring about better service delivery. Anyway, there are probably a dozen such infrastructure projects that have been on the books (e.g. remote clinics, better housing, schools, etc), but the NT Government has either been incapable or unwilling to deliver. The Federal Government has partly funded freeways up and down the east coast, why not have the same out here? Maybe, not enough votes – I’ll let someone else do the electoral math. The imperative is even greater considering that the operating budget of the NT Government is equal to that of a large local council in the Sydney metropolitan, but has the demands placed on it of a small state government covering a vast expanse of land. It’s about time the Federal Government stepped in – one can only wonder why it’s been decades coming.

  6. Jane says:

    “I think the timing of CDEP changes is a little worrisome.”
    I agree. The fact that a number of remote communities (like Jigalong in WA) have now had CDEP cut with NO transitional arrangements in place seems to me very damaging. There will be an immediate shortage of money in the communities with consequent hardship, especially for children. And it is yet another reason for people to move off the communities and into the towns.

    I see no evidence that the governments have thought through the social consequences of pushing people into towns when there are no services in the towns to cater for a big influx of community people. It is desperately sad that they have been banging on about sexual abuse and implying that it is in remote communities, whereas there’s little discussion about how appalling the rivers of alcohol in the town camps have been – and about the sexual abuse around a town like Hall’s Creek – no permits needed.

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