VANGUARD - Expressing the viewpoint of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist)
For National Independence and Socialism • www.cpaml.org
You’ve got to hand it to Jacinta Nampijinpa Price – she sure knows how to prettify colonialism and its aftermath.
Speaking at the National Press Club, Price, who is the Opposition’s shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs and one of two prominent Indigenous advocates for the reactionary No vote in the Voice Referendum, denied that colonialism had negatively impacted upon Australian First Peoples.
Instead, she said that it had impacted positively. “Absolutely. I mean, now we’ve got running water, we’ve got readily available food.”
But First Peoples always had “readily available food”, according to Geoffrey Blainey, a conservative historian. He said that famines were rare. “It may well be that on most days of 1788 the Aboriginals ate a much greater number of fresh fish than the 13 million Australians eat today,” he argued in his 1975 book Triumph of the Nomads (p. 133). After making similar comparisons based on waterbirds, shellfish, seeds and meat, he concluded, “If we specify the main ingredients of a good standard of living as food, health, shelter and warmth, the average aboriginal was probably as well off as the average European in 1800…” (p. 225).
What changed was the impact of colonialism which, by force and violence, or the threat of force and violence, separated First Peoples from their lands, and then destroyed the bountiful habitats that had sustained human life in favour of sheep and cattle runs that brought in feral grasses and destroyed the medicinal and food stores of the First Peoples. Changes that wiped out biological diversity included clearing land for grain crops.
I have seen the terrible quality of the “readily available food” in canteens and stores on the APY Lands and throughout northern Australia, and I have seen the prices asked of people living on or below the poverty line. The quislings are wrong.
First Peoples have had their water sources: soaks, water holes, creeks and rivers, and certain tree roots and ground-burrowing frogs, exchanged – violently – for the “benefits” of running water from taps.
I say violently, because farmers and pastoralists, and in more recent time, miners, have taken the pure waters of the land from their fellow human beings and given them over to the stock and the crops and the minerals whose value capitalism places above that of the welfare of people.
Waterholes were poisoned, the shit from stock fouled others, and First peoples were “dispersed” by guns and whips.
In 1856, John Bowyer Bull recorded how he had visited waterholes on Flinders Ranges stations. At Minbrie, Wilpena and Aroona, he reported seeing only women of the Adnyamathanha. They all said the same thing “Whitefella shootem all about blackfella”.
At Angepena Station, “Stewart took me down the creek…and showed me a camp of lubras and children all cut to pieces with the stockwhips. The women’s breasts were cut open and little children six to twelve months old were bleeding all over.” Bull was told that the women and children went to a little spring to get a drink when stockmen whipped them to keep them away from waters now reserved for cattle.
In 2011 I wrote a poem about this:
Angepena waters were always just there
For all of the yura to share
And the birds and the creatures
Danced through its virgin features
As the yura chanted the songlines
Angepena waters are sparkling in the sun
But white men took the land for their cattle to run
And for them it makes more sense
Than to build a big long fence
That the yura are dispersed with the gun
Though yura men lay dead
Their families had not fled
They still huddled near Angepena water
So the stockmen took whips
And slashed their breasts with great rips
And cut the heads and the backs of their children
At Angepena waters there were genocidal slaughters
So that cattle could drink without disturbance
With the water holes mud
Mixed with cow shit and blood
Angepena’s a shame job for whitey.
But the shame job continues today in First Peoples communities.
Almost all of what city people call remote communities are reliant on bore water and, as a result, there are concerns that groundwater is being exposed to large amounts of minerals, particularly heavy metals. These are a major cause of kidney disease in First Peoples.
In some communities, uranium is the problem. Laramba is an Aboriginal community, roughly 205 kilometres west of Mparntwe (Alice Springs), that is home to about 300 people. Its water comes from a bore, and uranium occurs naturally in the area. A 2020 NT Power and Water report found the community's water was contaminated with 0.052 milligrams per litre of uranium, more than three times the concentration limit recommended in the Australia's drinking water guidelines.
Salt and calcium are also present in bore water. Washing machines, taps, electric jugs become heavily calcified and require regular replacement. In addition to these ongoing costs, communities often have to purchase bottled water.
Jacinta Price cannot plead ignorance about these things. Just last June, the community at Ali Curung, 400km north of Mparntwe (Alice Springs) started trucking in bottled water because issues with local water quality — including contamination, taste, colour or even temperature — are causing many residents to turn to the sugared poisons of soft drink instead.
Controversy surrounding the bottled water issue is well-known in the Territory following a decision by the government to grant a private water licence to Fortune Agribusiness at the nearby Singleton Station.
The licence will allow Fortune to extract up to 40,000 megalitres a year for a major fruit and vegetable project in Central Australia that will mostly supply China.
Kaytetye Warlpiri woman Maureen Nampijinpa O’Keefe is one of the local mob who fear any drop in the water table could risk "irreversible damage" to sacred springs, soakages and trees.
"This is about people's lives, this is about human rights," she said. "The impact will be devastating, and we will hold the government responsible for the damage."
Nor should Jacinta Price be unaware of problems closer to Mparntwe.
Her mother, Bess, was NT Community Services minister in August 2014 when water was cut off from the town camp of Ingerreke (Whitegate).
Because it is not an official camp, Whitegate residents, who live in tin sheds, do not get basic services, including electricity. The population fluctuates from a handful to up to 30 people, and they organised a rally against Bess Price in September 2014 to demand access to water.
As the daughter of a Warlpiri women, Jacinta surely knows the story of her own people’s denial of access to water by pastoralists. In her June 2023 Arena Quarterly article on the police killing of Warlpiri man Kumanjayi Walker, Melinda Hinkson wrote:
Such an attitude marks the character of a lot of what occurred across the Australian continent in the early brutal years of colonial invasion. It is a vital ingredient to the othering that enables one person to kill another, and that rationalises the dispossession and destruction of entire societies in the name of European progress. On Warlpiri Country this process acquired purposeful intent in the 1920s and was felt most profoundly with the granting of a pastoral lease over Pikilyi, a tract of land of great cultural significance which contains the only precious permanent water source throughout the vast Tanami Desert. Having secured the pastoral lease and named it Mt Doreen for his wife, William Braitling set about a brutal campaign to exclude Warlpiri from the life-giving spring and surrounding lush hunting grounds. Through their starvation he forced them to mine wolfram in return for meagre food supplies. There were documented cases of malnutrition, of floggings, of women and girls suffering venereal disease, of a group of Warlpiri being neck-chained and forced to walk the 250 miles to Alice Springs as part of investigations into the death of a white man. The work of missionaries and anthropologists to expose the brutal conditions on Mt Doreen station was one significant factor in the establishment of settlements and reserves across Central Australia in the 1940s and 1950s.
Why Jacinta Price wants to put lipstick on the pig of colonialism is beyond me.
She will not stop First Peoples fighting for their rights.