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Smithy's Perspective


It has been a beautiful if sometimes demanding journey. No wonder they say "from the desert the prophets come."

There is time to reflect on the reality and enormity of our national abuse, neglect, cultural trashing and ignorance of the people who were the keepers of nature in this continent. Day by day we hear stories that break our hearts and fire our sense of Jeusus teaching of justice, love & humility.

Rarely in history have those abused and disinherired unjustly shown such grace to their conquerors. how hospitable the Ernabella people are being to us is astounding.


It has been a journey to think and to ponder our tragic past with respect to our lack of respect for the original custodians of this vast island continent. I am meeting the people, reading the enlightened, compassionate writings of Dr Charles Duguid, who in the 1930s pleaded with government to take seriously the culture and the language.

As a Presbyterian minister he ministered among the people on the then-named Ernabella Mission with humility and great compassion, dying well beyond 100 years. His personal stories of the consistant abuse of the people by law-enforcement, government so-called protectors, pastoralists and other exploitersis bringing deep pain to my heart and tears to my eyes.


It is a pity film crews for mainstream TV only ever seem to choose a handful of the most troubled communities, to picture drunkenness, garbage etc. Have seen no drunkenness at all here at Pukatja/Ernabella.

Stood by the place where Cooky's mother died of radiation sickness after the Maralinga atomic UK/Australian tests. I've included a picture of the tree under which she died. To the right on a rocky outcrop is a small white cross in memory. Such a fuss over military casualties after the tests and of course some reparations I believe, but for our own people only silence and the hushed stories we hear out here around the campfire. I believe the Australian Government actually counted the dead livestock but not their casualty brothers & sisters of the land. I feel sick.

And now we face the next great attempt at cultural genocide by stealth... the end of bi-lingual education in the NT and culturally forced assimilation. The current policies resurrected from our dark ages by the last couple of governments. This place is of course poor and the pastoralists have often not paid the rent, but have grown fat on the land where the hunter gatherers have had their natural food supply decimated & their traditional waterholes either tampered with so they no longer hold water, or made unusable by cattle & wild camels.

Of course in the town water is laid on now. I just can't get over the fact that in a town where everyone speaks their traditional language fluently the signs at the clinic are almost all in English... a foreign language. Australia has more respect for Arabic speaking people in city hospitals than its own first nation people. Of course the local clinic workers and others serving the community are not to blame. They have little power I guess to steer government policy decided by ministers against aboriginal affairs who fly in for a few hours and a political "all smiles" photo shoot.

The most untidy scenes here are our white fella's pile of "stuff" we brought with us for our long journey. I have revealed all of our slovenliness! If you leave any thing edible (including my underwear I discovered last evening), where the donkeys can find it & don't guard it it will be gone quicker than an unguarded handbag in a truly caring inner city inclusive church. I love this community!

- John Smith

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