Australian Aborigines angered by John Howard's transparent attempt to use them for wedge politics are fighting back - by threatening to close Uluru to tourists. Meanwhile, others who remember the abuses of the Stolen Generation are simply going bush. And I can't really blame them. After over two hundred years of genocide, racism, oppression and neglect, there's a significant distrust of the federal government - and John Howard's policies haven't done anything to reduce it. Here's one example of how it's "helped" the community of Mutitjulu:
Five years ago, when local and visiting youths addicted to petrol fumes regularly terrorised this community, elders say they could not even secure funding for street lights to make the place safer. When concerns emerged that a man was endangering children, they could not get help from authorities to remove him. He is long gone, but despite this - and the arrival of fumeless Opal fuel and a rehabilitation effort that doused the petrol sniffing crisis - a "national emergency" now summons police and military.
"We look up to the Government to help us," Donald Fraser said yesterday. "Now the Government has become a camel, and kicked us out."
In one of the many intricate dramas complicating the political story of the Howard intervention, Canberra tossed out the Mutitjulu community administration eight months ago and replaced it with a Perth firm. But a month ago locals succeeded in dumping the firm through an appeal to the Federal Court. "Why has the Government taken this radical action immediately after the Federal Court finding?" Harry Wilson asks.
In an case, Fraser says, the people are frightened of the federal police coming "because we do not know what they look like". They know their police, he says, and are confident about them. According to Fraser and Wilson, and Bob Randall, a senior elder, Mutitjulu has atrophied in the months since the Government assumed nominal control. They point to the new child care centre next door to the meeting place, closed for the duration. They complain that the education of teenagers at the community college has been compromised by the failure to fix accommodation for boarders, forcing the disruption of teaching as the students are rotated through limited beds.
Work programs, including rubbish clean-ups and the collection of wood to warm homes during freezing desert nights, have stopped. "John Howard has done a Robert Mugabe on our citizens," says another local, Mario Guisette. "He has called martial law on his own citizens."
If a government takeover means losing your essential services, then you can't really blame people for resisting it.
Despite the attempts of racists to spin it that way, opposition to Howard's plan is not about protecting abusers. It is about dignity, respect, and control over their own communities; about getting actual assistance with real problems, rather than having them used as a shoddy excuse for another land grab.