November 15, 2011
Patrol officer Colin Macleod visited the Arnhem land Aboriginal community Beswick, three times: in 1955, 2000 and 2010. His observations are unique.
A Tale of Three Beswicks
Arnhem Land: 1955, 2000 and 2010
Fifty years ago, in 1959 I wrote, “That there is little or no real employment for the wards (Aborigines) ... the result is the soul destroying dependence of natives on government rations.” On recent trips to the Territory, and daily newspaper reports of horrific travesties suffered by our first peoples, has confirmed very little has changed. How has this been allowed to happen? It is very tempting for me, an old patrol officer, to lay the blame for the wasted decades at the feet of those idealists who, so abruptly abandoned assimilation (once seen as synonymous with integration), in the hurry to achieve self determination.
[From 1959 article] They are fed, clothed, medically cared for, sheltered. Their children educated and their spirit destroyed. Their life is little different from animals in a zoo.
Apart from the reference to the Welfare Ordinance, thankfully long since repealed, that could have been written today, 52 years later. It was pretty tough language then, but I believe it made a point that could still resonate with closed communities. By ‘Zoo’ I then meant the policy of protecting Aborigines in enclosed ghettos, well away from the general community. At least at that time there was a need for settlements as refuges. That need has now gone. If the lady at Mataranka was correct, and as The Little Children are Sacred report suggests, communities were no longer safe havens like the old settlements; the enemy was now within, not without the gates.
Where did it all go wrong?
Read Colin Macleod’s “A Tale of Three Beswicks” (pdf) here…
First published by the Bennelong Society in April, 2011.
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The Quadrant Book of Poetry: 2001 - 2010
edited by Les Murray