Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Aborigines - according to Monash University

Monash University has embarked on a huge undertaking.  As of 2013, the School for Indigenous Health will be open for business, the first dedicated school for Indigenous Health at an Australian University.

Pretty impressive stuff?  Well, no.  Today, I had the pleasure of meeting Nola.  Nola is not real, but rather a fictional character created for medical students to use in role-playing by the magical minds in charge of cultural awareness at Monash University.  Nola even has a back story full of every stereotype of Aboriginal disadvantage you can imagine, in fact, it seems the only tragedy that didn't befall poor Nola was an addiction to sniffing petrol.

Nola has a hard life.  Her partner is of course a violent drunk who beats on her (twice in the short story no less!) and steals her money.  Initially, she is living in a home with 10 people, in an extended family situation, however she recently escaped the domestic violence with her three children.  The four of them are currently living in a two bedroom house, in fact, sharing it with two other people (more overcrowding, just in case you didn't pick up on it the first time).  Nola also unfortunately has Diabetes (type 2), but is eating a very poor diet and taking no medication.  She is unable to eat much fruit (attributed to the high cost and difficulty with transport) and instead her diet consists of bread, jam, tea and fast food.  Of course, adding to her health and domestic abuse woes, her fifteen year old daughter is also quite a handful.  To again pay homage to a myth, she has stopped going to school and is also smoking cigarettes.  Not to be outdone, the youngest daughter suffers from a chronic ear infection as well.  

What you might be surprised to learn about Nola, is that she did not escape from one remote community to another.  No, Nola went from Echuca to Preston. I kid you not.

For those not familiar with Victorian geography, Preston is less than 10 kilometres from the Melbourne CBD, and Echuca is on the Victorian side of the NSW Border.  Neither suffer from the perils of extreme remoteness, in fact both towns are lucky enough to be positioned on major carriageways for transportation of goods.  Echuca, being the far less populated town, even has an Aldi - the home of low low prices on everything.  However, it appears that in the halls of Monash, myth becomes fact - ALL Aboriginal people aren't able to buy affordable fruit and vegetables due to the exorbitant costs of transportation, location be damned.  Our budding medical students are asked to forgo common sense, logic and fact (the stuff we hope they ARE learning while they are in there) and accept any nonsensical statement as truth - as long as it comes under the Aboriginal banner.  Should a student dare to question any of the logic, or the offensiveness of such stereotyping, they will quickly be dismissed as being 'ignorant of Aboriginal culture' by their classmates, or worse, branded a racist.

This has to stop.

The new School for Indigenous Health is going to take current teaching practices (like the racist drivel in the fictional Nola patient story above) and make some alterations to form their new curriculum.  I was not surprised to see that the Director of Research on this new 'make it up as you go along' venture is none other than Kerry Arabena.

Kerry Arabena, co-chairwoman of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples.

Seeing as Ms Arabena wouldn't know what it is like to be a black skinned Aboriginal man, I'll give her a bit of a heads up - we don't appreciate being painted as perpetrators of violence.  It shocks me to think that those people who have found it their duty to inform the rest of the country about our culture, and from the halls of academia no less, are churning out garbage like this.  It feels a little racist to be honest, and that is something that a University would normally frown upon - well, at least that is what I used to think, but it seems as long as you prefix your racial stereotyping and racism with the word 'Aboriginal' and do it under the guise of 'cultural awareness', anything goes.  And just for the record, in case you're dreaming up new fictional case studies over there at Monash, we're not all child predators either.  I'm glad you didn't add that one in on poor old Nola, I think it would have set me right off.

Just in case anyone from Monash is listening, I'd like you to do me a favour.  Several months ago, a family member contacted your Yulendj Indigenous Engagement people to ask you to remove a picture that includes my niece that you, to this day, continue to display on your Facebook page.   I'd like you to finally respect the wishes of a mother and her daughter and take the picture down.  It is dishonest to imply that the students pictured in your photo attend your institution.  My niece attended an Open Day that your University held, but is not and has not ever been an enrolled student at any of your campuses (in fact, she is still finishing high school), yet I notice that you've ensured she is wearing some of  your easily identifiable apparel and you've placed her front and centre. You were told politely that you did not have permission to display her image publicly, and no release was signed to allow you to do so.  

In the time you spent removing comments questioning your actions from public view, you could have just taken down the photo and done the right thing.  Instead, you now come across as exploitative, and unashamedly so.  


  1. With all the 'consulting' that goes on before such things are developed, you'd reckon someone might have thought better of it. Imagine if Tony Abbott had suggested Universities needed to set up Schools of Indigenous health to focus specifically on domestic violence, poor diet, alcohol and tobacco abuse, ear infections, overcrowded living conditions and undisciplined children.

    1. I believe the problem lies with who they are actually 'consulting' - usually a self-proclaimed expert and not the community at large.

  2. Another punchy article - keep it up mate.

  3. Thanks for another great article BST. Facilitating the debate is important and it shouldn't be the touchy subject that it has become. Perpetuating Nola is hardly helping in the university's stated principle of social inclusion.

  4. Hi BST, what are your thoughts on companies like Outback Spirit who aim to employ Aboriginal people and improve Australian access to native food sources? Would "traditional" industries like bush foods be able to provide a better life for people in remote communities or are they another way for white hipsters to appease their conscience while ignoring the root of the problems?

    1. I had a quick look at their website, and can't make any real call on them. One thing that did worry me a little was their claim on their website ( that 30c from every bush food sale goes into the Coles Indigenous Food Fund (CIFF), yet when I looked up the Coles website about this CIFF, they claim it is only 10c ( per sale they donate.

      They make lots of references to 'remote indigenous suppliers', but I couldn't find any facts or specifics other than a mention of the NT. Also, it troubles me that they are registered as a 'benevolent institution' and are raising money to get this all off the ground (have taken money from the CIFF and are trying to get up another $500,000 in donations on top of that for their 'work'). I don't know, picking berries in the bush doesn't need a huge investment in capital. Something does smell a little about this one on initial inspection.

  5. It is all about the Myth.

    Funding is often about the feel-good factor for academics and their cronies with a socialist bent.

    What is really needed, is not funding for novel projects, but sustained effort at a grass roots level to improve the conditions for everyone.

    Funding people to actually assist in ameliorating problems at the coalface doesn't quite provide the same buzz as the feel-good charade.

  6. Great article. Again. Keep up the good work! A favour, though. My 10 year old son is currently studying the stolen generation in school. Do you have any information that might be helpful to educate the class. They are currently studying "Stolen Girl", and will be balancing that with "The Rabbit Proof Fence".


    1. Shawn,

      May I suggest, have a look at Andrew Bolts blog site, Andrew has written extensively about this subject over a number of years, Bolts views however, maybe somewhat difficult for children of your son's age to absorb.

      For students to learn about this subject matter there needs to be direct communication with the Aboriginal people who were removed from their families. Students must learn to think for themselves and not rely solely on what parents, teachers, academics, lawyer, politicians, author's or Aboriginal activist say, about such issues as the so called "Stolen Generation".

      Shawn, it appears you may also have an interest in the matter; I and can advise that the "Stolen Generation" is not about Aboriginal Children being removed from their families. The so called "stolen Generation" is a MYTH, a product of the Aboriginal Industry in collusion with Governments, to cover-up legal provisions for Aborigines as a result of lawful recognition by the Imperial Australian Constitution Act through a "Separation of Powers" with-in that Act between the Commonwealth and it's member States.

      This year 2012 is historical in that 100 years ago Australian Aborigines had their rights reserved by law, in Tasmania at least, in accordance with the Australian Constitution.

      Tony W Brown
      Cape Barren Islander

    2. Shawn,

      I don't think Stolen Girl or Rabbit Proof Fence should be considered gold standard learning on the subject - one is a fictional story, the other is not factually correct. Emotional stuff, yes, but I'd rather children were being taught all sides of this pretty convoluted debate in our schools.

      I would recommend reading the Bruce Trevorrow case, or finding a summary of it appropriate to your sons level of understanding. It is not proof of a systematic government attempt at 'breeding out the black', rather a sad tale of an over-zealous social worker whose actions (which were contrary to the law) had some pretty big ramifications for one particular family.

      There are also some online testimonies here:- (click on 'Transcript' when you get to each individual one to read their story in full) - from - I believe - every state in Australia and covering a pretty broad time period.

      Also, despite some comments that he is akin to a holocaust denier, I think people should read the Windschuttle information ( ) on the matter.

      Personally, I'd prefer schools not touch the subject at all until the later years of high school. I'd rather see it approached from an angle of unfinished business requiring investigation, study and thought. All the stuff we didn't bother to do when the subject was first raised..

  7. Shawn,
    I would be worthwhile that you digest the truths that you will find via the links below prior to introducing them to your son,

    Good luck, I had to fight the same battle for each of my four kids

  8. G'day Dallas,

    Great reading, sensible reading!

    I found some archives a while back being copies of "The Australian Abo" newspaper, a paper that was by aborigines for aborigines in the early 20th century.I'd gladly send you the few issues if I knew where to send them.


  9. Another outstanding effort Dallas. :)

    The fact of the matter is, Monash should not have used Nola as a "typical" case study of Aboriginal health. I'm sure this sort of thing happens, but it's a rarity not the norm, and it also happens where "Nola" is a white woman - so why did they think it was appropriate teaching for the "Aboriginal Health" component?

    Felt like a rather direspectful nod in the direction of "aboriginal healthcare" and not a well thought out exercise. Something tacked on because we are supposed to learn it, not because anyone actually cared about it.

    Still smarting from being called racist for finding the case study offensive.

  10. Nola is typical of the stereotypes created by public health advocates to describe the disadvantaged - outside indigenous health as well.

    This stereotyping suggests people in working-class suburbs and regional areas don't know what sort of lifestyle is good for them. They apparently eat potato cakes, drink cheap booze, drive rather than ride a bike, and play the pokies. They need nice middle-class experts to step in and guide them.

  11. Hi Dallas,

    I find your point of view to be completely foreign to me, yet extremely astute and revealing.

    Keep up the great work as it is an opinion I otherwise would not have heard, appreciated or knew existed.



  12. Hi Dallas,
    Since I know you're a fan of Thomas Sowell, I thought you might also like to take a look at the you tube clip at of the inspiring Dr Ben Carson whose speech to the National Prayer Club last week in America has caused some ripples in high places. He's a marvellous inspiration to all and advocates education, not welfare dependency- personal responsibility and hard work for everyone. Maybe you've seen it already. If not, take a look and enjoy!!


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