On the Road II

We arrive in Darwin on the 26th of June late in the afternoon. The first obvious point about Darwin is that there is no golden mile of motels. Wary of top prices in the CBD we look at the Stuart Highway and eventually choose one of only two we could find on the road into town. We watch the football at the local pub and next morning work hard at laundry so when the wives arrived they wouldn’t have to. The next morning Brian phones Shane Stone to be told we’d made a dubious choice with the motel…’Third country mate!’ and then we remembered a disproportionate number of cabs pulling up with ladies of indeterminate professions, maybe the oldest, but then what would I know?. Shane offers us his recently vacated house – no furniture but power and tons of room to throw down swags. Shane was at the house when we arrived and amongst other things said. “If the elections was set for August do you think I’d be here cleaning up my garage? No. But I’m happy to see the media waste space on guesses. At dinner that night Shane was very clear in his description of Galarrwuy Yunupingu, the Chairman of the Northern Land Council, and summed it up with…He’s a Black Prince. I’d followed Galarrwuy in the press and wondered how I would be able to reconcile his rumoured wealth with the poor conditions his people suffer. I’m beginning to think I won’t be able to. I do know I can’t agree with his thoughts on the maintenance of tribal law. You may wonder at the connection between Shane Stone, Galarrwuy Yunupingu and us. Both of them have sons at a GPS Boarding School in Brisbane and my friends run the house where the boys live. Nothing sinister, no insider deals, just a common interest in two boys. Shane and Josephine are first order hosts and the few days we spend in Darwin are used up with restocking for our sojourn into Arnhem Land, rest and social activities. We watched the fireworks celebrating Territory Day from the balcony of their top floor apartment at Rundle Bay and next night have dinner at Buzzes and the next, at Sicilian. If you go to Darwin do yourself a favour and visit these two fine restaurants. Whilst at Buzzes I had occasion to use the bathroom and after establishing correct aim I looked up to see the whole restaurant through a one way mirror. My initial reactions was a mid-stream freeze but resumed business when I noticed no one was looking. We now head off to Kakadu, or as the Territorians call it, Kakadont and arrive in time to go on the Yellow Waters boat tour. All the boats are skippered by woman and they do an excellent job. With crocodiles croc.gif Birds birds.gif and brilliant sunsets sunset.gif it was money well spent. Whereas my money was well spent, I’m not sure that royalties given to the local people by ERA have been as well used. There has been a lot of political bullshit about Kakadu and the debate still rages. Troppo Armadillo posted a positive piece here and a dated article by David Barnet paints a less happy picture.
Energy Resources of Australia (ERA), has, for instance, since 1980, paid out more than $132 million in royalties, plus $5.1 million in up-front fees and lease costs, to the Northern Land Council and to local Aborigines. It expects to pay out another $210 million over the next 28 years. The Northern Land Council shares 40 per cent of these royalties among the Territory’s four Land Councils, taking 57 per cent of that share for itself. Another 30 per cent goes as ‘grants’—running costs for the Aboriginal Benefits Trust Account, which is the body set up to receive the royalties after ERA pays them to the Commonwealth—and ‘Land Council top-ups’. Up until 1995, the Gagadju Association got the remaining 30 per cent. There has been a rediscovery of spiritual connections to the land. Since Kakadu was set up, and since the uranium royalties began to flow, the Aboriginal population has risen from 100 to 300.
There are flaws in this Eden, flaws that afflict Aboriginal Australians more generally. It would seem from various somewhat guarded reports, that there has been no improvement in either health or education. The schools have failed to provide adequate levels of literacy, so that there are training and education problems. Along with the flow of uranium royalties there has been an increase in alcoholism and crime.
Northern Land Council distribution of these royalties is very questionable. Later in our trip we visit Nhullunbuy where I witness Black Prince/Northern Land Council excesses and little obvious advancement of life styles of our Indigenous brothers. A society locked in time-warped nomadic lives gathering yams but no English skills, while leaders have degrees and fly around in helicopters. More on that later.