The Northern Territory Emergency Response: Why Australia Will Not Recover from The Intervention

By | 1 February 2015

Enormous signs were placed outside each community or town camp, stating ‘No Liquor No Pornography’. Many Aboriginal people felt ashamed, despite their innocence. Tourists believed the signs – the signs would not be erected if the allegations were false, right? It is essential to mention that this policy required the removal of the Racial Discrimination Act to become legislated. Hence, I believe the Intervention marks the moment of the moral downfall of modern Australia. This was the pivotal moment for a united uproar to be heard across Australia. In central Australia we waited for that uproar; a show of support from our fellow Australians. Initially, there was barely a squeak.

With the implementation of The Intervention I personally felt the betrayal of Australia; the moment when ‘good’ people allowed their neighbours to be treated in a manner they would not tolerate in any form. Sadly, this was the moment when many Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory felt conflicted, by the lack of respect shown to them, and by the loss of many of their friends and peers who remained strangely quiet on the boundary. This was the moment that any sense of equality and respect, garnered over the previous long years by our grandparents and parents, was abandoned by Australia’s majority. This was the pivotal moment of division; the moment when the ‘freedom of rights’ within the ‘lucky country’ was eroded for Aboriginal peoples, and for other minority groups to come. I am talking about basic human rights, not constitutional rights, as Aboriginal people still remained unrecognised in the Australian Constitution. However, I do not accept that alcohol rights are basic human rights, if the consumption of alcohol impedes the sanctity of community. But alcohol problems in the NT are not restricted to Aboriginal people alone. Racial vilification does exist here.

The United Nations deemed The Intervention as ‘race-based welfare quarantining, racially discriminating, an infringement on the human rights of Aboriginal people living in the NT’. Soon after, the government announced the closure of The Intervention, and announced a new policy titled Stronger Futures. It’s the same policy.

Many friendships were lost and marred by the rollout of The Intervention. Colleagues and teachers lowered their eyes as they chose increased pay packets over long-term friendships with Aboriginal people, whose cultural generosity they had enjoyed within these same positions. They were not strangers, and their silent withdrawal added to the confusion.

Local business suffered in the NT towns; I witnessed this in Alice Springs. Many small businesses were forced to close, and still today there are many vacant shops in the central business districts. The major benefactors were Coles and Woolworths, international retail conglomerates, as money was quarantined for groceries only. Centrelink manned a caravan on weekends along Gap Road, outside the tennis courts, to answer questions regarding the EBT cards for those wishing to access their funds.

It seemed in the resounding silence, that almost everyone with no first-hand knowledge had passed judgement. Aboriginal families in the NT were irresponsible in the management of the welfare funds, they might assume. And, more damagingly, that Aboriginal families were in crisis, unable to care effectively for each other. Whispers began to be heard, suggesting the removal of our children; another Stolen Generation proposal.

My journey to locate my birth family had just completed, finding both my mother and my only son just years before. I felt like I was watching an episode of my life repeating. So I wrote poetry to make sense of this mess. Here was my cultured family who had both saved my life and added much value to it, and I was watching their lifestyle and dignity being eroded.

A Parable

Interventionists are coming, interventionists are coming
cries echo through the dusty community
as the army arrive in their chariots

Parents and children race for the sandhills
burying tommy axes and rifela
hiding in abandoned cars along the fence line

One woman ran to the waterhole
hiding her baby in the reeds
dusting her footprints with gumleaf

Other children went and got their cousin
shouting mum you gone rama rama
you should see the clinic

That night the woman went back to the waterhole
leaving her child in the reeds 
this time in a basket
In the morning the children return
crying mum you gone rama rama
you should see the doctor

At the clinic I feel her pulse
check her blood pressure
test for diabetes

Staring in my eyes 
she whispers quiet Luritja	
this boy his name is Moses

The whirlpool of public servants continued to crawl across the NT. Without consultation, or the use of local language interpreters, many incidents occurred. A toilet block was built on a sacred site. In some communities the administration offices were totally enclosed in barbed wire. Public servants could drink on communities, within view of residents. A police station was built at Titjikala as promised, but was never staffed. Depression among Aboriginal people escalated, and fatalities suggest the suicide rate has tripled.


inside the clearing of the bush cemetery
I sit surrounded by a stark equality
every grave is marked with a plain white cross

the landscape is a post modern dirge
stretched in the aftermath of Christian law
the plastic flowers have faded to pastel

all distinctions are blurred here
the new and the old will conflict soon
the nearby trees will referee

I sit with a stark equality
Where earth and heaven meet
The reality is killing me
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