Funding cuts thwart Indigenous job prospects, cultural revival

Rodney Kelly.

Several hundred people from the Yuin nation and their supporters gathered next to the fishing trawler wharf for Survival Day on January 26 and listened to poetry, rock bands and several solo musicians including a didgeridoo player.

Organiser Rodney Kelly told Green Left Weekly he wanted to bring the NSW South Coast Aboriginal and the wider community together to promote the South Coast Aboriginal community, its history and what it means to be Aboriginal in the region.

Kelly said Survival Day was about learning why Aboriginal people don’t like Australia Day, a suppressed history, a truth not told and memories of the past. It represents “the loss in our hearts”, he said.

Invasion (or Survival) Day events represent a single cause across the country, Kelly said, adding that they should be inclusive so that non-Indigenous people had an opportunity to learn more.

A history of conflict, which led to Indigenous people on the South Cost being sent to the former mission at Wallaga Lake, is one of the reasons why the unemployment rate for Indigenous people on the south coast rate is a huge 90%.

When people do find work it is only for short periods. He cited an example of one person who had some specific contract work in a Woolworths store and that was just 12 hours one week and 15 hours the next.

While there is an Aboriginal beach clean-up crew, they too only receive intermittent work. He said Aboriginal youth are missing out on developing their work skills because they are being excluded from work.

In another example of neglect, the Wallaga Lake community only received a tractor (which is now broken and cannot be fixed as there were no maintenance funds) from South Coast MP Andrew Constance  whereas the port town of Eden has been promised a multi-million dollar wharf extension and dredging to accommodate luxury cruise ships.

It has been four decades since 30 houses were constructed for the Wallaga Lake community. Despite the growth of the South Coast Aboriginal population since then, there has been no new housing there or elsewhere on the South Coast.

Neither has the Bega Shire Council done much for South Coast Aboriginal people, Kelly said. The council has refused to appoint a liaison officer and nor will it fund ranger positions. He said that this has led to developers violating sacred sites, including thieving artefacts.

Kelly said there should be an Aboriginal councillor and a ranger program initiated by council. He also said that the South Coast needs funding for Aboriginal arts centres, keeping places, the Bundian Way walking track (an ancient Aboriginal pathway which extends from the far South Coast to the Snowy Mountains), enterprises including the Eden-based Jigamy Farm and tourism projects. There also needs to be more funding to help close the gap in Aboriginal school children’s participation.

Kelly said that since the demise of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission in the late 1990s, funding for Indigenous communities had dried up.