Last year, 20-year-old Aboriginal dancer Rarriwuy Hick was put on welfare quarantining under the Northern Territory intervention. The difference was that she was living outside the government's prescribed zone — in New South Wales. Hick spoke to Ash Pemberton, from Green Left Weekly and Resistance about her experience with welfare quarantining and the affects of the intervention on her home community of Dhalinybuy in east Arnhem Land.
What led to you being put onto welfare quarantining while you were living in NSW?
I was studying at a dance school last year in Gosford; to be at the dance school you had to be on Centrelink payments. Halfway through the year, I stopped getting proper payments. I wasn't notified and I wasn’t sure what was going on.
For two months I was getting $50 a fortnight. At the same time my, partner's CDEP [Community Development Employment Projects] money was cut off, so he wasn't getting any money either. So both of us had to live off $50 a fortnight — we couldn’t afford groceries and were starving. We were forced to eat mostly meat pies because that was all we could afford.
I went into debt because I couldn’t pay my rent. I stopped going to class because I couldn’t concentrate due to lack of food.
When I went into Centrelink and asked them what was going on, they told me I had been put on income management because I had put my mother's address in Dhalinybuy, NT on the Centrelink form. Luckily, they fixed the problem after that.
How has your community been affected by the intervention?
Where I come from in Arnhem Land, kava was always a huge problem. Some of my relatives were alcoholics, so the alcohol ban has helped them a bit, but it has also led to worse addictions.
Since the intervention came through and banned alcohol, a lot of people have turned to sniffing petrol and glue and started taking drugs. I found my eight-year-old nephew sniffing petrol down at the park last year.
People used to drink because it’s such a small town and they were completely bored. Alcohol is a problem, but it’s a problem everywhere, not just the NT. The majority of my relatives are not alcoholics and just need money for their kids, but they have to put up with the intervention as well.
Prostitution has gotten worse. Young girls, from the ages of about 12 to 26, have to prostitute themselves to miners and taxi drivers to get access to alcohol or drugs or money, because they can’t get cash as it’s stuck on their Basics Card.
Originally, the intervention was supposed to be about child abuse, but the government is not doing anything about that. I was abused as a child and I know many other women who were too. But just going in and controlling Indigenous people's lives and taking land is not helping children — there need to be programs to help children and educate adults for there to be real change.
The whole thing makes me sad. The lives of my whole family are controlled by the government — even my own grandfather, who is a powerful man in my community. His freedom has been taken away by the government. It’s completely unfair that we are not treated equally with non-Indigenous people today.
You have an upcoming dance performance at the Sydney Opera House — what is the show about?
The show is called Wrong Skin or Ngurru-milmarramiriw in Yolngu language. It is directed by Nigel Jamieson and is playing at the Sydney Opera House from September 2-12. It also features the Chooky Dancers from Elcho Island.
Wrong Skin is an Aboriginal version of Romeo and Juliet. It’s about love, and also partly about how the intervention has affected my people. It focuses on the pressures faced by remote Indigenous communities, who are trying to maintain their identity and culture, while finding a place for their children in the modern world.
Like the majority of Aboriginal children, I had low self-esteem and never believed I could be someone. However, I have had the opportunity to do a lot of amazing things in my career. I hope I can be an example for Aboriginal children to show that they can follow their dreams.