Archive for September, 2009


Marechal Rondon

RondonRecently I read The River of Doubt about President Theodore Roosevelt’s journey on an unmapped river in South America, also called the Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition.  A friend lent me the book.  It is a fascinating account and coming from the desert the detailed explanations of the river, the amazon environment and its adaptive nature was intriguing given the stark contrast to my own environment.

My friend who lent it to me said that Marechal Rondon, the Brazilian Military Officer who led the journey with Roosevelt, was a remarkable figure so prominent in the history of South America.  In that region his name is recognised extensively.  The book gives account after account of Rondon’s philosophy and approach towards the indigenous peoples; how he refused to support confrontation despite being in the face of danger and hostility; how his practice was to leave food and goods as gifts; how his discipline and honour and strong sense of nationalism was highly regarded.  My friend asks why we don’t have similiar figures recognised by our own Australian history?  

Judging by our own account of history during the 1800s it seems Rondon’s philosophy and approach would have been quite a departure from accepted opinion.  His was progressive in the sense of accepting pluralism but different from many established opinions (such as responding to hostility with strength and force).  The fact that Rondon received such widespread recognition accounts to the fact that this position and philosophy was recognised as central to the development of general identity and recognition in South America.  My friends question opens up important thoughtlines!


Professor Greenfield and the internet

Previously I posted my response here to a fascinating debate concerning the internet and what it is doing to the human mind.  Professor Greenfield is an intriguing individual.  A few nights ago she was on Lateline again and gave another persuasive interview.  Of all the media and public debates I have observed recently this is by far one of the most interesting.


Letter to editor: 6 months on

A letter in today’s Centralian Advocate:

It has been about 6 months since I quit alcohol. As a young adult my main reason was to send the right message to others in my generation.

I can confidently say that my challenge has been well worth it.  I never drank regularly, a weekend wind-down was always on the cards, but as more than 4 standard drinks on any single occasion is considered a health risk I was in the camp of many in the odd occasion of over-consumption.  Quitting alcohol meant that I could talk about it more and its place in our community.

If alcohol is consumed responsibly then this can be a good thing, it can be a good way to wind down and socialise.

Alcohol becomes a problem when relationships are harmed; when the amount of money spent dips too much into disposable income; when violence or abuse no matter how benign is dished out; when it is seen as an out to whatever personal or social problems persist. For some people the response to any of these experiences is to have another drink.

The problem self-generates.  For some, alcohol is a pitiless addiction.  For too many in my generation and younger alcohol and its misuse is a social contagion.  We egg each other on and poke fun at the hapless incidents. 

Abstaining from alcohol is not a solution for everybody.  I set myself this challenge to see what it was like.  Because alcohol was a weekly ritual it was difficult at first. My mind relied on its calming effects after a long week and mentally I had to adjust. Because I am a busy person it was easier for me to quash boredom without it (having boredom and no purpose is a big issue for many in Alice Springs).

Exercise helped me, as did a healthy addiction to coffee.  What I realised from quitting is that there is so much to life and its abundance that other interests can easily replace alcohol, so long as a kind of semi-dependency caused by years of use is overcome.  Without the after-effects my mind and body is better without it.

To others in my generation I hope these messages resonate.


My experiences with media

Since my involvement with local government one of the most interesting experiences is media engagement.  This is because instead of being an observor or reader I’m embroiled in it.  A lesson I’ve learnt of late (mid Aug 2010) is that I can advocate a certain position concerning policy development, and in the process use precious time and know that I’m using (and drawing down) trust and authority from others, and have that position completely undermined by media.  It is very frustrating because it makes me question the efforts of good people around me.  The challenge in Alice Springs is that newsworthy stories are often split on racial lines.  Journalists are tempted to drive these splits because it serves their purpose.  Ethics often becomes irrelevant.  Having observed closely the misconceptions fuelled directly from media stories too often I see this as a big issue for the direction of the town (but an issue that is very hard to address mainly because elected members at any level should never hold media to account).   

The following is a list of experiences that I update only after a long length of time passes…

In a letter to the editor I submitted the words ‘As an urban Indigenous person’ and then proceeded to criticise the playing of the race card by a prominent Alice Springs person.  The newspaper changed the ‘as’ to ‘to’, completely changing the meaning and context of the letter.  My intention was to start where I’m coming and whilst I have no problem referring to my circumstances as ‘urban’ I certainly would not refer to others the same way because everyone has a different angle.  One word can change the whole context.  This experience made me lose all faith in the idea of writing letters to the editor.    

When I was first elected a local journalist asked me about what it meant to have two Aboriginal Alderman.  I repeated the lines (because he kept on seeking a different response) that ‘I was proud to be associated with a Council with Alderman from a diverse range of identities and industries’.  I didn’t want to be drawn into a race-based analysis.  The next day my words were printed along the lines of being ‘proud to be’ on a Council with two Aboriginal Alderman and how this would make a big difference (it may have, but I didn’t want to be drawn on it).  This was my first direct experience.  It made an immediate impression.

Following my election as Deputy Mayor I held a lengthy interview where I said a core focus would be to argue for recognition of Local Government in the constitution that evokes Statehood (the document that formalises a new State for the NT).  I said that the new constitution can protect the interests of regions, and Local Government, because of its geographic spread, was one way to do this.  I said that the efforts of Local Government for recognition in the ‘national’ constitution was not worth the time or effort.  The media report said my ambition was for recognition of Local Government in the ‘national’ constitution.  Subsequent media reports made similar claims.  These articles were directly against the message I gave, they were the direct opposite.

In another media piece an interviewer asked me about my family heritage.  I told him the links.  He wasn’t familiar with those names so I explained more familiar family names that branched from a common ancestor.  I said that those more familiar names are not my direct family and I would prefer the original names I said, my reasoning was to avoid any potential sensitivities and to give him familiar names so he could see how all the families linked up.  When he referred to my family links he said the names I asked him not to. 

On a completely different topic the following is a Stateline interview, my first foray into tv journalism: 

MELINDA JAMES: They’ve been described as racist, unconstitutional and even wacky. Alice Springs Town Council has proposed eighty four new by-laws that have stirred up angry public debate. The by-laws cover a range of issues including a prohibition on people sleeping in the dry Todd River bed, drinking alcohol in public and demonstrating without a permit.

Alice Springs Deputy Mayor John Rawnsley says the aim of the by-laws is to improve the town. I spoke with him earlier today.

MELINDA JAMES: John Rawnsley, welcome to Stateline.

JOHN RAWNSLEY – Deputy Mayor, Alice Springs: Hi Melinda, how are you?

MELINDA JAMES: It’s fair to say that these proposed by-laws have caused quite a stir in Alice Springs, isn’t it?

JOHN RAWNSLEY: Oh look, it’s been twenty years since the by-laws have been revised. Recent changes to the local government act give local councils and shires more powers in relation to creating their own by-laws. This is a big project that were working on, previously we worked on by-laws in relation to trolleys and of course council’s got a lot of great initiatives such as the cash-for-cans scheme amongst one. But, you know, we encourage public discussion in relation to a wide range of issues and so we’ve taken the course of putting these draft by-laws out for public comment.

Continue reading ‘My experiences with media’

September 2009
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