Last night I sat down and watched the opening to the NRL Indigenous All Stars v Maori All Stars. Take 7 ½ minutes out of your day and watch the spine tingling opening to the match.
From the moment Quaden Bayles (the nine year old boy bullied because of his dwarfism) led the Indigenous All Stars out, to the stirring openings of the respective teams, you could not but feel a sense of pride the way the NRL have promoted and allowed this concept to flourish. The passion of the players to represent their culture provides an excellent way to show the validity of an indigenous voice.
Months ago my sons and I watched in complete silence the confronting Adam Goodes documentary The Final Quarter. We wait with nervous anticipation to view The Australian Dream. Both detail the controversial series of events in Goodes’ life towards the end of his AFL career. Regardless of your point of view, the treatment meted out to one man should be an awakening to us all. Madman films describes The Australian Dream succinctly: “From shy country kid to two-time Brownlow medallist and Australian of the Year, Goodes is an inspiration to many. The footy field was where he thrived; the only place where the colour of his skin was irrelevant. Goodes’ world fell apart when he became the target of racial abuse during a game, which spiralled into public backlash against him. He spoke out about racism when Australia was not ready to hear the ugly truth, retiring quietly from AFL heartbroken.”
My four years teaching in Alice Springs and the four short trips I have made to the Torres Strait taught me a lot about the significant issues facing indigenous Australians. The friendships I forged continue through social media, but from the comfort of my home here on the Sunshine Coast, it is easy for me to feel disconnected from the harsh realities of what ex-students of mine, my footy mates and their families endure daily. Yet, I also saw and heard, I continue to see and hear, the great strides indigenous leaders, indigenous men, women and children, are making to change their lives and the lives of their families. Many of these success stories continue to be ignored and the voice of indigenous people continue to be suppressed and not heard.
Five of seven Closing the Gap targets not on track
This week we were again confronted with the annual “Closing the Gap” report into Indigenous health, education and employment. Again, many indigenous leaders and people have been left frustrated at the slow progress of improvement in vital areas.
“Frustratingly, action from the government on Indigenous health has stalled and they have slashed the vital resources needed to achieve meaningful progress. Now, more than ever, we need to hold the government to account and ensure they maintain focus and commitment needed to close the gap.” (Oxfam 2020)
The 12th Closing the Gap report, tabled in Parliament on Wednesday, shows Aboriginal children still trail far behind non-Indigenous children in literacy, numeracy and writing skills. The report also shows the country is on track to meet just two of seven government targets to reduce the disparity in health, education and employment outcomes.
While literacy scores for Indigenous students have slightly improved in the past decade, at least 20 per cent are still behind the national benchmark. The report does not measure adult reading and writing skills, but shows Indigenous employment rates still trail far behind the rest of the country.
Gains in Indigenous health have been the same or smaller than those for non-Indigenous Australians — meaning gaps are persisting and, in the case of child mortality, widening.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Closing the Gap report proved a "top-down, government-knows-best approach had failed to deliver what was needed. New targets and an overhaul of the framework would be led by Indigenous Australians — a project that has been underway for several years. Closing the Gap has never really been a partnership with Indigenous people. We perpetuated an ingrained way of thinking passed down over two centuries and more, and it was the belief that we knew better than our Indigenous peoples. We don't."
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese told Parliament that politicians, “cannot keep coming back here, year in, year out, wringing our hands. The problem was not that the targets were too ambitious, they were not, they were modest. The failure to meet the targets … is our failure, not theirs."
Support National Close the Gap Day March 21
National Close the Gap Day on March 21 (NCTGD) is a national day of action to pledge support for achieving Indigenous health equality by 2030. Each year the support for NCTDG continues to grow and last year people all over the country took part in events to create awareness of the Close the Gap Campaign. NCTGD aims to bring people together, to share information — and most importantly — to take meaningful action in support of achieving Indigenous health equality by 2030.
With continued support from the public, this day can ensure the Australian Government continues to work with Indigenous communities, commit additional funding and invest in real partnerships.
The Christian church has had a positive role in the lives of many indigenous people, but also has been the cause of much of the pain, oppression and hurt in people. Our Christian Prime Minister has the opportunity to stand against racial sin and facilitate a lasting legacy of his leadership.
Everyone deserves the right to a healthy future; particularly in a rich country like ours. Yet depending on where they are around the country, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples can live 10, 15, sometimes 20 years less than other Australians. Past and present governments have created barriers to good health for Indigenous Australians, and this is having a profound impact on families and communities.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities already have many of the solutions to these problems. They are simply asking that they be heard. We need our politicians to start listening and supporting them with the resources they need.
The image of God is in all people. There are many times we are quick to judge and not see people the way God sees them. We can be the people who challenge our employers and our politicians to seek to increase opportunities for indigenous people, to access the resources they need to live with dignity, to live with sufficiency, rather than scarcity and the spirit of oppression surrounding many.
Let’s call out what racism, privilege and injustice is to God – they are sins and we need to ask forgiveness for the hurt caused in the past.
Racism, the expectancy of privilege and injustice can cripple the image of God in human beings. Through restoration and reconciliation, we can face the future together.
I stand with my aboriginal brothers and sisters.
Russell Modlin teaches English and Physical Education at a Christian School on the Sunshine Coast. He is married to Belinda and they have three children.
Russell Modlin’s archive of previous article can be found at www.pressserviceinternational.org/russell-modlin.html