Post by Shy Ted
People have been wondering where the Aunty and Uncle titles for Aboriginal elders came from. After living in remote and rural communities for the best part of 20 years I came up with a theory, might be accurate, might not but it seemed the best explanation. No locals seemed to know and probably cared less and the terms weren’t used in these places.
The starting point is that pretty much everything the media and politicians tell you is a lie. “Traditional lifestyle”? I never saw anything remotely resembling it. “Hunting and gathering”? Loosely termed for anything from fishing with a boat, hand-line, hooks etc to shooting game with a rifle, though I did once attend an event where fresh turtle was cooked, having been caught when one of the young lads would leap off the front of the outboard-driven tinny and wrestle it to the boat, no great effort involved. “Cultural law” (lore) and “payback”? Well, I saw plenty of extreme violence and plenty of opinions about inter-clan animosities but I’d often see victims or perpetrators at the hospital or I’d sit in a police interview as a JP and the better explanation was that people had “complex intoxications or withdrawals”, that is, not just drunk or withdrawing but with visual or auditory hallucinations, hearing voices or seeing things, in people who were too young to experience these things. No logic to the aggression.
I had been purloined into a program investigating and addressing behavioural and academic problems at the local school though kids weren’t my job, but more to investigate the pregnancy and birth complications by trawling through biological mum’ medical records. Anecdotally, teachers would tell me “he just can’t remember” whatever was being taught or “she has an attention span of two minutes” and average academic performance ran at 0.5%. Routine findings were vision or hearing impairments but could you get the kids to wear glasses or hearing aids? No. Like it or not alcohol has devastated rural and remote communities and it’s almost impossible to find someone without a horrific behavioural history and subsequent incarceration but was drunk at the time. Sadly it has been this for generations and extremely evident in women of child-bearing age. Children are separated from their biological mothers in large numbers and placed, preferably with a close relative, aunties and uncles, particularly if they are sober. It became an impossible task to accurately identify the biological father as drunken promiscuity is so rife and “Dad” was accepted as the man who mum was in a relationship. So, aunties and uncles were mum’ brothers and sisters, mostly.
When you dig into the stolen generation myth it’s not hard to come to the conclusion that many of those identifying as were removed due to their parent’ incapacitation and not forcibly removed. So, which of these thousands of kids, removed from alcoholic parents, had foetal alcohol and/or related conditions. To the amusement of friends and colleagues I used the acronym FARC, but only in conversation, never written. The drinkers were also smokers, were also promiscuous, were also carriers of STDs, paid no attention to their health, often didn’t know they were pregnant and didn’t change their ways when they knew, had terrible diets, fought constantly and suffered terrible injuries as a result and so on. Pregnant mums spent so much time outside their home community that medical record keeping just couldn’t keep up and holistic medical care usually started in prisons. Eventually I came to the conclusion that the full-blood Aborigine was a biological alcoholic, a once popular but now politically incorrect theory, and became less so as racial purity was diluted. This wasn’t a popular thing to say but I had the numbers and the cross-referenced mother and child medical records. Please don’t think it was a perfect match because sometimes little Johnny’ birth date didn’t match with identified mother’ birth record but it did match with another lady’. What does one do? Say “your mother is not your mother, it’s somebody else”? There are some lovely old Aboriginal ladies out there, black as, raised in missions who advise to leave it alone.
On returning to the big smoke and nearby regions I was a bit shocked to see the use of aunty and uncle attributed to any older Aboriginal person. It’s a different world where many, young and old, have no identifying Aboriginal features. This is where the vast majority of the Aboriginal organisations sit, staffed by these individuals, out of which come Welcome to Country, Smoking and other ceremonies and, importantly, the financing of such things as Sorry Business and any number of on-paper programs that never quite eventuate. The amount of cash flowing through these initiatives is astonishing. I would be employed through these organisations but pretty much everything was outsourced as there was no inner expertise. I might ask my chosen confidantes (choose carefully) how the aunties and uncles are designated but no one knew and no one said it was die to a parenting role.
These days we’re snowed under with faux ceremonies and presentations at events. How many of these events or traditional practices did I see out bush where people really do live on country (usually as a condition of their parole) over 20 years? I attended the Garma Festival once and watched white fellas with big machinery do contracted work to “set the stage” as it were, the elites attending and rushing off to their plush accommodation as soon as they could. I saw one “traditional dance” for a visiting dignitary, given by the kids, trained by the teachers, the elders being too damaged to cope with the exertion. And one smoking ceremony which “cured” the animosity of one Aboriginal Health Worker towards a white colleague. Yes, it really did.
Aunties and Uncles? I suspect it’s just another thing the urban elites heard on a rare outback consultation and adopted it to further their agenda.
Shy Ted considers himself a bit of (not a lot of) a veteran of rural and remote life, mostly, but not always, nursing. Most of what you might read about in the media, other than the superficial headline such as doctor shortages, is nonsense. It’s interesting, challenging and rewarding and not for the faint-hearted or ideologues. Where necessary, names have been changed to protect identity.