Post by Shy Ted
It’s tragic to watch Aboriginal kids drop out of school due to poor decision making by the elites. In a fondly remembered community the school had done a sterling job getting kids to school and keeping them there at a rate close to 100%. The reality is few were achieving age-appropriate grades while most struggled with simple maths and small words, the clear result of maternal behaviour in pregnancy but there were lots of sports and household programs which they loved.
ATSIC had just been and gone and disrupted what worked, insisting that at 13, the kids would work to a standard curriculum – physics, chemistry, biology etc to “prepare them for uni and good jobs”. There is no simple maths or small words in these subjects and 99% of the kids didn’t come back on day 2 of the new term. Feral within days, no breakfast, sipping on dad’ kava or home brew and gravitating towards the bakery or store to nick what they could to eat. It might be driven by hunger in the beginning but it quickly becomes a way of life. Community meetings which no one attends, plans for breakfast programs which no one organises and community leaders plead with the school to do what they did. Experienced staff have left, the others dispirited having had their belongings stolen or vandalised. Hell of a task to rebuild.
One of my roles was to travel round the various adjacent communities and support local health workers with locals with mental health problems. “I only do adults, I’m afraid, not kids”. “We know but we trust you. Just tell us what to do and we’ll do it”. “Well, top of the list is the girls. Drinking, drugging, fighting, they’re going to have foetal alcohol babies. I think they need contraception until they’ve settled down and are sober. Not the pill because they won’t take it. Depo Provera, 1 injection every 3 months. Has to be prescribed by a doctor and I can’t document anything”.
Many of the health workers had children with learning and behavioural problems and they, now reformed characters (mostly), knew full well how their own pregnancies had been. Indeed they knew they were often the children of alcoholic mothers and fathers and had run the gamut of dysfunction, prison, sobriety and then a job and a house to maintain their new lives. At the beginning of my tenure all 16 health workers had just failed their annual practical competencies of taking temperature, pulse, respiration and blood pressure (poor literacy and numeracy) and jobs were being transitioned to health promotion rather than clinical. They really wanted to break the cycle for the kids and, I know not how, some weeks later dozens of local girls had had their first injection.
I’d been there 18 months and 2 things happened. A chap turned up in my office one morning. “Who are you?” “I’m the visiting psychiatrist”. “You might have told me you were coming”. “I told your mental health worker a few weeks ago. Those are the channels I’ve been told to go through”. “You do know she’s a brain damaged alcoholic?” He was quite shocked at my frankness. “I haven’t got any clients for you because I didn’t know you were coming”. “That’s OK, I’ve been given a list”. “Can I see it?” He offered it. “You’ll find my assessments in the correspondence section of the hospital notes. I can show you if you like”. “That’s OK, I’ll read it when they come for their appointments”. I laughed, “they won’t”. They didn’t but my health worker transported him round the various communities searching for them, finding one and without any notes or background was unable to do his assessment.
“I’ve got to be honest with you, Ted, you’re getting terrible feedback at home (a large country town). Complaints from … all the time”. “I know, next week is my last week”. “I didn’t know that”. “You’ve got be completely gullible to believe the feedback. Part and parcel of working here”. “Can you tell me about the Depo Provera program?” I pulled the National Mental Health Strategy Promotion, Prevention and Early Intervention document, which had my post it note on the page in question, out. “A prevention strategy for foetal alcohol syndrome in incorrigible drinkers may be contraception…” “I’m told some of the girls are as young as 13”. “14 is the average age of the first pregnancy here”. “The word is ATSIC are calling it a genocide”. “ATSIC cancelled all the programs that kept the kids at school. Now we’ve got a bunch of feral kids”. “The communities seemed very quiet when we were driving round”. “Come back on pay day and tell me what you think”.
I’d become famous for my blunt speech and was past caring about who pretended to be offended.
“I understand the problems you face here…”. “No, you don’t. You have to live here to understand it”. “Are you taking up a position in (the large town)?” “And go under the microscope. Are you kidding!”
There was a knock on my door, a prominent local lady, intelligent and articulate but who I barely knew, married to a prominent man. Introductions. “Is it true you’re leaving?” “Yes”. “That’s bad, that’s really bad. Everybody likes you and you’ve done good work. And I need your help”. “Of course, please, go on”. “My baby, he’s not right. He’s 3 now. I didn’t drink or smoke in pregnancy but he’s just not right”. “I’m adult mental health. He needs to see the local doctor and maybe the paediatrician. I can’t help”. “I didn’t understand what he said. He didn’t know”. I thought for a moment. I knew perfectly well what the problem was. But a psychiatrist in the room! “Tell you what I’ll do. Do I have your permission to look at your and your son’ medical records?” “Yes”. “Can you come back in an hour?” “Yes”. “See you then”. I looked at the psychiatrist. “This is how things work here. Come with me”.
So we trudged to the hospital and got the records. Handwritten, doctors writing, very difficult to read not much content, looking for a specific word. There it is. And a specific blood test. There it is. I showed the psychiatrist whose face fell. An hour later, mum returns. “Can I just look into your eyes?” Got out my big magnifying but in indigenous people the pupil and iris are often very dark and hard to distinguish. “Are you ready? It might be bad news”. She nodded, tearfully. In the medical records your son has the word “snuffles”. It’s a word we use that might suggest congenital syphilis. You might have had syphilis during your pregnancy. Might have. We need to check with a blood test. Did you have your baby here rather than …?” “Yes, it came very quickly, we didn’t have time”. “If you have had syphilis we need to see if you’ve still got it. And we need to know where you contracted it. Who you’ve had sex with in the last few years”. “Just my husband. He’s always going off with other women”. “I’ll write a note in both your files so hospital tomorrow for blood tests and then we’ll see”. “Thank you, thank you” she said tearfully. “I’m sorry they made life so hard for you. You’ve done good work here. No more teenage pregnancies. No more kids with foetal alcohol or syphilis. And you diagnosed my dad”. She left. “Her dad had Korsakoff’. He’s in the residential part of the hospital”. (Alcohol related brain damage).
It was very tense for the next few days with the psychiatrist there and no patients to see. Just another group bombarded with stolen generations, the noble savage, strong cultures and such by you know who. Not to forget the genocide of preventing birth defects.