Massive pain inflicted on Aborigines to steal their land rights

The Intervention Anthology

“In 2007, the soldiers came with their guns. The first experience of the Intervention for many was terror. Do we run into the bush to prevent their taking our kids, to avoid being shot?” The dread and panic is palpable in the relating. Rachel Willika’s eloquent and powerful telling inspired Rosie Scott to compile this anthology.” “The Intervention – an Anthology” has now been presented at eight venues in New South Wales, Victoria and the Northern Territory. Eight years after the federal government sent troops and police into Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, the verdict is grim, wrote a reviewer in The Sydney Morning Herald, one of Australia’s leading newspapers.


“Almost none of the recommendations in the report Little Children Are Sacred, which was cited as the motivation for the intervention, have been addressed. Co-author of the report, Pat Anderson, concludes that the intervention was "neither well-intentioned nor well evidenced".


“Her disturbing conclusion is that it was driven by the [ultra-conservative] Howard government's desire to undermine land rights, an ideological campaign dressed up as concern for child welfare.


“According to Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, from Utopia, the intervention only further traumatised Aboriginal people, fuelling anger and despair. The key message in essay after essay in this collection is that the intervention failed. It was a heavy-handed, political quick fix that has fixed almost nothing.”

All should read this book, urges
Nicole Watson, a Birri-Gubba woman and senior lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney, and one of the 20 authors of the anthology.


“Eight years on and Aboriginal people in the Territory are still being impacted by the continuation of the policies now called ‘Stronger Futures’,” she comments.


She says to this day she is still stunned that government could pass legislation that would have such a dramatic impact on the lives of Aboriginal people.


Australians need to realise that there is little national discussion or debate about changing the Racial Discrimination Act and hopes the book will stimulate meaningful public debate.


Listen to more from her in an interview on CAAMA Aboriginal radio in Alice Springs.


In the second half of 2015 it is becoming clearer that many Aboriginal people and their communities are now so fed up with government orchestration of the socalled policy consultation process that they are asserting their right to discuss the issues on their own and where necessary challenge or resist the oppression,”  writes strongly pro-Aboriginal and prominent journalist, Jeff McMullen.


“This is leading to growing calls and meetings across the country for the right of Aboriginal people to determine their own futures and for recognition of their sovereignty through treaty or treaties.


Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the Northern Territory where Aboriginal people have now lived under the Intervention for eight years with its consequent disempowerment of Aboriginal communities. In 2012 the Intervention was rebadged and extended for ten years (Stronger Futures and other related package of three laws). This imposed further punitive controls over Aboriginal peoples of the N.T.


“With this context the newly published book, “The Intervention – an Anthology, is very timely.” 


More than twenty award-winning and internationally recognised Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australian authors have taken a stand by using the power of their words to generate much needed discussion and debate. Importantly, as well, the anthology includes statements from a number of N.T. Elders about the Intervention.


“Indeed, this book chronicles a very shameful page of our nation’s history.


“The book gives a broad-sweeping assessment from people who live under the destructive impacts of intervention controls, as well from writers and Aboriginal leaders who clearly see the damage the intervention continues to do long after it has disappeared from the mainstream psyche.”


Contributor, Nicole Watson writes, “In spite of the profound consequences for Aboriginal people, the public debate over the measures has been minimal.” Nicole, of the Birri-Gubba people, joined one of Melbourne’s contributors, Arnold Zable, and well known Australian author to speak at the Melbourne launch. 


Arnold Zable speaks of the importance of ‘listening’ and quotes, “Been too much intervention not enough listening...Side by side, on equal ground. Working it out. Sitting with the community, sitting with the elders...Where there is intervention, there will be resistance.”


Alastair Nicholson, retired Chief Justice of the Family Court, who has passionately and frequently spoken out about the injustice of the Intervention also spoke at the Melbourne launch.


He states, “The experience of so called ‘consultation’ by successive Federal Governments has led to a complete loss of confidence in such a process on the part of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to the point that  it is questionable whether any agreements based on consultation can ever be legitimate.


“Representatives of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people appointed /elected by them must be permitted to negotiate as equals with Governments to arrive at binding agreements acceptable to both. Such agreements could take the form of a legally binding treaty perhaps enshrined in and given effect by the Constitution.” 


Nicholson was interviewed by community station 3CR Melbourne. The interview begins at 31min 36 sec.


Green Left Weekly sees the “racist Intervention dismantled by the anthology”. “The Anthology is a devastating expose of the realities of the Intervention as it affects the Aboriginal people of the NT. It includes statements by Aboriginal elders, poetry, commentary, fiction and non-fiction contributions from a wide variety of writers.”


From a critique at ‘Good Reads’: “An important book every Australian (and non-Australian interested in the rights of First Nation peoples) ought to read. … Until now, it has been difficult for even sympathetic outsiders to understand the full range, import and impact of this complex, neo-paternalistic policy on life in the NT. … I have read Eckerman's epic 'Intervention Payback', in which she takes on the voice of an older man in the community where she lives four times: '...Mal Brough/he come with the army/we got real frightened true/thought he was gonna take the kids away/just like tjamu and nan bin tell us/I run my kids in the sand hills/took my rifle up there and sat...' This crowd-funded book will shake you and move you and make you ask: what can we do to change things?”


From the Catholic blog “Bad programs, appallingly delivered. A vast number of dollars for limited benefit and enormous human deficit, with the assumption that lack of progress stems from recipients’ failures…not bad processes by policy makers.


“The words of those impacted, and their supporters, are an inspiring antidote to the spin and disinformation which has been the official language of the Intervention up until now.


“Why, in 2007, was the army sent in? Why was discrimination revived? Why were paternalistic practices reintroduced? Under the guise of child protection was it the lure of El Dorado, a land grab? The pretext, the ‘national emergency’ that had sat neglected for over thirty years, is shown up for its falseness.


“Why were successful Aboriginal initiatives discarded? Why was the key recommendation of the Anderson-Wild Inquiry to work with Aboriginal communities ignored?


“How does Indigenous control of their lands tie into the issue of child sexual abuse? Why are factual reports on the failures of the Intervention not given prominence? “Why does it continue against the evidence?


“The wisdom of Indigenous ways is clear in these writings. The contrasting inhumanity of bureaucratic, ideologically-driven paternalism cannot be missed. Good governance contrasts with control. Respectful dialogue contrasts with brutal imposition. Thousands of years’ custodianship versus two centuries of contested ‘ownership’.”


From Devoted Eclectic: “In their essay, Heiss and Scott refer to Olga Havnen’s summary of aspects of the intervention: the arrival of the army; the dismantling of Aboriginal-run organisations; the atrophy of CDEP or the Aboriginal “work-for-the-dole” program; the implementation of mandatory and universal welfare income control; the depiction of Aboriginal men as drunks and paedophiles, and women and children as helpless victims; and the introduction of alcohol controls; measures whose impacts had yet to be assessed.


“In her launch speech [in Ashfield] Rosie Scott spoke of her determination to have the anthology published, and the reasons why it should be of interest to all Australians:


“‘I believe that the deliberate spin, lies and disinformation that underpins this crisis need to be countered by a language that is powerful, clear and truthful enough to enable people to understand what’s really going on; the kind of language that moves people to right these wrongs.’ (video of Scott’s launch speech here)


“The Intervention provides just such language.


“People were worried about kids not going to school, about girls having babies too young, about drugs and alcohol, the lack of jobs, and the presence of pornography. And while we did not uncover individual cases of child abuse, we found all the conditions present under which it happens: poverty, overcrowding, drugs and alcohol, pornography, and perhaps most disturbingly of all, a breakdown of structures of authority and meaning. We found, too, that many who came forward and spoke to us were child victims of abuse and neglect, who had never had their trauma acknowledged and dealt with.


“The actions of the government were further promoting the very conditions, the breakdown of structures of authority and meaning, that contributed to the problems.


“Larissa Behrendt writes in her contribution: ‘The top-down, paternalistic imposition of half-baked policy ideas is a recipe for failure. Without community consultation and involvement, is it any wonder the impacts of the Intervention, outlined and dramatised so effectively in this anthology, have been negative?’


Rachel Willika, a Jaowyn elder from the remote Aboriginal community of Manyallaluk, writes of the immediate trauma created by news of the Intervention:


“I was living at Barunga when I first heard about the intervention. I was told by mobile phone. It was on the news. When we found out, everyone was worried. The girls wanted to go to hide in the bush. When we saw the army on TV, I felt frightened. Some people, not just children, but adults, too, thought they might come with guns.


“Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, an Areente, Alyawarra elder, discusses the intervention in terms of generations of trauma:


“’We are all aware in Australia of the horrific journey that Aboriginal people have had to take right from the beginning. People say invasion but I say on our first encounter… Trauma, emotional and mental, a lot of us are going through – tremendous, tremendous trauma and that’s not over exaggerating.”


“It is one of the strengths of this anthology that so many diverse Aboriginal voices are represented in its pages, people who live in remote communities as well as those from cities or regional centres. Non-indigenous perspectives also make a valuable contribution.


“Reading The Intervention, it’s hard not to conclude that, rather than solving the problems faced by remote Indigenous communities, the government’s actions have compounded them.”


Contributors to the Anthology include: Debra Adelaide, Pat Anderson, Larissa Behrendt, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Eva Cox, Brenda L. Croft, Lionel Fogarty, Djiniyini Gondarra, Yingiya Mark Guyula, Rodney Hall, Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, Deni Langman, Melissa Lucashenko, Jeff McMullen, PM Newton, Christine Olsen, Bruce Pascoe, Nicole Watson, Samuel Wagan Watson, Rachel Willika, Alexis Wright, Yalmay Yunipingu and Arnold Zable. 


Scholars of Australian Studies will hold a two-day conference about the intervention in Bonn on October 9 and 10. Both major political parties, the governing ultra-conservative Liberal-National coalition of Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and the heavily trade union influenced Labor Party led by Bill Shorten, support the policy. The conference will be on the premises of Bonn University. Click here for details in German and English.


Georgina Gartland of ‘ concerned australians’ writes about the Melbourne launch: “Launch went well, 60 plus people, excellent speakers, audio done and also amateur video of all.  Media: SBS were there but left before Alastair spoke! We had a freelancer engaged by the Koori Mail and who also freelances for the Age, hoping to get permission perhaps to also write for The Age. We met some very lovely people today.


“We sold all 40 books we had with us.


“I was very moved by Aurunda  [Arrertte] woman  from Alice Springs. She was moved to tears... then, this has also given gave her strength to talk up in this. She works in state education and is  gravely  concerned for her youth - too many-disowning their identity. She spoke of trauma - the information that cannot be remembered because of it - and understanding  her mum and grand mum . She wants this stuff and past and present throughout school curriculum. Publishers wanting articles to be printed on treaty.”


The book may be purchased online at

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Surviving the cutsIn March 2015 Indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion announced the successful recipients to receive funding from the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS). In spite of this, a need for a coordinated national approach to the funding, monitoring and evaluation of service delivery for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities remains ever pressing. Questions such as, how can we deliver the range of services to our communities and meet their priority needs, and ‘how can we deliver our services in a way that is based upon genuine engagement and partnership in a manner that is sustainable and builds capacity within communities? 

Uncle Jimmy’s "Thumbs Up" program was one of many organisations that did not receive funding through the Commonwealth government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS). We would now like to open a dialogue to discuss alternative ways of moving forward so that they may continue service communities in need.




Jon Altman is an Emeritus Professor in Anthropology at the Australian National University and was Foundation Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research from 1990 – 2010 and a research professor there until September 2014. Since coming to Australia in 1976, Jon has undertaken research on Indigenous development that has highlighted the need to recognise diversity and difference and for the adoption of alternative policy approaches that maximise Indigenous self-determination and choice. From 2007 he was been an outspoken critic of the NT National Emergency Response Intervention and its aftermath; he combines academic scholarship with advocacy for social justice and human rights.



Larissa Behrendt is the Director of Research at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning and Chair of Indigenous Studies at the University of Technology, Sydney. She is a regular contributor to The Guardian and a Trustee of the Jimmy Little Foundation. She is an award-winning author and her documentary on the Bowraville murders was nominated for a Walkley Award.


Graham “Buzz” Bidstrup has enjoyed a long, successful career in the Australian music industry including as a musician, producer, writer and film music composer. He was co-writer/producer of the chart-topping hit “No Secrets” for “The Angels” and co-founded of several other successful Australian bands including The Party Boys and GANGgajang. In 1999, he became manager and music director for iconic Australian Indigenous entertainer Dr Jimmy Little AO. In 2005, Buzz helped Jimmy establish the Jimmy Little Foundation and then "Uncle Jimmy Thumbs Up" in 2008. Both are not for profit organisations working to bring better preventative health initiatives to Indigenous Australians.


Alan Cass, Director of the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin, is a nephrologist who seeks to address the particularly heavy burden of chronic diseases among Indigenous Australians. He is a Chief Investigator in the Kanyini Vascular Collaboration, which brings together researchers, service providers, community controlled health services and policy makers to improve access to care and health outcomes for people with or at risk of chronic diseases. His research has spanned participatory action research, in-depth qualitative research, intervention research, and documentary filmmaking. Professor Cass is the current President of the ANZ Society of Nephrology.


Patricia Turner is of Arrernte/Gurdanji descent. She was born and raised in Alice Springs, where she now lives after retiring from the full time workforce. Ms Turner had a distinguished career in the Australian Public Service in Canberra. She was former CEO, ATSIC (1994-98), Deputy Secretary, DAA, ATSIC, PM&C and Centrelink. She has served on many national and local boards. Ms Turner has a Masters degree in Public Administration (University of Canberra). In 1990, she was awarded the Order of Australia (AM).



Larisssa Behrendt

The recent changes to the federal funding arrangements have had an impact on community-controlled organisations and on Indigenous cultural and artistic organisations. This presentation will look at the impact on these areas and how the recent IAS funding decisions have been the latest in a range of decisions to undermine models of self-determination - and contradict what the research shows works in relation criminal justice and vibrant cultural communities.

Graham Buzz Bidstrup

For the last six years the "Uncle Jimmy Thumbs Up!" (UJTU) program has successfully delivered an arts based multi sectoral nutrition and healthy lifestyle program into over 50 remote communities. By establishing strong partnerships with store groups, health providers, Government and NPP sectors UJTU is now a recognised brand in the top end synonymous with its catch phrase “Good Tucker – Long Life.” In his presentation, Buzz will discuss how the Federal Government has not refunded UJTU in spite of many experts stating that a further four-years would have seen a real generational change in the nutrition education of Indigenous children.

Alan Cass

Early mortality due to chronic diseases is the major contributor to the gap in life expectancy for Indigenous Australians. To improve health and wellbeing, we must understand and address the broader social determinants of health. However, the profound impact of chronic diseases, especially the rapidly escalating burden amongst young adults, demands a national, coordinated, “whole of government” response. When governments focus on reducing expenditure and an individual’s responsibility for their own health, how might we engage to support delivery of services that better meet Indigenous Australians’ health, social and cultural needs?   

Ms Patricia Turner

Ms Pat Turner will discuss the effects the Federal Government’s short-sighted policy and program arrangements and decision-making is having upon Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations, particularly in Central Australia. She will draw on her vast high-level experience in the Australian Public Service to explain why the current governmental arrangements cannot and will not work for the benefit of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people. In her presentation, she proposes what new arrangements ought to be put into place and demonstrate why she strongly believes the absence of senior Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander decision-makers within Government and its departments has become detrimental to our future.