As I’ve written before we moved almost eighteen months ago from the largest city in our state to a very small one, further south. Really, it’s more of a town. There were a few reasons we moved – we liked the idea of living in a cooler climate, we liked the idea of living in a smaller city, and we thought it would be good for our Offspring to grow up in the country rather than in a bigger city.
For me, though, it was much more than all that. It was like coming home.
I grew up on a farm a couple of hours’ drive from here. I lived and went to school there until I was 12, then I went to boarding school for my secondary education. One of the things about boarding school is the rigidity of life. Going home to the farm represented such freedom in comparison. I could walk out the door and keep walking for an hour and still be on our property. What’s more, I didn’t have to sign a book or be back by a certain time. And I knew the farm so well. Even now, there are certain parts of it I think about. There was a section of driveway between two paddocks close to the sheds, where on both sides grew huge eucalypts, and when they shed their bark, their new skins was such a beautiful pale yellowy-pink. I learnt to drive on these farm tracks. Different times of the year had different smells; I got to know when it was going to rain, because I could smell it in the air, especially when we were waiting for the season to break. And I know it’s a cliché, but the stars. Truly, so many, like you wouldn’t believe.
When my parents sold their farm and moved down here, that place was no longer mine. My aunt asked me how I felt about the farm being sold. And I said that I had picked up the phone to call my parents the week before, and realised that I had to call a different number. I cried a little. It wasn’t that I missed the house. It was that I knew I couldn’t go back to the farm. By this time, I’d made my ‘home’ in Perth, with the Handsome Sidekick and our Offspring. I had job opportunities and the reality was, I had never planned to go back and live on the farm, or even in the nearby town. But I felt so sad, knowing that I could not go back and visit. It belonged to someone else now.
Earlier this week, our state government announced that they would begin shutting down services to up to 150 remote Indigenous communities. Their reasoning is that it is not sustainable to continue to fund these communities, and also that there are a number of children with alarming health conditions (the premier gave the example of gonorrhoea).
Now, of course that’s concerning. Of course it’s worrying that there are children with gonorrhoea. But rather than focussing on those communities where these children are at risk, and ensuring that conditions improve so that the children are safer, the plan is to have those people in these remote communities move to larger towns and cities.
There are a number of issues with this. The government’s argument is that the infrastructure to support such remote settlements is too expensive. It’s hard to provide support for housing, health and education services when people are living so far away from major centres. And that is true. However, by closing these settlements, the people living there will have to be rehomed elsewhere, meaning a huge strain on the services in the larger centres. Surely this will also be expensive, and problematic, unless the government is planning to dramatically increase support for infrastructure and personnel in the bigger towns. I wonder how my own town would cope with a sudden influx of a few thousand people – even a few hundred – who suddenly needed homes and access to schools and healthcare?
And these issues are just the economic ones, the practical ones. The closure of these communities, though, has a far greater effect than simply whether the people will have a place to live when they’re relocated. It’s the very fact that they’re being relocated in the first place. It ignores a connection to country which is vital for mental health, for the continuity of cultural history, for free agency. This policy harks back to our recent past, where rights of Indigenous peoples were dismissed (if they were even considered), and that makes it all the more insensitive and painful.
Instead of simply deciding at state level (with the support of our federal government) that these communities should be closed, how about we discuss the ways in which we could ensure the safety and wellbeing of those who live there? There have been so many deeds done by separate governments throughout the last two hundred years which have been detrimental to Indigenous Australians. Surely we can avoid repeating the mistakes from the past, this time?
I only lived on our farm for twelve years, before I left, and I never really went back for very long. But it was always home. And now it’s not. In some ways, that’s OK. I’ve found a new home, and it’s close enough to the farm, so that I feel like I’m still connected, somehow. But I still miss the farm, and I think I always will. Once you leave, you’re no longer a farmer, and that is hard to accept. So I can’t imagine what it must be like to have to leave your country, to be forced to leave the place of your ancestors. If it was that hard for me, how hard must it be for the Indigenous people who are facing it? How hard will it be to readjust? And why are we asking them to do it?