While refuelling in Mount Isa this year I decided to take a break from my journey at a café. It was lunch time and the place was busy. In line in front of me were two young Aboriginal girls who were impeccably turned out, coloured tropical clothes, big smiles, laughing and confident. When they got to the counter the look on the older girl serving changed, even her manner of speech. The girls asked for a single meal. I see this a lot as when there isn’t enough money it’s nothing to share a little meal, whether it be Wheat-Bix, noodles, fish or beef in Aboriginal communities.

The problem came when they counted their money out and were 15 cents short on their purchase. Now the lady behind the counter started to raise her voice, and the girls’ confidence and happy outlook was gone. She pushed their money back towards them and called out “next” and I walked up. She took my order and was taken aback when I said “plus whatever these two girls want to eat”. 

While waiting on the meal we chatted. Both the girls were from Kalkadoon language group. They live a cultural life mixed in with a modern Australia. They both talked to me about skin, culture and language with a strong unbroken link to country.

Once the food was ready we collected it and I said my goodbye and left. It was on the road to Camooweal I started to think about what I had witnessed in Mount Isa. I don’t think there was any racism involved by the women serving behind the counter, just more frustration, but not being a local there may have been. Where my mind went was the girls themselves. How could great granddaughters of their Clan people be coming up short on money, much less anything at all? When your ancestors owned the land that now has some of the greatest mineral wealth coming from it in Australia, how can your family be poor?

In 1884 the Kalkadoon clans fight against the white settlers came to an end at Battle Mountain. The Kalkadoon never sold or gave their country away but fought for it to the end. Even the much feared Queensland Aboriginal Mounted Police, killers of their own people, were scared of the Kalkadoon. This tribe led one of the most effective guerrilla wars against white man in a fight for their own traditional country.

Offhand I can think of 20 multi-millionaire families in Australia that have made their wealth, through hard work, but on land owned by different clans of Aboriginal people. Millionaires, who made money out of huge Mining and Pastoralism businesses, in semi and remote areas of Australia owned traditionally by Aboriginal people. If I chose to lease country I owned to a mining giant, I’m sure my granddaughters wouldn’t be walking around town sharing a meal and coming up 15 cents short. In the 225 years since the British arrived Australia has developed into a multi nation country. We have people from backgrounds and walks of life from every corner of the world living here as Aussies but still have a situation that the language groups that owned different sections of the country live dirt poor lives.

The young boy in the picture is my ‘abija’ meaning grandson. This title given to me by his parents, who both live traditional lives in Arnhem Land in the NT. His mother is from the Dalabon language group, Bulman, and his father from the Ngandi group at Ngukurr. Both lands have Mining titles granted and under application on them. So why would this young boy grow up and suffer hardship during his life while others make fortunes with Governments blessings at his Clans expense? He already has the cards stacked against him in known statistics.  A shorter life expectancy, a bigger chance of trouble with the law and bigger chance of doing jail time, racism poverty and downright unfairness will be a big part of his life just growing up not to mention a higher chance of suicide. Suicide is a word that in his native Dalabon and Ngandi Language doesn’t even exist, but in English it does.

Suicide…..Given what I see, it is hard to even grasp value in the Governments current participation in looking for the 227 missing passengers on the Malaysian Flight 370. While it is a tragic story and I feel for the loss of life involved, it is nothing compared to the Aboriginal suicide rates where hundreds of young Aboriginal men and women have finished their lives at their own hands. The Australian Government sends Civilian jets, RAAF planes, RAN ships out to look for answers, not survivors now, but in our own back yard the level of resources and priority given to 227 people on Flight 370 are never made available to Aboriginal people at the same rate per head to even go close to keeping kids with suicidal thoughts alive.

We have grown up being told we are the ‘lucky country’ but the shine of this statement has dulled over the years. One can answer the ‘lucky country’ with ‘lucky for whom’ and laugh but the reality is it may be luck for a lot of us, but less chance if you’re black.