Dear Prime Minister

The Lent Letters

You said yesterday that Australians are “sick of being lectured to” by the United Nations, as if the United Nations has no right to be critical of our treatment of asylum seekers.

I don’t believe you have the right to speak for all Australians, although that is implied in your statement. There are very many Australians who are sorry and ashamed because of our treatment of these victims of war, oppression and poverty.

You suggest that the fact that we have “stopped the boats” is justification for this treatment, but I don’t believe that this is a situation where the end justifies the means (if that can ever be the case).

How long are the lives of these human beings, who are already victims, going to be made so intolerable that other victims will decide that Australia is not for them?

I received a letter from you today…

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It’s time for Curriculum Review

Here in Australia, we decided to review a curriculum that was still in the hatchling stages of utilisation, but act like it had been brainwashing students for the past millenia. Over at The Conversation, they’ve asked a variety of academics to review the review. It’s worth a look.

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Rosalie Kunoth-Monks

I’ve been remiss in posting for a long time – but this needs to be posted here. The conversation on Q&A last night was pretty horrific in terms of the out-dated perspectives put forward, but Rosalie’s gracious response was resplendent indeed.

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June 10, 2014 · 9:21 pm

Schooling changes on the Lands

I’m not really prepared to write a blog post on this, but seeing as it’s now hit the press, it’s worth putting up. In terms of APY press coverage, this is likely to get quite a bit I’d imagined.

The Australian published this article today re: proposed changes to school terms. The SA government is proposing that for the APY Lands, schooling will be conducted over 48 weeks.

ABC online also published an article today on the proposed changes.

The Paper Tracker radio show conducted an interview with Peter Chislett, the government consultant for the change.

They’ve also conducted an interview with Makinti Minutjukur and Katrina Tjitayi – prominent members of the Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Education Committee.


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Australia slides further into the early 20th Century.

The Age (Melbourne) reported this article earlier today.

Taxi Drivers bar Aboriginal actors

When will this country break away from this kind of ridiculous mindset? I want to provide comment, but I’m too aghast, too infuriated, too frustrated by this land. Racism here is directed both passively and aggressively at any one who appears a little different. Yet people still refuse to accept that it is WE who ARE DOING IT. Oh no, it’s not Australians born and raised here that are driving cabs, it’s those ‘furriners’. Do we not hear ourselves? It was Australians at Cronulla. It’s Australians on public transport abusing Indians, Asians, Arabic people. It’s Australians abusing my highly intelligent Australian friend because surely she couldn’t actually be reading the Financial Review. After all, she’s of Asian descent and, God help her,  a woman.

And this is just the blatant racism. The passive racism is worse. It’s the looks that people give when a non-Indigenous person is seen talking to an Indigenous person. It’s the quiet, heads down, ignore and it will go away, attitude when confronted with blatant racism. The quiet disagreement, even disapproval, but the utter unwillingness to actively counter it.

We refused to play sport against South Africa until they removed apartheid. When will we wake up and realise that we, like South Africa, are racists and that we must change? When will we actively stamp out the ignorance and bigotry that plagues us? We applauded our PM when he apologised to the stolen generations. When will we actually mean it?


If I hadn’t already left this country once, I’d be inclined to do so again. And never return. And don’t anyone dare say “but there’s racism wherever you go.” Of course, there is. Trust me, I was a ‘guiri’ in Spain for three years. I’ve experienced it. That doesn’t mean it’s justifiable. EVER.


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Ex-Principal interviewed re: Lands

I’m trying to get my act together and blog more regularly. But it’s hard, ok? And a lot of thought has to go into what’s said.

That’s why this link is interesting. Very rarely do people hear an inside experience of where I live and work – especially one that so candidly states some of the challenges.

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April 22, 2013 · 4:05 pm

…I haven’t had time to write since Term went back…

But someone apparently decided I deserved a Blogger’s award.

Fairly undeserved I’d say. And kind of more like a chain-mail game… but I always liked the idea of chain letters as a kid, although I always felt burnt when the postcards, money, chocolate etc, didn’t come through.

I don’t read enough blogs to continue this on from here, but for the sake of writing something, I’ll answer a few questions.

1. Which famous writer would you like to be, and why?
Ach, Bukowski. It has to be. His misanthropy, his love, his anger, his drinking, his bitterness, his beauty and his utter commitment to working class poetry. I never tire of Buk.
2. Favourite book, and why?
Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
I would travel back in time and through fiction to save Tess. She is glorious. Her innocence, her unrelenting faith, her passion, her hope, her devastation. If I could, I would marry her to save her from her fate.
3. Where do you want to travel to in 2013?
I must return to Spain. I must return to Spain. I must return to Spain. I must return to Spain. I miss Madrid.
4. Who would you most like to sit next to on a long haul flight?
Nobody. I want the entire row to myself on a long haul flight. There’s plenty of people I’d like to have in front or behind. Zizek, maybe? Just to listen to him rant – but not next to me. God, no, have you seen how that man twitches?
5. Why do you blog?
To record thoughts, to reflect, to hopefully grow professionally… but it’s flattering that a few people I don’t know have been reading it.
6. How many roads should a man (or woman) walk down…?
As many as they like, so long as they are mostly overgrown. You know, the road less travelled…
7. Where have you been that you’d never go back to?
I don’t think there’s anywhere that I’ve been that I would never return. I’ve never felt enough disdain for a place to not go back. Maybe, just maybe, the outer commercial suburbs of Madrid – but then that’s only because they’re so bland and I would have no reason to go there.
8. If you were an animal what would you be?
Yeah, nah, I dunno. I never like that question. My dog’s great. She’s a dingo-kelpie-crossed-with-everything-under-the-sun. Can I be her?
9. Dream job (other than what you do now)?
A journalist in the Spanish Civil War. Working alongside Hemingway, Bolloten, maybe dropping everything to help fight in the Brigades or with the CNT.
Failing that, a music reviewer for something substantial like Pitchfork or the Quietus – with a finger on the pulse of the underground and a toe in the ocean of mainstream.
10. Best (or oddest) souvenir you’ve brought home from your travels?
I have two pieces of artwork by artists displayed in the National Gallery of Victoria. And they live in my town. That’s pretty cool, I reckon. I wish I still had my traditional Spanish cookbook written in Spanish, but alas, I gave that to someone who deserved it more. But no, the award goes to my two pigeon orphans – carved by a man I worked with on placement at a school near (in a manner of speaking) where I work now. Unfortunately, their parents were stolen by a man from here and sold to some unsuspecting ‘waipala’. But it was the nicest gift I ever received.
11. Your greatest achievement?
30 years.

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Why Learn Language?

Last week, a comment was posted on a previous post which challenged the importance of learning language in the modern global society and indeed of trying to learn a language that so few people speak.

The commenter stated:

If there is only 3000 people speaking it then why not let it die off naturally, until it is replaced with English. There are still far too many languages in the world and this causes mis-understanding which can often lead to bloody conflict.The way to global peace is only having one language for the entire world to speak.

Chinese is ok for badly dubbed Kung fu films but essentially its just incomprehensable gobbledlygook, so that only leaves English, which is already the most popular language by far.

Firstly, I’d like to challenge the last remark that English is the most popular language by far. How is this popularity measured? If we go by sheer number of native speakers, Mandarin Chinese is the most ‘popular’ language with more than 845 million speakers. Even if we add in non-native speakers, Mandarin still comes out tops with English a distant second. The only way English wins a popularity contest is if we look at countries with English as an official language. Then we get a fair proportion of this wonderful globe. But in parts of the Southern United States, more than 30% of the population speak Spanish as a first language.

Now “Chinese” as ‘incomprehensable gobbledlygook’ [sic] is such a false statement that I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Not speaking “Chinese” myself, it is of course incomprehensible to me, but I’m sure the 845 million Mandarin speakers disagree. Hell, some accents in English are incomprehensible to me – I only speak Strine English. But maybe, if you are interested in hearing what English might sound like to someone who doesn’t speak it, check out this short film Skwerl, which was made to sound like the cadence of English without having a single sensical sentence in it.

“There are far too many languages in the world, and this often leads to bloody conflict.”

I’d argue that this point is highly debatable. Yes, there are wars between peoples who speak different languages, but how often is this through an oral misunderstanding. Another commenter pointed out the Bosnian-Serbian-Croatian conflict of the 90s as demonstrative of a conflict where people spoke almost the same language. The Hutu and Tutsi conflict in Rwanda was between two groups who both spoke the same language. The US Civil War and Spanish Civil War were both wars of disagreement where the actors spoke the same language. And I think it would be highly tenuous to suggest that any other war in the modern era has been caused due to, in primary, a language miscommunication.

If there are only 3000 speakers of it, why not let it die off naturally”.

The death of a language or the absorption of a new one means so much more to a person than just a ‘natural death’. Language affects the way one perceives the world, how one exists within it. It can tell us the importance cultures place on different aspects, how they order themselves socially. Check this documentary out about the Piraha in South America for how different a worldview language can create.

In my country, Aboriginal languages have rarely died off naturally. They have ceased to exist through imposition, through imperialism, through the removal of children, through the banning of use in public life, not merely through its natural abandonment for a new tongue.

But this is besides the point. Why am I trying to learn Pitjantjatjara?

Because in trying to speak their language, I am able to see the world a little more from their eyes. I can better put myself in the shoes of the students I teach as they struggle with my language. I can begin to comprehend their confusion and recognise where mistakes are made. I can have a conversation with the old woman who lives next door to me, but speaks little English. I can participate in discussions that directly effect the community I live in – and I can understand frustrations when they are voiced in language. And I let go of some of my culture’s hegemony and walk a path with a people whose voice is too often ignored, forgotten or lost in the clamour of mainstream Australia.

I may not be thanked for it. I may not even master it. But it’s more fun saying let me try and speak like you than saying let me make you speak like me.

And I hope that if more of my country thought like this, perhaps we would act out more of the ideals we so often voice without action.

Plus if we didn’t have Pitjantjatjara, we wouldn’t have this song.



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Learning Pitjantjatjara – the Final Day

It was the final day of the intensive course today, which was a little sad. We’d all bonded well over two weeks and 80 plus hours of Pitjantjatjara learning. I hope that once I’m back on the Pit Lands, we will get a class up and going and that I’ll be brave enough to broker detailed conversations with some of my colleagues in Pit.

I was pretty impressed with the accuracy of some of the guesses in the comments of the last post. They all seemed well-educated considering the sounds of Pitjantjatjara would be foreign to most readers. So here’s the answers:

  • tangkiyi (an animal) – donkey
  • patjikala (a vehicle) – bicycle
  • tarawatja (an item of clothing) – trousers
  • pulitjamunu (an occupation) – policeman
  • tiritja (an item of clothing) – dress
  • pitikuta (an item of clothing) – skirt
  • wayatjara (a cooking implement) – billy (metal pot for boiling water)
  • raipula (a hunting implement) – rifle
  • mutuka (a vehicle) – car
  • paatja (a vehicle) – bus
  • tjiya (an object) – chair
  • taipula (an object) – table
  • kapamanta (a very, very large organisation or employee of said organisation) – government/government employee

One last anecdote before my journey back to the Pit Lands begins:

When translating languages, confusion from mistranslation almost always ensues. Anangu must have had some difficulties with the idea that the missionaries’ God promised them everlasting caterpillars through Jesus Christ.

All it took was an omission of an    . There are three very similar words which non-Indigenous people (particularly English speakers) find difficult to tell the difference between when hearing, and

wanka – life, alive, raw etc

wangka – to speak/talk

wanka – caterpillar, spider, spiderweb


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Learning Pitjantjatjara #3

Staying in Adelaide is always a hectic time for me. I haven’t lived in this city for almost six years, but still spend a lot of time running around trying to maintain old friendships. It makes it an exhausting end to the school holidays when coupled with learning new languages.

Sometimes I wonder if any of it will sink in?

One thing that has always fascinated me about different languages is how we adopt words to suit our language needs. English is one of the masters of this taking words from wherever we find them and anglicising them. Karaoke, hors d’ouevre, pasta – to name a few… not to mention the thousands of words adopted over the centuries through invasion and interaction with different European nationalities.

Castellano Spanish always impressed me with its absolute refusal to adopt English words. Ordenador for computer; portatìl for laptop.

Pronouncing words from a foreign language is always difficult. Take this Japanese game show, for example, where contestants must not laugh at incorrect pronunciations.

But in terms of being a skilled word borrower, Pitjantjatjara might just take the cake.

First contact between Anangu and non-Indigenous peoples occurred within the last 200 years and at a rapidly increasing rate only in the last 80 odd years. With that contact came an array of objects and concepts that had never existed before within Anangu culture, all of which required new words for expression.

One example of this we learnt last week. In a dialogue we have to learn, we ask “Kan iruwa-ku mukuringanyi?” which translates to “do you want tea?” A tutor told us that while writing this dialogue the word iruwa came up and she had no idea where it came from. (It’s now fallen out of use – replaced by the word ‘ti’). Anangu didn’t have a word for tea – not having any prior to contact, but iruwa is clearly not taken from English.

It turns out they did borrow it, though, from the Arrernte people who live around Alice Springs. Did tea beat European exploration in reaching Western Desert nations? Quite possibly.

Obviously, a large amount of borrowed words in Pitjantjatjara come from English. These tend to be quite confusing for non-native speakers who don’t expect to hear their language sounded back at them.

See if you can work out what these words might be (a clue in brackets):

  • tangkiyi (an animal)
  • patjikala (a vehicle)
  • tarawatja (an item of clothing)
  • pulitjamunu (an occupation)
  • tiritja (an item of clothing)
  • pitikuta (an item of clothing)
  • wayatjara (a cooking implement)
  • raipula (a hunting implement)
  • mutuka (a vehicle)
  • paatja (a vehicle)
  • tjiya (an object)
  • taipula (an object)
  • kapamanta (a very, very large organisation or employee of said organisation)

Here’s some translations that may or may not help you.

Kurukalatja is the Pit word for glasses coming from the word kuru (eye) and kalatja sounding like glasses. Kapati is the word for recess (short break) in schools coming from cup of tea. Tuyuta is the word for 4WD coming from Toyota. Any make of 4WD can be called a tuyuta.

Leave a comment with your guesses and I’ll put the correct translations up tomorrow.



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