Mark Bin Bakar
Thank you everybody. We have some Bin’s here, there is Bin Maarus, Bin Salleh, wheelie bins, black bins.
It is a pleasure to be here, and gather here at this important conference. The people of the Wongatha Nation, here in the goldfields. We have been here together for generations over. The Wongatha people, like all Aboriginal people throughout Australia, have been the victims of colonization, development and progress of this part of the state. Unfortunately, like every where else, respect, acknowledgement and empowerment of these keepers of this land have been ostracized, demonized, and have become victims of the system that seemed to have failed every basic principle and that is the principle of right of place. The very gift from God, the creator, nature and the land that makes them, like me, nothing else but Aboriginal. I acknowledge the Wongatha country.
I would also like to thank the NATSIEH Conference and Organisers for inviting me, in particular Iris Prouse who harassed me to be here and for inviting me and allowing me to present as a keynote speaker whilst I am here. I would also like to thank the conference for inviting Mary G, who I work with, who will be here as well for your sweets tonight.
She said to me "ask them to thank you as well" in her own demanding and authoritarian manner and she is known to be an environmental mental health safeguard herself.
Some great people, like yourselves, who are leading the fight for better delivery and development of environmental health services or initiatives within our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities.
People from community housing providers, health practitioners, community council members, community workers and providers, essential service providers, primary health care workers, local government, environmental health workers, practitioners, health promotion officers, directors, and managers of environmental health services. Now that’s a team and a half, isn’t it?
So friends, what does it mean to be Aboriginal? It should have, like most of you know, in the past, signified pride, identity, respect, and all the beautiful things that make up a great race of the human world and, to a degree, still does.
This is what Aboriginal people have and to a small degree, still do have, despite the challenges of living in a European way of life, rules and conditions. But when a race becomes suppressed, and kept in a place of deepest abyss of minimal self empowerment and eminence, then what we have is group of fellow men and women, fellow Australians kept in a place of emptiness. The psychological effects of this are a sense of worthlessness, helplessness and despair. Destructive effect on one’s life, you either change it or you leave. But, Aboriginal people do not have the luxury of these options as a basic fundamental aspect of their identity, culture in essence prevents them from either changing or leaving.
They are a minority; they are connected to a place like a tree is connected to the ground by its roots. They are not going anywhere and they cannot go anywhere. This is the difference between Indigenous people and westernized people. So by not being able to change their situation or leave they become a part of the shadows of the country, that is very seldom looked at, appreciated and recognized. This is the danger of society that we fall into. This is the failure of responsibility of our society, our state and our nation.
I quote the first ever Aboriginal and Torres Islander Governor in Australia, Pastor Sir Douglas Nicholas, of South Australia who said on the National Day of Mourning event in 1938, 70 odd years ago, "Aboriginal and Islander people are the skeletons in the cupboard of Australia’s national life. Outcasts in our own land".
So what have we created here? We have created a sub-culture within our very own communities, under our very own noses and yet, we still generally tend to turn the other cheek and pretend that we do not see or hear or want to see it.
Why? Because as a society we care as long as it does not affect our life. Not our problem perhaps. But while this attitude continues and while the ignorance prevails, we commend members of our community, our country, into a state of emptiness. Sometimes our broader community is not even aware of what they are doing to our people.
I quote Stephen Biko, South African Activist, leader of the Black Consciousness Party, "White people must be made to realize that they are only human and not superior; and black people, we must be made to realize that we are also human and we are not inferior".
So what is Indigenous environmental health? The question that has been nibbling in the back of my mind, since I have been invited to speak, to me it is a holistic approach to managing, understanding and comprehending wellbeing and pride.
It is not just about ensuring basic life-sustaining elements to remote communities which include water, sewerage, rubbish, pest control, vector borne diseases, housing, personal and community hygiene, dog health. It is inclusive of all of these, but I also believe it is also about the mental wellbeing and social wellbeing of our people, let alone primary health for people and in particularly Aboriginal people as immaterial.
A very old quote that was written 431 years before the birth of Christ, written by a man called Euripides who said "There is no greater sorrow on earth than the loss of one’s native land". I also add further this quote that I found in some history books written by a white Western Australian pioneer, written in 1833. He said "Think not that the Aboriginal inhabitants of Australia, offspring of the same parent as yourselves, and partakers of all the kindred feelings of a common humanity, can resign the mountains and the seas, the rivers and the lakes, the plains and habitations of their fathers for generations to a foreign foe without the bitterness of grief".
Professor Fiona Stanley says the history of colonisation and its aftermath of the forced removal of children has been the most significant reason for today’s picture of Aboriginal health and other problems. The evidence is overwhelming of the effects of loss of culture, land, voice, population, parents and children. Aboriginal psychiatrist, Dr Helen Milroy who said "So many aboriginal children have a wounded sole from the layers of grief and loss, yet, so many of these children can still experience the joy in life and warm our hearts".
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We must own our past collectively, because a kindred spirit a broken soul and a broken heart will continue to undermine the great investment that has been put into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, including wellbeing, healthy living and environment.
We must heal our Indigenous communities, we must heal our nation. Many people say "our people should get over it and move on" . This is a denial. This is a failure by our nation to embrace and acknowledge the suffering imposed on Aboriginal and Islander people. Native title rights is a key here.
So why do we need to heal the country, its people and Indigenous people and their environments? Because, as per this very appropriate quote that touched me and I have been carrying it for a few years, said by David Seegar, a Koori warrior. He said "Lateral violence teaches people to just disrespect and deny the rights of an oppressed group to destroy the values and beliefs. Practitioners will engage in infighting, fault finding and scapegoating. Raising the stakes of competition via jealousy and envy. The attacks are made upon those who already possess low self-esteem, and the attacks lower as they think they become objects of unworthy or respect. They fail from the inability to recognise themselves as a human being. They become convinced that the oppressor owns them and often the oppressor does own them including through financial dependency upon welfare and person dependency on drugs or alcohol."
The key to a greater understanding regarding making a difference for me is we need to be creative and strategic in getting the message through to our people. Our people are ignorant of many facets, they are overloaded with comprehension of the rules to understand the many factors of having a healthy lifestyle and a healthy living environment.
An example: Dogs are family to our people. So historically we do not disrespect the dog by treating it badly or demeaning it. So the pests affecting the dog and the state of the dogs health is overlooked due to this respect.
Our people have never been educated in the basics of hygiene, but we expect them to understand the basics of home maintenance, keeping wet areas clean and disinfected. Germs and bacteria for example is foreign to our people as they are things we do not see. So when one does not see the potential of sickness or infection, it is not looked at as a danger to children, elders or oneself.
Awareness and education is the key……In the book Why Warriors Lay Down and Die by Richard Trudgeon says, "Only dialogue, which requires critical thinking, is also capable of generating critical thinking. Without dialogue there is no communication and without communication there can be no true education." So we must engage with our people and teach them. Not enforce rules but to encourage reducing limiting sub-standard living conditions that are too often experienced in remote communities. Our goal to improve living conditions of our Indigenous people and reducing the disease rates and produce healthier communities must be also inclusive in a very humorous but laymen’s manner of getting them to understand. I add also that some of our people have been educated, thanks to churches and missions in domestic maintenance of homes, families and communities and many have not been educated. Why? No explanation, but generally just a taught behaviours.
H G Wells said "Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe".
Remember in our traditional state we were nomadic in the environment. Hence why there is a lack of understanding today in this day and age. Today we talk about personal hygiene, like showering. We use some of the best quality soaps and bathing oils. But are we really just washing off radiation protecting body oils exposing skin to the sun? This allows the potential of skin cancers. I use this as an example to express that the natural behaviours that our people practice was not really unhygienic, but considered as unhygienic because of our education into Western concepts of hygiene.
The Aboriginal body and lifestyle had been designed to live with the elements that make up our country. This has been inherited through thousands of years. Today, we expect Aboriginal people to live in a reserve and community and government housing. But our people generally have never lived in one place in their country.
A house is like a cave, a man made cave, and when the sun does not reach in and with wet areas that does not have sunlight , then kitchen areas are accessible by collectively people, kids and animals, we have created a new haven for germs, bacteria and negative hygiene that allows for other introduced sicknesses to morph and become entrenched.
It is assumed that all Aboriginal people understand. I once created a DVD script idea to promote awareness of germs and bacteria and basic environmental health issues, in fact, I have a couple of copies here if anyone would like to grab them later. I submitted this to various health organizations to no avail. They did not seem to see this as a priority. I think it is very bad not to recognize this.
I am presently working on a DVD regarding patients first. Aspects of leaving home to go to the city for medical attention. This is also well overdue. The point is our people do not understand. We must act now and move forward with no obstacles if we really wish to close the gap.
I travel throughout Australia promoting many aspects of health and wellbeing into very isolated communities. The message and the power of this beautiful woman I work with, Mary G, is to bring important messages and making people aware of tools that are available, like Mary G.
This is not a commercial break. Promotion of important messages that are culturally appropriate will give the appropriate outcomes. I travel consistently to the Northern Territory and to Queensland, Far North Queensland, in fact I am going back there in June. It will be the third time, courtesy of Queensland Health who sees the value of the character in bringing peoples understanding to their wellbeing and mental health. Now they have invited me to go to Palm Island in Queensland to solve Palm Island’s problems.
It is a huge burden and responsibility to put on me or Mary G, but to me it is hard to her it is easy, maybe because she is a woman.
Friends, I have a high success rate in getting the message across to aboriginal and Islander people through the unique ability of the character Mary G. Her acceptance by little children, youth, mature age and elders is a phenomenon. We have won many awards for this work, not to mention credibility. I encourage you all to consider Mary G in the landscape of Australia and her ability to get the message across.
Throughout Northern Territory, Far North Queensland, Central Australia, Metropolitan Areas, Mary G and my company has the ability to present on many forms of live appearances. Our people love to laugh and Mary G has presented credible, successful awareness messages and campaigns for anti smoking, healthy eating, empowerment, general check-up, bi-genders, cyclone cleanup, wellbeing, sexually transmitted infections and diseases, domestic violence, incarceration, education, elder respect, culture, anti alcohol and so on.
I would like to again wish you all good luck at this conference and I am happy to talk and engage with people after this and the use of using Mary G for greater awareness, wellbeing and a better health in a changing environment for our entire mob and our country. We can do it together, in partnership with each other, I think that as I said earlier, everything is linked from native title, to housing, primary health, mental health, environmental health. It is all linked, you cannot support one without the other. We must not just think about what things will be like in one or two years time, but what they will be like in fifteen, thirty or even fifty years time.
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The investment put in now will show a thorough outcome in the future. Not slums, poverty, disease and sickness.
I have prepared some stuff for the screen to talk through in a relaxed way. I was going to prepare a dynamic powerpoint for you,
Firstly, that one kind of says it all really about out Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples wellbeing in this country.
First you have the old man sitting on his rocking chair. I remember when the old black man could get into America was to clean up the mess that the white folks had made. That was the only job a black man could have.
The guy sitting there with his banjo, I guess some things never change. I think that is very relevant, at the end of the day the government can throw millions and millions of dollars and servants of government can put all sorts of programs and policies in place, but at the end of the day we have to educate our people, to get them to own and be part of our own destiny.
For those of you who are not aware, two powerful tools quoted from Why Warriors Lay Down and Die and these two, the book and the DVD I find are very powerful tools, in particular for non-Indigenous people to learn and understand the ways of communicating including Aboriginal people who come from other areas who have not been exposed to culture and understanding as well can learn from this book.
The DVD Kanyini an amazing tool for people to understand the psychic and the mind of Aboriginal Australian, particularly people who have been taken off country and of course the Stolen Generation people.
That certain parts that make us who we are as Aboriginal people, language, culture, identity, country, when you remove from that then you just become lost. That particular DVD really captures that and Bobbie Randall who wrote Brown Skin Baby captures that really really well. It should be sent around to Government, to all ministers for health.
I quoted there is no greater sorrow on earth than the loss of one’s native land. This I presented at the Mental Health Conference in Perth about 8 months ago. Mood swings in our people - sometimes our people have got the worst temper and all sorts of things effect environmental health that they live in. The state of the environment that they live in.
I stated that quote and I think it is spot on. Sometimes we see children happy and running around and feeling good, but a lot of the times it is a pretty false view of what is actually happening in the mind of the child. That goes for elderly and middle aged people as well.
This slide I found in Queensland, in an isolated community clinic. What brings us down, our people? What are the issues? What makes us spiritual, social, family, mental and emotional? You take the spiritual, breaking the law, cultural troubles all these things that make up the state of mind of our people. Our people kind of have a burden that is on them all the time 24 hours a day. As a nation I am talking, particularly non indigenous Australians have to understand what our people are going through every day of our lives. Even if some of them are sitting, smiling, laughing, non-Indigenous Australians live in a different world. As most of you would know as Aboriginal people, bilingual thinking in our communication, we talk one way to our people and we change when a white bloke comes along.
The living zones of every day Australians you have got your private zone, you lock the door and that is your world. Then you have your professional zone, where you go to work, engage with the world, on a professional level. Then you have your community zone, your local non profit organization, club or society that you may be involved in. That is the world of most Australians.
Escape and time out - that is the message in there.
People can go back into their homes and shut the world out and say "I don’t want to know about what is happening at work and I don’t want to know what is happening at the club, I am at home, watch TV, have a beer and relax". The private home zone is the most important place for you to have time out to escape. Look after your wellbeing.
Home zone is all the one thing, you don’t knock off, you go back into your home, someone comes knocking at your door, can you lend me $20 to buy tucker for the family, can you mind the kids, whatever it might be. You guys know most of those issues and that is the difference between the western culture and Aboriginal culture. We cannot separate them, all those zones, because of who we are, hence why we have heart problems, sickness, and environmental health issues. All the one thing.
Mood swings come in with an overload of thoughts, issues, responsibilities, trials, tribulations, low self esteem; they are all stirred by the conditions imposed on our people which leads to major primary health issues. Living in one zone is the major contributor, there is no time out at all.
So back to that graph that I found, what keeps us well, spiritual, family, social, mental and emotional, it is all still there. Basically, spiritual, law, elders, social, country, physical, good tucker, family, friends, hunting, fishing, work, hobbies, sport, change, mental and emotional, know your illness, counsellors, know your early warning zones, positive thinking, flip charts, changing plans.
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What destroys us and what keeps us strong: spiritual, physical, family, social, mental and emotional and you could add in there the other leaf the environment. This is all one, or maybe it’s the stem that holds the leaves.
I will give you a quick intro to Mary G again. Mary G was formed as an absolute accident on radio one night in Broome I started to get bored in myself in the studio so I started talking to myself in this woman’s voice. This was back in 1992. Whilst I was doing that show people in the community were saying "who is this woman?", "where is she from?", "we have never heard of Mary G before". Then we went national on radio and then people wanted to see the character live that was the hard part with connotations of homosexuality …I thought I would just stay on radio then people started hassling me, someone wanted to make a TV commercial with this women and communities wanted to see Mary G live. So I started to dress up, shaved by beard and mo off and grew my hair longer. I was never into drugs or alcohol or a wife basher and I realised that the character had power and with that power came responsibility for respect for Aboriginal women. When I first started the character some women said I was offensive to Aboriginal women so I was happy to not do it any more. Lo and behold those women in the community from Beagle Bay and Broome told me to keep going and I wasn’t sure if I should keep going as some people were offended and they as "who?" and I said "oh such and such’"and they said "Oh don’t worry about them they weren’t even black when they were young!" That was the turning point for me and I thought I would continue and I have never had an issue ever since. What it has done is to touch a lot of Aboriginal women around the county from many languages cultures and country.
So using the arts I can strike a cord to bridge the gap and by using humour people feel good about themselves and using black humour as people relate to that. Thank you everybody.
Mark Bin Bakar