Racism and parrots

To: <>
Subject: Racism and parrots
From: colin judkins <>
Date: Thu, 2 Dec 2010 12:06:56 +1100
Thanks Denise, for the time and effort you put in, in response to this 


> Date: Thu, 2 Dec 2010 09:25:48 +0930
> Subject: Re: [Birding-Aus] Racism and parrots
> From: 
> To: ; ; 
> ; 
> In 1988 my relatives in western Arnhem Land decided they wanted to become
> involved in tourism. This came about because, over the years, they¹d met,
> and generally liked, some of the birders I guided ­ these were mostly
> Americans, but some were Australian. I agreed to help only because family
> and clan elders asked me to. I was the only family member with any expertise
> in the area.
> To explain the decision-making process, I¹ll give an example. Some years
> ago the Ombudsman¹s Office asked me to become an officer in Western Arnhem
> Land. I told them that I¹d need to ask my relatives, the most senior of
> whom were staying with me at the time (among them my two older sisters,
> Esther Maralngurra and Mrs. Nganjmirra). My relatives told me to take them
> to the Ombudsman's office so they could tell staff how they felt about my
> appointment. There was no way I would have considered accepting that job
> without their wholehearted approval.
> The reasons my relatives wanted to be involved in tourism were threefold.
> They wanted to Œmake friends¹ with balandas (white people); they wanted to
> keep young people on their country, and they wanted to make a little money.
> They didn¹t understand why people would want to visit their country or watch
> birds. This was voiced eloquently by Mirrar elder, Yvonne Margarula, senior
> traditional owner in Kakadu, in a newsletter we later published. They
> didn¹t understand, but they accepted that balandas did such things.
> However, my relatives were afraid. Many had had negative experiences with
> balandas, and, they didn¹t understand bureaucracy or know anything about
> running a business. Also they thought they¹d have to go into tourism in a
> big way. They weren¹t wrong. The formal tourism industry in the NT is
> designed for mass markets (Dean Carson et al argue that it resembles a
> staples economy, for those interested). When we approached Tourism NT for
> help, they tried to pressure my relatives into taking on more visitors, and
> to charge like wounded bulls, all so my relatives could become part of the
> establishment. We decided to skip the formal industry altogether and go
> straight to the market.
> My relatives had other fears. Over the years they¹d heard tales from the
> Mirrar about guides, operators and tourists who were ignorant,
> environmentally insensitive, racist, or sexist. We all knew of a few in the
> industry with a history of violence towards women.
> It took twelve years for all in the clan to agree. I was outside of this
> process, except for answering questions. For example, I was once asked how
> we could keep visitors away from dangerous dreaming sites.
> The process was Œbottoms-up¹, ie driven by my relatives. As a group we
> talked over what visitors we wanted, eg. those who would Œfit in¹, and with
> whom the community would feel most comfortable. Then the senior traditional
> owners as a group decided on how money was to be treated (it was handed to
> the most senior woman who dispersed it).
> My relatives, on my advice, were interested in the sort of people they¹d met
> at my home eg mainly American couples, although later Australian families
> and couples, small groups, and American students came too. However, they
> were still so scared that some ran away when I arrived with the first
> visitors.
> We all realised that we had to keep all women safe. Some of our men had a
> history of violence, although they had always treated me with great respect
> as their Œold lady¹. But as a matter of practice, my women relatives never
> camped alone, and would not let me camp alone. Elders decided that any area
> with a history of substance abuse or violence towards women was excluded
> from our program unless they showed behavioural change.
> We also excluded some visitors, for instance rabid birders who were prepared
> to walk over everyone and everything to see a new bird.
> Training was built upon my relatives¹ existing skills, knowledge and wisdom,
> and was holistic, encompassing areas from common and Kunwinjku bird names
> (we taught literacy using bird names), to basic computer skills, first aid,
> and how to deal with misbehaving visitors. Some courses resembled episodes
> of The Goodies, but we had a ball and everyone, including myself, learned
> and gained confidence.
> I trained family members closest to me from elders to children, and then
> they taught people on other outstations, moving knowledge crabwise and at a
> pace and in a manner that supported and built upon traditional knowledge and
> values. There were hurdles - one respected tribal elder whom I call Œson¹,
> refused to learn computer, saying he was Œtoo stupid¹ (yes, he learned that
> at school). When he finally plucked up the courage to try, he was typing
> with ten fingers in one day.
> Families ­ seniors, women and children, were involved as guides and hosts,
> not just men. This preserved family structure and the status of women. And
> it made women safe. The wisdom of this approach stood in stark contrast to
> a southern tour operation whose drunk guides sexually harassed a bunch of my
> American students.
> One of our goals was that relatives, male and female, would be able to make
> informed choices further down the line as to whether they wanted to be
> involved in tourism, and if so, how. Some talked about guiding serious
> birders both in Arnhem Land and around Darwin where my saltwater/Larrakia
> relatives wanted to take visitors into the mangroves to show them birds such
> as Chestnut Rail, keeping them safe at the same time.
> Some government funding enabled me to hire vehicles to get to Arnhem Land,
> and all was going well. The number of visitors was low enough that my
> relatives felt they could get to know them personally, and that the
> situation was always under control. We were getting enquiries from a whole
> range of interest groups, not just birders. Some visitors had become
> mentors and we were now hosting American students.
> The death of two elders brought things to a temporary halt, but an even
> bigger setback was the loss of funding. Two reasons were given. The
> government department involved had decided only to fund courses run in
> towns. Secondly, neither I, nor any of any of the elders, had a Certificate
> 4 in training. By that time I¹d one university degree and a postgrad
> qualification as well as over 25 years¹ experience as a birding guide and
> training Indigenous people. Elders said that if I wasn¹t qualified, what
> hope was there for them. There are bureaucrats in the NT who ought to hang
> their heads in shame.
> Readers may ask about the training of Indigenous guides in Kakadu ­ I know
> little of this as I wasn¹t involved, apart from being questioned about my
> methods of training Indigenous relatives. However, the feedback from
> clients, friends (including some senior in BA) was not positive, and from
> what I heard, it seemed like another Œtop-down¹ exercise designed to satisfy
> twitchers, without taking Indigenous culture and practice into account.
> Academics at Charles Darwin University considered writing a paper entitled,
> and here I paraphrase, ŒHow Not to Train Indigenous Birding Guides in
> Kakadu¹. They didn¹t, I¹m not sure why. But few lessons will be learned
> until a paper exploring both the good and the bad of such efforts is
> written.
> I wish the central Australian guides who showed birders the Princess Parrots
> the best of luck. They have control of birding and I hope they keep it.
> Given the challenges my relatives faced, the institutionalised racism that
> exists to this day, and the attitudes of some hardcore birders, they¹ll need
> it.
> But those birders aren¹t alone. Remember the German backpacker, taken by a
> crocodile in Kakadu some years ago? The Mirrar women were horrified that
> for years their warnings about crocodiles had been ignored. Yvonne
> Margarula wrote in our newsletter that the Mirrar wanted Œto keep visitors
> safe¹. Seeing it ias their responsibility to prevent further deaths, they
> decided to close off access to waterbodies inhabited by crocodiles.
> The response of someTop End tour operators? The Mirrar were just Œbeing
> greedy¹ and wanted to keep the land and the money it brought all to
> themselves.
> To Debbie, Anthea, John Harris and all the other Birding Aussers who can see
> past the next new tick, you¹ve demonstrated a breadth of understanding that
> I wish more displayed. Good on you.
> Denise Lawungkurr Goodfellow
> PO Box 3460 NT 0832, AUSTRALIA
> Ph. 61 08 89 328306
> Mobile: 0438 650 835
> Birdwatching and Indigenous tourism consultant
> PhD Candidate
> Vice-chair, Wildlife Tourism Australia
> on 1/12/10 12:49 PM, John Harris at  wrote:
> > I second that, Anthea!
> >
> > Having done some birding with guides, I have been more than happy to
> > pay their asking price especially if they are giving up their time and
> > not part of their usual income/employment.
> >
> > If you think it is too expensive, then dont' go and don't whinge about
> > it! Like everything else in this economy driven society, the price is
> > what people will pay for that service.
> >
> > As for their (indigenous peoples across Australia - Murri's, Yolgnu,
> > Koories, etc) connection with the land, it is generally deeper than any
> > "WASP or Catholic" could understand. Having lived in indigenous
> > communities in a few places in Arnhem land and only scratched the
> > surface of this connection, I can only begin to appreciate this.
> >
> > So birders, be thankful that there is a way to see these parrots and
> > benefit a local "economy" than not at all.
> >
> >
> > Yours in all things "green"
> >
> > Regards
> >
> > John Harris
> > Manager, Environment and Sustainability
> > Donvale Christian College
> > 155 Tindals Rd Donvale 3111
> > 03 9844 2471 Ext 217
> > 0409 090 955
> > 
> >
> > President, Field Naturalists Club of Victoria (FNCV)
> > Past President, Victorian Association for Environmental Education
> > (VAEE)
> >
> >
> >>>> brian fleming <> 1/12/2010 2:01 PM >>>
> > Thank you Debbie, I agree with every word!
> > Anthea Fleming
> >
> >
> > On 1/12/2010 1:44 PM, Debbie Lustig wrote:
> >>
> >> I have been reading people's opinions about the money being charged
> > to see Princess Parrots and can hold off no longer. There is an
> > underlying racism that lurks, a nasty little secret, beneath the
> > comments of many. How else to explain well-meaning discussions along
> > these lines (and I paraphrase):
> >> 'If it teaches them - Indigenous people - to run birding tours then I
> > approve' (for our - whitefellas' - benefit, of course);
> >> 'If they share the money among their community then I approve' (since
> > when were Europeans called upon to share their profits with their
> > communites?);
> >> 'They've been given enough money already so I don't approve'
> > (over-simplifying an unbelievably complex situation); and
> >> 'If they can get that sort of money, let them try (but I don't
> > approve)'.
> >> These sentiments imply a superiority and moral high ground we simply
> > don't possess. They are more offensive for being subtle.
> >> People have also objected to the traditional owner's scruples about
> > (white) birders running around on his land, when we don't have a clue
> > what it means to be custodians of the land. To protect the animals,
> > birds and plants; to have a spiritual connection; to be diminished when
> > the land is trampled on and ignorantly invaded.
> >> Look at how we have managed custody of our own (stolen) lands, here
> > in our cities and degraded, agricultural areas - we know only how to
> > exploit.
> >> I am fed up with reading this correspondence, couched in economic
> > terms but informed by ugly, masked racism. From now on, could it be
> > limited to the facts?
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
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