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Inside Teaching : August 2010
CLOSING THE GAP Inside Teaching | August 2010 INDIGENOUS INSIGHT 12 Why do we position Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people in Australian society, or in the pecking order if you like, in the way we do? I think we’d all agree that for the last couple of centuries, most Indigenous Australians have been seen as the lowest of the low, relegated to the bottom of our society. Excluded by distance, poverty and being different, we’ve conveniently kept Indigenous Australians out of sight and out of mind, but is that still the case? Let’s take a brief look at the stories that are peddled by the media. Overwhelmingly and, I would argue, increasingly since the intervention in the Northern Territory in 2007 by the Commonwealth government under John Howard, those stories portray Indigenous people as violent, alcoholic, lazy and dumb ‘good for nothings.’ Of course, there are always a few alternative stories about Indigenous skill, usually in sport, particularly in the major football codes, but these are the exceptions to the rule. Alongside the mass of negative media stories and the few positive ones, though, there’s now a new one: ‘closing the gap.’ This latest catchcry, as Kevin Rudd put it in his parliamentary address in February last year, when he was Prime Minister, is about ‘(closing) the gap between Indigenous and non- Indigenous Australians...in health, in housing, in educational opportunity and attainment, in employment.’ It’s a beautiful rhetorical thing, this ‘closing the gap’: it keeps things nice and simple, and calls us to action to ‘make a difference.’ I’m sure we all want to do our bit, but how many of us have actually stopped and asked ourselves what ‘closing the gap’ means? What are we, as individuals, actually doing that will ‘make a difference’? What is actually changing for Indigenous Australians? The media provides a brief glimpse into some of the change that is occurring with ‘good’ news stories about the wonders being wrought by the fortunate few who have been allocated the, usually fnancial, resources needed to effect change in a very short time. The spread of such resources is, of course, very limited; the pilot initiatives are Building respect is the critical frst step in closing the gap, explains JEANNIE HERBERT. Without that, nothing will change.