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In their fifth meeting, the group discusses stereotypes and expose their own prejudices. One participant wants to define what an Aboriginal person is, then expresses a strong resentment towards the 'benefits’ offered to 'welfare groups’.
With the dexterous use of parts of the discussion, the filmmaker has highlighted interesting aspects of group behaviour.
This clip shows a group of non-Indigenous adults participating in a Reconciliation Learning Circle in Sydney, New South Wales. As participants sit and talk about an excursion to inspect Aboriginal carvings a narrator introduces some of those involved. The participants then take up the narrative and debate issues of reconciliation and how to define ‘Aboriginal’. Darren, one of the participants, then broadens the discussion by talking about ‘immigrants’ and ‘all the welfare groups’ and asking ‘why do they get more than me?’, provoking a walkout by one participant.
Educational value points
- A range of opinions about defining Aboriginal identity are seen in the clip. Reconciliation Learning Circles such as the one shown were introduced across Australia in 1991 by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation and provided participants with the opportunity to share information and openly discuss issues affecting Indigenous people, with the aim of improving relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
- Although Darren suggests that Indigenous Australians receive more benefits than non-Indigenous Australians, the Australian Government document Commonwealth Expenditure on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (1995–96) states that ‘By any socio-economic indicator Indigenous Australians are, as a group, far worse off than non-Indigenous Australians … as high as present expenditure is, it is following decades of neglect and legal discrimination’ (www.aph.gov.au).
- The definition of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person provided by one of the participants reflects the Australian Government’s official working definition, which states that ‘An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person is a person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and is accepted as such by the community in which he (she) lives’. In 1983 the High Court accepted this definition.
- The observational style of filmmaking seen in the clip records people’s lives with minimal intervention from the filmmaker, a technique that invites viewers to interpret for themselves what they are watching. In this clip, the filmmaker also makes editorial decisions such as introducing Hugh and Darren, the two antagonists, and later cutting from Darren to show Hugh leaving the room seemingly in response to Darren’s provocative statements.
- The clip effectively portrays the crucial role that body language plays in communication. Darren uses body language to help get his message across, particularly when he crosses his arms, points his finger, leans forward in his chair and stabs at the desk with his fingers as he expresses his opinions. Hugh’s body language suggests that he disagrees with Darren when he walks out of the group without saying a word.
- Learning Circles, one of which is shown here, originated in Scandinavia in the early 1900s with the aim of creating an environment in which constructive democratic dialogue on a particular issue could take place. Rather than using trained teachers or experts the groups use a neutral facilitator, who may be a member of the group or someone provided by the organisation that has arranged the Learning Circle. Groups are generally limited to 15 participants.
- The clip is taken from Whiteys Like Us (1999), a documentary filmed in Sydney that follows 15 non-Indigenous Australians participating in an eight-week Aboriginal Reconciliation Learning Circle. Written and directed by Rachel Landers, the film was awarded the United Nations Media Award at the Melbourne International Film Festival in 1999 and was aired nationally on Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) in the same year.
A group of non-Indigenous adults are sitting at desks participating in a Reconciliation Learning Circle in Sydney.
Female participant 1 We can’t just discuss them as sort of sitting in a bit of Arnhem Land in their traditional way of life. Inasmuch as we’ve moved on in 200 years, they’ve moved on. And I think this is a complication in the reconciliation field.
Darren Well, that brings you to what defines an Aboriginal. You define that first, and then you can start working things out. I had this little discussion earlier – is an Aboriginal anyone who’s black? Any part black, is that an Aboriginal?
Female participant 1 Well, if…
Darren Or is an Aboriginal someone who is a native Indigenous Australian living and practising their culture and customs?
Female participant 1 Well, if…
Female participant 2 None of the above. They have to be a descendant of an Indigenous person. They have to be recognised by the community, the Aboriginal community, as such. And they have to identify themselves with them. They’re the three separate bits. And it doesn’t matter what colour they are.
Darren Why should we accept a one-64th Aborigine who lives and works in a white man’s world and has no connection with his culture or his history, why should we call him an Aborigine and give him all the same benefits as someone who…
Female participant 2 … in this country.
Darren No, no, no.
Female participant 1 You’ve got a very good question there.
Darren If they get the same benefits as every citizen in this country, they are Australian. If they get Aboriginal benefits, they are a native Indigenous person. They get more than what we do. OK. Go and take me out a bank loan for a house and see what I pay. See what an Aboriginal pays. Go and put me on social welfare. See how fast I get on as compared to how fast an Aboriginal gets on. This question, for a lot of Australians, is not just about Aboriginals. It is about immigrants, it is about all the welfare groups. Predominantly immigration and Aboriginals. Why do they get more than me?
One of the participants, Hugh, walks out.
Female participant 3 Having worked in community-based organisations and that for ten years, you see how people working in the field, dealing with real live people that have real live problems…
Darren So do white Australians. And that’s what they want to know…
Female participant 3 And they have opportunities. And they have the benefit. We have the social security systems.
Darren They don’t get the same opportunities as immigrants and Aborigines. They do not.
Female participant 3 Oh, really?
Darren Have you been on the dole? Have you been on the dole?
Female participant 3 Yes, I have.
Darren And it took you six weeks to get any money, didn’t it?
Female participant 3 Yes. So, that’s…
Darren Six weeks. It doesn’t happen to immigrants and it doesn’t happen to Aborigines. They can get a cheque right there and then.
Female participant 3 Immigrants now have to wait two years before they get any, Darren.
Darren They do now. That’s a new thing that’s been brought in in the last 12 months.
Female participant 2 ‘How dare somebody get more than me.’ That’s what it’s all about.
Participant That’s what it comes down to.
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