Guantanamo in the Desert – Yuendumu’s “Men’s Safe House” folly
This is a guest post from my friend Frank Baarda, who writes his occasional and always humorous and insightful Musical Dispatches from the Front from Yuendumu, a small town 300 or so kilometres north-west of Alice Springs that I lived in for a few years. Frank and I have enjoyed many a good discussion – and better arguments – over the years.
I wrote about the $21 million folly that was Men’s Safe House at Yuendumu here back in November 2008.
Here is a recent spray from Frank from late June on the same topic and more.
(If you want to subscribe to Frank’s Musical Dispatches drop me a line and I’ll pass your email address on to him)
Nós nos encontramos novamente amigos
On the periphery of a jungle clearing, a group of New Guinea Highlanders gaze longingly skywards. In the clearing there is an aeroplane made from palm fronds. It is a decoy which the Highlanders hope will persuade a plane to land and disgorge its munificent cargo. The Highlanders are Cargo Cultists. They are participating in one of the most poignant scenes I have ever seen on film.
That is how I remembered the scene in the film Mondo Cane.
“Elke herinering werd een diamant, en zij sleep er nog telkens niewe kanten aan.”
Every memory became a diamond, and forever more she polished new facets onto them.
If you missed it in 1962 or you didn’t exist back then: through the magic of Youtube you can now see it for yourself, unaltered by the vagaries of memory….
At the time Mondo Cane was released, the Australian Minister for Territories, Paul Hasluck was to visit Yuendumu.
Unlike at present, when visitors and politicians often arrive at our airstrip to be met by no one and have to summon a ride ‘into town’ by mobile phone, back then the far fewer visitors were met with anticipation and some pomp and ceremony.
A group of respected old men had been issued with new shirts, trousers and shiny black shoes. The importance of the visitor had been impressed upon them. A favourable impression would be the key to future federal funding for Yuendumu. A key to Stronger Futures.
There they were at the dusty airstrip all standing in line, Hasluck’s plane taxied in, a door opened, an equerry installed some footsteps and raised a small Australian flag, the Minister stepped off the plane, at which point an excited Jungarrayi broke ranks stepping forward with an extended welcoming hand and exclaimed “ Money! Money!”
Several Dispatches ago I told you about the plane load of bureaucrats that landed on Yuendumu airstrip.
The bureaucrats attended an unattended meeting.
There’s a meetin’ here tonight….
Last week I happened to be at Yuendumu airstrip when a charter plane landed which disgorged three passengers. I offered them a lift ‘into town’ that they gratefully accepted as ‘they’d made no arrangements’.
They had come to Yuendumu to inspect the Men’s Safe House.
At the beginning of the Intervention a contractor installed a converted shipping container as a ‘Men’s cooling-off place’. At the time I came to the conclusion that the ‘cooling-off place’ had been designed by the same architect that had designed Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay.
The several strands of barbed-wire at the top of the chain-wire mesh fence, the padlocked chain on the gate and the spotlights surrounding the Spartan building are reminiscent of TV images I had seen during the time that David Hicks was receiving similar consular assistance from the Australian Government as Julian Assange is currently receiving.
I also found it hard to envisage Warlpiri men embracing the facility as a ‘cooling-off’ place.
The intervention had tens of these so called ‘cooling-off’ places installed throughout the NT. The contractor made a killing.
The perceived and implied need for these ‘cooling-off’ places is yet another way remote Aboriginal communities have been stigmatized.
No discussion or consultation with locals preceded the decision to install these facilities.
One word: GRATUITOUS
I drove the two men and the lady that had emerged from the plane to the padlocked ‘cooling-off’ place. I found out it had been renamed the ‘Men’s Safe House’.
The lady exclaimed: “It looks like it has never been used!”
Well spotted! It never has.
One word: SUPERFLUOUS
An hour later the charter plane took off on its way to another community made safer by the erection of an NT Intervention Safe House.
To pay a local organisation or individual to inspect the unused Safe House, take a few photos and knock a few walls to check for muluru (termites) would require a paradigm shift the Intervention is incapable of.
A much more likely scenario is that a plane load of experts, consultants, mentors and trainers lands at Yuendumu airstrip to run a course leading to a Safe House Inspector’s Certificate.
One word: VISIONARY
Early yesterday morning the Australian Parliament passed the Stolen Futures Legislation.
One word: VISIONARY
In Brazil meanwhile they have introduced a scheme that allows prisoners to reduce their sentences by reading books.
“A person can leave prison more enlightened and with an enlarged vision of the world,” said Sao Paulo lawyer Andre Kehdi, who heads a book donation project for prisons. “Without doubt, they will leave a better person.”
Now that is what I call visionary!
So which is the Banana Republic ?
Mr. Tallyman tally me-banana …