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Writing and writers

Nov 22, 2017

“And still my family die.” Marie Munkara on the commodification of life and death on the Tiwi islands

The mission arrived one hundred and six years ago. Despite having a perfectly functioning society for thousands of years, they came to “Save” us, but since their arrival we have the highest incidence of suicide on the planet and domestic violence is rife. So what does that tell you? They were too busy coveting our souls to really Love Thy Neighbour weren’t they? We are not people to them, we are objects of religious zeal.

Bob Gosford — Likes birds and people, not necessarily in that order.

Bob Gosford

Likes birds and people, not necessarily in that order.

This is a guest post by author Marie Munkara, of Tiwi, Chinese & Rembarranga descent with extensive family connections through Arnhem Land, the Tiwi islands and Darwin.

Ten Tiwi people have died over the past two weeks.

These are ten family members that I will never see again.

Most died of preventable health problems. If I’d had the chance to ask I bet none of them were ready to die. And why?

Well I’ll tell you why.

Tiwi people are a multimillion dollar industry.

From health care, local government, missionaries, education, researchers and political parties who want our vote, hundreds (if not more) people have been employed to take care of us. As one of the largest Indigenous communities we help to sustain the Northern Territory economy. We are not people to them, we are a commodity.

The mission arrived one hundred and six years ago. Despite having a perfectly functioning society for thousands of years, they came to “Save” us, but since their arrival we have the highest incidence of suicide on the planet and domestic violence is rife.

So what does that tell you? They were too busy coveting our souls to really Love Thy Neighbour weren’t they?

We are not people to them, we are objects of religious zeal.

Millions is spent in medical research. They come and do their longitudinal studies ad nauseum, but, despite their filing cabinets full of data, renal failure, heart disease, diabetes are epidemic in our community.

Ninety per cent of our children start school with both ear drums perforated from Otitis Media. If they can’t hear the teacher they can’t learn, and if they can’t learn they don’t bother going to school.

Medical researchers study Tiwi people like they are animals in a zoo.

We are not people to them, we are subjects.

And still my family die.

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Marie Munkara was born on the banks of the Mainoru River in central Arnhem land and spent her early years on the Tiwi Islands, north of Darwin. Her first book (see  here, and my two-part interview from 2009 here and here) Every Secret Thing won the David Unaipon Award in 2008 and the NT Book of the Year Award in 2010. Her second novel, A Most Peculiar Act was published by Magabala Books in 2014 and was followed by children’s books published by Oxford University Press. Marie Munkara’s memoir, Of Ashes and Rivers That Run To The Sea was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Award in 2017. Marie is working on the mini-series for Every Secret Thing.

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