August 24th, 2007

Chris Keeley

Long Jack Phillipus, an Aboriginal advocate in Papunya,

Indigenous people account for 2.7 percent of the Australian population, and by almost every measure they are worse off than the mainstream. Life expectancy is 17 years lower than the average Australian’s. They are 13 times as likely to be incarcerated, three times as likely to be unemployed and twice as likely to be victims of violence or to be threatened with violence. Almost all these indicators have gotten steadily worse since 1967, when indigenous Australians won citizenship.

Far-Reaching Policy for Aborigines Draws Their Fury

PAPUNYA, Australia, Aug. 18 — Since he walked out of the vast Gibson Desert in Australia in 1934 at the age of 12, Long Jack Phillipus has spent a lifetime helping his Aboriginal people slowly win rights from the white leadership. Then, this month, he saw the conservative government of Prime Minister John Howard abruptly throw the process into reverse. And he is angry.

“We should be the boss of our land, not that fellow from Parliament House,” Mr. Phillipus said.

Mr. Phillipus’s land is the sun-baked heart of Australia. His home is in Papunya, 170 miles from the regional center, Alice Springs, and more than 60 miles from the nearest paved road. For 40,000 years his people roamed free across the surrounding red sand scrub, and ties to the land still run deep.

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Almost everyone in the Northern Territory seems to agree that significant intervention is needed. And even if some of the policies are misguided, Ms. Anderson said, having the government engaged is better than the neglect of recent years. “We’re on a merry-go-round,” she said. “Every 30 years we seem to get off in the same place.”

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