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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bev Manton: Remembering the silence

Bev Manton received national attention with her recent NAIDOC Week speech in her capacity as Chairperson of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSW ALC).

Bev Manton, a member of the Worimi nation, is a strong and respected advocate for community development, particularly in relation to employment, housing, health and education. Involved with the NSWALC since its inception, Bev is a founding member and co-ordinator of the Karuah Local Aboriginal Land Council and worked as the LALC Co-ordinator for four years before being elected to NSWALC.

Karuah is a small township on the banks of the Karuah River. Karuah Local Aboriginal Land Council started up a boat building project a year or two ago for young Aboriginal people. The project has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the New South Wales Department of Education and Training under the Elsa Dixon employment program. This will allow the project to target Aboriginal students in high schools.

As Chairperson of NSWALC, Bev Manton represents her people on a number of Boards including the Worimi Conservation Lands, Aboriginal Community Environment Network and the Northern Alliance.

Bev concluded her NAIDOC Week speech with a quote from Martin Luther King:
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Miss Eagle takes these words to heart and examines her conscience.

Miss Eagle has had periods of examination of conscience since Howard's Winter Solstice (the winter of our discontent?) Shock and Awe Campaign began. As readers of this blog know, John Howard comes in for a great deal of criticism here - and the most vehement criticism has been for his military intervention in the Northern Territory.

But - if one tries to stick to the teachings of Jesus Christ - one cannot overlook self-criticism. Howard is Howard but what about me? Every week in a little Anglican church in Upper Gully, Miss Eagle - along with her community of faith - says these words:
Merciful God, our maker and our judge,
we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed,
and in what we have failed to do:
we have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves;
we repent and are sorry for all our sins.
Father, forgive us.
Strengthen us to love and obey you in newness of life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Miss Eagle doesn't get too deeply into the sins of thought, word and deed. Not that brave. She absolves herself re the criticism of Howard because she recalls how Jesus referred to Herod as an old fox [Luke 13:32]. This was real political comment from a man whose family had long had no reason to think kindly of Herod: they had been forced to flee with their lives from his forebear's military and a family member had been murdered by Herod as well.
But what about those sins of omission? Miss Eagle is not one of those brilliant, compassionate souls like John Boffa, formerly of Anyiningyi Congress in Tennant Creek and now with Central Australian Congress in Alice Springs. She is not as brave and persevering as those brilliant talented teachers, mainly women, that she remembers teaching at outstations and communities across the Barkly Tableland.
Miss Eagle has tried to listen, to learn, to befriend, and to support and just generally putting herself in the way of things so that she might help if the occasion arose. Now, she is older and finds herself living in the outer suburbs of Melbourne in a predominantly white and anglo society. She hasn't got what it takes to commit to continuing activity in an organisation. For the first time in her life, there are no Aboriginal people just around the corner or up the street - not that she knows about, anyway. So, here she is, in splendid isolation sitting on her backside hitting the keyboard to make her protest, to demand justice. Has it all been enough? Is this enough? Will one day the list of those sins of what might have been done - but wasn't - rise up to haunt her? Will one day the list of omissions haunt us all?