Ours is an Aboriginal family. We live a typical suburban life like 75% of indigenous people in Australia. Only one-quarter of Australian Aborigines live in a community or outstation, many of which are very well-run and allow the kids to have a Western education and to learn some of their ancient culture.
I have written before about the value of going out bush with Eddie and learning about his Aboriginal culture and ecology (au.christiantoday.com); and Mark Tronson has written about an Aboriginal ethnobotanist helping to increase our scientific knowledge (au.christiantoday.com).
Unfortunately, NONE of these values are taught to the kids in this particular community, where the parents' drug, alcohol and gambling problems take priority over kids' needs. Our children thank God every day for getting them out of 'that Hell'.
How can children be expected to sit still in class and learn if they are over-tired; if they are hungry; if they are anxious because there are constantly strangers at their house drinking and carrying on? They can't, and they don't.
We gave them real 'care'
When they came to us, all our children needed to be cleaned and taught how to shower and put on clean clothes each day. Their sore skin needed to be healed and their hair washed, brushed (tortuously and slowly) and cleansed of the ever-present lice. Not only did we need to 'feed them up' so their bones didn't show, but we also needed to teach them everything from blowing their noses, to sitting at a table and using cutlery, to having regular bed-times. And I mean everything. Having rules and boundaries – having adults who cared about what they were doing - was the strangest thing for them to understand.
We later found that they had deeper problems that we hadn't even imagined; learning and hearing difficulties, speech difficulties and other disadvantages that are still coming to light.
Description of 'Hell' in a heavenly country – can you believe it?
They had been living a life where they could walk around the streets late at night and early hours of the morning and no-one would care. No-one was looking for them because everyone was drunk or nowhere to be found. They learnt how to swear and fight before they learned the alphabet or how to count. The broken homes they came from were actually literally broken; broken windows, smashed walls, doors kicked in, graffiti on the walls. Before coming to us, they had never had proper beds they had always slept on a dirty mattress on the floor with no sheets or blankets.
They were living in poverty - can you believe it? In this 21st century Australia, this beautiful picturesque country! You don't have to go to Africa or India to see poverty because its right in our back yard, experienced by our own native people.
Many kids are born with intellectual problems, for example foetal alcohol syndrome, but they don't attend school regularly enough for anyone to diagnose them. The parents do not notice because they do not spend long enough with the kids, and anyway they see this type of behaviour as 'normal'. They don't know how to encourage kids to go to school or help with homework because they were not taught basic education, hygiene and nutrition themselves.
It's a vicious cycle that just keeps repeating itself over and over, generation after generation. Eddie and I often discuss this problem together.
This is the same community, only two hours away from Rockhampton, where Eddie lived over 30 years ago, and he had these same experiences himself, way back then.
Why is this still happening today?
Whose responsibility? No-one's or everyone's?
Of course there are some good people, black and white, working or living out on these indigenous communities who are trying to do the right thing. But what I see when I go there is that, overall, it's not working.
The individual parents are not innocent – they choose to drink, smoke and sniff glue and take other drugs while pregnant and they need to be made accountable; but they are often battling a violent situation themselves and have never seen a different life. Who educates THEM about the dangers to their unborn babies?
And in all of this where is the Queensland Department of child safety (DoCs)? Why aren't teachers reporting these parents? Why aren't police stepping in and enforcing the supposedly 'dry' (non-alcohol) community laws?
The communities themselves have Town Councils, and the authority of the Elders. Why are they not doing the right thing for their own people, and stepping up and stepping in when they should be, instead of ignoring the situation and letting it be swept under the carpet?
The government needs to be accountable also. Merely throwing money at the community is not the answer. For example, the parents do not even need to make their children breakfast or school lunches because it is all provided at the school. Why are these parents getting money for these children when it hardly ever gets spent on the kids? Out here in 'the real world', we parents – whether white or black - would never get away with this: the Department of Child Safety would knock on our door.
Some bureaucratic 'solutions' are not 'the answer'
I am just a small suburban Mum with some grand ideas, but I am heartened to read that highly respected Aboriginal leaders such as the lawyer and academic, Noel Pearson, have seen similar things in other communities, and are proposing similar (if even grander) possible solutions. (e.g. cyaaa.eq.edu.au/about-us; www.abc.net.au/lateline/)
Like him, I'm seeing funding going to things that are meant to benefit these communities; and I've seen ads on TV targeting indigenous parents to "send your kids to school on time"; and I've read how people are employed to educate parents about why it's so important to send kids to school. I agree that all this is important and necessary, but it is wasted money and effort if we don't also educate these indigenous parents about alcohol and drug abuse and neglect – now – in time to save the next generation from the same fate.
Pouring money into these communities as a band-aid is just not working. Soon the band-aid will fall off and reveal a big dirty wound that is every Australian's problem, whatever their colour or ethnic background.
Love and God's support has worked for us!
I do not have all the answers, but we are doing what we can in our small way, 'seven children at a time'.
I thank God every day for giving Eddie and me the strength to open our home and our hearts to give these kids the life they deserve, though it has not been easy.
God is so amazing with His plan; He knew our kids weren't going to be left in that awful situation. When they came to us they came to HIM also. I've been so blessed to see how well they have received Jesus into their lives and how much they love him and want to do well for him; and they are now thriving even though they have a way to go to catch up with their studies.
Matthew 19 verse 14 (KJV) says: "But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven."
Every day I pray for other children in similar situations. I hope that we can be an inspiration for others to turn to God to help break this cycle in their own families.
Tisha Williams is an indigenous home maker and mother on the Gold Coast / Tweed. He husband Edward is an indigenous painter, training to be a carpenter and teaches their children his language and dream time stories which have parallels in the Bible.
Tisha Williams' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/tisha-williams.html