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The Indigenous community is awash with violence.

I’ve chosen to put this post on my politics blog rather than OnDusk because the content is ugly. I would caution a reader to not go any further if they have concerns about graphic content in relation to violence against women. I do not intend to write much more on this issue but have decided to on this occasion because I was recently asked for my thoughts on ‘how to work with Indigenous men to reduce violence against women’, and I’d like to attempt a response longer than the 140 char Twitter limit permits.

[Updated – 27 May 2014 – Clarification -By no means is this an essay – these were my thoughts at 3am prior to packing to travel to Melbourne for the Emerging Writers Festival. This is longer than a tweet, but much less than what it would take to draft my thesis – they are my thoughts and I have removed previously embedded tweets to ensure I have not inadvertently misrepresented anyone in the course of expressing my thoughts.]

I no longer work in Indigenous policy development, or service delivery – nor am I undertaking any studies or research, or assisting others to achieve their goals.

I am providing my thoughts based on my work experiences developing and delivering services to urban, rural and remote communities across Australia. This was my work for 30 years – I am now a writer and interested in developing arts based projects, screen writing and production and direction.

Thanks for reading.

The reasons for violence towards Indigenous women (and some men) have emerged as a critical area of research and frequently discussed – and reasons include lack of respect for the Indigenous community and culture;  failure to pay just compensation to the Stolen Generation;  institutionalized racism; unresolved trauma; ongoing injustice and oppression;  marginalization and lack of equitable economic opportunities;  loss of culture; and land dispossession, to name a few.

The violence takes all forms – from emotional blackmail, and lateral violence to extreme examples  most accurately described as torture, and to the most tragic of all, where violence leads to death.

Scenario one:

Of the females who commenced the combined arts/law degree – eight were under 25, six were single mothers, four were married mothers and three were lesbians.

By the end of the degree only the lesbian women were still with the same partner. Some additional kids had been produced, but none of the women on that university course were still with their original partners by the time they finished both degrees.

Reasons for changes in domestic arrangements – their men felt diminished, and all the students at some time faced opposition to their studies from partners, kids and in one case from her mother who sided with the son in law that time spent at home was better than years spent pursuing a degree. When her daughter was killed in a headon vehicle collision ten years later her mother and her ex partner both cited her insistence on tertiary study as a contributing factor in the daughter’s death eight years after she graduated.

 Scenario two

This involves a rural community, where women would check themselves into the women’s shelter before their men returned from the annual football trip over a long weekend because traditionally, domestic violence would spike on the closing Monday night.

 Scenario three

Jaw fractures and orbital fractures in remote parts of the NT are often cited as the worst in Australia. Jaw fractures are a nasty injury which can occur in a number of physical altercations, and just as easily in a robust defence of a netball, as in the home. But orbital fractures are not easy to come by. They’re common in car accidents when the face comes into contact at high speed with the dashboard. Or a person is struck on the side of the head with a blunt object with great force.

 A fire stick injury – and I had never heard of this before – is when a thick piece of wood, such as branch is taken from an open fire and used in an assault. In addition to fractures, there is also the risk of third degree burns. And then there’s the injuries from boiling water – which can come from a billy on an open fire, from an electric kettle boiled, emptied and boiled again, or from being held under a scalding shower.

When women are burned, the wounds require specialized treatment. A burns compression suit is expensive, costing hundreds if not thousands of dollars. These stretchy Caucasian flesh-coloured suits also require special care: they need to be changed, washed and maintained in a very specific way.

 Imagine a person with severe burns who lives in a community, average temperature 38c, no air conditioning, no washing machine, and no regular access to a nurse to change dressings. Under those circumstances, the burns victim may not even be issued with one of those precious suits. The suits serve a very important purpose that is not cosmetic. It is to ensure the patient retains limb mobility when they heal, otherwise they will be incapacitated for life. These are the forgotten people, scarred, maimed and out of sight.

I first heard about these incidents from a burns unit nurse, who was in despair because she could find no one to advocate for these women from remote communities – who suffered horrendous injuries, sometimes more than once, like the time she treated burns to a woman’s head who still had the staples in from the last bout of domestic violence – and their very specific needs. She had used her initiative to find me and had a collection of photos which she spread across the table. I have never seen anything like it – and of course it included children which I am simply not going to detail, because we can all imagine the absolute worst case scenarios.

Ugly. Violence in the extreme. Horrific and though these examples tend to be in remote locations, are more common than is reported in the media.

When violence against women is raised, discussions might cover the first scenario, with references to how the men feel oppressed and marginalized and take it out on their partners with emotional blackmail, economic deprivation or physical violence.

Or scenario two, where men are traumatized and disempowered because they no longer have traditional roles as shearers and fencers.

But rarely are people talking about scenario three where due to loss of culture and access to lands, mostly men but certainly some perpetrators are women, are engaging in extreme violence, off the scale violence, so horrendous and nightmare inducing and potentially damaging to the community at large, that people exercise caution rather than talk about it.

And what is the response beyond night patrols, and taking recourse in more police stations and prisons to at least provide relief and safety?

We know why people feel bad about themselves, and how that can manifest itself in a myriad of ways, from self harm, suicide and violence towards their loved ones and even complete strangers.

I also am well aware that people feel personally slighted, depressed or enraged if the blame for the violence is only applied to the Indigenous community, rather than the violence in word, thought and deed that is showered down upon the community in every insult, every incidence of being spat on, overlooked, denied service or justice, or shackled by paternalism and the ongoing open wound of blatant racism.

The threats to water down the Racial Discrimination Act was a cause of extreme anxiety within the Indigenous community. It is not an exaggeration to suggest some would have regarded the exposure draft as posing a real threat of physical violence from non Indigenous people.

So why are we looking to the corrosive elements outside of the community to do anything about the violence inflicted in scenarios such the above?

Thanks to the media we can clearly see that violence is against all women, not just the black women, by black men.

Women, children and some men are in direct physical harm from those they are related to or in a relationship with. And some victims, some entire communities, are in no position to fix themselves.

I was asked, what’s my starting point. My response is if I am working in that area – and I have from time to time, I look to provide practical, immediate aid.

Addressing domestic violence doesn’t mean that other areas to build up people’s self worth, and addressing their trauma, are ignored, but without armies of culturally relevant counselors and access to locally based therapy, the first response must be to ensure the victims physical safety.

When someone says to me, we need to campaign to stop the continuance of family separations and ongoing stolen generations, address oppression of men, and the healing of our community, and the outrage at the lack of justice reinvestment, rehabilitation and support services, and the proliferation of prisons, by the point of the discussion, forum, conference, and tweet debate, when we all agree racism is the underlying cause of severe injury and death amongst Indigenous women, this is usually the end note on which the conversation about violence towards (mostly) women concludes.

Without some consensus on where to start – and maybe it needs to be separate conversations – or even agreement that there will be a start and we need not first ensure we don’t feel personally attacked in the process of helping the most vulnerable, until we get to that point, my thoughts are with the forgotten women, who may one day sustain injuries so severe they die, but until then, some of them are burning in hell.

I am only interested in real conversations. For this reason, mental health problems, alcohol and substance misuse, community politics and the culture of violence, eg suggestions that men or women ‘deserve’ to be assaulted, needs to considered. What is the nature of the  problem and what are the short, medium and long term solutions?

I have seen a mens’ group in operation – run by ex perpetrators of domestic violence. They were up front about their personal experiences. As one commented, everyone knows us, it’s a small town. It’s no secret we used to beat our women.

It was a small group who initiated it and it grew to a much larger group. It was culturally based, and few details were available to women. I asked my cousin, what could he tell me about the group and his message was simple – we know what violence is, and we decided as men to stop, but we don’t hide the fact we were once physically violent towards our partners and were not providing a safe and healthy home life for our children.

One of the benefits of this group was they began to take trips away to meet men in other centres to talk about violence, and again the discussions weren’t shared with me.

This group operated with no funding and in the absence of any professional counseling.

My last contact with the group was twelve of them workshopped one day and produced a cd with one song – it was about being men, what it meant to them – and it was the number one daily request at the local radio station for months.

In closing, I’ll repeat this is not my definitive work on violence but are the sum of my thoughts for now.

Thanks for reading.

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The Guardian – Comment is free

Friday 14 February 2014 15.37 AEST

 Demonising people of colour is no way to make society safer via @GuardianAus

By Siv Parker

The alleged gang rape of a western Sydney teenager has been almost entirely framed in terms of race. We have to do better.


Posted in the Comments section:

‘You need to learn from us, we can write thousands of words on the subject without a single mention of the origin of the attackers-‘

Police reopen two thousand gang rape cases

Amelia Hill and Tony Thompson

The Observer, Sunday 4 April 2004

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2014 Australian of the Year

Adam Goodes mixes sorrow with celebration on Australia Day

Having been crowned Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes said he was extremely honoured to receive the award, describing himself as a ”very proud indigenous man” keen to fight racism in Australia.

What is the Australian of the Year Award?

Australia Day … is Survival Day

List of massacres of Indigenous Australians [1789 – 1928]

Please open with care. Please note, this link provides details of the death of hundreds of people, which is a small number of the thousands of Indigenous people who died.

Records are incomplete, and in some cases were destroyed to avoid punishment of those who committed these crimes. For many years this information was not freely available, was disputed until evidence was irrefutable, and many Australian’s continue to be reluctant to confront these shameful events in Australia’s history. 
They will not be forgotten.

Though incomplete, this Map of massacres provides an idea of the scale of the massacres.

The Stolen Generations are the Indigenous children who were stolen from their families. More links:

National Sorry Day Committee – Stolen Generations

Reconcilation – Stolen Generations Fact Sheet 

Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

On 10 August 1987 Prime Minister Hawke announced the formation of a Royal Commission to investigate the causes of deaths of Aboriginal people while held in State and Territory gaols. The Royal Commission was established in response to a growing public concern that deaths in custody of Aboriginal people were too common and poorly explained.

General information about Indigenous Australians and forced location onto designated areas: known as reserves & missions.


Why it’s time to redefine Australia Day

Can we celebrate our nationhood in a spirit of genuine reconciliation? When acknowledgement of past wrongs is accompanied by a monumental gesture of racial progress?

Aamer Rahman (Fear of a Brown Planet) – Reverse Racism

Youtube link   Twitter: @aamer_rahman



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Getting down to one week out from the Federal election and there are more questions than details on Indigenous policies.

A rundown of recent announcements, in brief …


The ABC Vote Compass site provides a snapshot per electorate of which seats are ‘least’ and ‘most in favour’ of the statement Australian constitution should recognise indigenous people as Australia’s First inhabitants.

In a clear difference to the recently confirmed bipartisan support for a referendum on Constitutional Recognition to take place in the first term , the Greens announced support for a Treaty.


Has bipartisan agreements on CTG shut the door to leaders in Indigenous health seeking support for the Building on Ciosing the Gap platform

and the NACCHO ten-point Investing in Healthy Futures for Generational Change plan ?


It has been asked more than once if the era of the large land councils is coming to a natural end. Have they outlived their usefulness?

In keeping with past changes of government, should the Liberals achieve election victory in two weeks time, the focus will be on the ALRA (NT) Act 1976.

[ This is a Commonwealth act because the NT is a territory rather than a state, where different councils and acts apply. ]

More specifically, the federal government, the NT land councils, the NT government and the Traditional Owners (TOs) focus will fall to section: ALRA S20.A.

There’s already been years of reviews about devolving powers to TOs to speed up negotiations over land use agreements and exploration applications, leases and licences.

But the lack of capacity for alternative structures will curb any enthusiasm to dismantle the large councils – and both major political parties have voiced continued support for the larger structures to supply the administrative and financial management grunt to the smaller regional land councils.

NLC Chairman, Wali Wunungmurra, endorsed Senator Scullion’s comments of the Council’s place in the Top End landscape.

– NLC Full Council Meeting, Timber Creek NT June 2013

NLC Monthly Newsletter August 23

Future dealings of individual communities with their respective land councils depend on cooperative arrangements between land councils, the NT, state and federal governments. That’s where the energy for negotiations will be spent if the economic agenda is to be played out in the desired timeframes.

Communities and governments want results soon. They want action on their economic plans, and progress made with the funding allocations.


  • More details came to light on the proposed Indigenous Advisory Council, that would have a specific economic and commercial focus; was not intended to be a representative body; and membership was being canvassed. [Mundine]
  • Bipartisan support for the creation of a new Indigenous Policy Productivity Commission. [Pearson]


A name that will soon be very familiar to those following Indigenous policy reforms: Jawun.

The Jawun Indigenous Corporate Partnerships have been operarating for some time, and provides some background to yesterday’s $5m pledge of support from Tony Abbott for the ‘8 Empowered Communities’ taking part in the Jawun Empowered Communities initiative.

The initiative marks a new direction in Indigenous affairs and unless they are members of one of the communities who’ve opted in to the arrangement, observers will not be across the finer details of the program.

Regions are Cape York, the central coast of NSW, inner Sydney, Goulburn Murray, East Kimberley, West Kimberley, APY/NPY Lands, and Northeast Arnhem Land.

The community must make their own decisions.

It would seem that the 8 communities are signatories to the Jawun Empowered Communities initiative for that reason. Under this model, the price of admission is wanting to be part of the Initiative.

Underlying principles: ( as reported in the media and participants websites)

  • Movement on economic reform is driving these policy reforms.
  • Communities must already be at a point where they are ready to opt-in to the program.
  • There needs to be local leadership to engage with. Someone needs to be nominated, and effective as being the person in charge. They are the contact point, the local driver and the interface between community and corporate interests.

This is a significant break from the familiar custom of outsiders having the job of engaging a sometimes receptive and other times hostile community, and needing local agreement on business plans, land use proposals etc.

Years of Indigenous community advice confirmed by the ineffectiveness of efforts to do without it,  that nothing will be achieved unless locals make their own decisions are enabled by an initiative that if in keeping with past practices says ‘call us when you are ready’.

Leadership is a volatile subject – the federal election being just such an example – and there’s just as much speculation and vitriol in Indigenous affairs. 

The other issue that inevitably arises is ‘representation’. Queue references from media, researchers and community members alike to the National Congress, and draw parallels with ATSIC and the NIC.

It’s worth noting who served on this previous advisory council. The NIC advised beyond economic development, but the initial savage criticism faded once the Indigenous community realized who was appointed. The NIC met regularly for four years before being decommissioned.

Remote polling booths have now commenced in the Northern Territory.

Please advise of any corrections or feedback. Questions are welcome, and can be posted anonymously  at 



Promising prosperity



” When will learning an aboriginal language/dialect become part of standard curriculum in all Australian public schools rather than learning European languages? “
Previously posted on
I will answer as a lay person, though I’ve worked with linguists for years.

Of the 250+ languages that existed and the many Indigenous dictionaries now available online & in hardcover, approximately 150 remain in use across Australia. 
Indigenous kids are increasingly multi lingual, but Indigenous languages are only taught in discreet schools, where the traditional language is in regular use and the school supports a bilingual education system.
Aboriginal people also speak dialects that are combinations of languages, for example Light Warlpuri, and the old Darwin dialect (mixture of language, Kriol, Greek, Malay etc) and the language common to the more heavily populated ‘settled’ areas is Aboriginal English.


Definition of Aboriginal English: ‘distinctive features of accent, grammar, words and meanings, as well as language use’… depending on how strong the ‘old’ language continues to be used in that region.



Features include the way the English words are pronounced and some English words have slightly different meanings, the sentence structure is different, and speakers may include cultural references unique to time & place, and/or common to the shared Indigenous experience.
The extent of use may not be obvious, because speakers will tend to revert back to standard English – out of courtesy, but also because of the stigma associated with using it because it sounds ‘wrong’ and tempts ‘correction’.

That’s a great sadness for me because the nature of this way of speaking is very enjoyable. It is a very clever language, and uses expressions that don’t exist in English.


I would suggest that most regions would benefit more from instruction in how Aboriginal people communicate (can include language, hand signs, head movements) rather than a specific language.

If this stopped people from correcting children and adults on how to ‘speak correctly’, this would go a long way to improving how black & white people communicate.


Interactive map to give an idea of how many languages groups covered Australia 
NB: data is incomplete, some boundaries are disputed but the map continues to be the most accessible and widely used. 


This is a great resource – ‘Australian Aboriginal Languages’ – I’ve been keeping an eye on this project for over 10 years and it started long before I came across it – it’s great to see how much material is included now:

I was recently asked “Do you think all Australian school children should be taught about their local Indigenous mob and if so, what would be the best way to implement this?”
This is my response posted earlier onto the Q & A site ask/fm.
On education, I think all Australian school children should have the best quality education possible, and that includes learning about Australian history from prior to colonial times up to the present day Indigenous policies, and supplemented by learning from local people about the Indigenous culture in their region.


Meeting a group of elderly people who share their stories over a day or so, would be more meaningful if participants also understood the history and impact of 200+ years of colonialism and government policy. 

Without that perspective it’s an interesting day with charming people but it wont automatically lead to cultural appreciation or meaningful respect. Participants will never know why the elders they met (for lunch; for their ILUA mandated induction training; in NAIDOC Week) live in poverty in the black suburb for example, or more broadly why Indigenous disadvantage exists.


Cultural awareness built into every school curriculum means that Indigenous kids are not ‘other people’.


Even with the extraordinary jump in achievement of many Indigenous scholars, professionals, businesses etc, the interface between black and white is dominated by nonIndigenous advocates. Media and the wider community will continue to prefer the Indigenous world to be filtered – through activists, lawyers, anthropologists, doctors, sporting teams – because it avoids discomfort arising from the presumption that discussions with an Indigenous person are based around ‘anger, guilt and compensation claims’. 
In this equation Indigenous people continue to be ‘other’, and can be cut out of the picture altogether, never enjoying the social status, career success or personal satisfaction of achieving outcomes that the advocates experience on their behalf.


School children today wont labour quite so detrimentally under these archaic social divisions because they are familiar with each other, and recognise their cultural differences because it was just part of growing up. 

They share the school community, even if they are not best friends and go to each others’ birthday parties.


The relationship building wasn’t from court cases and mining leases, and reported on with degrees of bias by the media to a community divided on commercial, uninformed and prejudicial interests.


I support Indigenous kids having access to the very best schools available to them, to provide not only opportunities for themselves but because their school mates rather than growing up to be their advocates and employers, will have a future as their peers.

The annual Yothu Yindi cultural festival,  Garma 2013 was the site for a glimpse of major Aboriginal land management and economic development reforms flagged in separate pre-federal election announcements from prominent Aboriginal identities, Warren Mundine and Noel Pearson.

Both spoke during their visit to Gulkulu in northeast Arnhem Land, of the potential for new bodies that would be the voice of Traditional Owners (TOs), and the interface between Indigenous communities and the Australian government.  .

Elevation of Warren Mundine

The Opposition Leader Tony Abbott announced that if successful in a months time, under a federal government he leads, Warren Mundine would head a new super advisory group.

The advisory group would be empowered to review existing Indigenous governance structures and with input from TOs, give regular advice to the Prime Minister on the right balance of governance arrangements for managing the land, the communities and individual aspirations.

 In his own words,

Warren Mundine’s speech to the Garma Festival Corporate Dinner [10 August]

Shooting an elephant: 4 Giant Steps


Indigenous Chamber of Commerce  –  7 Point Reform Agenda

Noel Pearson Launches  ‘8 Empowered Communities’

Noel Pearson made Garma the site to call on support for formation of a new statutory body ‘equivalent to a productivity commission for indigenous affairs’.

“The group, headed by respected national figures Noel Pearson and Galarrwuy Yunupingu, is urging the establishment of a new commonwealth statutory body equivalent to a productivity commission for indigenous affairs”.

Cape York Institute:  8 Empowered Communities

In a long address, Pearson also became a face to key Macklin Indigenous policy initiatives past and present, with an account of negotiations with the Labour Government to cut through barriers to secure more funding of the Cape York welfare reform trial, when it’s future was placed in jeopardy by it’s other significant funding body, the Queensland government.

Noel Pearson (Chairman of the Cape York Group) ‘With Jenny Macklin and the Magical Oratory’

Without further detail it is difficult to know if these reform proposals – one an election promise, the other an aspiration – are mutually exclusive, or of the kind that are able to be fashioned to operate together.

Both proposals would impact on existing statutory authorities and the only national Indigenous representative advisory body, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.

The list of Indigenous statutory authorities includes many familiar names: the IBA, Indigenous Hostels Limited, AIATSIS, ORIC, the TSRA and all of the Indigenous land councils.

Aboriginal land councils have histories of being under review.

In the Northern Territory from the Reeves review, to the HORCATSIA inquiry into the Reeves Report in the 1990s, up till the current government and the denial of a request from Traditional Owners within the Northern Land Council for the power to establish a break away land council in the Northern Territory. In NSW, the NSWALC is currently undergoing a 30 yr ‘generational’ review.

The Liberal party election promise of a new advisory group has taken the Indigenous community by surprise, and social media has been running hot on the choice and the selection process for the leadership of potentially the most powerful Indigenous advisory group in the country.

Along the path to achieving functional and effective Indigenous representation, lies the bodies that were established and dismantled.

Layering of committees is nothing new, with the creation of the NIC and the abolition of ATSIC still fresh in people’s minds.

Announcements of new ways of doing business come on the tail of recent elections of the second term of National Congress.

During the lives of these representative bodies, another strata of Aboriginal voice emerged, in the form of appointed advisors.

Indigenous life is ruled by committee

Boards can consist of members gained from membership votes, ministerial appointment or sponsorship. The result is committees of high profile people and some who only emerged through a committee building process.

There are also high level committees that fly underneath the Aboriginal community radar altogether, and their membership, activities and responsibilities are not common public information, and if not for public reporting obligations would operate completely beyond the Indigenous communities’ awareness. This lack of transparency is a rich pool for community suspicion and resentment.

Community members who build up a portfolio of public life and advisory roles run the risk of being considered too far removed from their community and too close to government, and need to constantly validate themselves with demonstrations of a strong cultural identity and working with communities, to others who will never have access to these forums at a senior level and demand high standards from those given the opportunity.

It’s a vexed issue for some, where being accused of self promotion takes the form of shunning in the Aboriginal community. The appropriateness of anyone putting up a hand, or accepting appointment can attract more interest than the workings of a new advisory or statutory body.

And here is the quandary with building advisory bodies.  Invited to contribute off the cuff about who should be in a leadership role the Indigenous community by applying variables of selection criteria, priorities and skill sets would most likely produce tens if not hundreds of candidates.

It could include names from existing advisory groups like National Congress, and others with memberships both elected and appointed. It may also throw up new identities, in the form of Traditional Owners who believe a new structure offers better opportunities for their land rich, cash poor remote economies.

The Indigenous vote

Warren Mundine is prominent in Australian political life with a career made remarkable by the transition in a matter of years from a term as National President of the Australian Labour Party to the promise of becoming the most senior Indigenous adviser to a Liberal federal government.

Abbott has expressed the strength of his support for Mundine, explaining his decision to create a new advisory group and appoint Mundine as the head was based on his long friendship with a ‘kindred spirit’.

Another demonstration of government to community engagement is the strong and enduring support the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd continues to enjoy from Aboriginal people for his leadership on the National Apology to the Stolen Generations.

However one need only look to the stunning victory of the CLP in the 2012 Northern Territory elections for confirmation that Indigenous constituents are not rusted on ALP supporters.

A sidenote to Indigenous policy reforms: NT Chief Minister, Adam Giles campaigned hard on promises to constituents that if successful, a CLP government would revisit TOs deep dissatisfaction with the previous NT government’s amalgamation of Aboriginal community government councils into ‘mainstream’ super shires. Traditional owners have argued since amalgamation that the power to manage their communities was taken from their hands.

Four weeks out from the federal election and the details of these new reforms – one announced as part of an election campaign, the other a call for support – have yet to be made available for scrutiny. To date there have been no responses from state and territory governments or Aboriginal land councils.

Traditional Owners wait to hear of any changes to how they have a say – on a pathway they can trust – to greater economic returns from their land.

Depending on whether bipartisan support is gained for a new ‘Indigenous productivity commission’, it’s foundation in the eight signed up communities – which include the Cape York and north East Arnhem land – would form a considerable powerbase of land, culture and community, and allay some concerns that the voice of remote Australia was missing from the table.

It also remains to be seen how the needs of 80% of the Indigenous population that do not live in remote areas and yet endure the same levels of disadvantage are included alongside the remote interests.

On the face of it, any body – an advisory group or an Indigenous productivity commission – that had the ear of government and the voice of the Traditional Owner fits the ideal relationship to unlock the economic potential in Aboriginal land and native title interests.

The Indigenous community waits for more information on what seems certain to be sweeping Indigenous policy reform, and is alive with speculation as to who could or should be tapped on the shoulder next.