By Colin Tatz
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Extra resources for Aboriginal Suicide Is Different: A Portrait of Life and Self-Destruction
In the late 1980s, Harry Eastwell confirmed the ‘low risk of suicide among the Yolgnu of the Northern Territory’ (1988, 338). Hunter and others state that ‘some three decades ago the suicide of an Indigenous Australian was a rare occurrence’ (1999, 91). Richard Kimber told the RCIADIC, in Central Australia, ‘there is no hard evidence that in traditional society Aborigines committed suicide’. 4 Dr Lester Hiatt, former reader in anthropology at Sydney University, who has worked at Maningrida (in the Liverpool River region of Arnhem Land) for more than 40 years, cannot recall a single case of, or reference to, suicide — before mid-1998, when the first occurred.
Protection, in earnest and in great legislative detail, began in Victoria in 1869 and 1886, in Western Australia in 1886, in New South Wales in 1909, in South Australia in 1911, in the Northern Territory in 1910 and 1911, and in Tasmania in 1912. Most of these laws were predicated on the philosophy of ‘soothing the dying pillow’ of a race near extinction. Given that there was a widespread assumption that Aborigines were dying out, settlers fulfilled the prophecy by acting to ensure that such was indeed the outcome.
At the turn of the century, white parents began making complaints to schools about their children having to sit next to ‘niggers’. Some teachers agreed to accept Aborigines, provided they were ‘clean, clad and courteous’. Others would not have any. In 1900, John Perry, the Minister for Education, endorsed one teacher’s stance not to accept Aboriginal children; this action became officially justified as ‘the will of the people with the Minister’s sanction’ (Tatz 1995, 189–90). This practice of ‘exclusion on demand’ could be initiated by teachers or white parents.