Deer Woman is a work of immense power and restraint

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Caroline Wake, Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Performance, UNSW

Review: Deer Woman, Sydney Festival


One of the most exhilarating things about Wesley Enoch’s tenure as Artistic Director of the Sydney Festival has been the huge increase in the number of First Nations artists programmed, not only from Australia but also Canada and Aotearoa New Zealand. Festival audiences have had the opportunity not only to witness a local festival being decolonised, but also to listen to an increasingly global dialogue through and about First Nations performance.

Like Gabriel Dharmoo’s Anthropologies Imaginaires and Cliff Cardinal’s Huff in the 2017 festival, Deer Woman is a work written, directed, designed, composed, stage managed and performed by First Nations artists from Canada. And like these works, it too is anchored by a solo performance of fierce skill, focus and precision.

On entering the theatre, we see a sparse set: two screens stand at roughly 45 degrees to the audience and 90 degrees to each other; in between the screens, there is a camera on a tripod and a blue cooler. The screens display infrared footage of deer nosing about in the forest, their eyes glowing green. In the background, the Everly Brothers croon “Devoted to You,” “Walk Right Back,” and “Love Hurts.” The harmonies are beautiful but the titles and lyrics do not bode well.

Throughout Deer Woman, Cherish Violet Blood expertly balances the demands of cinematic and theatrical acting. Prudence Upton

Silence falls, except for the crickets, and Lila (played by Cherish Violet Blood) enters from between the screens. She puts on a hoody, opens the cooler, pulls out a can and cracks it open. It gives a satisfying hiss. “Hey, I’m back,” she says – apparently, we have already been conversing.

Having established that we are in the middle of something – though we are not sure what – Lila begins to set the scene. The first act introduces us to Lila’s girlfriend, Gloria. Lila tells how Gloria, who works at a halfway house, got free tickets to a performance and decided to take the women for an outing. Unbeknownst to her, it featured a woman hanging on a meat hook while a man fisted her. The audience gasps at the inappropriateness, but we are not off the metaphorical hook either.

Instead, Lila teases us about going to see the show, crying a little bit, exclaiming over its “power” and “importance,” and heading home feeling like a good person. “Enjoy your pain porno!” shouts Gloria as she and the women leave at interval. We, on the other hand, have already been warned that Deer Woman has no interval. How are we going to negotiate the next 90 minutes?

This mood of teasing, daring and warning the audience shifts into something happier in the second act. Lila stands – finally – and takes us back to her childhood. Her favourite people are Aunty Gary – her mother’s queer brother, who is described as “our only uncle and aunty; we’re really lucky he’s both” – and her sister Hammy.

We then learn about Lila’s sexual abuse, which she decides she can take as long as it keeps her little sister safe, and her young adulthood in the army. It is while she is away that Hammy goes missing. It seems that Lila was protecting a country that still does not protect its own. The third act deals with the aftermath of Hammy’s disappearance, including Lila’s detailed plans for revenge.

Deer Woman is a work of immense power – to invoke the theatregoer mocked in the first act – but also restraint. Tara Beagan’s script is immaculately structured, and the language is striking for its specificity (welfare pops, Gretzy, the Chinook, the Sally Ann), poetry (Bob is as “quiet as a stump” and Gary is a “pessimistic cheerleader”), and bleak humour (Gloria claims to attend the “uni of life – you graduate by not getting killed”).

Deer Woman excels because of its solo performer, Cherish Violet Blood. Prudence Upton

The set, by director and designer Andy Moro, is similarly effective. Most of the time, the live performer and the two screens are in sync but occasionally they decouple. One screen might dissolve into footage of the fairground while the other screen might freeze Blood’s face wearing a particular expression. The sound design is similarly understated: we hear the distant cries of people enjoying rides, crowds at a rally, and one sister singing the other to sleep.

None of this would matter though if the wrong person were cast as Lila and Deer Woman excels because Blood does. Throughout the entire show, Blood expertly balances the demands of cinematic and theatrical acting, combining subtle facial gestures within the frame with expansive physical ones beyond it. It is a consummate performance that oscillates between entertaining, confessing to, disciplining, daring and playing with the audience.

Within the context of this year’s festival, Deer Woman serves as an important counterpoint to Adam Lazarus’s Daughter, one of the most conservative shows – in form, content and politics – I have seen in some time. Indeed, I could not help but think of Daughter in the opening scenes, when Lila is describing Gloria’s disastrous outing to the theatre, which features a “white guy saying real rank stuff”. While both shows are solo performances that deal with gender and sexual violence, that is where the similarities end.

Whereas Daughter employs theatre to amplify the loudest voice in the room, i.e. that of the privileged straight man, Deer Woman puts a queer woman of colour centre-stage, has her survey the room and speak her desire to destroy it. Indeed, rather than the violence against women, it seemed to be the idea of women taking revenge that shocked the audience. People who had been sitting forward started to lean back, several people walked out, and one woman muttered to her companion “this is horrible.”

Deer Woman features a sparse set. Prudence Upton

Companies often grant reviewers only one ticket, meaning that I regularly see theatre by myself. When a show finishes I always walk briskly and purposefully to the car park or train station, informed by a lifetime of banal advice: walk as if someone is expecting you, keep your keys at the ready, call someone on your phone, don’t wear headphones, do wear shoes you can run in if need be.

But on the night of Deer Woman, I walk more slowly, open my chest and shoulders, feel the strength in my back. There is an army of big sisters out there, I think to myself, and we are coming for you. In the morning, news of Aiia Maasarwe’s murder would break and I would shrink back to my normal size. But for one glorious moment, I was – like Deer Woman – wild and free.


Deer Woman is being staged as part of the Sydney Festival until January 20.

ref. Deer Woman is a work of immense power and restraint – http://theconversation.com/deer-woman-is-a-work-of-immense-power-and-restraint-110096

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Refuge City, a new kind of city for our times

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Julian Bolleter, Deputy Director, Australian Urban Design Research Centre, University of Western Australia

Australia is one of the most successful multicultural societies in the world. Nonetheless, in recent times many Australians have come to regard population growth, and particularly immigration, as a problem – at best – to be solved. In contrast, we believe population growth and migration present a creative opportunity to shape new Australian cities unlike any we have built to date.

In a globalised economy where technology has prevailed over geography, Australians are natural global citizens. However, all is not well in multicultural Australia. Recent and credible polling indicates that 64% of Australians think the level of immigration over the past decade has been too high – up from 50% in 2016.


Read more: Australians think immigration should be cut? Well, it depends on how you ask


We believe such opinions (in part) stem from entrenched migration patterns. Currently 90% of new arrivals settle in Sydney or Melbourne where they compound housing affordability and congestion issues, among others. Migrants from overseas are the main contributors to both cities’ populations growing by over 100,000 people each year.

In response to these issues, the Morrison government is considering a plan requiring some new migrants, including refugees, to settle for up to five years in regional areas.

However, there are limits to this approach. Voting patterns indicate Australians in regional Australia are also often resistant to increased migration. Moreover, the mechanisation and automation of farming mean that jobs are often scarce.

So what can Australia do?

Australia will need more drastic solutions over the longer term. Refugees now number over 25 million people worldwide. Due to climate change alone a deluge of refugees is predicted by 2050, particularly in Asia – 144 million in China, 63 million in India and 62 million in Bangladesh.

In the face of this, demographer Bernard Salt asks:

What does Australia do? Board and turn back every boat? Leave the refugees without support on the Kimberley coast? Plan to help as many as we can and then hope we can ship back tens of thousands of people?

Clearly, Australia will need a plan to deal with this situation, particularly given the panic over the arrival of small numbers of “boat people” and the Coalition government reducing immigration to the lowest level in more than a decade. We could bemoan a lack of support for increased immigration in Australia, or instead bear this resistance in mind and try to find a creative (part) solution.

This is where our Refuge City model is potentially instructive. As Robert Wiblin has urged in the past:

If Australians are not so enthusiastic about sharing their good luck with refugees [and migrants], a charter city administered by Australia will at least allow them access to the governmental and legal institutions which have served Australia so well.

In line with this sentiment, we have designed an urban model for a bustling, multicultural and entrepreneurial metropolis located on Australia’s northern coast which would run under its own charter. Such a city would provide refuge and opportunity for many migrants, above and beyond what Australia already accepts through its humanitarian migration program.

An indicative plan for Refuge City. ‘Future Making’ students and staff, University of Western Australia


Read more: New cities? It’s an idea worth thinking about for Australia


A city of cities on the north coast

Why the northern coast? We selected this area because it has many advantages, such as proximity to rapidly growing Indonesia, availability of mineral and energy resources, and – in the case of the Northern Territory – Commonwealth control of land. This is important because it gives the federal government full legislative power to create a charter city unconstrained by opposition from the states.

Refuge City would comprise dense, car-phobic and adaptable urban neighbourhoods (of up to 32,000 people) based partly on migrant ethnicities – forming a city of cities, rather than a monolithic mass of urbanism.

A city of cities: a model of the proposed Refuge City. ‘Future Making’ students and staff, University of Western Australia

As required, this form would enable different cultural groups to follow many of their own cultural practices and develop a measure of self sufficiency. The design of these neighbourhoods would be developed with the communities and would reference – within limits – the urban traditions of the residents’ home countries so to provide a “home away from home”.

A cross-section view of a Refuge City neighbourhood. Nur Mohd Rozlan, Author provided

Rather than the cultural model of the “melting pot” – which is under assault in many cities of the world – these urban neighbourhoods would cradle islands of relative cultural specificity yet maintain an overall cultural diversity. Natural areas, recreational open spaces and schools would provide crucial interstitial spaces between the urban islands and their respective communities. Moreover, an integrated bus system and a wide distribution of jobs would also stimulate interactions between communities. This will moderate the cultural specificity of the urban islands over time.

The design of each city neighbourhood will reference the urban traditions of the residents’ home countries. ‘Future Making’ students and staff, University of Western Australia

Adapting the charter city model

Like other charter cities such as Shenzen, an independent government would govern the city, running it with respect to a specific charter. The autonomous government will incorporate an alliance of representatives from Australia’s federal and territory governments and potentially other countries within the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.


Read more: Xiong’an, Xi Jinping’s new city-making machine turned on


The charter’s terms, which will define the city’s operation, include a much lower personal and company tax regime than elsewhere in Australia, to stimulate investment and jobs. Businesses would pay workers the Australian minimum wage but would not otherwise offer award wages or conditions. Complementing this will be a basic but liveable social security, housing, education and primary health care system.

On arrival, migrants would receive a temporary visa. They would be able to apply for a skilled migration visa if they gain marketable skills from the city’s trade schools and university campuses, or a permanent business visa if they establish a successful business (both business and education would be conducted in English).

Moreover the city would avoid the need for mandatory offshore detention of arrivals by boat, which the UN Human Rights Council has condemned as a “massive abuse” of migrants. This has in turn profoundly damaged Australia’s moral authority globally. Despite our tarnished reputation, Australian residents would be welcome in Refuge City, whether as students attending global university hubs, starting a business, or enjoying the city’s bustling diversity while on a weekend getaway. Conversely, Refuge City residents would also be able to visit other Australian cities, and in particular Darwin.

Through a leasehold model, Indigenous landholders would maintain ownership of Refuge City land and gain a sustainable and substantial rental income from it. This is not unprecedented. Canberra embodies a similar system, with all land leased to “owners” as a Crown lease.

Moreover, given Indigenous culture’s continuing ownership and intimate knowledge of the land, we would develop the Refuge City designs with land councils. Without such sincere engagement, traditional owners would rightly veto new city development under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976.

Through our Refuge City model Australians could aid many more refugees than they would otherwise accept as fully fledged immigrants to the existing cities. In so doing, we could make Australia the world’s great 21st-century refuge.

Refuge City montage. By Julian Bolleter based on a photo by Ludo Kuipers, Author provided


Read more: Australia, a nation in need of compassion-focused therapy


ref. Refuge City, a new kind of city for our times – http://theconversation.com/refuge-city-a-new-kind-of-city-for-our-times-106992

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Back to work? Take lunch from home to save time and money – and boost your mood

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle

Heading back to work after the holidays means turning your thoughts to what’s for lunch. Are you a meticulous lunch planner, or do you only make a decision once those first hunger pangs signal it’s lunchtime?

Whether you bring lunch from home or buy it from a staff canteen or food outlet will depend on the availability of food nearby and whether you have a workplace kitchen with a fridge, microwave and sandwich press.

While it’s easy for work lunch to be an afterthought, there are multiple advantages to bringing your lunch from home and eating in a staff room, rather than at your desk.


Read more: What is a balanced diet anyway?


Planning healthy lunches and eating with others can lower your stress, improve your work performance and help your bank balance – not to mention improve your overall nutrition.

Being organised is worth it

Planning meals for the week ahead gives you more control of your food choices.

The most recent national nutrition survey of 4,500 adults found those who “grazed”, rather than ate regular meals, had poorer diets and were more likely to carry excess weight.

Rather than thinking about your options at lunchtime, plan and shop for the week ahead. Minerva Studio/Shutterstock

A 2017 French study of 40,000 adults found those who planned their meals were 13% more likely to have the healthiest eating patterns and 25% more likely to consume a better variety of healthy foods, compared to those who didn’t plan.

The planners also had about a 20% lower risk of having obesity. But we need to keep in mind that this is an association and does not prove causation.


Read more: Want to be happier, healthier, save money? It’s time to get cooking


Even doctors report that poor nutrition at work makes them feel irritable, tired, hungry, frustrated and unwell. It makes it harder for them to concentrate, and affects their performance and decision-making.

Workplace interventions to promote healthier eating have included nutrition education, support or counselling to help change behaviours, personalised feedback on nutrition and/or workplace changes such as increased availability of healthier meals, vegetables, fruit and water. These programs have led to small but positive improvements in dietary patterns, lifestyle choices and feelings of wellness.

One study found eating with others at work helped promote social cohesion and boosted poeple’s sense of well-being.

In another study that followed 39,000 Thai adults over four years, researchers found those who ate by themselves were more likely to be unhappy.

Company is food for the mind. Shutterstock

Put happy food in your lunch box

Having a healthy diet may lower the risk of developing depression, according to a review of the research into diet and depression, which pooled results from 21 studies involving 117,229 people.

The researchers found high intakes of vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy products, and low intakes of animal foods, were associated with a lower risk of depression.

A greater risk was linked to high intakes of red and/or processed meat, refined grains, lollies, high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes, gravies and low intakes of vegetables and fruit.

In a program aimed at increasing fruit and vegetable intakes in young adults, those who were given two extra serves to eat each day reported an increase in vitality, well-being and motivation compared to those told to stick to their usual (low) intakes.

Take fruit you actually like, even if it’s a bit more expensive. Alliance/Shutterstock

Interestingly, participants who were given vouchers to purchase more vegetables and fruit, and sent text message reminders to eat more of them, didn’t increase their fruit and vegetable intake as much as those who were actually given the extra serves.

So having the healthy foods available is key to eating them.

Take lunch to save money

Preparing food at home saves you money. A survey of 437 adults in the United States found those who prepared meals at home more often spent less money on food away from home, less money on food overall, and had healthier dietary intakes.

Australian research shows eating healthily can be more affordable than eating unhealthy foods.

The image below shows the ingredients to make five work lunches that incorporate:

  • 3 serves of salad/vegetables
  • 2 pieces of fruit
  • a tub yoghurt or cheese
  • vegetable sticks with some dip for snacks.

Plan a lunch menu, write a matching shopping list and start saving money. Bronte Goddensmith 2019

This costs about A$7.50 a day. If you bought a fast-food lunch plus a couple of snacks it could cost A$10-A$15 or more each day.

Over a year, the savings from bringing lunch from home versus buying it adds up to A$600 to A$1,800 for one person.


Read more: We asked five experts: is cheese bad for you?


Pack a healthy lunchbox the night before

You need to be organised to take your own lunch so other factors that influence your food choices don’t hijack good intentions. Try these tips:

1) plan your lunches for the week – write a matching shopping list so you have all the ingredient at your fingertips

2) invest in a lunchbox – pack it the night before and put it in the fridge. That way you minimise time needed in the morning to make lunch

Be creative so it’s easy to eat healthy food at work. Image from Rijk Zwaan 2018

3) try a lunch of leftovers – as you clear away the evening meal, pack leftovers into microwave safe storage containers and refrigerate

4) portion out healthy snacks in small containers – this could include nuts, dip and vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, baby corn, snack cucumbers and carrot sticks.

5) buy a range of fruits you really like – relative to the cost of snacks from vending machines, it’s less expensive and much better for you

6) try making a stack of sandwiches, such as curried egg or cheese on weekends and freeze them

7) make a mini-salad in a snaplock bag using baby cos lettuce cups, cherry tomatoes and capsicum so you can grab and go

8) freeze bottles of water and add one or two to you lunch box to keep food cool on your way to work.

ref. Back to work? Take lunch from home to save time and money – and boost your mood – http://theconversation.com/back-to-work-take-lunch-from-home-to-save-time-and-money-and-boost-your-mood-107717

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

It’s designers who can make gaming more accessible for people living with disabilities

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Ben Egliston, PhD candidate in Media and Communications, University of Sydney

Anyone can play video games, right?

If you’ve been following recent buzz in the gaming industry, you might be under the impression that video games are more accessible than they’ve ever been. Popular talking points include how video game audiences are increasingly large and diverse.

This perception is due, in large part (as games researcher Jesper Juul identifies), to the rise of more user-friendly interfaces that bypass many of the roadblocks associated with controller “literacy”. (For example, knowing that if you want your avatar to jump further you need to hold the jump button down rather than just press it.)


Read more: Game therapy: serious video games can help children with cerebral palsy


It’s true that more people are now able to play games without such a high degree of prior gaming knowledge – thanks to haptic play on mobile devices and natural interfaces on videogame consoles, such as those displayed by the recent Nintendo Switch or Sony’s PlaystationVR. These control schemes are more intuitive, and far less reliant on players accumulating controller literacy.

But despite the celebratory discourse around gaming’s increased accessibility, serious efforts to make gaming accessible to people living with disability remain rare.

The videogame industry needs to improve in this area. And that depends on changing the assumptions made at a design level about who plays video games.

Videogame designers make assumptions about the body

We know that people with disabilities play videogames – and make money by livestreaming their play as well as competing in e-sports tournaments.

AbleGamers is an organisation that advocates for disabled gamers, and it estimates there to be around 33 million gamers with disabilities in the United States alone.

But recent media reports suggest that people living with a disability face barriers to entry formed by inaccessible technologies.

All video games – from those played on a PlayStation 4 to an Oculus Rift – are technologies of the body. We scan movements on the screen with our eyes, grip controllers with our hands, rapidly tap buttons with our fingers, and so on.

But the assumption that everyone who plays video games has a body that functions in the same way can be exclusionary for gamers living with a disability.

Pokemon Let’s GO features motion-based controls for capturing Pokemon. from www.shutterstock.com

The current state of play

One aspect of Ablegamers work involves evaluating video games from a disability perspective.

For example, its evaluation of the Nintendo Switch points out some usability issues for disabled players. Its report addresses the Switch controller’s inability to reprogram buttons – a function necessary for those unable to use the traditional configuration.

It also addresses an inability to change screen font sizes, a potential issue for players with visual impairments. These issues underline how the Switch’s design is based on normative assumptions about the bodies that will use it.

AbleGamers has published an open access manual for more inclusive game design.


Read more: How playing video games can change your retirement


Aside from the hardware, there can also be usability issues within games themselves. A number of games released in 2018 exemplify a lack of accessibility.

For example, the recent Spyro Reignited Trilogy for current generation consoles did not feature subtitles. Subtitles are a necessity for deaf players, and an option in many contemporary games.

Another of the year’s most hotly anticipated releases, Pokemon: Let’s GO, featured motion-based controls for capturing Pokemon. As one of the main game play features, this has created a number of accessibility issues for players with physical disabilities unable to perform the requisite gesture.

In both of these instances, and indeed in many more, considerations of disability have been sidelined, and players with disabilities potentially excluded from play.

How is this being redressed?

There have been some recent advances by game developers which seek to increase accessibility.

This year Microsoft has released its “Adaptive Controller” for the Xbox One, which is designed to redress accessibility issues present with the Xbox One’s standard controller. As the controller’s advertising copy reads:

Designed primarily to meet the needs of gamers with limited mobility, the Xbox Adaptive Controller features large programmable buttons and connects to external switches, buttons, mounts and joysticks to help make gaming more accessible.

The Xbox adaptive controller provides more options for players. Xbox

For the most part, though, players are still incredibly reliant on third-party developers to create specialised devices, which can be costly. For example, one device used by a quadriplegic Dota 2 streamer costs $449. This creates potential economic barriers for players with disabilities.

As researchers David Wästerfors and Kristofer Hansson point out, players with disabilities are also creating their own specialised controllers.

But shouldn’t the onus be on game developers to make gaming accessible?


Read more: Stay alive, and if something moves, shoot it: one year of phenomenal success for Fortnite


Awareness at design level

Redressing a tendency to marginalise disability in games requires much more awareness of disability at a design level.

“Game engines” – the tools used for the creation of video games – are already encouraging accessibility. Epic Games’s Unreal Engine 4 is a good case in point. This engine allows game developers to see what their game would look like with various forms of colour blindness, enabling them to more diligently incorporate disability into game design.

We need to see more of this in the industry.

In 2018, video games are culturally significant, and central to the lives of many. It’s crucial that, within the context of broader conversations about gaming and exclusion, we take issues of disability and accessibility in gaming seriously.

The stakes of being excluded will only increase, as videogames become more central in our everyday lives.

ref. It’s designers who can make gaming more accessible for people living with disabilities – http://theconversation.com/its-designers-who-can-make-gaming-more-accessible-for-people-living-with-disabilities-107594

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

What’s the deal (or no-deal) with Brexit? Here’s everything explained

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Giovanni Di Lieto, Lecturer of international trade law, Monash Business School, Monash University

On June 23, 2016 the United Kingdom held a referendum to decide whether it should leave or remain in the European Union. More than 30 million people took part in the vote with 51.9% choosing to leave and 48.1% to remain.

Six months later, the new Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a speech in which she said:

the British people voted for change… And it is the job of this government to deliver it.

Where it got messy is deciding how to leave the Union. Would it be a clean break, the so-called hard Brexit, or a softer version where some links to the EU remained?

But first, a bit about the EU

The European Union is an economic and political partnership of 28 European countries across the whole continent, including France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Finland, the UK and Ireland. It operates under a “single market” which means goods, services, capitals and people can move around as if the member states were one country.

Nineteen of the member countries, not including the UK, share a common currency, the Euro. The EU also has its own parliament which sets rules in areas including the environment, transport and consumer rights.

The European Union is made up of 28 member states. Reuters

May’s hard Brexit strategy

Theresa May’s vision for leaving the European Union came in a Brexit White Paper, which she delivered to Parliament on February 2, 2017. The paper explained that, in negotiating the exit with the EU, the UK would:

  • not be seeking membership of the EU’s single market
  • pursue a new strategic partnership with the EU
  • pursue a new customs arrangement with the EU to secure new trade agreements with other countries bilaterally and in wider groupings.

In substance, this white paper is a clear indication for the hard Brexit option. A soft Brexit would be where the UK would somehow remain in the European single market, or at the very least become an external member of the EU Customs Union. This is the case for Turkey and some micro-nations including Monaco, Andorra and San Marino.


Read more: Experts read the Brexit white paper – so you don’t have to


A customs union is an arrangement between two or more countries which allows goods to circulate freely in the area of the union. This is done by removing tariffs between the countries inside the union and introducing a common external tariff for the countries outside the union.

A customs union does not cover trade in services and flows of capital and people. But the treaties that have established the EU enshrine the single market (of which the customs union is a component) in four inextricable pillars: the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour. For the EU this is an all-or-nothing package, so that single market members cannot pick and choose only some of the four freedoms.

Hard or soft, deal or no deal?

The issue of a hard or soft Brexit is different from that of the deal, or no-deal, Brexit. The first issue has already been set: it’s a hard Brexit, as Theresa May is not seeking membership of both the EU single market and Customs Union.

May isn’t seeking for the UK to remain part of the European Customs Union. Picture taken in UK specialty store in Berlin by Clemens Bilan

This allows the UK to independently negotiate international trade agreements either with individual countries or other customs unions after the UK’s official withdrawal date: March, 29 2019. After this date, the UK and EU may or may not strike a deal on what happens next.

So, the post-withdrawal arrangements with the EU comprise the deal or no-deal issue currently at stake: will the UK crash out of the EU with or without shared plans, and with or without a gradual implementation period?

The Brexit deal

Both the UK government and the EU governing bodies clearly prefer to split with a deal and a more gradual separation process. To this aim, the two sides have spent nearly two years in the painstaking negotiation of a withdrawal agreement.

This is the now infamous “Brexit deal” – a 585-page legally-binding text agreed to by the EU and UK government on November, 14 2018. The deal sets the terms of the UK’s divorce from the EU and can only enter into force once ratified by the UK parliament.

But, on January 15, 2019 Britain’s House of Commons rejected the Brexit deal by a stunning and unprecedented majority of 230. More than one third of Theresa May’s majority MPs joined the opposition parties against the Brexit deal despite confirming their confidence on the government the following day.


Read more: Theresa May Brexit deal hammered in parliament, but be wary of prospects of a new ‘consensus’ approach


So what’s the problem with the deal?

Like in an actual divorce, the rejected agreement sets the terms for splitting the assets, liabilities and people shared across the two sides. Leaving aside the numerous legal resolutions especially affecting commerce, the deal in particular defines how much money the UK owes the EU and the terms under which the estimated £39bn will be paid.

Theresa May’s deal (between the EU and the UK) on Brexit was shot down by a majority in the House of Commons. Parliamentary Recording Unit Handout/EPA

The deal also preserves the existing residency and working rights of UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU and of the EU citizens living in the UK up until the end of the Brexit implementation period set for 31 December 2020.

But the thorniest issue of the Brexit deal, and the one that proved to be its major fault line, is the proposed method of avoiding the return of a physical border between the UK’s Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – an EU member state.

Ireland is split in two, and there are no hard borders as long as everyone is part of the EU. from shutterstock.com

The Northern Ireland backstop

The island of Ireland is divided into two separate entities: the Republic of Ireland, which is an independent nation member of the EU, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK and has 18 seats in the UK parliament.

The Northern Ireland backstop is a convoluted measure of last resort to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland until the UK and the EU can find a long-term solution for an indefinite period – even after the expiration of the Brexit implementation period (December, 31 2020).

The fact is – with or without the Brexit deal – the Brexit White Paper’s outline to stay outside the EU Single Market and Customs Union means that, eventually, a physical border will reappear on the island of Ireland.


Read more: Would staying in a customs union after Brexit avoid a hard border with Ireland?


This is an ominous prospect as memories of the “Troubles”, the bloody Northern Ireland conflict triggered by border clashes in the late 1960s – between the majority unionist or UK loyalist Protestant population and the minority Catholic or Irish nationalist one – are still fresh.

Over the years the UK and Ireland’s EU membership eliminated any hard borders in Ireland. This played a major part in spelling the end of the Troubles in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which is also based on keeping the whole of Ireland border-free.

A hard Brexit repudiates one of the cornerstones of the Good Friday Agreements and, short of a customs union with the EU, any deal would only kick the can down the road. Theresa May’s proposed solution is the Irish border Brexit backstop.

Conservative Brexit hardliners and the Northern Irish Democratic Union Party voted against Theresa May’s deal. PAUL MCERLANE/EPA

It’s called a backstop precisely because it pushes the UK border with the EU back away from Northern Ireland. This would mean Northern Ireland would all but remain subject to the EU legal framework and be kept virtually separate from the rest of the UK for an indefinite time.

And this is why the conservative Brexit hardliners, and the small but indispensable Northern Irish Democratic Union Party (DUP), voted against Theresa May’s deal. Despite the fact a majority of Northern Irish voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum, the DUP fears the backstop would provide momentum to those who wish to reunify Ireland.


Read more: Brexit and Northern Ireland: the latest commitments explained


On the other hand, despite Theresa May’s insistence, the EU is not providing any legally binding guarantee of a definite expiry date for the Irish backstop. The EU’s strategic game is clear, as the continuing existence of the Irish backstop provides yet another strong negotiating chip in respect to any future dealings with the UK.

So what are the alternatives to Theresa May’s hard Brexit deal? Wild guesses include delaying or withdrawing the withdrawal, so to speak, while some even call for a second Brexit referendum. Considering the political uncertainties and legal realities, any guess is little more than wishful thinking.

ref. What’s the deal (or no-deal) with Brexit? Here’s everything explained – http://theconversation.com/whats-the-deal-or-no-deal-with-brexit-heres-everything-explained-110024

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Aged care royal commission benefits Generation X: it’s too late for the silent generation

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Joseph Ibrahim, Professor, Health Law and Ageing Research Unit, Department of Forensic Medicine, Monash University

A surprising group of people stand to benefit from the aged care royal commission, whose hearings start today. These are residents of nursing homes in the far future — people in their 50s and 60s, and their children. How is that possible?

All current nursing home residents the royal commission was established to help will have died before there is any substantive change.

The latest statistics show there are 207,142 older people living in 2,695 facilities owned by 902 different providers. These providers receive more than A$11.2 billion a year from the commonwealth government. A total of 57,769 residents, or more than 27%, die every year.


Read more: Many older people in care die prematurely, and not from natural causes


Residents on average live in nursing homes for two years and six months. This is shorter than the average of three to five years it takes for most royal commissions to form, investigate, conclude and deliver their recommendations.

How did we get here?

It’s been a long road to this royal commission, paved with repeated shocking and disturbing episodes of neglect, abuse and poor care for our vulnerable elderly parents, grandparents and neighbours in residential care.

However, Oakden was the final straw. The South Australian aged care mental health facility closed in 2017 following revelations of abuse and neglect dating back a decade.


Read more: Too many Australians living in nursing homes take their own lives


This royal commission has its genesis in the 1997 Aged Care Act. Perhaps its greatest failing was a lack of an explicit single national common standard and understanding of the purpose of residential aged care facilities. That is what should be achieved for the person who becomes a resident.

We all understand the purpose of child care, schools, hospitals and prisons. We judge these by how they improve the lives and well-being of people they serve. However, the absence of a common positive social understanding of the purpose of nursing homes contributes to the community’s inability to judge how well they perform. The Act describes nursing homes’ tasks, activities and services but this is not enough.

Evidence was there, but not acted on

Another important and under-recognised factor is that the decade the Aged Care Act was written coincided with new thinking around patient safety, evidence-based practice and clinical governance.

However, over the next two decades, successive governments, regulators and providers did not manage to actively or sufficiently apply this new knowledge to practice. That includes evidence from premature deaths investigated by coroners across Australia.


Read more: What is ‘quality’ in aged care? Here’s what studies (and our readers) say


For instance, Riverside nursing home’s licence was revoked after 57 residents had kerosene added to baths in January 2000 to control an outbreak of scabies. A fundamental contributing factor was the failure to apply up-to-date evidence. We’d known about a better treatment for scabies since 1931.


Read more: There’s no need to lock older people into nursing homes ‘for their own safety’


In Quakers Hill, a recently employed registered nurse admitted to deliberately lighting a fire that killed 14 people. Contributing factors included the failure of clinical governance systems to recognise and assist impaired health professionals; and a lack of scrutiny of the employee’s qualifications and credentials.

And in Victoria, staff failed to disclose to the family, GP and coroner the true circumstances of a resident who was found dead, lying head-first in an outdoor water feature. A contributing factor was not promoting the right culture for incidents to be reported and disclosed openly.

What will the royal commission uncover?

The royal commission will revisit the known. It will also uncover more criminal acts and other deliberate acts of elder abuse. It will examine care that causes unintended harm and premature death from injury.


Read more: Elder abuse report ignores impact on people’s health


The scale of the investigation is enormous and far greater than most people realise. We don’t know the breadth and depth of harm across the nation as this has not previously been examined in a rigorous, systematic way that we do with health care.

The royal commission appears to have limited its investigation to the nature of care over the past five years, which covers the current 207,142 living residents and the those who died in the past five years (around 290,000 residents).

The health department’s submission to the House of Representatives inquiry into residential aged care (submission 72, p8), advised receiving reports of assault or alleged assault of 1.2% of residents a year. Over five years, the total number of residents affected would be more than 12,400 incidents (1.2% of 207,000 residents each year for five years).

Along with these serious incidents of potential abuse remains the question of substandard clinical care. A conservative estimate would be based on the premise that aged care performs as well as health care, which harms a minimum of 6% of patients from each interaction. This equates to more than 62,100 incidents of harm (6% of 207,000 residents each year for five years).


Read more: Violence between residents in nursing homes can lead to death and demands our attention


The scale of neglect and abuse is potentially so large the royal commission will be consumed with addressing the potential criminal and human rights abuses. This is also consistent with why royal commissions are usually called — to investigate corruption, impropriety, illegal activity or gross administrative incompetence.

The challenge facing the royal commission is to better understand and rectify substandard clinical care by identifying how the aged care sector, government, regulators and health professionals failed to recognise, report and address this harm. By comparison, we’ve know how to do this in the health care sector since 2000.

We also need the royal commission to lead to reforms that shift the sector from being ranked 17th of 96 countries internationally to one that is exceptional, on par with the performance of our health care system.

Who is this royal commission for?

This royal commission matters most to those who are still young, healthy and living at home. It is this group who will receive the benefits of any positive reforms or suffer the consequences of any shortcomings.

Given the broad terms of reference for the royal commission, it is difficult to imagine how it will deliver its findings in 12 months. A more realistic estimate is the inquiry will take up to three years followed by a fourth year for the incumbent government to consider the recommendations, a fifth year for reform to be debated in parliament and legislated, then five years for any substantive policy and practice reforms to be put in place.

This takes us to 2030, by which time at least four cohorts of residents will have entered a nursing home and died.

ref. Aged care royal commission benefits Generation X: it’s too late for the silent generation – http://theconversation.com/aged-care-royal-commission-benefits-generation-x-its-too-late-for-the-silent-generation-106607

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Ten ways teacher librarians improve literacy in schools

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Margaret Kristin Merga, Senior Lecturer in Education, Edith Cowan University

Australian schools constantly strive to improve the literacy outcomes of their students. Supporting literacy achievement for struggling readers is particularly important because these readers have their disadvantage compounded: capable students develop “richer” skills through continued exposure to reading, and the gap between them and struggling readers widens.

The number of Australian students deemed “low performers” in reading literacy proficiency has been rising over time. Our percentage of high performers is shrinking – nearly one in five adolescents are in the low performer category.


Read more: Six things you should do when reading with your kids


With school about to start for the year, we should consider how we can optimise support for struggling readers. Young people’s literacy attainment significantly shapes their academic, vocational and social potential. More than seven million adult Australians have their opportunities limited by their literacy level.

Research suggests the presence of qualified library staff in school libraries is associated with better student performance in literacy. But until now, little was known about what specifically they do to achieve this. My new research gives us insight into these key practices.

What do they do?

In 2018, I visited 30 schools in urban and rural sites as part of the Teacher Librarians as Australian Literature Advocates in Schools project. I interviewed teacher librarians to explore a range of questions, including the role they play as literacy educators.

For some children, silent reading time is the only time they have to read. from www.shutterstock.com

There are 40 recurring literacy support strategies used by teacher librarians. But my recent paper focuses on ten strategies that have a particularly strong link to supporting struggling readers:

1. Identification of struggling readers. Teacher librarians support the timely identification of struggling readers through the data they collect on student performance. The sooner struggling readers are identified, the sooner the school can help them.

2. Providing age and skill-appropriate materials for struggling readers. Teacher librarians match students with age-appropriate materials they can manage and topics and genres they prefer. The more a student enjoys and is interested in reading, the more likely they are to keep it up.

3. Teaching students how to choose books they like. Both children in primary and secondary schools have suggested they would read more if it were easier to choose books that appeal to them. Teacher librarians teach students how to do this.

4. Support for students with special needs and readers at risk. For example, Hannah, a teacher librarian, described working with “a young boy who is dyslexic, and I was reading to him and made a dyslexic error, and went back and explained what I’d done and he said, ‘Yeah, I do that, too.’” She then connected him with age and skill-appropriate materials, and he went on to read “an enormous amount”.

5. Matching struggling readers to appropriate books for their skill level. Research suggests when struggling readers have texts matched appropriately with their ability and personal interest, they are more persistent, invested, and use more cognitive skills. Teacher librarians show expertise in making good matches.

6. Promoting access to books. Access to books is positively related to reading motivation, reading skills, reading frequency and positive attitudes toward reading. Teacher librarians make their books accessible. Francesca described regular use of a pop-up library:

We take [it] out into the wilds. And you know, kids will come up and go, ‘oh, what have you got, what have you got.’”

7. Making books and reading socially acceptable. Where young people believe books are socially acceptable, they’re more likely to read and have a positive attitude toward reading. Reading frequency is associated with literacy benefits, so this is ideal. Teacher librarians use a variety of strategies to enhance how books are viewed socially in their schools, including facilitating peer recommendations.

8. Reading to students beyond the early years. Reading aloud offers a range of benefits in the early years and beyond, including an increased enjoyment of reading and increased motivation. Libba described reading aloud to the teenage boys in her classes as a wonderful experience that was very well received. One boy even stated: “that was beautiful”.


Read more: Research shows the importance of parents reading with children – even after children can read


9. Facilitating silent reading time. Though opportunities for silent reading at school may be limited, for some struggling readers, it’s the only book reading they do. Teacher librarians act as keen advocates for silent reading in their library and more broadly in the school. And something is better than nothing, especially for readers who struggle.

10. Preparing students for high stakes literacy testing. Achievement on high-stakes literacy tests is essential for graduation in Western Australia, a controversial move which has seen graduation rates slide. A similar initiative has been explored but rejected in NSW.

Teacher librarians supported struggling readers to achieve this essential academic goal through a range of initiatives. For example, teacher librarian Stephanie supported students to use practice online testing programs in her library, which gave students the practice they needed to sit both NAPLAN and online literacy and numeracy assessment (OLNA) tests.

Why does this matter?

Teacher librarians in Australian schools are a valuable resource often taken for granted. They have faced significant budgetary cuts in recent times, despite a 2011 government inquiry into school libraries. Teacher librarians noted they play an important educative role in our schools.


Read more: Six things you can do to get boys reading more


Recent findings suggest teacher librarians’ morale and related sense of job security may be low. If schools and policy-makers wish to improve students’ literacy outcomes, they should invest in school libraries and our dual-qualified teacher librarians.

ref. Ten ways teacher librarians improve literacy in schools – http://theconversation.com/ten-ways-teacher-librarians-improve-literacy-in-schools-110026

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Vital Signs: the power of not being too clear

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

Incentives, in one form or other, are central to our lives.

The Soviet experiment ended in December 1991 because it turned out that when people got paid the same whether they worked hard or slacked off, most people slacked off.

People often work incredibly hard early in their careers to improve their promotion prospects. Parents will to go to extraordinary, sometimes life threatening, lengths to protect their children because of biological incentives. Doctors, nurses, emergency workers, and teachers often go above and beyond the call because of intrinsic motivation.

Without incentives of some kind nothing much happens. As former US treasury secretary Larry Summers once noted, “nobody in the history of the world ever washed a rental car.”

We are bombarded by incentives…

From bonuses for meeting “key performance indicators”, to stock options for executives, to no-claim bonuses on insurance policies, to the threat of the sack for to poor performance, we swim in a sea of incentives.

While carefully designed ones can improve our performance, perhaps dramatically, poorly thought out ones can do the opposite. And, unfortunately, they are all too common.

The problem is, people really do respond to incentives – often in the most literal and destructive ways.

…with unintended consequences

The list of incentive schemes that have gone awry is almost endless. The consequences range from corporate malfeasance, to teachers cheating on behalf of their students, to plagues of rats and snakes.

We have witnessed staggering accounting scandals and bankruptcies like those of Enron and WorldCom where the high-powered incentives for senior executives to report good results became high-powered incentives to create what appeared to be good results.

Anyone who has read or watched “The Big Short” knows the story of how high-powered incentives for mortgage brokers and traders of mortgage-backed securities triggered the global financial crisis.

Closer to home, the Hayne royal commission has shown how incentives in Australia’s financial services sector have led to questionable and sometimes illegal behaviour.

Teachers can cheat, hunters can breed cane toads…

Even where millions of dollars aren’t at stake, incentives can lead to perverse outcomes. Steve Levitt of Freakonomics fame was highly critical of the Obama administration’s “Cash for Clunkers” program that was to buy back old cars at high prices and scrap them in order stimulate new car sales

He warned that as originally designed it would encourage people with younger cars to hold on to them for longer in order to qualify for the high price, holding sales back.

In a similar vein, Pauline Hanson’s proposal to pay welfare recipients 10 cents for each live cane toad they turn over to the authorities would also likely exacerbate the cane toad problem by leading to breeding of toads for the bounty. The same thing happened with cobras in colonial India and with rats in colonial Vietnam. Yuck!

Told their careers depended on their students performing well in tests, some teachers in Pennsylvania famously falsified tests by erasing incorrect answers after the papers had been handed in and replacing them with correct ones in order to lift results.


Read more: The economics of ‘cash for cane toads’ – a textbook example of perverse incentives


Incentives work alright, but often in ways we wish they hadn’t.

Oddly, the way to escape perverse outcomes might be to make incentives harder to understand.

…unless the incentives are opaque

In a paper just published in the the RAND Journal of Economics, Florian Ederer of Yale, Margaret Meyer of Oxford and I suggest making incentives less obvious.

Where there are two dimensions of a job that we want incentivised, it can make sense to pay out on only one, but not to say which one.

It’s an approach the British National Health Service stumbled on to after first attempting to incentivise low waiting times and then patient outcomes.


Read more: Getting an initial specialists’ appointment is the hidden waitlist


When it announced it was going to rewards hospital for lower waiting times, waiting times plunged as patients were reportedly left in ambulances and not “checked in” in order to cut reported waiting times, leading to some appalling outcomes. When they switched to rewarding measured outcomes instead, waiting times soared.

Being vague about what it actually paid on enabled it to get both.

There’s power in vagueness

It’s why teachers don’t announce what material is going to be on a final exam ahead of the exam (because otherwise the students would study only that material).

It is why the Productivity Commission in its recommendation that an independent panel select ten “best in show” super funds to be on a list of default funds presented to people entering the workforce stopped short of setting out exactly what the criteria would be.

It’s why Google and Facebook don’t reveal the algorithms they use to rank web sites and keep changing them, a practice about which News Corporation complains in a submission the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s digital platforms inquiry.

If Google and Facebook did make clear exactly what they were rewarding throughout high placement in search results (length of time on site, links from other sites, number of hits) the publishers would aim for that at the expense of other things.

We could learn a bit from Google and Facebook. Sometimes it’s best for the people whose good behaviour you are trying to encourage not to know exactly which behaviour you’ll reward.


Read more: Digital platforms. Why the ACCC’s proposals for Google and Facebook matter big time


ref. Vital Signs: the power of not being too clear – http://theconversation.com/vital-signs-the-power-of-not-being-too-clear-110027

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

The financially well-off defy the stereotypes. They include retirees, and mortgagees

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By David C. Ribar, Professorial Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

Financial well-being is hard to get a handle on.

That’s because it’s a mix of how people feel and how they objectively are.

And it’s multifaceted, including things such as spending, saving, investing, borrowing, and insuring, and competing goals that involve trade-offs, such as whether to spend or save.

To help, the Melbourne Institute and the Commonwealth Bank have pulled the dimensions together in a collection of measures we think are the first of their kind: the Reported and Observed Financial Well-being Scales.

The results released this week show most Australians are doing OK. They report no difficulty paying necessary expenses, can cover unexpected expenses, and feel on track to provide for their financial futures. However, a substantial minority struggle.

As expected, people’s income, assets, and home ownership play big roles in their financial well-being. But their attitudes, capabilities, and behaviour are probably even more important, meaning good financial well-being is possible even at modest levels of income and wealth.

Two ways of examining well-being

Adapting definitions that have been proposed for Australia and elsewhere, we define financial well-being as the extent to which people both perceive and have

  • financial outcomes in which they meet their financial obligations
  • financial freedom to make choices that allow them to enjoy life
  • control of their finances, and
  • financial security

now, in the future, and under possible adverse circumstances.

To construct the scales, we sieved through 33 self-reported survey measures and 17 bank-record measures that captured different elements of our definition. Formal analyis resulted in our two distinct but related scales.

The first, which we call the CBA-MI Reported Financial Well-being Scale, uses people’s answers to 10 survey questions about how they feel; about things such as dealing with their expenses, building up savings, and control over their finances.

The second, which we call the CBA-MI Observed Financial Well-being Scale, uses data from people’s bank records about their balances, payment problems, and ability to cover unexpected expenses.

The two scales move together. People with high levels of financial well-being on one scale tend to have high levels on the other.

However, the two scales are distinct and capture different aspects of well-being, complementing each other and jointly providing a fuller picture than either could alone.


Melbourne Institute – Commonwealth Bank

What do the measures tell us?

On average, Australians enjoy moderate to high levels of financial well-being, but many experience problems. About a quarter of people report difficulty meeting their necessary expenses, and more than a third report not being able to handle a major unexpected expense or not having enough money for future financial needs.

When it came to characteristics associated with financial well-being, we find that people who earn more and own more assets enjoy higher well-being on average. Home-owners, healthier people, and married couples also tend to have a higher financial wellbeing. But within these categories financial well-being can vary.


Read more: Why single women are more likely to retire poor


Both measures of well-being are higher for people who balance their spending and savings, have strong savings habits, always pay their credit card balances, sacrifice for the future, and actively plan and budget.

And there are surprises.

Retirees and older people tend to enjoy higher financial well-being than younger people, contrasting with the view that retirement is accompanied by financial distress.

People with high mortgage debt and large housing costs also experience higher levels of well-being, although this may be associated with the wealth that is associated with their homes.


Read more: Why we should worry less about retirement – and leave super at 9.5%


The strong agreement between the two scales reassures us that they are indeed measuring financial well-being. However, the scales sometimes diverge, particularly when measuring the financial well-being of people with complex financial situations, including immigrants and business owners.

Improving financial well-being

The low levels of financial well-being experienced by some Australians are a cause for concern. Our measures can help identify these people and their circumstances.

More importantly, they tell us that people in similar circumstances can experience very different levels of financial well-being, telling us there is considerable scope for improving outcomes.

And the strong associations of well-being with financial attitudes, capabilities, and behaviours — all characteristics that can be changed — point to promising avenues for interventions.

ref. The financially well-off defy the stereotypes. They include retirees, and mortgagees – http://theconversation.com/the-financially-well-off-defy-the-stereotypes-they-include-retirees-and-mortgagees-103431

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Why do so few Aussies speak an Australian language?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Laura Rademaker, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Australian National University

Linguistically speaking, Australia is special. With around 250 languages spoken when Australia was first colonised, Australia was one of the most linguistically diverse places in the world.

But few people speak our Indigenous languages. As of 2016, only 10% of Australia’s Indigenous population spoke an Indigenous language at home. Most Indigenous languages are now “asleep”, waiting to be woken up by language revivalists.

Australian languages did not simply fade away; they were actively silenced by governments, schools and missions.


Read more: Some Australian Indigenous languages you should know


At most missions through the mid-20th century, Aboriginal languages were to be replaced with English. The Commonwealth Office of Education explained its intention in 1953:

The policy of assimilation demands a lingua franca as soon as possible – not only for communication between aboriginal and European but between aboriginal and aboriginal. That lingua franca must be English… There is a need everywhere for a planned, vigorous and maintained drive for English. Substitution of a new language for the old is not likely to disrupt the traditional social structure of the people any more than the substitution of Christian religion for their old religion and superstitions. In fact the former might assist the latter process.

As linguist Arthur Capell wrote in 1964:

Government policy looks forward to the loss of Aboriginal languages so that the Aborigines may be “assimilated.”

In pursuit of this policy, the Commonwealth Government banned Aboriginal languages in schools. It required teachers in mission schools to report on whether and for what reason they used any Aboriginal words. Aboriginal languages were to be forbidden even in the playground. The use of mission dormitories, separating children from families, compounded the attack on language.

Mission school children on Groote Eylandt in the 1960s. Groote Eylandt Linguistics

This attack was partly based on the idea that Aboriginal languages were deficient and impaired critical thinking. Missionary linguist Beulah Lowe was told in the 1950s that Aboriginal people have “no real language.” Linguist Robert Dixon remembered being told in 1963 that Aboriginal languages were “just a few grunts and groans.”

As recently as 1969, the Commonwealth government presumed the need for “remedial work” in Aboriginal schools due to the supposed “inhibitory influences” of “bilingualism in education”.

Nowadays educators are aware of the cognitive benefits of being multilingual.

Translating the Bible

The few Europeans who did learn Australian languages were mostly missionaries. But their approaches were contradictory. On the one hand they directly contributed to the loss of Aboriginal languages by putting children in dormitories, English-only schools and separating families. On the other, missionaries showed a greater concern for languages than other colonisers, due to their drive to translate the Bible.

These efforts to translate the Bible were slow compared to those overseas. The first Aboriginal Bible was completed in 2007 (in Kriol, spoken in northern Australia). The Maori Bible was complete in 1868 and by 1946 the Bible was in 30 Pacific languages.


Read more: Meet the remote Indigenous community where a few thousand people use 15 different languages


Translation efforts began in 1824 when Lancelot Threlkeld began learning Awabakal of the Lake Macquarie region and, with his Aboriginal co-translator Biraban, completed an Awabakal Gospel. But disease and violence devastated the community. By 1840 only 16 people were left at the mission.

Other small-scale translation projects followed. German missionaries, perhaps due to their Lutheran tradition of Bible translation or their unfamiliarity with English, made significant efforts. Teichelmann and Schurmann, for example, wrote a grammar of the Kaurna language of the Adelaide region in 1840.

Missionary Judith Stokes and Gula Lalara work on the Anindilyakwa language in the 1970s. Groote Eylandt Linguistics

Missionary linguists always depended on Aboriginal co-translators to teach and translate their language. Carl Strehlow at Hermannsburg worked in with Moses Tjalkabota. Strehlow was one of the few who acknowledged his Aboriginal partner; we don’t know the names of others.

In many places, Aboriginal people used missionaries to have their language and knowledge recorded for future generations. Their foresight is being rewarded. Now, over a century later, their work is being used in language revival projects.

Learning English

Meanwhile, many Aboriginal people quickly learned English, finding it brought them opportunities to defend their interests. They were often gifted linguists. Usually already multilingual when the colonisers came, adding English was relatively easy.

Dispossession of land often meant distinct Aboriginal language communities were thrust together, so Aboriginal people used English, or an English pidgin, as a lingua franca. Some thought it best to keep their language secret from colonisers, perhaps to hide their Aboriginality and the associated discrimination, perhaps to uphold their authority over their cultural knowledge. So they spoke English.

Changing attitudes

By the 1940s, white Australia was realising Aboriginal people were not doomed to extinction. Instead, they assumed Aboriginal cultures and languages would die out once Aboriginal people assimilated.


Read more: Friday essay: dreaming of a ‘white Christmas’ on the Aboriginal missions


Aboriginal linguists and missionaries at Hermannsburg, Ernabella and Milingimbi in central and northern Australia advanced translation in Arrente, Pitjantjatjara and Yolngu Matha and used language in the classroom. Yet as late as 1964, Capell wrote of recording languages so that they “may be handed down to generations who will see them only as darker members of a European culture”. Linguistic research was still considered a matter of archiving languages on their deathbeds.

Attitudes began changing in the 1960s. In 1963, Yolngu people presented their Bark Petition to the Commonwealth government. The petition was written first in Gupapyngu with an English translation. Aboriginal languages could no longer be dismissed as “grunts and groans” of little cultural value.

In 1973, the Commonwealth government introduced mother tongue education at select Aboriginal schools. Aboriginal educators increasingly called for and implemented “two-ways” education.

Today it is possible to study Indigenous Languages Education or Yolngu Studies. Or you could learn a word a day through RN’s Word Up. Communities are “waking up” languages such as Kaurna and Awabakal. But there is a long way to go. Communities wishing to keep language strong still face barriers of policy, prejudice, funding and resourcing.

ref. Why do so few Aussies speak an Australian language? – http://theconversation.com/why-do-so-few-aussies-speak-an-australian-language-109570

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media