By Amanda Gordon MAPS
In recent months the media has had a field day in highlighting the plight of many remote aboriginal communities, and making various accusations as to the causes and responsibilities for the residents' plight. There is no doubt that there is an appalling lack of resources that would not be tolerated in other communities - limited postal services, no garbage collection, no street lighting and a chronic shortage of housing to the extent that up to 20 people are said to live in one house. Other reports tell of horrific abuse of women and children and a sense of utter hopelessness. English is a second or third language to many of these people, and they have extremely poor access to the ordinary medical and educational services that we take for granted.
APS members who attempt to work in these circumstances have communicated to me that band-aid solutions, calls for law and order, or - worse - removal of children away from family support will just not work. They tell me of the situation in which attempts by communities to find educational solutions are not funded by the Government, and that maternal and child health services are not available for women living in communities outside major centres. On a positive note, APS members also tell me that community initiatives are making a difference. Support for these initiatives could potentially keep children away from the scourge of alcoholism and addiction, and bring them back into an educational system that has previously not met their needs.
Inspired by the APS Mission Statement: "To represent, promote and advance psychology within the context of improving community wellbeing and scientific knowledge", it's clear we have to do something.
One of the explicit objectives of the current and previous Strategic Plans of the APS has been to increase the number of indigenous psychologists. Another has been to support indigenous psychology students. The time has come to act on these objectives! We need to have a cutting edge approach to achieving these ends, and consultation with Wurundjeri elder, Joy Murphy, has led to her naming our solution 'Bendi Lango - Cutting Edge'.
The goal of the APS Bendi Lango project is to raise money to provide bursaries for Aboriginal psychology students, to assist them with living expenses as they complete their degrees. We all know that for an indigenous student to qualify for university they have to overcome generations of disadvantage, and continuing with their studies while having to support themselves financially - in addition to having to counter cultural stereotypes and stay true to themselves - can be enormously difficult. In our quest to overcome obstacles to indigenous Australians becoming qualified as psychologists, we need to at least help in the financial area, as we strive to work towards breaking down other barriers.
The APS Bendi Lango project will be financed through holding an exhibition of Aboriginal art. The sale of the artworks will provide proper payment to the artists living in communities in central Australia, and commissions which will provide the APS with the capacity to support students for their postgraduate years - and we may decide to repeat the project on an annual or biannual basis to top up the fund and have more Aboriginal students funded.
The APS Bendi Lango Art Exhibition is a project that emulates the highly successful venture of the Shalom College, the Jewish residential college of the University of NSW. As one success builds on another, I talked to the President of Shalom and she is delighted that their idea will be carried forward to benefit more people.
I have lined up the curator of the Shalom exhibition, Jenny Hillman, who has agreed to manage ours for us here in Melbourne. In fact, Jenny and Susie Spira from Waterhole Art have just returned from a trip to various communities in Central Australia and have sourced some terrific works for our exhibition.
The APS is delighted with the involvement of Rio Tinto for this project. They are lending their generous support and sponsorship to this because of their awareness of the problems experienced by their many employees due to the lack of indigenous psychologists. We are working with members of the indigenous community who are on their advisory board, and with Bruce Harvey, who looks after their community development. Rio Tinto is the largest private sector employer of indigenous Australians, and is acutely aware of the need to develop culturally appropriate interview tools, training mechanisms and support structures both for employees and for the good of the communities in which they work.
Rio Tinto works closely with Professor Marcia Langton, and she has offered to be on our Reference Group to ensure the needs of Aboriginal members and potential members are well met, through education and culturally appropriate practices.
Rio Tinto has kindly donated their boardrooms at Level 34, 55 Collins St Melbourne as the venue for our exhibition, and is providing catering and other needs for the opening function.
This project is providing us with some really exciting possibilities. We have the chance to build a relationship with corporate Australia in order to enhance community wellbeing, which is good for all of us. We have the opportunity to support Aboriginal artists by purchasing their work. We can make a difference to the lives of some Aboriginal students, who will positively influence the profession of psychology, and potentially pave the way for other Aboriginal students to meet the challenges of university. We can show the professions that we care about the indigenous communities. We can engage our members in this work.
The exhibition will run from Saturday 5 August through until the morning of Tuesday 8 August. Please put Sunday 6 August in your diaries, which is an exclusive APS members-only day. The exhibition will be open on that day from 1pm until 4pm, with a special lecture 'Investing in Aboriginal Art' at 2pm. We plan to video this event, so that all our members can expand their horizons a little through our involvement in Aboriginal art.
There will hopefully be a lot said about this exhibition in the media in the coming months, as we are hoping to attract Melbourne's high end art collectors to attend and purchase some of the beautiful items we have available. We also hope that you, the members, will be connected to this event. Through the Interest Group on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and Psychology there will be opportunities to be part of the team actually running the show.
There will soon be a dedicated APS Bendi Lango Art Exhibition website, with a direct link from the APS homepage. The images of the artworks in the Exhibition will be posted, and it will be possible to register interest in order to purchase them in advance of the Exhibition. My wish is that many of our members' homes will be graced by some beautiful artwork that has increased the opportunities for Aboriginal psychology students to overcome some of the historical difficulties that have kept them out of postgraduate education.