Suffer the Little Children

“But Jesus said, suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come unto me: for to such belongeth the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 19:4

In the archaic language used in older translations of the Bible, the word “suffer” means to “allow”. In our remote indigenous communities we seem unable to make this translation and seem instead to be determined to allow the little children to “suffer” in the more conventional use of the word.

We have seen again recently more reports of sexual abuse of young indigenous children. Some with a long intimate knowledge of the remote communities say they’re surprised that this is suddenly newsworthy, when to their knowledge such behaviour has been endemic in these communities for decades.

Some of the Aboriginal apologists complain that the dysfunction leading to this appalling behaviour is due to poverty, and if we spent more on indigenous housing and indigenous services the problem would go away.

But this simplistic view is patently wrong. I have known many non-indigenous poor people, but I haven’t seen any great propensity among such people to abuse their children. They might have struggled to put food on the table, but they did their best to feed their families. They couldn’t afford the popular fashion labels, but they sent their children off to school clean and tidy.

I have also heard stories about how a few generations ago indigenous parents went to great lengths to ensure their children got to school. But many don’t seem to have that motivation today.

So what is really going on in these remote communities? For a variety of reasons, they have lost their capacity to adequately parent their children. After several generations of welfare dependence, the incursion of drugs and alcohol and the encouragement of the Aboriginal industry to see themselves as victims, they have few role models left to demonstrate how children should be raised.

As a result the progeny of these communities are poorly educated, suffer health issues, are grossly neglected, have poor employment prospects and, unsurprisingly, are statistically far more likely to be incarcerated than their non-indigenous counterparts. As I implied at the outset, never mind “suffer the little children” it seems we are determined to let the little children suffer.

In these dysfunctional communities one of the chief props of victimhood is the preservation of Aboriginal culture. It would seem to me, a relative outsider, that much of what is propagated as Aboriginal culture is confected, and even where it isn’t it not helpful for the individual to be able to successfully negotiate the requirements of modern society.

I mean no disrespect here. It is indeed a triumph that Aboriginal people have been able to successfully survive for millennia in an inhospitable climate and a more than testing environment. But the skills that enabled that triumph are not the skills required to survive and prosper in twenty-first century Australia.

But the culture that seems to be championed by the indigenous reactionaries is unduly focussed on male dominance. It is a subterfuge to allow Aboriginal men to escape censure, despite their often deplorable behaviour.

Now in coming to grips with this dysfunction and its deleterious effect on indigenous children, Anthony Dillon, who  identifies as a part-Aboriginal Australian and is a researcher with the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education at the Australian Catholic University asks the eminently sensible question, “If these were your children, what would you want for them.”

Overwhelmingly, we would say we want them to be safe, healthy, nurtured and educated. And surely the cultural issues should be of secondary interest after these basic needs are met. But because many have glorified Aboriginal culture, it is often being promoted above meeting such basic needs for the children. Our efforts to protect these children are then subsequently derided by the Aboriginal activists as “racist”. There surely should be no debate here. Protecting those vulnerable and much abused children should be our primary concern.

This point was eloquently made by Jeremy Sammut, Senior Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies, in his fine book, The Madness of Australian Child Protection: Why Adoption Will Rescue Australia’s Underclass Children . Sammut argues that institutional bias in favour of relocating abused indigenous children with kinship groups virtually precludes indigenous children from being adopted by non-indigenous parents which might often provide a better option for the children.

And surely if being embedded in traditional culture is so wonderful the kids must really love it? Not so! There is a wealth of anecdotal material suggesting that many indigenous young people would actually prefer to be in detention, removed from the dysfunction, getting three meals a day and a warm bed to themselves at night.

Cathy McLennan worked as a young lawyer for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal aid

Service in Townsville and later became a magistrate in Innisfail. She documented some of her experiences of dealing with young indigenous offenders in her memoir Saltwater: An Epic Fight for Justice in the Tropics. Reacting to the Royal Commission set up to deal with issues emanating from the Northern Territory’s Don Dale youth detention centre she commented:

“My experience as a barrister is that children who end up in detention have been hurt, abused and broken long before they end up in detention, and they often see youth detention as a safe haven.’’


Now what an indictment that is! Far from viewing detention as a disincentive to bad behaviour, many see it as a more desirable option than enduring the indignities of their dysfunctional communities.


So what to do?


Most usefully I think we should accept Anthony Dillon’s counsel. My interpretation of his stance on the matter is that in the first instance we should forget about race. The victims of this societal dysfunction are first of all children – Australian children. Our first duty should be to protect them from, and where necessary, remove them from harm. This should always be our response for children in danger of neglect or abuse, wherever they live and whatever their race.

And then I think we should be sceptical about the value of propagating Aboriginal culture. Some of those who purport to be conservators of Aboriginal culture have confected cultural issues to bolster victimhood.


As well, championing Aboriginal culture (or any other culture for that matter), merely promotes the worst aspects of identity politics. None of us chose our parents, so ethnicity is a mere matter of chance. It doesn’t seem to me to be something that we should literally be “proud of”. It seems ludicrous to take pride in something over which we had no choice. As I have often said, I don’t feel proud to be Australian, I just feel grateful that fate has contrived to allow me to be a citizen of a country with a great liberal, democratic tradition. I had nothing to do with it!


Let us be forthright in proclaiming that overall, indigenous Australians are, in general, prospering in Australia. Where they have chosen to engage in the mainstream economy and adopted the norms of Australian society they have fared very well.


But in our remote communities, that have no real economies and are only sustained by government welfare, there is only despair. And those that suffer most, and deserve our earnest attention, are unfortunately the children.


Let us try to make sure that, despite what those who seek to elevate the issues of Aboriginal culture might wish, the little children don’t suffer.


12 Replies to “Suffer the Little Children”

  1. Absolutely right Ted. I wouldn’t change a word of it.

    I continue to be astounded by my Warlpiri wife’s ability to interpret marks on the ground that tell her the species that made them, the direction they took, the speed of their movement and a hundred other things.

    She holds in her head a vast amount of knowledge concerning the relationships between those she knows and the minute detail of their lives.

    Her ability to move between languages, not just registers, in the one conversation is incredible.

    I would love for our grand sons to have the skills and knowledge she possesses but they’re aren’t much interested because such knowledge would contribute very little to their own survival or their ability to earn a living now. And that is what preserves cultures – do they continue to work for you?

    We have been so worried about preserving this thing called ‘culture’, and you are right, much of it now presented to us was invented five minutes ago, that we have not taught the best of what we have.

    There are generations of teachers, let alone students, in remote communities who cannot function independently in their own communities and not at all outside of them, teachers who can’t speak, let alone read and write, the national language and have, not even basic, mathematical skill or knowledge.

    We are sacrificing their lives on the altar of ersatz ‘culture’.

    1. Well, Dave, I’ve had a long-term interest in indigenous issues and have tried to do my little bit whenever I can. But I feel absolutely blessed that Anthony has included me in your network. An endorsement from someone like you who has a clear understanding of the issues on the ground gives me confidence that I’m not talking rubbish!

  2. Well,
    “ I feel many, or (rather all the above comments here ) they really do hit the mark in truth of reality of light of day.. To,in what is going on today’s life of being a indigenous person ! “ when, their own kin want no PART of their ways, must be seen for where it’s heading.. As like,many other groups of people i,e;- those who once lived and now are only known of, in our past history of this worlds passage of time bygone us now.. aztec’s and the rest of i leave un-named here [# to many to fit in here, now, ok ]
    Thus, to saying is sadly, but honestly true in my heart & own mind is;-
    They then ‘ try to continue claiming as tradition or traditional ways of theirs, is dying ( self imploding ) from within itself…
    #having your own children, “ Prefering to sniff petrol, glue & chroming out on a can of paint or whatever they can get hold of, leaves much to be desired ? “
    As like those we have known or have recorded by the lack of good parenting & using/abusing as with total disrespect of their own younger generations today. Leave very little to be proud of, to continue doing as they do, now ..
    surely someone must stand up, [ Jacinta Price and very few others have not much support to do the right thing ] “ And, seek change before they go the way as many others have gone,eh ? “
    Its up to them to change or die out, IMHO their time is now to decide what way they are gonna go …

  3. I attended a “cross cultural “ training
    day recently and was disappointed they were still presenting the dreadful past. I am sure it was dreadful but that fours hours did nothing to address indigenous current issues such as housing, health and education.
    I left mid way as I was so angry that all the energy and resources are still not proactive and future focused.

    1. I can identify with that, Madeleine. Back in the day when I was involved in indigenous issues more directly I went to a couple of courses which purported to make me aware of indigenous culture. I came away on both occasions bitterly disappointed. It reinforced in my mind that indigenous culture is often promoted as something wonderful but my observation is that many of those promoting indigenous culture are promoting it as an excuse for indigenous dysfunction. And often many of the features of indigenous culture that these people promoted had little basis in historical fact.

      I guess one of my reservations about so-called “Aboriginal culture” is that the Aboriginal people who inhabited Australia prior to white settlement comprised many disparate tribes, which each had its own culture. Very few of these have been adequately recorded. Consequently what is proffered as Aboriginal cultural studies is unlikely to have an historical basis and is often manufactured to suit various political pursuits.

  4. So true Ted, my daughter comes home from school with a completely new history!!! It is being rewritten to suit the political climate.

    Indigenous affairs is such a political football and so often highjacked by grandstanding rather than deliberate care and planning.

    I hope this doesn’t hit a sour note but other races have moved forward and prospered after facing dreadful adversity and persecution. There needs to be a line drawn in the sand, harness the energy being focused on the past and all the wrong doings and spend that passion and vision on the future.


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