Khullah Yanaintha (Fire coming)

Camping on Country - Tennant Creek Men's Camp, Ernie Dingo

You mob might have heard funding for our deadly pilot program Camping on Country, designed by myself and my crew including a big mob of remote elders, Lore bosses and Aboriginal health professionals has been axed. The program was evaluated and has proven to be successful so why has the Department of Health walked away just as us men are creating momentum?

There is an industry built around ‘fixing’ us Aboriginal people. It’s called Closing the Gap and employs thousands of non-Indigenous health and policy bureaucrats. It’s one of the biggest non-Indigenous public service employment rackets in the country. So why aren’t us blackfella’s Closing the Gap? Is it because our apparent bad health and perceived dysfunction is the industry. To them we’re like coal or iron ore. Our sickness is a valuable resource to them. Our poor health outcomes are mined by Government and I’m getting tired of this fight.

We all know of the Governments ongoing systemic failure to include remote mob in our own health programs has meant an intergenerational non-uptake of health services. From the perspective of a remote non-English-speaking Aboriginal man, it is not a simple case of a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude towards health or an antigovernment belligerence. The issue is personal one for us and runs deeper. That’s why we set up Camping on Country. It gives us a voice and also allows us to wrestle our health business back off govt mob. Our health is our business. You can take away our language and culture, but you can’t take away our right to a good healthy life.

In essence it’s about cultural inclusion. The Government have known about these issues for decades but colonial attitudes of ‘we know what’s best for you’ are ironed into their policy. Blackfellas call it out every single day; deaths in custody, poor housing, health statistics, incarceration rates…the list is endless.

I know from being born in the bush and from growing up in the bush if our culture, language and Lore is not included in our health service delivery then it holds little sway for Countrymen. In fact, anything you try and do in a remote Aboriginal setting, does not work if local mob are not involved and included. It’s called co-design and no amount of well-intentioned bureaucratic ‘consultation’ will work. It has never worked. It never will.

Meanwhile me and my motley black crew are packing our troopie’s and going bush to sit with Countrymen and work out a way to keep going without Government funding. Our spirit of resistance is fuelled by the indignation of our ancestors; thousands of generations of proud warriors, husbands, fathers and elders walk in front of us creating a slipstream of pride, success and ultimate victory. We got this.

And thank you for your support you mob. We appreciate all your deadly comments and encouragement. A lot of you have suggested a crowdfunding page but we too proud for that. Govt mob need to sit with us. They’ve gone away for now… but they’ll come back. Khullah Yanaintha! 

This story was written by Ernie Dingo – Ambassador Camping on Country


  • Trypheyna McShane

    May 11, 2021 at 4:11 pm Reply

    Ernie you are ‘Spot On’ with what you have written. Your health IS your business. The system is SO broken, in so many areas, because it so often seems to be about creating wealth for a few rather than focusing on solving the problems for so many. As Jimi Hendrix so aptly said: “When the power of love over takes the love of power the world will know peace.”

    The first step is definitely bringing it out into the light, as you are, for change to occur. May you find brilliant solutions because the answers do not lie in the pockets of a few, but in the hearts of many. For all of us back to the land and back to Nature is where the truth will be found.

    In the 1980’s I was commissioned to create a series of drawings in support of Aboriginal breastfeeding, by the Nursing Mother’s Association for the Thallikool project of Australia. Having been blessed at that time to have worked alongside the most incredible Aboriginal elder Della Walker (who sadly is no longer here to share her incredible insights, except through her brilliant book” Me & You”) for a considerable period of time I felt very privileged to have been asked to do this. In 2005 the Australian Breastfeeding Association created limited edition prints with this written on them ‘Having breastfed her own four children, these drawings are her dream of a healthy future for not only the original people of this magnificent country Australia but also it’s newcomers”

    It breaks my heart to see over 30 years later that the health of Aboriginal communities has got worse rather than better. There is no reason for it to be like this. I’ve worked alongside some brilliant Aboriginal people who have the answers but are not being enabled or allowed to enact them. This is where the problem lies. Self-determination is paramount. Give a child a healthy safe start and they will bring magic to our world.

    “Della Walker believed that ‘whether you are a white person or a black person, caring and sharing is what it is all about, me and you together that’s the beauty part of it'” Cover art by Tryphena McShane.

  • Trypheyna McShane

    May 11, 2021 at 4:20 pm Reply

    More about the incredible Della;

    Della Walker, of Gumbainggir descent, was born in 1932 on Ulgandahi Island, an Aboriginal reserve in the Clarence River delta near Maclean, New South Wales. She attended school on the island before her family moved to nearby Yamba, where she was employed in domestic duties at a local guesthouse.

    When she was 17, the family moved to the Tabulam reserve, 45 kilometres west of Casino. She married there, and worked both as a domestic aid and an assistant to her husband in his seasonal farming jobs.

    Walker became an unofficial midwife at the reserve, and subsequently became involved in a number of community activities: organisation of church services and the Djunagun dance troupe; promotion of her mother tongue, Aboriginal education, the teaching of Aboriginal Studies at regional TAFE colleges; and counselling of prisoners at the Grafton gaol.

    She was also a member of the Aboriginal advisory council of the College of Advanced Education in Lismore, president of the Housing Association and the local Land Council at Tabulam, a director of the Yamboora Aboriginal Corporation at Yamba, and chair of the Nungera Aboriginal Cooperative Society at Maclean.Walker is a craft worker, screen printer and maker of echidna-spine necklaces.

  • Donelle Dingo

    May 11, 2021 at 4:47 pm Reply

    Yurrangu Yamaji

    Proud of you, my brother. Proud that you are not giving up on what is the heartbeat of us blackfullas. Strengthen the men…which in turn strengthens all us blackfullas. Down to the women and children.

  • Luke Jonathan Foster

    May 12, 2021 at 6:26 am Reply

    We support you mate.
    Thinking of you men getting together on country gives me strength and hope for my self and all Homo sapiens.

  • Annabel Warner

    May 12, 2021 at 6:46 am Reply

    Ernie, that was bad news to wake up too, I have always thought the camping on country programme sounded like a great initiative that was working well.
    I despair of government and their weird ways that always seem to benefit themselves and their mates
    But Ernie, you have white mates out here and although I cannot afford much I would be happy to throw in some of my oldie pension if it helps run another camp .
    I spent a number of years working in NT with First people’s in need of housing and may have a slightly better understanding than most of those lollies …

  • Casey van Reyk

    May 13, 2021 at 4:09 pm Reply

    Please let us know if there is anything we can do to support Camping on Country in their next journey. I’m sure lots of people want to help despite the governments unwillingness to.

    With gratitude for your resilience

Post a Comment