'Black Blood Mixed With White Trash'

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For a very small town, Toomelah makes an awful lot of headlines. In its recent history, there have been three that perhaps most defined the community's history. One was very good, one depends on your outlook, and one was very bad.

The first was when Toomelah's footy team, the Tigers, won the most prestigious rugby league competition in the country.

Forget the NRL, if you're an all-Aboriginal team, the only event that matters is the Aboriginal Rugby League Knockout, an annual competition that provides a major boost to the economies of towns lucky enough to host it, with the fan base sometimes topping 25,000.

In 1994 the Tigers managed to knock off La Perouse — routinely one of the best teams at the Knockout — in the grand final. And all on the Lapas' home turf. It helped that the team had players like Glen Brennan, a former Canberra Raider, in its ranks.

So that's the positive headline.

The second came a few years earlier, when Marcus Einfeld, then president of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, reported on the impoverished community.

It was 1988 — Australia's bicentenary year — and Einfeld's report shocked the nation. Sewage was pooling in Toomelah's streets, unemployment was near 100 per cent, and residents shared a single tap.

The report shamed the government into action: roads were sealed, homes were built, the water and sewerage system was fixed and street lighting was installed.

That headline was bad in that it lay bare the grinding poverty that enveloped Toomelah, and good in that it finally forced government to act. The community was reborn. Or at least it seemed that way, until the third defining headline in Toomelah's history, which emerged only a month ago.

On 7 May, the Sydney Morning Herald's front page revealed that a NSW bureaucrat had told locals to accept the appointment of a "government mission manager", or their community would be bulldozed.

Despite all the upgrade works, children were still living among raw sewage. The street lights weren't working, the homes were in poor condition and the roads were still paved, but littered with broken glass and rubbish. Crime was a daily occurrence, and sexual abuse of children, according to residents, was rife, with numerous paedophiles living unchecked in the community.

Toomelah's residents believed they were facing a Northern Territory-style intervention.

Under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (NSW), the Toomelah community lives on freehold land, held in trust by the Toomelah Local Aboriginal Land Council. In order for the community to be relocated, the NSW Government would need to convince the NSW Parliament to pass a special piece of legislation specifically aimed at compulsorily acquiring the land at Toomelah.

It could then try and forcibly evict the residents. But the NSW Government does not have the numbers in parliament to simply pass any legislation it likes. It must rely on the support of independents and/or the Greens. But even if it did, there is no evidence it ever intended to relocate the community in the first place.

When the Toomelah story broke, the NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Victor Dominello, told media that a "top down approach" to government control of Aboriginal communities was not what was needed. The threat of closure had come from a single bureaucrat, Amy Makim, who had neither the permission to make such a decision, nor the power to carry it out. Makim was employed by the NSW Government as a Community Project Officer with Aboriginal Affairs NSW in January 2012.

Her role, according to AANSW boss Jason Ardler, "was to work with partner agencies in the development of a coordinated strategy for the Toomelah-Boggabilla community". To undertake this role Makim "was required to conduct some community engagement activities".

At a community meeting earlier this year, Makim is alleged to have told local workers and community members that problems were so bad at Toomelah that it faced government intervention. Her threat was soon passed on to the Herald; she denies it was ever made. Once the story broke AANSW began an investigation, but events took an unexpected turn.

On the evening of 22 May, two weeks after the first SMH report, Makim logged onto Tracker's website. She was looking, she later claimed, for details on a story that ABC's 7.30 Report was expected to run on Toomelah.

In the course of her search, Makim posted a comment at the bottom of an unrelated story under the pseudonym "Sick of the Whingers". Unfortunately for Makim, her post was not anonymous:

"Well done to all the aboriginal people who have worked hard, studied hard and created a life for themselves and their families without the 'pity funds' from centrelink…I'm guessing you either had someone with 'white work ethics' in your midst..stolen generation or mixed race?? I don't know any Murri who is an advocate, scholar, professional or person of admiration that doesn't have a heavy dose of white influence.

"Face the facts! You have been conquered! Get over it! Get a job, look after your bloody children and stop putting your hand out! You should have put up a better fight to keep your land or more frankly the English should have wiped you all out because the 2.6% of you are costing our country a fortune and making our country a place of ghetto violence!

[…]

"You now have black blood mixed with white trash creating one of the worse kind of human societies. Harsh, shocking? and true!
 Australia cannot say sorry any longer, they cannot keep hanging their heads in shame..we didn't do this, our ancestors did, it is done, we cannot go back only forward."

Tracker traced her identity, not because we suspected she had links to Toomelah, but because the comments were so extreme that they warranted a closer look.
When approached with the details of Makim's post, Jason Ardler, the head of AANSW told Tracker:

"When Aboriginal Affairs was informed that Ms Makim was alleged to have made inappropriate remarks about Toomelah (at the community meeting), the agency questioned Ms Makim and she denied the allegation. Further investigation of this matter was overtaken by Aboriginal Affairs' response to Ms Makim's comments on the Tracker website.

"When it was confirmed that Ms Makim was responsible for the comments on the Tracker website, the agency acted immediately, contacted Ms Makim, stood her down and subsequently accepted her resignation, effective on that day.

"These kinds of statement are repugnant, completely at odds with the values of Aboriginal Affairs and will not be tolerated. These comments have affected Aboriginal Affairs' reputation and the offense caused is deeply regretted. Aboriginal Affairs apologises to the people of Toomelah for the hurt caused and reaffirms its commitment to working with the community to create real opportunities and positive change."

Makim's alleged threats against the community sparked substantial mainstream and Aboriginal media interest. Her comments on tracker.org.au are unlikely to attract the same level of attention.

This is the first article in a two-part series on Toomelah by the editor of Tracker magazine, Chris Graham. Read the second part here.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. Chris has won a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards for his reporting. He lives in Brisbane and splits his time between Stradbroke Island, where New Matilda is based, and the mainland.

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