Maori Woman

Maori Woman

At once fierce and majestic, the hilltop peaks fade into the crisp, jewelled waters with a vibrancy of colour that is so brilliant it appears to be a figment of the imagination. New Zealand’s striking landscape is breathtaking, its raw untouched beauty greets the eyes arousing fresh appreciation, even after countless years spent gazing upon its many nuances. For those living off the land it can be a brutal master or tender lover, requiring resilience and strength of character to endure. It is a country that will leave you infatuated with its wild and wilful nature, a reflection of the Maori people who settled this savagely captivating land after scattering the original Polynesian inhabitants, the Moriori.

 

The Maori tribes blessed with strength and ingenuity, carved a life from this land which could be at once bountiful or cruel. Hunters and gatherers, sustaining themselves on a diet of Moa, seal, fish and shellfish, supplemented with kumara (sweet potato) and yams, they flourished. Fashioning wood into wakas (canoes) and greenstone and bone into ornaments and tools, the Maori tribes connected with the land, their spirit gods.

 

Hungering for control, mana (status) aroused inter-tribal warfare, the strong vying for privileges such as women, land, tools and weapons. To breed fear in their opposing tribes, the victors dismembered the bodies of those defeated in battle, removing and digesting the head, so that traditional mourning for their spirits could not take place.

 

Word of the rich farming and prosperous trade in New Zealand spread throughout the Pacific, resulting in an influx of European settlers. The European settlers came bearing goods such as guns, which unbalanced the scales of tribal warfare forever.

 

The Maori people resented this foreign intrusion, although the more cunning used it to their advantage, trading flax and potatoes for weapons and other imported goods, their eyes clouded with the promise of mana. With greed and power came death, with European and Maori casualties making the land run thick with blood. Alliances were formed, some tragically sacrificing brother for brother.

 

British missionaries filled with desire to convert the Maori people came from Australian shores and settled in New Zealand, gaining favour with local chiefs Hongi and Ruatara and the Maori Queen.

 

Lawlessness ensued and the British used this to their advantage, making a claim on these fertile lands with double-edged promises of tools and weapons. Fearing France gaining the upper hand with earlier European settlement, Britain urged the Maori Queen and local chiefs to join the Monarchy. An uneasy peace was struck between the tribal leaders and the British Crown on the 6th of February 1840 at Waitangi. The Maori people retained control of their lands, but were governed under British rule.

  

To this day, the Maori people still guard their proud heritage, although sadly the knowledge and traditions woven into their tribal roots are starting to fade, like the burial stones of their elders whose spirits are all that remain to watch over their descendants. But for those who still remember and continue to recount the stories, if you are lucky enough to hear them, it is a privilege that many may never have the opportunity to experience as the years gain momentum.

 

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The dangers of Australia's cultural obsession with drinking

The dangers of Australia’s cultural obsession with drinking

In Australia, alcohol has become symbolic as part of our cultural identity, “having a few beers after work with the mates” or “relaxing with a glass of wine over a quiet dinner” are concepts grasped readily and reinforced through marketing to boost alcohol sales nationally. We are constantly bombarded by advertising promoting the “new and improved” alcoholic beverages or reaffirming old loyalties, why our “brewing method” makes our drink taste better or will suddenly make you more attractive to the opposite sex, which I am yet to find.

 

But where does the line become distorted, when having a good time leads to a regular pattern of binge drinking, poor choices and long-term health issues. It is easy to blame poor parenting for over indulgence, but I believe it’s much more than that. The Australian mentality where socialising and drinking merge into a singular concept, reinforced by marketing or even subconsciously from a young age as an onlooker at family and special events. Where nonchalant cries of, “Can you grab your old man a beer”, or “Your mother need’s a top-up” are catchphrases that have become ingrained in Australian culture.

 

The Australian Medical Industry’s report in 2009 estimated that 40 per cent of Australian’s drink weekly, with one in ten Australian’s over 14 years of age drinking at levels considered to be a high risk to health. A disturbing statistic uncovered in a report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, highlighted that alcohol is the second largest cause of drug-related deaths and hospitalisations after tobacco. Alcohol has also been linked to more than 60 different medical conditions including cirrhosis of the liver, heart and circulatory problems and cancer and impotency. 

 

Another sad statistic is up to a third of fatal crashes on Australian roads are the result of drivers with alcohol levels above the legal limit. (Australian Transport Council 2008, National Road Safety Action Plan 2009 and 2010)

 

Something that I am not proud of is that I could have added to this statistic. I drank far too much one night, prompted by a friend to “Stay for one more” and instead of declining, I had the poor sense of judgement to over indulge.

 

I chose to drive, when I was clearly not in the right state to be behind the wheel and ended up crashing. The police arrived at the scene and in my disorientated condition I didn’t provide an adequate breathalyser reading and ended up in a cell for a night after being physically assaulted by an officer.

 

While it would probably rate as the most traumatic event of my life, it was a good wake up call for me. I wasn’t a habitual drink driver, but the realisation that I could have killed someone through my careless actions is so deeply ingrained in my conscience that I will never get behind the wheel over the limit again.

 

I don’t have parents that have afflicted the course of my life with patterns of alcohol abuse. My parents very rarely drank, maybe once or twice a year and in very moderate quantities. But I am still a binge drinker. It started at parties from a young age where it was readily accepted to drink heavily until you were intoxicated and while I have learnt to control this habit, from time to time I still drink too heavily.

 

The difficulty with alcohol being so prevalent in Australian culture and social events is that there is often a stigma attached to saying “No I don’t want a drink”. There is pressure to keep up with your mates, to have “Just one more”.

We need to start being conscious of the part we play in the amount of alcohol being consumed around us and understand the patterns that subconsciously evolve in our attitude toward drinking which not only affect our lives but can impact on our children’s as well.

  

Give victims of domestic violence a voice.

Give victims of domestic violence a voice.

“It’s your fault it happened….You made me do this by behaving that way…I promise it won’t ever happen again…You know I love you”. Domestic violence has crept into so many Australian homes, rich or poor, black or white, it appears in many faceless forms. A common misconception is that women are generally the victims, but a recent national study has uncovered that males and females are equally guilty of abuse, whether it is psychological, physical, sexual, economic or social abuse. (VicHealth 2009)

Domestic violence is not held at arms length, it’s personal it affects people close to you friends, relatives workmates.  Recently a friend told me a horrific story, of a partner who regularly physically abused her one incident she recalled him pushing her wrists back until they nearly snapped, leaving her hospitalised with permanent injuries, another friend who was beaten countless time and left on the floor with blood pooling around her. A male relative who was thrown down the stairs by his girlfriend, one of the many countless times he was cruelly mistreated, because he wouldn’t physically defend himself for fear of hurting her.

When I queried one of the victims as to why she didn’t involve the police, she replied, “There’s no point, they only react if they can see the violence occurring or you’re nearly killed… and restraining orders aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.” But can police be pigeonholed with the blame? A policeman who regularly handled domestic violence incidents once commented to me sadly that ‘he would go to the same houses regularly and see victims of abuse who won’t make statements against their partners for fear of repercussions, while others genuinely believe they deserve the beating because of long-term psychological abuse’. He also mentioned ‘with longterm victims of domestic violence he had to resign himself to the fact that one day he would turn up and they’d be dead, because they either couldn’t leave because they had children to support, or because they love their abuser.’ 

Why is domestic violence such a terrible affliction on Australian society? I believe it’s because state legislation doesn’t allow the law to act until it’s too late. A study on Domestic Violence Laws in Australia undertaken by the National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children (2009) highlighted some critical flaws in state legislation. Firstly, that only in Western Australia and Queensland were police obligated to investigate whether domestic violence may have been committed, if there is “reasonable suspicion” a vague term that can easily be misinterpreted. Secondly, only in Western Australia are police required to “take a form of action, such as making an application for a protection order” after investigating alleged incidents of domestic violence. 

There are noticeable trends with domestic violence sufferers. Higher levels of  those being victimised include: the disabled, women from cultural and linguistically diverse backgrounds, indigenous and younger women and those living in isolated areas. Factors such as drug and alcohol use, earlier child abuse, separation, pregnancy and attitudes to violence against women, are some of the major risk factors for those who are more conditioned to end up in violent households. (National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, 2009)

 The tragedy of domestic violence is that loss of life is a reality . The National Homicide Monitoring Program (NHMP) analysis of homicide trends from 2007-08 found that 52 per cent of deaths were domestic homicides. While it can often be difficult to understand why people stay in violent households, it can often be due to feelings of isolation, misplaced affection and lack of financial or emotional support. If you are concerned a friend, relative, work colleague or family member is a victim of domestic violence, let them know you are there for them and that you care. Do some research on the support networks that are available locally, such as counselling and safe accommodation. Also never judge, because if you push someone away who needs your help and they become a statistic, you only have yourself to blame.

 

Mark Newton, 42 and Peter Truong, 36 (image from brisbanetimes.com.au)

Mark Newton, 42 and Peter Truong, 36
(image from brisbanetimes.com.au)

It was a horrific crime, predatory and brutal and perpetrated by two men who could only be described as animals, for the indecent acts they inflicted upon an innocent.

 

In 2005, a young boy was conceived using a surrogate in Russia for adoption by a gay couple, Mark Newton and Peter Truong, who were based in Cairns.

From the age of two, the couple repeatedly molested him and recorded the acts, while also allowing him to be sexually abused by other members of an international paedophile ring called “Boy Lovers”.

 

In 2011 the men were taken into custody on suspicion of molesting the boy. The police uncovered footage in the couple’s home showing acts of depravity that continued for six years, until the men were imprisoned. Newton was deported to the US where he was tried and given the maximum sentence of 40 years behind bars, the Indianapolis judge stating in his verdict, “What can be said. What can be done to erase the horror of this.” Truong was also deported back to New Zealand where he is awaiting his conviction, after entering a guilty plea.

 

Child sexual abuse comes in many ugly shapes and forms.  In a majority of cases it is someone close to the victim, a stepparent or a close family acquaintance and the horrific damage it inflicts is a crushing burden, carried even after the acts cease. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS 2005) reported that 12 per cent of women and 4.5 per cent of men in Australia had been sexually abused before age 15, with two thirds of those surveyed experiencing abused before they had reached 11 years of age.  

 

To realise the magnitude of child abuse in Australia, there is one substantiated case of child sexual assault every 2 hours (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2004), which doesn’t account for the many cases that go unreported. Adding further weight to this issue, about half the victims of child abuse don’t speak of the crime to anyone else, some only disclosing the acts having occurred when they reach adulthood. (Queensland Crime Commission and Queensland Police Service, 2000). Males are also less likely to report being abused when raped by a male offender, as they are scared of being thought of as gay. (Hanson, Kievit, Saunders, Smith, Kilpatrick, Resnick and Ruggerio, 2003)                         

Also a staggering 88 per cent of rapes in Indigenous communities aren’t reported.

 

Child sexual assault is prevalent in Australian society for many reasons.

Research undertaken by the Australian Childhood Foundation highlights 1 in 3 Australian’s wouldn’t believe a child if they said they were being abused. (Australian Childhood Foundation 2010)

The sad reality of this is that 98 per cent of cases where a child has reported abuse, it has been revealed to be true. (Dympna House, 1990) 

Another key finding is that 1 in 5 Australians wouldn’t know what to do if they suspected a child was being abused. (Australian Childhood Foundation 2010)

 

While a child may only experience acts of sexual abuse over a short-term period of their life, the lasting effects often lead to self-destructive tendencies that last a lifetime, or cause them to make the ultimate sacrifice, taking their own life. These can range from psychiatric disorders, emotional problems, lack of self-esteem, mutilation, promiscuity, poor parenting skills and marital problems.  

 

So what can be done to change this terrible affliction on Australia’s youth? Education is the key. Australian’s need to be taught the signs to look for if a child is being abused and the processes that should be followed to stop the offender committing further acts against the victim or others. Hard-core pedophiles can molest up to 150 children in their lifetime (Salter 2003), so it is up to us to protect both the children in our care and those who we come into contact with that aren’t lucky enough to have someone to watch out for their well being.

 

The death toll rises.

The death toll rises.

Over the past few years the construction industry in Australia has been a volatile mistress for many workers, still reeling from the repercussions of the global financial crisis. During 2008-2009 there was a noticeable decline in annual income and overall growth in the industry, which impacted heavily on commercial property construction. While recent stimulus packages and the governments focus on injecting funds into developing educational institutions offers a beacon of hope in the darkness for a select few, financial oppression threatens to overwhelm many more, which could end in tragedy.

A study by the Australian Institute of Suicide and Prevention unearthed alarming figures back in 2006, that the suicide rate for young workers in Queensland’s construction industry was more than two times higher than the rest of the Nation. Mates in Construction, a charity set up to help reduce the number of suicides in the State, estimate that a construction worker is ‘six times more likely to die from suicide than an accident at work’.

Further investigation into the cause of these deaths highlighted issues such as problems with management, extended working hours, (meaning more time spent away from partners and family units), broken relationships, drug use, inconsistent work patterns and alcohol abuse. One of the most traumatic factors relating to these deaths, was more than 50 per cent of the victims had communicated they were thinking of ending their lives in the 12 months prior to committing suicide.

The culture of the building and construction industry has long been a testosterone fuelled, male dominated domain, where emotions are hidden and schedules set in concrete, often to the detriment of a healthy personal life and mental state.

There is a belief that workers should be forged from iron, spouting out dated catchphrases like, “I had it harder than that when I was doing my apprenticeship,” the beer drinking, hard as nails construction mentality, which is playing a key role in this unnecessary loss of life.

My brother, now a qualified builder, experienced firsthand the repercussions of the construction industry culture. In the early stages of his apprenticeship he worked with a builder who would regularly verbally abuse him, because the older man was struggling to deal with personal issues at home. Fearing the repercussions of speaking out, my brother felt compelled to suppress his feelings while the builder gradually chipped away at his confidence.

But he was one of the lucky one’s, having a support network that eventually allowed him walk away and start afresh in a more positive environment.  Unfortunately there are many who suffer in silence. Only too often they turn to alcohol and drugs to numb the conflict they are feeling inside, from intimidation on the jobsite, relationship or financial issues, afraid to reach out, scared of condemnation from management or workmates.

The future is a rocky path for those within the construction industry, as the financial crisis tightens its oppressive grasp. But during this time of hardship, it is vital to change the ugly face of the industry and share the load for those bowing under the weight.  It is only through communication and understanding that the heavy toll of suicide will no longer have to be paid.

The ultimate sacrifice.

The ultimate sacrifice.

Religion has long been desecrated by those who have worn it as a cloak to hide personal ambition. From as early as 1095, Pope Claremont and his followers evoked the fervour of the Christian masses throughout converted parts of Europe to champion the “moral enterprise” of reclaiming the Holy Land of Jerusalem. The irony being that the Christian Crusader’s were compelled to accomplish this by massacring the Muslim’s, as they themselves had been brutally struck down and abolished from Jerusalem in 1065.

But once the Holy Land was back in the Churches grasp, the streets stained with blood, it became evident that people’s susceptibility to aid “God’s” work, was a devastating tool in the wrong hands. Consumed by greed and power, the Church hungered for more. Once again they began their passionate proclamation, ‘the pagans must be overthrown’. The Crusaders rose up countless more times and bound by a belief in their divine duty, they swept through Spain, Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean Islands flushing out the “immoral”, raping and pillaging with crosses held aloft, their convictions blackened through the darkness of their actions.

Then we proceed to 17th Century Ireland, where the twisted roots of dissidence were sown between the Catholics and Protestants, after England opposed them gaining independence. Uneven distribution of property and industry in the North under English rule had left the Catholics desperately poor and struggling to feed their families, while the industry and property rich Scottish and English Protestants grew fat off their land. Thoughts of bloody rebellion stirred throughout the 1800’s and by the Twentieth Century the Catholic population would be suppressed no more, vowing for an Independent rule from the British.

The British attempted to pacify the Catholics, separating Ireland into two political entities, Catholic and Protestant, each with limited powers of self-governance, but the Catholics, ironclad in their resolve would not be cowed, a gilt cage while ornate is still a cage. Riots erupted between the Irish Republican Party (IRA) who supported the Catholics and the British forces, ranks swelled with Protestants.

Guerilla warfare plagued the land and many lost their lives, neighbour striking down neighbour, religious affiliation distorting the undeniable truth that is was a conflict based solely on the coveting of wealth, the few overlooking the needs of the many. Even after Ireland was declared a free state, apart from 3 counties in Northern Ireland, the dissension still continued between the IRA and Protestant paramilitary groups, the cost that could never be recovered, more than 3000 people losing their lives.

Then there is the Afghanistan war, which can be traced back to the Cold War in 1979, when Afghanistan signed a treaty with the Soviet Union waging war with the Mujahideen, powerful multi-national insurgent groups. It is within the midst of the Mujahideen that Osama Bin Laden first cut his fighting teeth. While Bin Laden’s wealthy family channelled money into the cause gaining him support and popularity, America also gave them the golden handshake, a devastating reality that is often swept under the rug, but the rug is unfortunately not vast enough to conceal.

After the Soviets were subdued, the American’s became the jihad. The Mujahideen wanted to rid their sacred lands of American influence and by 1988 Osama Bin Laden had become a key player in these machinations. After developing a following in the Mujahideen, he branched off to form Al-Quaida. With the support of the Taliban, Afghanistan’s ruling party, Bin Laden began his aggressive attacks to oppose America so they would withdraw from the Middle East.  Toppling the World Trade Centre like a game of dominos, the attacks progressed with deadly momentum. The death toll currently stands at 80,000 and grows daily with no end in sight, a power play that neither side is winning, the poverty stricken Afghani people losing more than most.

Many people are quick to blame religion for the terrible conflicts and divisions that exist in society today. But religion is not the real issue. Religions, while they vary in the rituals and beliefs people follow, are traditionally based on respecting others and letting morality guide you throughout your life. It is the minority that use religion as a mask for financial gain or power, that manipulate religion for destruction not peace, who I believe have lost the faith.

Near Mainohana in Papua New Guinea.

Near Mainohana in Papua New Guinea.

Papua New Guinea is a country of contrasts, from the lush and exotic green landscape, hazy and pulsing in the heat, to the startlingly vibrant rainbow of the local people dressed in colours, hues mirroring their national icon, the bird of paradise.

 

It is a startling place, a society multilayered in its complexity, at once beautiful, violent, tragic and heart-warming. One hand uncovers underlying corruption, brutality and greed while the other is outstretched revealing gentleness, sensitivity and generosity, a confusing contradiction.

 

Martial law governs the land, especially throughout isolated areas such as the Highlands. Machetes are a prominent feature in this volatile country, even disconcertingly amongst the young. It is a tool of need in this wild and wonderful place, for food gathering, land clearing and building, which has sadly evolved into a symbol of destruction, threatening, slaughtering and maiming in its wake.

 

HIV, tuberculosis and malaria cast a black shadow over the people, with misdiagnosis a flawed reality in the public health system. The high cost of education limiting the flow of experienced health workers, escalating health risks especially amongst the impoverished.

 

Pigs are the highest currency in country areas, this simplified trade a refreshing change from the mighty dollar, the scourge of westernised materialism. Coconut, carrot mango, tinned fish and pawpaw, staples of the diet, red meat a rare commodity.

 

Extreme weather can offer plentiful bounty, or destroy hours spent slaving over crops and thatched homes. Vehicles washed away in the blink of an eye, overcrowding sacrificing men, women and children to the same fate, the excessive cost of fuel forcing many to take their precarious journeys together. No-one can hide from the brutal heat and torrential rain.   

 

With startling clarity it’s undeniable that hardship hasn’t broken these people, they clash, celebrate, love and laugh, proudly watch their children grow and smile unaffectedly, flashing white teeth stark against bronzed complexions with a warmth that is catching. Overcoming adversity while retaining a strong sense of family, there are lessons to be learned from a people that from the outside looking in appear to have nothing, but in reality have everything.