Australia: Bad Dreaming - Aboriginal Men's Violence Against Women and Children Print E-mail
 2007; 369:1594
Perspectives, Book In Brief

Violent lives

Caroline de Costa
By Louis Nowra

Bad Dreaming: Aboriginal Men's Violence Against Women and Children

Pluto Press, 2007.
ISBN 9780-980-29240-4.
Pp 128. AUS$ 17·95.

Louis Nowra is one of Australia's best-known playwrights. White, male, middle-aged, successful. So why has he written this searing indictment of the violence meted out by men toward women and children among Australia's indigenous population? Hospitalised with pancreatitis in Alice Springs, in 2005, Nowra watched with increasing horror “the most common sight in the hospital…Aboriginal women and young girls with severe injuries suffered during domestic violence. The confronting evidence of what men had done to the women was almost unbearable. My illness paled by comparison”. He decided that as a white male he should speak up for black victims of family violence.

The result is a short but powerful polemic, in which Nowra asks whether this violence is a continuation of traditional practices dating from before colonisation, or a result of the breakdown of traditional society, fuelled as well by alcohol? With a well referenced argument he shows that it is both. Since 1999, there have been more than 40 reports throughout Australia on violence and sexual abuse in indigenous communities, every one containing alarming statistics. Nowra acknowledges that many individuals, black and white, have spoken out, and he notes how difficult it is for Aboriginal women, ashamed of their personal circumstances and trapped in a culture of violence, to speak publicly about their situation.

Is there a solution? Widespread recognition of the problem is a start. Alcohol bans and management programmes in indigenous communities are having some success. In Far North Queensland where I work, Aboriginal activist Noel Pearson believes that problems in dysfunctional communities can only be solved from within those communities and he is attempting to reintroduce lost “social norms”, including compulsory school attendance, the phasing out of welfare dependence, and alcohol restrictions. The results have yet to be seen. Nowra is in agreement with Pearson's approach when he says that “I know that at its dark unwholesome core it is a man's problem.” He is uncompromising in his belief that violent men must not be tolerated by their communities or by society as a whole. “There has to be an acknowledgment by the men that murder and violence are judged…by the standards of the general community.” Hopefully he will be joined by other men willing to stand up and say “No more”.