Posts by Ciaran O'Mahony

Ciaran is a freelance writer with a background in Criminology. He has written extensively on social issues such as family violence (Honours thesis, University of Melbourne) and the criminalisation of immigration and border control (Master’s thesis, University of Oxford). His academic writing experience includes writing, proofreading and editing comprehensive reports and analyses for major government bodies and academic journals. His work has been published on a number of popular sites and publications, including The Citizen, Energy Consumers Australia, World Boxing News, Boxing Insider, Last Word on Tennis, MMASucka and Last Word on Football. This website is a collection of his writings on a range of sporting events and stories.

Kidnappings, sexual slavery and massacres: An Aboriginal couple’s incredible story of strength and survival

Reverend James Noble became Australia’s first Aboriginal Deacon at the height of the frontier wars.

Aboriginal people were routinely murdered, dispossessed and enslaved at this time, and Dr Chris Owen says they were “at the lowest rung on the social ladder.”

So how did Noble become an ordained and respected religious figure?

It might seem unusual for a traditional Aboriginal man to work for the Anglican Church, but Noble’s Great Granddaughter says he didn’t have much choice.

Tabatha Saunders, a Badtjala and Bidjara woman, says “the colonials were hell bent on indoctrinating the ‘savages’” back then.

“I think he saw the way of the ‘whites’ as a portal for him to win what was really a losing battle for our people,” she says. “If he could glide under the radar, and ‘assimilate’, he would be able to help communities in his own way.”

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Australia’s first Aboriginal Deacon, Reverend James Noble. Photographer: Unknown. Source: Christians of the Australia Clay

Noble did just that, spending his youth working as a stockman in Riversleigh in the early 1890s, before moving with his employer to Invermien, New South Wales.

“He was well regarded as a good worker and as a teenager he asked to be educated. The people who owned the cattle station sent him to school. From there, he ended up in Invermien and was given private lessons,” Saunders says.

Noble became a Missionary, travelling to Aboriginal communities from Palm Island to Broome, working tirelessly to help them build a better future.

He could not have done this alone, but he was fortunate to meet a Badtjala woman named Angelina Bradley at Yarrabah Mission.

Angelina’s journey to Yarrabah was a harrowing one. Born in K’Gari (Fraser Island), she was removed from her traditional homeland and sent to Cherbourg Mission.

Sadly, at just 14 years of age, Angelina was abducted by a horse dealer who took her to various parts of Queensland and “used her as a sex slave,” according to Saunders.

“He disguised her as a boy and gave her a boy’s name,” she says. Saunders shudders at the thought of her Great Grandmother’s ordeal – “She was a kid for God’s sake”.

Eventually, they were discovered by Police in Cairns, who freed Angelina and sent her to Yarrabah – where she met James.

Angelina N

Angelina Noble, James Noble’s wife and a carer and teacher at numerous Missions. Photographer: Unknown. Source: Angelina Noble Centre, Australian College of Theology.

Angelina thrived at the Yarrabah school and would later marry and travel the country with James.

Together, they helped to found churches throughout Northern Australia and assisted the Mitchell River and Roper River Missions. They constructed houses, sheds and horse yards, delivered supplies, and cared for the sick and livestock.

Saunders feels that her Great Grandparents “beat them [white settlers] at their own game” by “keeping [Aboriginal] communities together” and spreading compassion and understanding.

Although their connection to the Church gave them some freedom and standing, the Nobles’ work and travels were not without risk.

Such was the disregard for Aboriginal life at the time that an anonymous column in the Sunday Times (March 30, 1902) noted that there were “cut-throat” men throughout the Kimberley who felt “the taking of a nigger’s life was of no more consequence than the drowning of a superfluous kitten.”

Politician George Simpson even declared at the WA Legislative Council that “…it will be a happy day for Western Australia and Australia at large when the natives and the kangaroo disappear.”

Dr Owen confirms that “it is clear in voluminous historical records that the white colonists really didn’t even see them as human.”

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Tabatha Saunders, James and Angelina Noble’s Great Granddaughter.

Nevertheless, they persisted and Angelina, in particular, enjoyed an independence that was extremely rare for an Aboriginal woman. In his book White Christ, Black Cross, Historian Noel Loos says that her significant contribution has sometimes been underestimated by historians.

“Because of the male domination of the Anglican Church during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Angelina’s role was often overlooked. She has been seen as James Noble’s support.”

“She was much more than that. Missionary women as nurses, teachers and housekeepers, interacted generally at greater human depths with Aboriginal people than most male missionaries,” according to Loos.

Angelina knew at least 5 Aboriginal languages and up to 14 different dialects, making her indispensable as they assisted displaced Aboriginal people across the country.

Noble and family

Rev. Noble (2nd from the right), Angelina Noble (far left) and their family at the Forrest River Mission, 1925. From the State Library of WA collection. Photographer: Wilma and Harry Venville.

Her linguistic ability also proved vital when they moved to the Forrest River Mission in April 1914.

Forrest River residents came to Angelina in 1926 to report Police reprisals for the murder of pastoralist Frederick Hay by Lumbia, for the rape of his wife Anguloo. These killings would later become known as the Forrest River massacres.

Police constables Graham St Jack and Denis Regan led a group of 11 armed locals in deadly shootings of anywhere between 30 to 100 Aboriginal people who lived at the Mission.

Angelina translated residents’ accounts of the shootings to the head of the Mission, E.R. Gribble.

Gribble sent her husband – his best tracker – to investigate.

The stories were true. James found charred human remains that had been scorched in make-shift ovens by the banks of Forrest River.

He brought Gribble and the WA Aborigines Department’s Inspector E.C. Mitchell to see the evidence. Their testimony forced a Royal Commission into the killings, with Angelina serving as the official interpreter at the trials.

Despite the evidence, the harsh reality was that Aboriginal lives did not matter to settlers at the time and the perpetrators eventually walked free.

Prosecution for taking an Aboriginal life was extremely rare and an Aboriginal couple being so prominent in the process was unprecedented.

It would have been little comfort to the Nobles though, after witnessing unspeakable horrors and a great miscarriage of justice.

Noble house

Rev. Noble’s House at the Forrest River Mission in 1925. Source: Frank Bunney Collection, State Library of Western Australia.

All they could do was endure and carry on – just as they had done throughout their turbulent lives.

A year after the Royal Commission, 24 buildings, most of which had been built by James, stood proudly at Forrest River. Many of these buildings still stand today.

Angelina taught the children and cooked for residents and staff, as the Mission’s population grew to 170.

They eventually returned to Yarrabah in 1934 as James’ health began to decline. He eventually died on 25 November, 1941, while Angelina died much later on 19 October, 1964. They were survived by two sons and four daughters.

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The Church where Rev. Noble preached at the Forrest River Mission, 1925. Frank Bunney Collection, State Library of Western Australia.

Saunders feels the pride and strength of her ancestors every day, but their resilience and resourcefulness, which is shared by many other Aboriginal Australians, is not highlighted enough.

Instead, harmful stereotypes persist. “I just find it sad that the racism against us is so ingrained. That we are lazy, we are alcoholics et cetera,” she says.

“It is hard as an Aboriginal person, to walk on this land and through it’s many countries and cities and still feel like an outsider. Fear is actually what I feel when I walk through this country,” says Saunders.

“I don’t always take on board the filthy stares and the sideward racism. But I feel them nonetheless.”

She plays her part in breaking down these stereotypes as a co-host of a radio program called “SoulJah Sistars”. The program raises awareness of the achievements of Aboriginal people and people of colour more generally, in politics, the arts and sport.

While there is still work to do, she is optimistic that a “rising tide of unity” is building.

We should follow her Great Grandparents’ compassion and perseverance to raise the tide further.

Our history of police brutality: When charred teeth and bones were found at Forrest River

In August 1926, on the scenic banks of the Kimberley’s Forrest River, an Aboriginal Deacon named James Noble found a pile of charred human remains.

Famed for his tracking skills, Noble was sent by Reverend E.R. Gribble to investigate whether Aboriginal residents of the Forrest River Mission had been shot en mass by the WA Police.

He began his search at Wodgil, where he found a series of horse tracks and footprints. He followed them to a quiet, picturesque site called Gotegotemerrie, where he spotted a mound of ashy sand on the riverbank.

As he ran his hands through the sand, he discovered singed teeth and bones scattered everywhere.

Just 40 feet from these remains lay a deep hole covered by stones, where a large fire had been left to burn- it appeared to be a makeshift oven. The footprints of three women were also spotted, leading to a nearby tree where they appeared to have been chained.

Noble had discovered just a fraction of the atrocities carried out by Police constables Graham St Jack and Denis Regan, and a group of 11 locals, in what is now known as the Forrest River massacres. These reprisals were inflicted after an Aboriginal man named Lumbia murdered pastoralist Frederick Hay, for the rape of his wife, Anguloo.

Noble christening

Rev. James Noble performing a christening at the Forrest River Mission a year before the massacre, 1925. From the State Library of WA collection, courtesy of Wilma and Harry Venville

Although the group killed many, their attempts to conceal their crimes failed, as Noble’s Great Granddaughter, Tabatha Saunders explains –  “They thought they could hide the massacres, but my Great Grandfather found the evidence.”

Saunders, a Badtjala and Bidjara woman based in Brisbane, learned of her Great Grandfather’s harrowing discovery by accident. Most of her Great Grandparents had died before she was born so she decided to learn more about them.

After a bit of googling and skimming through theological websites, she saw James’ name mentioned in connection with the Forrest River massacre. “I looked into it further and was surprised and horrified to discover that he was the tracker who discovered the [victims’] remains.”

“I can’t even comprehend how he tried to understand or cope with this atrocity,” she says. “What horrors must have been going through his mind as he walked along the sand that day?”

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Tabatha Saunders, Reverend Noble’s Great Granddaughter.

There was more trauma to come, however, as Noble returned to Gotegotemerrie with Rev. Gribble and the WA Aborigines Department’s Inspector E.C. Mitchell. Together, they inspected the “improvised oven”, which was loaded with scorched fragments of bones, teeth and skulls, as were chunks of charcoal in a shallow pool nearby.

Dr Chris Owen, author of Every Mother’s Son is Guilty: Policing the Kimberley Frontier of Western Australia, says make-shift ovens were a common tool for destroying massacre evidence during this period.

“It was a method used from the 1890s through to the 1920s,” he says. “Police did investigate a lot of alleged killing of Aboriginal people and incineration became the way in which all evidence of a murder was obliterated. No [physical] evidence of killing meant no killing occurred and thus investigation ceased.”

According to Owen, the killers would build a large wooden pyre, often using wood that the victims were forced to collect, place dead bodies on it and set them alight. Once the fire had died, they would return and “possibly burn them again, then stomp on any remaining bones to crush any evidence.”

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A photograph of a “Bullet-scarred” tree in Dala after the massacre. Four Aboriginal priosners are alleged to have been shot by this tree. Photographer: Unknown. Source: Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Alleged Killing and Burning of Bodies of Aborigines in East Kimberley and into Police Methods When Effecting Arrests.

Noble, Gribble and Mitchell followed the tracks of the perpetrators, their horses and their captives, to other sites in Rounggu, Mowerie, Umbali and Dala, where they encountered more evidence of incineration and devastation.

The tracks of the three women held captive ended about 6 miles from Gotegotemerrie- by another pile of ashy bone fragments.

While we will never know the true extent of the bloodshed, one of the few survivors, an Aboriginal girl named Loorabane, provided an eyewitness account, translated sixty years later by Lily Johnson, in an interview with Christine Halse:

…the police got all those Aborigines from the Kular tribe that lived from the coast to the mission…they put the men on one chain and the women with their children and their kids on another chain. Some of those women had babes at the breast…they killed the men. They just lined them up and shot them one by one…the women had to watch those men being shot…their husbands and brothers and relatives… the men had to collect wood first. They didn’t know why they had to collect that wood but they had to get a big pile of it…They lined them up and shot them…then they cut them up into pieces, you know, a leg, an arm, just like that and those bits of body were thrown on the wood…and burnt there…the women were taken to another place just a bit away…and had to stand on the river bank but it was dry that time of year and they were shot there so their bodies just fell into the river… they bashed the brains out of the babies and threw them into the river with their mothers and burnt the lot…there’s a lot of bodies. It took a long time to burn…With the women was a mother and her two kids… they had bush names. They couldn’t speak English…The boy’s name [was] Numbunnung (Kangaloo) and the girl was Loorabane…the boy spoke to his sister in language and told her that when that chain came off to grab mum and head for the bush…they were at the end of the chain…but [when they ran away] the police shot at them…they killed the mother and the girl got shot in the leg there [pointing]…they hid in the roots of the pandanus grass in the Forrest River. They hid under water and breathed through a bit of pandanus grass, you know, it’s hollow, like a straw…the police looked for them everywhere but they just kept real still, not moving ‘cause they were so scared…by evening, when they thought it was safe to leave, they moved out…swam across the Forrest River and travelled all the next day and then the day after until the evening until they reached the mission where they knew they’d be safe…I was playing with the other girls…when Loorabane came…She was shaking with fright…She told us what happened and we told Mamma [Angelina Noble] and Mamma told Jim [Noble] and he told old Gribble.

Noble search

A photograph of Rev. Noble at another massacre site in Mowerie, where the three women are alleged to have been shot and burnt. Rev. Noble (Centre) and a boy named Ronald (Right) are pictured searching through the ashes for charred bones. Photographer: Unknown. Source: Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Alleged Killing and Burning of Bodies of Aborigines in East Kimberley and into Police Methods When Effecting Arrests.

The death toll is still highly disputed, with some historians estimating that 30 to 40 were killed, and others up to 100. There is no doubt though, that many innocent lives were lost.

“The trauma – intergenerational trauma – is real. We hear these stories about our mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers. This is still in living memory for us, it hurts,” Saunders says.

She thinks not only of the death and devastation her Great Grandfather discovered, but also the sacred traditions that were broken along the way.

“How much lore was broken with regards to death rituals? How many songs and rituals did he sing to himself while he found the bones of the fallen? How many rituals did he perform to cleanse himself of the spirits of the dead who would have been hounding his soul asking why this had happened? Was he allowed to be involved in rituals to allow the dead to pass to the Dreaming?”

What we do know is that the massacres may never have come to light without Noble’s discovery and with Gribble’s assistance, the perpetrators were arrested for murder and a 1927 Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Alleged Killing and Burning of Bodies of Aborigines in East Kimberley and into Police Methods When Effecting Arrests, was held.

Numerous accounts of the shootings were translated by Noble’s wife, Angelina, who spoke at least 5 Indigenous languages. She played a critical role as an interpreter of early reports of the shootings and as the official translator at the Royal Commission.

“My Great Grandfather might have found all of the evidence but without her they would never have been able to understand. She is probably even more important in the outcome than him,” says Saunders.

Noble and family

Rev. Noble (2nd from the right), Angelina Noble (far left) and their family at the Forrest River Mission, 1925. From the State Library of WA collection, courtesy of Wilma and Harry Venville.

Despite their efforts, and the Royal Commission’s conclusion that at least 11 Aboriginal people had been murdered and their bodies burned, significant tampering with witnesses and evidence meant that the Police on trial walked free.

Three Aboriginal trackers who led the Police to sites containing improvised ovens and bone fragments, disappeared on the eve of the trial. Tommy Doort, the Aboriginal servant of Nulla Nulla co-owner Leopold Overheu, also vanished. However, Lumbia was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Lumbia

Lumbia (far left) pictured in chains in the Sydney Morning Herald, arrested for the murder of pastoralist Frederick Hay, which resulted in a massacre at Forrest River.

In the Royal Commission’s final report, GT Wood said “I must record my displeasure that those trackers were not produced before the Commission, and I cannot exonerate the police at Wyndham from responsibility for their absence or for the very slight effort that seems to have been made, when their absence was discovered, to secure their return and attendance.”

He bemoaned the “conspiracy of silence” that had compromised the investigation- a common problem following the public hanging of seven European settlers responsible for the Myall Creek massacre in December 1838.

Although the perpetrators escaped punishment, Saunders knows her Great Grandfather made a significant contribution to truth-telling that we can build on as a nation.

“As his descendant, I am very proud that James was responsible for bringing two policemen to trial even though they were acquitted,” she says. “The Forrest River Massacre is one of the biggest [known] mass slaughters of Aboriginal people in modern times. The fact that an Aboriginal man brought the perpetrators to trial is stunning.”

As we reflect on unchecked Police violence and brutality today, it’s important to recognise its deep-rooted history in this country.

Saunders says we should not make the mistake of thinking that Aboriginal people are no longer targeted or unfairly treated by the Police.

“Every Aboriginal person in this country feels the pain and stigma of racism from the authorities. We have all been stigmatised or profiled due to our appearance,” she says.

“I try to live in a bubble and keep to myself. But I know that when I am out in public, I am on notice. I am no stranger to being misunderstood by government authorities under innocent circumstances.”

For almost 100 years, the WA Police failed to recognise the Forrest River Massacres and numerous other harms perpetrated during WA’s “killing times”.

In 2018, the Commissioner of the WA Police, Chris Dawson, delivered an apology speech

on behalf of the force for its “past wrongful actions that have caused immeasurable pain and suffering” to Aboriginal people and conceded that although their role was to protect them, they instead “played a significant role in contributing to a traumatic history, which continues to reverberate today.”

While he did not mention massacres, he broadly acknowledged previous dispossession, violence, racism, incarceration and deaths in custody. “The intergenerational impacts of this suffering continue to impact the welfare of Aboriginal people who are overrepresented in our justice system today,” he said.

Saunders is proud that her Great Grandparents ensured the Forrest River victims were not forgotten. Although their story is a painful one, she feels a deep responsibility to pass it down.

“I will continue to tell this story to my children, as harrowing as it is, because I think it is important that they understand where their strength comes from. We continue to survive.”

Melbourne Press Club 2019 Quill Awards Finalists

THE STUDENT JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR

Nazli Bahmani, University of Melbourne, Jumping Hurdles To Provide A Little Humanity to Asylum Seekers In Limbo

Freia Lily, RMIT, Interview with Wilma and Meg Curnow For National Dementia Awareness Month

Julia Montesano, La Trobe University, Revealed: Blues Star Headlines Small AFLW Groups’ Pay and Conditions Fight

Ciaran O’Mahony, University of Melbourne, The Scottish Explorer Who Became The Butcher Of Gippsland

Liam Petterson, University of MelbourneIBM Australia To Roll Out Neurodiversity Program

Andrea Thiis-Evensen, Monash University, ‘It Was The Worst Day Of Our Lives’: Bereaved Parents Say We Must Talk About Youth Suicide

https://www.melbournepressclub.com/article/2019-quill-awards-finalists

Could mangroves save Victoria’s second largest bay?

Local volunteers are currently trialling a nature-based solution to rising sea levels at Western Port Bay.

While many coastal towns have relied on seawalls to counter sea level rise, the Western Port Seagrass Partnership (WPSP) have implemented a mangrove rejuvenation program.

The volunteer organisation was established in 2002 by climate science experts and community members, who say they were forced to pursue this novel approach due to a lack of government support.

“Mangroves are cheap to grow and the State, up until now, has not put any effort into stopping that erosion and it’s eroding about a metre a year,” says WPSP Board member Hugh Kirkman.

Erosion

Significant erosion due to rising sea levels at Western Port. Photograph: Ciaran O’Mahony 

Although mangroves have been successfully planted in tropical climates, this has never been done before in Victoria.

Mangroves are generally seen as habitats for birds and small fish, but WPSP Director Ian Stevenson, hopes that they will also act as a barrier to the erosion and inundation that has plagued Western Port since the 1970s.

“Locals started experiencing major flooding sessions throughout the area in the 1970s, which destroyed the seagrass on the eastern arm of Western Port,” says Stevenson.

“The inundation is largely from storm surges, which have always occurred, but they’ve been continuing in recent decades to the point that inundation and flooding is quite frequent,” according to Stevenson.

The worst affected areas are rural land (particularly an old swamp) in Lang Lang and the more urban area of Grantville- which has suffered continuous erosion and inundation that is eating into the front yards of private properties despite the presence of a protective concrete seawall.

In one extreme case, the front paddock of a farmer’s property suffered over a kilometre of inundation after a major storm.

Some farmers have therefore taken desperate measures to protect the area, dumping car bodies, rocks and concrete, in front of the shore.

The disturbing sight of a dead cow lying at the base of severely eroded land on the edge of the bay – illustrates the urgency of the situation.

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An unfortunate casualty of rising sea levels in the area. Photograph: Ciaran O’Mahony 

It is hoped that mangroves will provide a cost-effective alternative.

“If the mangroves can arrest erosion, and we can reduce sediment around those areas, then we’ll overcome some of the problems of inundation as well as avoiding some of the cliff erosions,” Stevenson explains.

WPSP Director

WPSP Director Ian Stevenson checks on the progress of newly planted mangroves at Western Port Bay. Photograph: Ciaran O’Mahony 

Kirkman says that if the program is successful it would be a significant environmental breakthrough because “[mangroves] can hold and store carbon dioxide about ten times better than a rainforest. Sometimes it has been recorded as more than ten times, but no less than that.”

The organisation is still perfecting a number of techniques, including how far apart seeds should be planted, how many rows should be put in and how far out to sea they should go.

“We’ve been trying a whole range of experimental techniques for ten years on propagating, seed collection, direct seeding, and putting pipes in for protection,” Stevenson says.

Currently, the process involves taking seeds off the tree once they’ve germinated, and putting them in a nursery within a glass house. Once they have grown, they are placed in a 10 mm plastic pipe, pushed in the ground, and grown from there.

The WPSP’s activism and ability to adapt to the challenges of climate change despite their limited resources, is an encouraging and unusual development, according to according to Swinburne University’s Dr Belinda Christie.

“It’s usually more of a case of government or council intervention rather than local people going ‘hey we’re a bit worried that in 50 years’ time our walkway is going to be under the water’. I haven’t heard many cases of grass roots intervention,” she says.

Although their ambitious new approach shows promise, Kirkman admits that they still don’t know if it will actually work.

It has been a long and sometimes frustrating process as the seeds can sometimes get full of seagrass or stuck on the edge of the pipe.

“We’ve lost a lot of them [the plants] but I suppose the best germination we’ve had is about 60%, sometimes we get 8% or 30% or something like that,” says Kirkman.

“It’s still early days. We’re having some success, but it’s still just the start of the bigger issue and on its own it’s unlikely to be successful for that section of coastline,” Stevenson says.

“We’ve got some plants that are about 10 years old that are doing very well. We’ve had a lot of failures because of the terrain, but there are plenty of areas where we’ve seen natural re-vegetation.”

For now, the experiment continues.

2019 NSW Premier’s History Awards winners announced

The 2019 winners are:

Australian History Prize ($15,000) 
The Bible in Australia: A Cultural History by Meredith Lake (NewSouth Publishing)

General History Prize ($15,000)
Sea People by Christina Thompson (HarperCollins Publishers)

NSW Community and Regional History Prize ($15,000)
Cage of Ghosts by Jon Rhodes (Darkwood)

Young People’s History Prize ($15,000)
The Upside-down History of Down Under by Alison Lloyd and Terry Denton (Penguin Random House Australia)

Digital History Prize ($15,000)
The Killing Times by Lorena Allam, Nick Evershed, Paul Daley, Andy Ball, Ciaran O’Mahony, Jeremy Nadel and the University of Newcastle Colonial Massacres Research Team (Guardian Australia)

See Press Release at State Library of New South Wales

Finalists announced for Walkley Mid-Year Celebration

“Walkley Young Australian Journalist of the Year Awards- These awards recognise and reward the hard work of our most outstanding young Australian journalists. They recognise the work of journalists aged 28 and under who demonstrate excellence in the fundamental tenets of the craft as well as the ability to present distinctive and original journalism that pushes the boundaries of the profession.” Media Week 

All media: ​Student journalist of the year
Supported by Macleay College

• Matilda Boseley, Monash University, The Age and Mojo News, “‘I had no way of getting home’: Calls for changes to liquor laws,” “Grey Area: Let’s Talk About Rape” and “ZOE – Vegans Invade a Melbourne Slaughterhouse”
• Reena Mukherjee, UNSW, “Birds of Change: The Voices that Call to Us”
• Ciaran O’Mahony, University of Melbourne and The Guardian, “Killing Times: Stories of Aboriginal Massacres”

Power Shift Final Report: Empowering Low Income Households

Dr Rowan Bedggood, Ciaran O’Mahony, Flyn Pervan, Dr Petra Buergelt

In response to unearthing these co-benefits, GEER Australia (GEER) was commissioned by Energy Consumers Australia (ECA) to conduct a detailed analysis of the 20 final LIEEP reports to identify and synthesise these co-benefit findings, and provide deeper understanding and insights of each co-benefit experienced by householders. The purpose of this report is to summarise the outcomes of both the measured and non-measured co-benefits referred to in LIEEP reports, and to identify which ones improved the most.

You can find the full report at Energy Consumers Australia

Power Shift Project Two: Delving into the Co-Benefits Identified in the Low Income Energy Efficiency Reports

Rowan Bedggood, Ciaran O’Mahony, Flynn Pervan, Petra Buergelt

The objective of this report is to present the findings of a detailed analysis of the co-benefits experienced by low-income households who participated in the Commonwealth Government’s national Low-Income Energy Efficiency Project (LIEEP). A co-benefit is considered a beneficial aspect that is experienced by the householder as a result of the initiative trialled, beyond reducing energy consumption and/or bills. This co-benefits analysis adds to understanding the outcome and impact of LIEEP, beyond the changes in energy use, bills and associated behaviours. This report will demonstrate the array of benefits participants experienced that can have a significant impact on their overall wellbeing.

Yo can find the full report at University of Canberra- Research Portal

Aboriginal Households’ Uphill Battle to Pay Energy Bills

Many low-income households will struggle to stay warm this winter as soaring energy prices take their toll. But research by energy specialists has found that an accumulation of factors mean Aboriginal households are particularly vulnerable to the winter chill.

A three-year investigation called the Koorie Energy Efficiency Project (KEEP) has blamed a trifecta of raw service costs, a lack of awareness around energy efficiency, and “energy hungry” housing stock for the uphill battle confronting many Aboriginal people trying to haul back their energy bills.

The upshot is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders experience a distinct disadvantage compared to other groups – indeed, “compared with the rest of Australia, really”, says the head of the project, Swinburne University researcher Dr Rowan Bedggood.

Many of the households were using energy hungry appliances that generated bills that few households could afford, let alone those from low socio-economic backgrounds, according to Bedggood.

“Some [Aboriginal] people had an electricity bill that was three, four or five thousand dollars. You can imagine with a household that’s already struggling financially and already on a very low income, that’s just impossible to pay,” she says.

No description available.

Dr Rowan Bedggood, Head of the Swinburne research team on the Koorie Energy Efficiency Project.

“Some households didn’t have heating so they’d use plug-in heaters like blow heaters, not realising how much energy they consume, some didn’t have central air-conditioning and might have had four or five air conditioners in each of the rooms so they would put them on and not realise,” Bedggood says.

Lack of knowledge is not a uniquely Aboriginal problem as many households across Victoria are unaware of the simple steps they can take to improve their energy efficiency. However, Aboriginal households are at a distinct disadvantage because they are often not able to access the support networks that can assist them to pay their bills.

Energy retailers rarely reached out to these households for support. In fact, they often seemed resistant to helping them, Bedggood says.

“One of the stories we did hear in the project was that the householder would contact the retailer and usually go to a call centre, and that retailer was invariably not helpful or even resistant as soon as they found out the person was Aboriginal,” she says.

TheKEEP project  assisted 4,500 low-income Aboriginal households around Victoria, providing a range of energy efficiency initiatives- including home visits where householders were given a number of energy saving tips and advice, and the installation of major/minor retrofits and in-home energy use displays.

Aboriginal Community Development Officers, who visited these homes to provide energy saving strategies, would often play a secondary role as an advocate for householders with energy retailers.

“Our workers in our project would go to the household to help walk them through their bill and give them energy tips to help reduce their next bill,” Bedggood says.

“But a lot of their work was advocacy, they’d get on the phone on the householder’s behalf to the retailers and sometimes they’d be on the phone for up to two hours and they had to go into battle almost sometimes with whoever they were on the phone with to get the support that the household was entitled to,” according to Bedggood.

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KEEP project team and Community Development Officers. Source: Kildonan Unitingcare.

While energy retailers are regulated to provide support to those experiencing hardship, they are proactive in doing so.

“To get on a concession plan or payment plan, for example, you have to realise that those offers are available. Now I suppose these things are available on companies’ websites, but a lot of the people that were in our study didn’t have a computer or access to the internet.”

The longitudinal study overseen by Bedggood was one of 20 projects funded under the Federal Government’s $55 million Low Income Energy Efficiency Program (LIEEP) delivered to 32,000 households across the country.

It also found that poor housing stock is making it even harder for Aboriginal people to reduce their energy consumption.

“These challenges were coupled with them being in housing, most of it social support housing, where frankly you may as well have been living in a tent,” Bedggood says.

“They weren’t insulated, they weren’t upgraded, they had fixed appliances that were energy hungry, not energy efficient,” she says.

This issue was also identified by Dr Philippa Watson of the University of Tasmania in another parallel project called Get Bill Smart.

“We just have terrible housing stock in Australia really from what I understand compared to European standards,” says Watson

It’s a historic problem, according to Watson, as the Government tried to “build housing for everyone,” favouring quantity over “thick walls”.

Bedggood agrees that poorly built housing stock is an issue throughout Australia, but argues that the conditions in which many Aboriginal people are living often fall into the extreme end of the frame.

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The KEEP Research team, Source: Kildonan Unitingcare.

“One house didn’t have a back-door and some had no window coverings. You can imagine trying to keep them warm in winter or cool in summer,” she says.

“There was one home that my research team visited to do a follow-up interview and it had no light bulbs so when it became dark they went to bed or had candles. There were wires hanging out of the wall where electricity sockets used to be,” according to Bedggood.

“We designed the program with our Aboriginal partners to deliver outcomes for the Aboriginal people,” she says.

Bedggood says a “targeted effort” to assist the Aboriginal population is possible given that they represent about 3% of the Australian population.

She proposes creating Aboriginal call centres so that Aboriginal households can ring an energy line and receive appropriate assistance over the phone.

Whatever the Government does to tackle the issue, Aboriginal input is critical, Bedggood says.

“We’re coming up with ideas that may or may not work, but the main thing is if that discussion is held with Aboriginal people sitting at the table, then we might have a really good outcome,” she says.

Finalists announced for the 2019 Walkley Young Australian Journalist of the Year Awards

Walkley Student Journalist of the Year

Walkley Young Australian Journalist of the Year Finalists