Tim Blair


New Criterion



Sunday, February 22, 2004
IF HE'S NOT A VICTIM, then his death loses its political power.

If young Thomas Hickey's horrible death was just another bicycle accident then those who attacked police were just thugs.

And Henny Herald writers are denied the opportunity to dwell on the higher moral ground. As do "Aboriginal activists" and left journalists throughout the world.

And they're not going to let that happen without a struggle. Even if it leaves Aboriginal Australians to a desperate future.

Even if it means resorting to racial prejudices and stereotypes.

Henny's Saturday News Review is devoted to the task of placing the Hickey tragedy within its chosen ideological frame.

It starts with the headline:

IT TAKES A RIOT for Australia to care about these kids

over a pic of three of Thomas Hickey's girl cousins.

What does that mean? That Hickey and his cousins were neglected? That the 80 welfare agencies active in Redfern are not enough to demonstrate public care? That one or a few more will? That Hickey was a victim of prejudice?

Here's how the argument goes:

Thomas "TJ" Hickey, the diminutive Redfern 17-year-old who became world famous this week when his death caused a riot, shared the tastes of many Australian youths.

He rode the red bike he got for Christmas "like a jockey", said his aunt, Virginia Hickey, who became a second mother to him. In his small upstairs bedroom in her terrace house, he had a TV and DVD player, an Xbox, a stereo system, a treasured marble collection and a poster featuring a photo of a tiger. He was an animal lover.

In other words, a well-cared-for young man, more prosperous than the kids of many Henny readers.


But TJ's fate three weeks before his 18th birthday was determined by one important factor that made him different from most other youths his age ... he was Aboriginal.

Being Aboriginal means, according to Henny's Debra Jopson, being in possession of special virtue:

His great virtue, according to his family, was that indigenous cultural gift which has helped so many survive poverty: a propensity to share.

He suffered one major disability, however. He'd skipped much of his schooling and was illiterate and unemployable. Could that be related to his gaol-bird father and substance-abusing mother? Could his petty thieving and familiarity with the police be causally related to all that? Might that even be described as part of his cultural gift?

Of course not. Hickey exhibited the symptoms of the dispossessed.

In case you missed the reference to the historical past as cause and excuse, the Henny sub-editor makes it clear for you with this running head:

The past is back

Despite the Prime Minister's views on black armbands, the past has come back to bite in Redfern

It is unsurprising the rioters targeted the railway station because police officers constantly stand there, watching the Block, said [the Reverend Bill] Crews. It is a throwback to the welfare era in which many grew up, when police would watch and then swoop, taking children away.

You'll note the Rev. Bill says it is a return to past practices, not that some Redfern residents choose to see it that way.

You may not believe this, but Jopson thinks the proximate causes of Hickey's death include the failure of ATSIC, whose two leading figures are before the courts for serious offences.

The federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Amanda Vanstone, has not solved ATSIC's dilemma

And if there is a problem with parenting it's due to the forced separaton of children and parents:

There is poor parenting, several community activists in the area said this week, much of it by stolen generations' members. Having been taken from their own families as children, they do not know how to parent.

But Hickey had two parents, and an aunt who supported him. Let's try again:

But many parents are otherwise engaged, contributing to the massive over-representation of Aborigines in our jails.

implying, if it means anything, that gaoling Hickey's father for armed robbery was a prejudiced act.

"Stereotyping continues"

according to Jopson, who seems to accept no personal responsibility for it: Much political and media commentary on the Block this week lumped together its residents and blow-ins for the purposes of generalisation. But as Godwell said: "There are Kooris there now who have no idea of the history of the old families on the Block. They are attracted by the black underworld."

For this, the rioters bear no responsibility, in Henny's books.

So where do we go from here? The Noel Pearson route of personal responsibility replacing welfare dependency?

Everyone bows to Pearson, but no-one on the left wants to follow him.

Instead, the responsibility of everyone else is generalised. We now find a conspiracy of all against the victim:

The impact of wedge politics at the national level,

"The minister doesn't share a sense of urgency [about indigenous affairs]" said Godwell [head of the think tank Lumbu Indigenous Community Foundation], who argues it is in Vanstone's political interests to keep ATSIC in limbo.

Godwell also thinks "Government policy and programs [have] very little to show in the way of outcomes. The public sector is not equipped to deal with social issues" . But, it seems, they should do more.

Virginia Hickey ... is convinced there is a plan to kill off her people.

The police are not empathetic enough.

The millions of dollars worth of Redfern land handed over to Aboriginal interests by Whitlam has produced no benefit.

So where do we go from here?

According to Henny, we go on excusing parents who don't send their kids to school, blaming "the community" when the kids go wild, turn to crime and drug dependence, and pretend that assaulting police is a reasonable outcome.

Can there really be people in senior positions in Henny Herald stupid enough to believe that? Or so married to their ideology that they are prepared to excuse the causes of present Aboriginal misery by reference to the past?