Behind the mulga curtain

11 Jul 2014

Tennant Creek has developed innovative ways of dealing with social media. But the initiatives are languishing, partly for lack of funding.

Aboriginal elders and parents in Tennant Creek became disturbed during 2012 by reports that kids had been involved in cyberbullying, something they knew little about. Local authorities told them their children had been texting each other during school hours, with physical fights erupting from arguments online. Sometimes, older relatives weighed into kids’ spats on Facebook; on other occasions, the conflict spread beyond families to communities outside Tennant Creek, to people “they might have met once or twice” and even to total strangers.

In the most extreme cases, people set up false profiles on social media using names and images of the deceased to taunt others – a highly provocative gesture, given the restrictions in local Aboriginal culture on naming or viewing images of the dead.

“You’ve got communities suddenly at war, and the elders are going, ‘But how? We’ve had no contact,’” Kathy Burns, Artistic Director of Barkly Arts, told me. “But now the families have been brought into it and they’re saying, ‘We’re fighting, but we don’t even know what we’re fighting about. What’s with you guys and what the hell is going on?’”

Most of the activity was associated with mobile phones, and some kids from nearby communities without mobile coverage were going to great lengths to access social media. “Kids were known to be stealing their parents’ cars and driving to get service to be able to text their girlfriends or find out the footy scores,” Burns said. “The risk outweighed what they were trying to do. But it was like, ‘I have to find out what’s going on…’”

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Photo: Barkly Regional Arts

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