Communication Barriers Thwart the Intervention

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle

1 Downloads (Pure)


I was at the Aboriginal communities of Manyallaluk and Barunga when members of the intervention task force came to visit. Major General Dave Chalmers and Dr Sue Gordon addressed the communities. They said they wanted to find out what people needed, and to communicate with them, not speak at them. They were pleasant and courteous.

It was only when they moved on that a serious problem emerged. Many people had not understood what they were saying. Aboriginal people in these communities speak Kriol as a first language, and English as a second language, used only when speaking to non-Aboriginal people. These are multi-lingual and socially sophisticated communities, and some old people speak several Aboriginal languages, as well as Kriol. For them, English is a third, fourth or fifth language. No wonder they could not understand Chalmers or Gordon.

My friend Joslyn explained it like this: "They talked too fast, and used too many big words ... people couldn't understand because there was no-one there to explain to the people what they were saying."

The task force is willing to use interpreters but in this case they'd been told it wasn't necessary. Their advice had come from the community, but it was not fully informed, and neither Chalmers nor Gordon were aware that every community in the Northern Territory has people who will need an interpreter.

This reveals a serious problem. Despite their best efforts, at all levels the people implementing the Northern Territory intervention are not always communicating effectively with the people they are trying to help. The implications for the potential success of the intervention are disturbing.

Without proper communication it will be impossible for the Government to target funding to the areas where help is most needed, or to the programs most likely to succeed.

This is a failure of the past, of course, in the process of being repeated.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Specialist publicationABC Opinion
PublisherABC Opinion Online
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Northern Territory Emergency Intervention
  • social justice
  • racial discrimination
  • remote Aboriginal communities


Dive into the research topics of 'Communication Barriers Thwart the Intervention'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this