Elders at both Galiwin’ku and Ngukurr made a particular point about the police (which has also been mentioned in other research projects). That is, that police intervention with the bad behaviour of young people causes two problems unseen by government. First, it takes away from the community and the extended family (‘father, mother, grandfather, sister’) the ability to discipline young people in traditional ways, and thus they miss the opportunity to learn traditional peace-making and agreement-making practices. ‘And so our power becomes weak’. Some saw this as a quite deliberate practice of disempowerment, and that it happens because police are paid to do it.
A second problem is that when a young married person is taken away from care of the extended family, there can be a chain reaction, with the remaining partner losing faith and ‘getting new ideas’, falling in love with another partner, the kids start wandering around and end up at the airport sniffing petrol.
Losing control over the discipline of young people was the first thing mentioned by senior elders at both Galiwin’ku and Ngukurr, quite independently of each other, as key signs of poor government engagement and coordination. Police interventions over minor infringements (‘stealing and break-and-enter’) causes major disruption to traditional governance and leadership.