Humbug (Aboriginal)

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Humbug is a term applied to various forms of begging and domestic violence in rural and remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, Australia. The term refers primarily to the practice of demanding money from relatives, often violently. A report in The Australian described the practice as a regular occurrence, "deeply ingrained in Aboriginal communities".

Humbugging typically takes the form of demands for cash, with wives and the elderly being particular targets. The problem is particularly acute in communities where residents receive money from mining royalties, tourism revenue and artwork sales – prominent victims include artists Emily Kngwarreye and Albert Namatjira. Even victim's crime compensation can be humbugged, in some cases by the criminals themselves.


The term, vaguely referencing a person who is "stingy", is likely to have been derived from the quote of the Charles Dickens character Ebenezer Scrooge "Bah! Humbug!"

2007 intervention[edit]

The Australian Government's 2007 Northern Territory National Emergency Response was designed in part to protect children from the impact of humbugging. Announcing the policy, Prime Minister John Howard gave an example of the problem from the town of Wadeye:

"A responsible carer for her grandchild faces intimidation and threats of violence from intoxicated young men if she does not go to an automated teller and hand over money."

The changes, however, raised concerns that humbugging would increase. Central to the government's intervention was a plan to quarantine welfare payments to parents who neglected their children. Old-age pensioners in Aboriginal communities predicted that relatives whose benefits had been cut in this way would demand more money from them.