Aboriginal Australian communities send a powerful message to government

Perth protest

Red Flag - Thousands of people in more than 30 locations rallied on 19 March to protest against the forced closures of remote communities by the Western Australian government. More than 2,000 people gathered in Perth, including some who travelled from affected communities. They heard from Aboriginal activist Marianne Headland Mackay, event organiser Karla Hart, Tammy Solonec of Amnesty International and others. The crowd marched to Parliament House, chanting, “Abbott, Barnett, you can’t hide, you’re supporting genocide!” Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett made an appearance, angering rally-goers by asking them to “put yourself in my shoes for a minute”. As the premier addressed the crowd, protesters shouted and turned their backs and eventually booed him off the stage.


In Melbourne, hundreds gathered at Parliament House, before marching through the city centre, stopping traffic and sitting down to hear speeches at each intersection. Two women whose families are from Kimberley towns under threat spoke about the “disgrace” of suicide rates in the Kimberley being among the highest in the world.

In Brisbane, around 600 walked through the city carrying placards, banners and flags, and listened to speeches from Indigenous activists Boe Speriam and Sam Watson.

Around 400 people joined Adelaide’s lively demonstration, which took over the road as it marched to Parliament House. Protesters included a contingent of students from the University of Adelaide, and some attendees carried placards bearing the classic union slogan, “Down tools for Aboriginal rights”.

A 40-strong crowd gathered in the small far north Queensland town of Yarrabah, in the wind and rain of Cyclone Nathan. In the tiny WA community of One Arm Point, 100 turned out holding placards that read, “NO CONSENT”, and in Roebourne, WA, 250 people (more than a quarter of the town’s population) marched, with Maritime Union of Australia flags present at the rally.

“For me this is a very, very, very proud moment,” a speaker told a crowd of 150 in Newman, WA. “This is happening right around Australia. All Aboriginal people and their supporters, not just Aboriginal people, it’s the non-Aboriginal people, they’re coming out and they’re supporting, because they can see what’s happening is wrong.”

In Bellingen, NSW, 150 marchers shut down the main street, while in Alice Springs, Northern Territory, about 50 people braved 41 degree heat to hear from local elders and leaders. Five hundred marched in the Pilbara town of South Hedland, chanting: “Shame, Barnett, shame!”

Protests were also held in the WA towns of Tom Price, Beagle Bay, Broome, Geraldton, Halls Creek, Warmun, Fitzroy Crossing, Kalgoorlie, and in Bendigo in Victoria and Launceston in Tasmania.

The demonstrations – many called with less than a week’s notice – are a heartening response to the actions of the state and federal Liberal governments. More rallies are planned, with protests already called for Melbourne on 10 April and Perth on 23 April.

An activist group called SOS Blak Australia noted on facebook that Kimberley Aboriginal women took the lead with support from men folk to send a powerful message to Barnett and Abbott. The women instigated a call for a national day of support to the wider Australian nation.

“The call to action held around Australia on Thursday 19th March resulted in a massive show of support registering collectively more than 20,000 people marching in remote communities, towns and cities. The outpouring of support via social media has resulted in a reach of over 1 million people worldwide and continues to grow as awareness spreads.


“This outcome furthers the feeling and sentiments of the Kimberley community that they will not accept Premier Collin Barnett’s plan to shut off essential ervices to 150 remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia, ultimately forcing them into closure. ... "

Green Left Weekly quoted  [Tammy] Solonec, who works for Amnesty International, saying that their research shows that "supporting Aboriginal people to live on their homelands extends their life expectancy [and] improves health outcomes". 

Furthermore she noted that it "reduces rates of domestic and other violence, allows for participation in decision making, provides connection to land and culture and reduces their exposure to the damaging influences found in larger towns''.


In Canberra, Nhunda-Wadjarri Yamatji man Shaun Harris told a crowd of about 100 people that pushing people out of communities into the towns would lead to more deaths in custody such as the death of his niece, Miss Dhu. Miss Dhu died in the South Hedland lock-up on 4 August. She was 22.

“They say that 15,000 are going to be made homeless if there’s community closures,” Harris, who travelled [2,700 km] from WA for the event, said. “If they say 15,000 it means it will be 20,000.

“Twenty thousand homeless. They are not going to have any money for food, for medication. Soon they are going to start stealing for food, for medication. They are going to get mixed up in the justice system.

“Depression. Suicide. Deaths in custody. All of these things are consequences of Colin Barnett and Tony Abbott’s forced community closures.”

The Labor senator Nova Peris, whose heritage includes the Kitja people of the east Kimberley, told the Canberra rally that some of the communities that faced closure were in an area for which she was a traditional owner.

“The essence of self-determination is living on homelands,” Peris said. “My people live on that country, that country that they are trying to take away.”

Peris said a Kitja elder used to say that white people could carry their Bible in their hands, “but our bible is in the land”.

The Greens senator Rachel Siewert, who also spoke at the Canberra rally, tabled a petition of 30,000 signatures in the Senate against the proposed closure of communities.

WA’s regional development minister, Terry Redman, met the federal Indigenous affairs minister, Nigel Scullion, in Canberra on Thursday to discuss the closures.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-focused organisations were also urging greater consultation with Indigenous people, and a concerted effort to close the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Noting that the rally in Perth, the Western Australian capital, was the biggest, the national broadcaster ABC News noted that Premier Bartlettcame face to face with protesters during an intense and at times hostile rally”.

Also nationally broadcast SBS News reported that Barnett was shouted down by an angry crowd of about 800 people who heard him say: "People will not be forced from their traditional lands".


Several media reported that Barnett was shoved by an angry female protester after he finished speaking. His speech was continually interrupted by boos and a barrage of insults.

Protesters marched through Perth's CBD and up to Parliament House where they were met by Barnett and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Peter Collier. Chanting "save the communities, close the gap", the protesters booed as Mr Barnett addressed them and turned their back on him.

In Adelaide "more than 500 people…waved Aboriginal flags and brandished pinatas bearing the faces of Abbott and Barnett on the steps of SA's Parliament House.  The crowd applauded speeches by South Australian Aboriginal elders, who urged protesters to fight the closures."

Gerry Georgatos, a life-long human rights and social justice campaigner and a multi-award winning investigative journalist, commented: "We will be damned by the future if we sit quiet on any dispossession of Homelands - 'remote communities' - just as we damn the past for similar brutal dispossessions, for the evil of the Stolen Generations, the Stolen Wages, en masse indenture, apartheid, the lot.

“The dispossession of hundreds of Homelands, loosely referred to as remote communities, has been in the mix for a long while. The bent of Governments for assimilation has not died, it is still their way. But assimilation is not their end all; it is a tool, a means to the end. Exploitation is the driver, and assimilation is the servant.”  

National Indigenous Radio had extensive coverage which you can hear here and here. You can sign a petition against homeland closures here and join more than 30,000 who have already done sohttp://email.change.org/mpss/o/pAA/2yE/t.1lk/TkLRJ9VgS0e2u-Kci2g0kg/o.gif.

Zeige Kommentare: ausgeklappt | moderiert

For 12 videos by activist Eleanor Gilbert of speeches at the Canberra event click here. Smoking ceremony and march in Canberra. “20,000 refugees on our own land”. Gerry Georgatos: “The more west you journey across this continent, the more racist it gets.” Ghillar Michael Anderson, last surviving co-founder of the Aboriginal Embassy in Canberra called for action “to close down Western Australia”. Appealing for worldwide trade union action he said: “Let’s shut down everything that’s sold from Western Australia. My call is to unions all over the world to not unload any ship with WA brands on them.” Transport unions should also stop delivering to WA anything from the eastern states. “We do have the capacity to close down Australia.”

Alice Haines, who is producing the first compilation of indigenous women's music in Australia in her own home studio, spoke of Aboriginal people whose first contact with whites was atomic bombing of their land, and who have just been driven out of their country to an urban fringe camp without water. Hamid Bin Saad said his people were having to sell themselves to the mines.  Rod Liddle called for unity of Australian peoples to stand up “against this criminal behaviour of the government”. Forty-four-year old Aboriginal woman and member of the federal senate, Nova Maree Peris, said the gap is widening. Under tears she said she feels pain every day of her life over what is happening to Aboriginal people, “who are going backwards in so many areas.”


Other speakers referred to genocide – “they’re killing us and getting away with it”; “we have to nourish and protect the land and it will nourish us in return”; Greens Senator, Rachel Siewert: “atrocious process being carried out”.

Hunger and poor nutrition are rife in indigenous households, a new survey revealing more than one in five first Australians live in homes that have gone without food.  |   Indigenous groups in the northern Kimberley could hinder the Barnett government's bid to create Australia's biggest national park using land that is being relinquished by two mining giants.  |  Prominent Indigenous people say the 2015 New South Wales state election campaign has largely ignored Aboriginal issues   |   The inclusion of government departments and sporting organisations among recipients of federal Indigenous funds has sparked concern and anger among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sector workers.   |   The alleged rape of a seven-year-old girl in Alice Springs has prompted the Northern Territory government to hold an audit of service providers working in the region's Aboriginal town camps.   |   Aboriginal legal services that help some of Australia's most vulnerable people - including a huge number of family violence clients - are facing deep cuts in this year's federal budget.   |   "These cuts will make a bad situation worse as more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will be unrepresented in courts and unable to access legal assistance, including family and civil law services"   |   For the first time, all three major political parties have released comprehensive domestic violence packages in a sign that the public feels it is finally time to confront what is now considered a 'national epidemic'.   |   Reduced life expectancy, higher rates of chronic disease and preventable hospitalisation are the sum of diminishing returns the further one travels from the capital cities.   |   Remote Australians see doctors at half the rate of the general population and medical specialists at one-third the rate - a situation which underscores the failure of the nation's universal healthcare promise, the head of the Royal Flying Doctor Service says.   |   There is corruption in South Australia's indigenous lands but it is being carried out only by "whitefellas", the lands' interim general manager says.