Walk With Us: Aboriginal Elders Call Out to Australian People to Walk with them in their Quest for Justice
Compiled and published by Concerned Australians
$15, 71 pages, hard cover
Walk With Us is the long awaited sequel to the highly regarded and recommended This Is What We Said — Australian Aboriginal People give their views on the Northern Territory Intervention, published in February last year.
Published in August, Walk With Us provides one of the very rare opportunities to hear genuine voices of Aboriginal elders. It presents the ongoing impact of the Northern Territory intervention on the lives of Aboriginal people in their own words.
This beautifully illustrated and important book gives an update of the current status of the NT intervention. It explores recent events in the NT, including unsatisfactory changes to the legislation leading to the flawed reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act on December 31 last year. It also exposes continued discrimination.
The book covers the visit of two Aboriginal NT elders, Rosalie Kunoth-Monks and Reverend Dr Djiniyini Gondarra, to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in Geneva in August 2010.
After this visit, the CERD issued “Concluding Observations”, a document that made recommendations to the Australian government.
Kunoth-Monks said about her visit to Geneva that she felt for the first time that she was indeed a part of the human race. She said: “I have to go out of Australia to have that wonderful feeling and the lack of control that was on me, in a different country a long, long way from home.”
Six communities are featured in this book: Galiwin’ku (Elcho Island), Nauiyu (Daly River), Yuendumu, Utopia, Yirrkala and Milingimbi. It also features what the elders are saying about the intervention, taking up issues such as the shires and hub towns, customary law, culture, language and identity, and respect and heritage.
The deep hurt and great despair the intervention is causing Aboriginal people is evident from comments such as the one from George Gaymarani Pascoe from Milingimbi: “The intervention has brought the history of welfare reform back today. We don’t want that. It hurts.
“Today a lot of our people are committing suicide; today a lot of our people can’t cope with the intervention.”
Kunoth-Monks even calls the intervention a “second invasion”, saying: “It is the land that holds us together and following the second invasion of the 2007 intervention, we are hurting, we are suffering.”
The heartfelt and passionate statement by seven NT Aboriginal elders in Melbourne on February 7 to the people of Australia, read out by Djapirri Mununggirritj to about 400 people at a forum at the Melbourne University Law School, is particularly striking.
The threat to their culture, language and heritage as well as their loss of human rights are clearly expressed in this moving statement.
The statement ends with an emotional appeal to all people of Australia to “walk with us in true equality. Speak out and help to put an end to the nightmare that Northern Territory Aboriginal people are experiencing on a daily basis.”
The message these elders are sending to the Australian people is clear: we need to resist these policies that are causing Aboriginal people so much hurt and harm, instead we need to walk with them.
As Djiniyini Gondarra put it: “Don’t let the other people, the First People of this country, be rejected! Being seen as the second class citizen! Being seen as an outcast! We have lived in this country as a foreigner!
“We invite you brothers and sisters, walk with us, then fight a system that victimises people.”
Also included are important quotes by Malcolm Fraser, Alastair Nicholson, Aboriginal people from other parts of Australia, leading Australians and, last but not least, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Pillay flew into Darwin in May especially to meet with Aboriginal elders and leaders from communities across the NT.
Walk With Us continues with the further round of consultations that started in June. Pillay said: “There should be a major effort to ensure not just consultation with the communities concerned in any future measures, but also their consent and active participation.”
The book concludes with a response by Djiniyini Gondarra to Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s announcement of a “second NT intervention”.
Auntie Millie said about this book that it is “heartbreaking to read the words of the people from the Northern Territory”.
At the Sydney launch of Walk With Us on September 1, journalist Jeff McMullen conveyed a heartfelt message from Kunoth-Monks that she wanted the audience to know that the voices in this book are true and they want others to walk with them.
At the launch, Aboriginal activist Nicole Watson said: “It is crucial that we hear the voices of those who live under these measures. Walk With Us provides an unflinching gaze into life under the intervention.
“There is pain in these pages. But there is also courage, resilience and wisdom. One of the most prescient statements came from Kunoth-Monks, who said: ‘Does there need to be a policy about Aboriginal people? Does it need to come down from government? Why not have a dialogue with the Aboriginal people and get some direction from us?’”