About 300 Aboriginal people and supporters from around NSW rallied against legislation being pushed through state parliament that threatens the land rights of coastal Aboriginal communities.
On November 3, Hyde Park was awash with Aboriginal flags and community members, young and old, representing many of the 120 Aboriginal land councils across the state. They were there to protest against the Crown Lands Amendment (Public Ownership of Beaches and Coastal Lands) Bill. The bill was introduced by Minister for Natural Resources Kevin Humphries last week.
The bill was precipitated by a judgment given by Justice Malcolm Craig in the NSW Land and Environment Court on December 24 last year. After a battle lasting almost 20 years, he granted an Aboriginal land claim over an area known as Red Rock, near Coffs Harbour.
Orders made in the decision meant the land, which includes a significant stretch of beach and foredune, was transferred under freehold title to the Coffs Harbour District Local Aboriginal Land Council, subject to easements for public access.
In a press release from the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC), its chairperson Craig Cromelin said "no attempt had been made by the government to consult with Aboriginal Land Councils prior to the bill's introduction.
"In his second reading speech introducing the bill, Minister Humphries said the legislation was necessary to 'ensure certainty and consistency in beach access and environmental management'.
"However, Minister Humphries neglected to inform Parliament that the Red Rock land was only returned to Aboriginal people subject to public access in perpetuity.
"Misleading people is not just about what you say but also what you neglect to say. By omitting any reference to the public access part of the ruling, the Minister deliberately created a false impression in the minds of the public.
"There is not a single example in NSW of an Aboriginal land claim preventing public access to a beach and Minister Humphries knows that.
"We are now very concerned that Minister Humphries' review will result in unused Crown Lands being sold off rather than being available for return to the Aboriginal people who were dispossessed of this land in the first place," Cromelin said.
The rally was addressed by Alan Madden, a Gadigal elder from the Metropolitan Land Council (MLC), who conducted a welcome to country and explained the snaking boundaries of the Eora nation. Another MLC representative, Uncle Bunno, railed against the bill as an "injustice to Aboriginal people" and said "we must fight the good fight and let them know we are here".
Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council Chairperson Josh Toomey said the government was again trying to dispossess Aboriginal people of their land. "The NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act compensates Aboriginal people for the loss of our land. Now Minister Humphries wants to take that away.
"We must fight for all those rights that our community struggled so hard to achieve more than 30 years ago. We must never give up our land without a fight."
Michael Anderson, an Aboriginal leader, said: "Everything we fight for is being attacked. Aboriginal people have got jack shit, they are controlling our money and land. We have to claim our rights. These bastards have never given us anything — we have to fight for it.”
Marcia Ella from coastal Aboriginal community La Perouse Land Council gave a fiery address. Aboriginal Congress spokeperson Kirsty Parker also spoke.
Ray Kelly from Newcastle said: "This is always Aboriginal land. When do we talk sovereignty? There is great power behind those making decisions, multinationals are playing Aboriginal people. We embody moving to a democratic, just country. Only we are the people sovereign to the land."
Representatives from the Greens, ALP and MLC Fred Nile, also spoke.
The land councils are prepared to fight hard against the bill. According to New Matilda, the NSWALC committed up to $240,000 to underwrite the costs of transporting community members to Sydney for the rally. This important fight must be supported by all those committed to land rights and justice.