Aboriginal voices resist closures

Issue 
Gwenda Stanley and Uncle Ken Canning at the rally against closure of remote Aboriginal communities, in Sydney on May 1. Photo: J

Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett government is slowly backing away from his controversial announcement that up to 150 remote Aboriginal communities are facing closure.

In what he described as “a more nuanced approach”, Barnett is now proposing a “hub and orbit” strategy that will leave some communities bigger and better resourced, others reduced in services and the smallest ones abandoned.

Barnett said that a hub and orbit approach could lead to building up the larger communities while closing down the smallest and most under-resourced. “Looking somewhere into the future, I’m talking years and decades, what I would like ultimately to see and what we are trying to achieve is that some of those larger communities would become ultimately gazetted towns like any other town and operate that way,” he told The Australian after a three-day tour of regional and remote Western Australia.

Clearly Barnett was spooked by the huge nationwide and international protests against his policy of closing remote Aboriginal communities. Opposition to the closures is still growing and further nationwide rallies are planned for June 1 if the policy has not been abandoned.

Resistance, particularly Aboriginal resistance, to the planned community closures is indicative of more than just a community responding to a policy that violates basic human rights. It also brings to the surface a resistance that has existed in Australia since 1788, often going unnoticed and unreported, but existing just the same. These speeches given at the Sydney rally against community closures demonstrated this response.

GWENDA STANLEY

My name is Gwenda Stanley, I come from top camp Moree. I’m a very proud Gomeroi woman. Thank you all today for coming along and showing your solidarity. I’m going to keep my speech brief as we have a lot of deadly sisters up here today.

After 227 years of continual colonialist genocide, the forced closure of the 150 communities is a repeat of history. The conservative outlook is to deny the long history of dispossession, mental illness, high incarceration and mortality rates. We can’t run from the present situation, nor must we ignore past and present governments’ annihilation and assimilation policies. Psychological depression, social dependency, economic and political deprivation, acts of white bigots and promises based on race and class status are widespread in black Australia.

I am part of a majority, not a minority. Remember where you come from, your struggles and your triumphs. We can’t afford to be silent, while our lives and lands decline. We can no longer be silent about the issues that affect us all emotionally, physically and mentally.

These forced removals and segregation of our people from family and homeland are callous actions by a government whose better lifestyle choices are apartheid law and ethnic cleansing.

Governments need to address the issues with us, the community. We are not invisible and we will not remain silent. There is no hope for our future generations in this imperialist, colonialist Australian government and a system that has total disregard for our human rights.

Governments, churches, mosques, synagogues need to be more realistic in their commitment to us, the First Nations people, instead of making others comfortable in their lifestyle choices that are only offered to a few. They have their own interests in mind rather than the people they serve.

We want accountability, responsibility and our own people who know the people in communities and know what we want. We want autonomy, self-determination and human rights; the control of our own affairs in a manner that respects our lifestyle choices, according to customary rights and responsibilities, to our clan, kin and country.

It’s tiring constantly battling the same issues. This government wants to keep us confused so that we continue to believe one lie after the other: it’s psychological genocide.

We don’t want to be recognised in a racial constitution. It is now time for Australia and the world to understand that we have had law since time immemorial, a law that is not changed unlike the lies of politicians.

The constitution must be decolonised. I’m not saying that everyone had to leave this country. It’s about recognising the necessity to develop a fair and equal constitution, by accepting and relating our customary laws to empower our people and communities from a grassroots level.

This government continues to ignore our struggles and assume it knows what is good for us, thus creating a vast number of victims both past and present. Does this government truly think that we will believe their lies if they recognise us in the correct racial constitution in which morals derive from an 800-year-old document written by men?

It’s now time to decolonise the constitution by replacing it with our laws and with our own legislative, executive and judicial authorities. Circumstances can be changed by positive actions. We are part of a whole world that wants a better life.

My life has been active: I am not a spectator. We are the paradigms of the next generation and we will continue to fight an unjust system that threatens the lives of our people. We have a resistance where organisational egos do not get in the way; a resistance where the infiltrators, provocateurs, liars, betrayers, the traitors do not get in the way. In order for us to be free we have to assume our responsibilities as powerful individuals, as spirits of the ancestors before us.

If there is ever to be true reconciliation, why hesitate on the treaty?

UNCLE KEN CANNING

Besides the Bjelke-Petersen government in the 1970s and 1980s in Queensland, this is the most racist government I have ever seen. But not only Abbott: I have never seen such an appalling opposition by far.

We have communities all over the country that are suffering, from here in Redfern where they are fighting to develop Aboriginal housing, to communities already shut down in New South Wales in Dubbo 10 years ago. In South Australia and Western Australia they are still trying to shut them down. We have had this time and time again. There comes a time, hopefully in my lifetime, where it stops.

Now, I know the mainstream media will ignore us but the world is watching. The mechanisms the government has used against us - poison, gunfire, killing our babies - it’s gone on and on. And the opposition just sit there twiddling their thumbs, doing nothing.

Tony Abbott: you’ve pushed us to the edge of the cliff. We have got nowhere else to go, we have to push back. This system has declared war on Aboriginal Australia. I am talking about fighting for our lives. He’ll dispossess all the people that he wants to, he’ll dispossess every Aboriginal person.

Wherever we live, he will put us back on mission stations. Abbott and his mining company buddies hate Aboriginal people with a passion. Now, we cannot sit down and negotiate with fools and greed mongers like that. We have to fight for our lives. This isn’t a hobby, this is a commitment.

You can rest assured that when the Labor government comes in, they won’t be doing you any favours tomorrow. There isn’t a politician in this country that is full on in their heart about us. We are on our own. Aboriginal people and our non-aboriginal supporters, we are on our own. This is a people’s movement, not a political movement. We will fight them, we will beat them and we will remain on our feet.

GINNY JANE: REDFERN COMMUNITY

I stand here today as a woman of the resistance. I grew up in Mount Druitt and Redfern. My fire was lit as a young girl by my parents who raised me and my brothers and sisters in the struggles of the 1970s and 1980s.

Not many people know this but the Aboriginal flag was originally designed with the red on top. The flag was turned upside down as an international sign of a nation in distress. Our generation today and the past three generations know our flag to be the one with black on the top.

Symbolically this means that our generation knows nothing but distress, knows nothing but trauma, knows nothing but the pain and suffering that we have to deal with every single day. When is this going to stop? Are our children going to be sitting here saying exactly the same thing? We’ve got to do something now.

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