Darwin's Bagot community takes on Tollner

Bagot community's entrance.

Up to 200 Bagot community residents and supporters rallied outside Country-Liberal Party MLA Dave Tollner’s office on August 16, angry over his plans to “normalise” their home.

Bagot was a reserve established in 1938 and included a residential facility for Stolen Generations children.

In June, Tollner, the incumbent for Fong Lim in the August 25 Northern Territory election, released a “Special Ludmilla edition” of his Tollner Telegraph, which said, “the Country Liberals and Territory Labor have committed to normalising Bagot and turning it into one of Darwin’s newest suburbs”.

The CLP plans to encourage long-term Bagot residents to buy their own homes: those who refuse will have their homes handed to Territory Housing.

Bagot Council holds the lease for the land at Bagot, and the housing is managed by the Yilli Rreung Housing Association. Tollner has not explained how his plan would affect the leasing arrangement, or what would happen to Yilli Rreung. In fact, he has not spoken to the community about his plans at all, which is why the community tried to come to him.

This is not the first attack Tollner has launched on Darwin’s unique town communities. In May, he called for One Mile Dam to be closed down. ABC Online reported on May 3 that Tollner said: “Every feral across Darwin sort of bases themselves at One Mile Dam ... It is just full of filth and disease, and degradation."

Tollner was not there when the Bagot crowd gathered at his office. His secretary announced he was “out in the electorate speaking to constituents”. But that didn’t stop people making their feelings about his announcements clear.

Holding placards that read “Normalise — please explain”, “I love Bagot” and “Bagot community, our past, present and future”, the fiery crowd took turns to speak about the importance of Bagot, and their outrage at Tollner’s presumptuous plans.

Bagot Council president Helen Fejo-Frith told the crowd: “This is about saving our home. Our children were born here, their parents were born here ... We’ll still be here when [Tollner] is gone. Politicians come and go. They call us itinerants — but they’re the itinerants.”

The council has collaborated with Yilli Rreung and the University of Melbourne to create a community development plan, which is already in the early stages of development. Fejo-Frith had hoped to present the plan to Tollner, to show that the community had its own ideas.

Larrakia musician Ali Mills said Australian governments had a long history of moving Aboriginal people around. “How long is the government going to keep moving us mob on for?” she said.

Sheila White, a young woman who was born and raised in Bagot, addressed the absent Tollner, saying: “You mob should be celebrating us [town communities]. We are unique. Where else in Australia do we have special places where our people can gather together, yarn, celebrate? We’re going to be here for a long time yet.”

Bagot residents were encouraged to sign a petition demanding that Bagot remain a community and not be re-zoned. The petition calls on the local member to support Bagot to keep the land, govern itself and build a stronger, healthier community.

Representatives from the progressive parties running in the territory elections, the Greens, First Nations Political Party, Sex Party and progressive independents were also there to show their support.