Fighting racism on the Cox Peninsula

Issue 

By Mick Lambe

COX PENINSULA, NT — People Against Racism In Australian Hotels (PARIAH) was created to expose and challenge escalating racism and bigotry here. This is one of the few places in Australia where indigenous people are still in the majority and able to live traditionally near an urban centre.

The Belyuen people occupy a "former" reserve about 20 kilometres from the Cox Peninsula jetty, an eight-kilometre ferry ride from Darwin (by road, the distance is 125 kilometres). The isolation has given the Belyuen people a degree of autonomy denied indigenous people in more populated parts of the country.

Further "development" here is currently held at bay by the "Kenbi claim" and by Aboriginal resistance to cultural invasion. But a 300-strong predominantly white township, ambitiously named Cox Peninsula, has been established, and despite this area being under claim by Aboriginal people, the Department of Lands, Planning and Environment (DLPE) drew up plans to "develop" the region in 1990-91.

Following the creation of the Cox Peninsula Community Government in 1995, racism and political bigotry escalated. The agenda — set by the "trad-racist" Country Liberal Party and other "pro-development" interests — is the usual one: cultural and physical invasion of Aboriginal land for profit and power.

Apartheid

There are no Aboriginal employees at the township, and social interaction between the two communities is limited by cultural and political discrimination. This is apartheid Australian style.

The Mandorah Hotel, the only local venue that allowed access to Belyuen people, has recently introduced a blatantly racist "dress code". This attempts to further marginalise and control Aboriginal people and to isolate their allies — the so-called ferals, who accept Aboriginal sovereignty.

The hotel's licensee stated publicly and repeatedly that the reason for the new dress code was to "keep the blackfellas out".

The Cox Country Club followed suit, banning bare feet. This was to ensure the exclusion of people like myself for blowing the whistle on racism. This club has not allowed Belyuen people inside its premises for more than 10 years.

The Anti-Discrimination Commission has accepted two complaints arising from our attempts to debate these issues with local people. We have also submitted a number of complaints about intimidation and harassment against PARIAH members by persons known and unknown. Our homes were invaded and ransacked on two occasions when members were absent.

Despite a year of peaceful protest, little has been done to end the exclusion of Belyuen people and their sympathisers from the only social venues on the Cox Peninsula.

In marked contrast to the lack of concern of the authorities for these and past injustices is their enthusiasm and haste to remove PARIAH members from the Cox Peninsula.

On December 3, I was issued with a trespass notice by NT police on behalf of the DLPE. It gave me 24 hours to leave my home of eight years and, basically, forbade me to return to the Cox Peninsula for 12 months.

An inquiry by the NT ombudsman revealed that "an anonymous telephone call" had complained about my presence on "crown land" and claimed that I was "annoying local residents". Yet days later, on December 12, I was re-elected as public officer and newly elected as deputy captain of the Cox Peninsula Volunteer Bushfire Brigade, of which most adults here are members.

Australia Day hypocrisy

PARIAH's critique of local Australia Day celebrations certainly annoyed some people, though not enough for them to deny our allegations of racist exclusion. Instead, police finally arrested me for trespassing and my partner Fiona for "criminal damage" — putting up a poster — the day after Australia Day.

Members of the Belyuen (Aboriginal) Council were invited to the Australia Day festivities for the first time, to celebrate (we presume) the invasion of their lands. We were annoyed by this hypocritical attempt to whitewash racism and bigotry — these celebrations were sponsored by the Mandorah Hotel and the Cox Country Club.

PARIAH's "Invasion Day" poster made these points and suggested that a less controversial day be selected if Aboriginal involvement was truly desired. A song was the centrepiece of the poster:

"There is a land Australia
The people there are White
The people that were there before
Were Black and shot on sight.
Now genocide's been modified
(We've learnt some subtlety)
They must wear shoes
To drink the booze
That keeps them on their knees.
I guess it beats remembering
Australia's history."

My eight years of living between and being involved with the Cox Peninsula township and the Belyuen Community have provided an extensive education in race relations. I tutor for Batchelor (Aboriginal) College at Belyuen, organised and chaired the first election meeting of the Cox Peninsula Community Government and have been a long-time patron of the Mandorah Hotel and a committee member of the Cox Country Club — despite my dreadlocks, bare feet and lifestyle.

Racism is the ideological glue of the regressive CLP and its greed-driven adherents. "Progress" in the NT does not include traditional Aboriginal people and "alternative" whites (homeless people). They are seen as impediments to the capitalist invasion of Aboriginal lands ("growth").

Further exclusion and invasion will create another generation of bigots and racists — and their victims. This is a "traditional" means of disempowering and supplanting Aboriginal people.

PARIAH believes a respect for Australia that does not include the indigenous people to be inherently illogical. The "two-way" compromise by Aboriginal people (their acceptance that there are two cultures they can draw on) should be embraced by non-Aboriginals as well. That is the rationale of compromise.

Due to the activities of PARIAH's "ideological" opponents, the traditional owners of the Cox Peninsula on February 8 "formalised" our presence here — documented permission to stay, but also a more important personal statement: "Mick is considered a member of the Belyuen Community and is family".

To submit to the "eviction" would be the same as putting thongs on, "to help keep the blackfellas out".