The Freedom Flotilla to West Papua departed on August 17, a week after the arrival of its supporters who had travelled in a land convoy from Lake Eyre. Aboriginal elders, West Papuan refugees, filmmakers, musicians and artists will sail the flotilla’s two boats to West Papuan waters, via Cooktown, Thursday Island and Daru, in Papua New Guinea.
The Freedom Flotilla supports the rights of West Papuan and Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to self-determination. In 1962, West Papua was invaded and occupied by the Indonesian military. It has killed an estimated 500,000 West Papuans in its efforts to suppress their resistance to the occupation.
In 2011, the third Papuan People’s Congress, a thousands-strong independence assembly, was broken up by force.
Coming together a month ago at Lake Eyre, the country of participant and Arabunna elder Kevin Buzzacott, the land convoy has pursued the aim of re-uniting the cultures of Aboriginal Australia and West Papua. Buzzacott said: “We must uphold our cultural connection, the old land is calling us."
The culmination of activities involving Aboriginal communities along the coast of northern NSW and Queensland was the "Rock the Boat" concert at Cultural Place in Cairns on August 16.
Four participants on the flotilla are refugees from West Papua. They arrived as part of a group of 43 asylum seekers who came by canoe across the Indonesian border to Australia.
The flotilla also highlights that all refugees on boats are being used as a political football by the mainstream political parties, regardless of whether their journey start near or far from Australia
Over the week the Freedom Flotilla was based in Cairns, its participants met with West Papuans living locally and activists from a number of campaigns, including at a Queensland Council of Unions branch meeting.
A short film night at the Digger Street Arts Collective, which hosted flotilla participants, attracted more than 30 people. A press conference on August 15 alerted the world to the flotilla’s peaceful mission and its request for safe passage into Indonesia-controlled territory.
A celebratory breakfast at the Cairns Yacht Club completed the flotilla’s time in Cairns. Buzzacott, Federated Republic of West Papua Foreign Minister Jacob Rumbiak, and Natalie Pa’apa’a of Blue King Brown were among those who briefly addressed the crowd. A dozen small craft and kayaks and 100 people cheered the boats on their way.
[News of the Freedom Flotilla’s journey can be followed here.