The Illawarra Aboriginal community led more than 200 protesters through the centre of Wollongong on August 2 in a day of action to express disgust and outrage towards the Howard government's Northern Territory intervention plan.
A bus full of elders led the march with "Moving forward, looking black, we want our human rights back!" emblazoned on the side. Aunty Mary Davis, chair of the Illawarra Aboriginal Corporation, outlined the importance of the day in fighting for the rights of Aboriginal people. "I hope it's opened up a lot of people's eyes," she said.
Speakers pointed out the inadequacies, as well as the sinister intentions, of Howard's actions.
"This a military response to a community issue", said Stan Jarrett, who chaired the rally. "He's going to use them as a political football to gain votes in wider redneck Australia."
Despite Howard's claim that the Little Children are Sacred report is what has prompted his intervention, the Aboriginal community isn't buying it. "Howard has never implemented the recommendations [from] many, many reports", said Colin Markham, former NSW parliamentary secretary for Aboriginal affairs. "[He's] now decided to pull out the race card."
"What recommendations said it was OK to send troops in?" asked Sharralyn Robinson, coordinator of the Illawarra Local Aboriginal Lands Council.
Speakers also noted that there has been no commitment to resolving the issues in a meaningful long-term way. Jodi Edwards, an organiser of the rally, asserted that this has been the case for decades.
"What has stayed the same over the past 40 years [since the referendum on Aboriginal citizenship rights] is the inability of government agencies to address the issues", she said. "We want them to adopt the recommendations in the final report."
The action hoped to prompt Wollongong locals to participate in a national convergence on Canberra when parliament next sits on August 7.
[The day of action would not have happened without the dedication of the steering committee, which pulled the successful rally together in a short time and raised awareness in the community that Aboriginal people are angry at the federal government's intervention into the NT. Rally organisers wish to acknowledge members of the steering committee: Jodi Edwards, Tina McGhie, Veronica Graf, Sharralyn Robinson, Iriaka Ross, Agnes Donovan, Sheree Rankmore, Darrell Brown and Lynda Fletcher.]