On July 15, 25 Justice Ride participants returned from their trip across Queensland to Alice Springs for the Defending Indigenous Rights convergence over July 6-9.
The trip to Alice Springs took four days each way, so there was plenty of time for us to get to know each other, discuss local Aboriginal rights campaigns, such as those against black deaths in custody, and take in Australia’s beautiful and ancient landscape.
The inspiring information and talks at the convergence itself had a huge impact on all of us, even those who have campaigned against the Northern Territory intervention for some time.
The range of speakers meant that every aspect of the intervention was covered in depth.
The convergence has given many of the newer activists the confidence to be more involved in campaigning; confidence they didn’t have before hearing first-hand what the intervention has meant for Aboriginal people affected by it. We clearly saw how we could support Aboriginal leadership in these remote areas.
Joss, a University of Queensland student on the Justice Ride, said: “It was clear just how strong the layer of Aboriginal leadership is, how many great thinkers are addressing ways to stop the intervention. This leadership is never acknowledged or mentioned in the mainstream media.”
A Murri woman on the bus was so inspired by the experience that she is now seriously considering running in the election in her local area of rural Queensland.
The Justice Ride also demonstrated the crucial role of trade union support for the campaign against the intervention and the bus trip itself. The Queensland Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) provided two amazing drivers who got us to Alice Springs and back safely. We also received donations from the Queensland Public Sector Union and Electrical Trades Union.
The RTBU has now invited Justice Riders to speak to its members about their experiences, and about the campaign to stop the intervention. We also plan to take our presentation to the Queensland Council of Unions and elsewhere.
We also want to build links with the Australian Education Union in the campaign against the NT government’s racist bilingual education ban. The ban means Aboriginal students, for who English may be a third or fourth language, are forced to learn in English for the first four hours of their school day. All evidence shows this has negative impacts on educational outcomes, as well as being culturally discriminatory.
We need to build support for any union members who defy the ban, and build a national campaign supporting bilingual teachers, and their students, in the NT.
We saw clearly how the intervention has sent a signal to the people of the NT and across Australia that racism is acceptable. It has emboldened some people to publicly air — and even act on — their extreme racist views.
Every participant on the bus witnessed or experienced direct racism towards Aboriginal people. There were small examples, such as Murri Justice Riders being rudely addressed without title when their (much younger) white co-travellers were addresses as sir and madam.
Aboriginal people were constantly moved on from outside shopping centres, when they were simply sitting down on public chairs. At an NT roadhouse, one of our Murri fellow travellers was told he couldn’t use the “normal” toilets and had to use a broken toilet with no door.
The inspiration the Justice Ride gave to all who took part is already felt within the Brisbane Aboriginal Rights Coalition (ARC). The first meeting held to discuss building public forums after the trip and convergence was attended by more than 20 people.
The meeting began planning presentations to unions, churches and university campuses. A city-wide public forum has been called for Thursday, August 12, 6.30pm at the Trades and Labour Council building in Brisbane.
One resolution passed at the Defending Indigenous Rights convergence was to build a campaign in solidarity with Aboriginal workers in the NT who are in effect working for rations cards.
Community Development Employment Projects have been turned into “work for the dole” programs. Half the welfare payments of these workers are paid onto a Basics Card, which can be used only in certain stores on certain things.
The convergence pledged to build a campaign, with support from the unions, to demand “jobs with justice”, culminating in a national day of action in September.
Many of the Justice Riders are also involved in the Brisbane music scene and are planning a big fundraising gig for local and national Aboriginal rights campaigns.
The ARC also agreed on the need to support Aboriginal candidates running in the federal election who support the demands of the Defending Indigenous Rights gathering. More than 15 new people signed up to help Murri leader and Socialist Alliance member Sam Watson run for Senate.
Anne Curthoys, a participant on the original 1965 Freedom Ride that exposed racism in country NSW, and author of Freedom Ride: A Freedom Rider remembers, summed up our feelings in her message of support for the Justice Rides of 2010: “I imagine your trip was demanding, exciting, depressing and invigorating, just as ours was, and the follow-up will be of utmost importance.”
The Justice Riders have hit the ground running to build initiatives coming out of the conference and make ending the intervention and defending Aboriginal rights central issues in the election and beyond.