'Long grass' people demand their rights

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BY SCOTT WHITE

DARWIN — An Aboriginal family was forcibly removed from the Lee Point recreation area by 15-20 police officers on the afternoon of October 9, one day after the "long grass sleep-out" at Parliament House was organised to address the problems faced by people who live outdoors (known as "long grass" people). The incident highlighted the blatant monstering of the indigenous minority in the Northern Territory by the government.

Two police officers approached the family and told them to move on, then emptied their bottles. The family was not being loud and there was no mess. It is legal to drink alcohol in the park and no curfew has been declared there. Not less than 200 metres from the family was a group of non-indigenous people enjoying the scenery with a few drinks.

One of the Aboriginal people, Jedda, was taken into custody. No reason was given for her arrest. After the group protested the arrest, seven police cars arrived. Family members tried to explain what had happened but were again told to move on. They were forced to leave.

The police, Darwin City Council officers, parks and wildlife rangers and the Night Patrol (a pseudo-police unit originally founded by Aborigines to solve the "drunk and disorderly problem") regularly force long grass families to move on and threaten to confiscate and destroy their possessions.

On October 8, more than 60 people gathered at NT Parliament House for the "long grass sleep-out", a 24-hour protest against the NT government's bill that will make it illegal for people to camp.

June Mills, Socialist Alliance Senate candidate and Long Grass Association president, said the sleep-out highlighted the long grass people's suffering.

Stella Simmering, a member of the Long Grass Association, said that the NT Labor government must "repeal the sleeping between dusk and dawn law and recognise that Aborigines are going to camp in Darwin as they have always done. If the government does not want them sleeping out, then there should be services to help them and culturally appropriate accommodation built.

"Aboriginal families are always going to congregate together. If they not allowed to do that, they will do it secretly. The government has made it illegal for Aboriginal people to live in the cultural way they have always lived, putting these people in prison [for not paying 'sleeping out' fines]. Aboriginal people can't understand what they are doing wrong because they have always lived like this. There is no provision in the law to take into account people's cultural way of living."

From Green Left Weekly, November 7, 2001.
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