Plans are well underway in some states for the “Justice Bus Trips” in July to Alice Springs, where a gathering in defence of Aboriginal justice and human rights activities is being organised. Support for the Aboriginal rights movement has increased steadily over the past year, spurred in no small part by the historic Alyawarr people’s walk-off.
In July 2009, the Alyawarr people walked off their community of Ampilatwatja, which was prescribed as part of the Northern Territory Emergency Response — better known as the NT intervention.
The walk-off was in protest against the racist intervention policies, which include forcefully converting Aboriginal land onto five-year leases, widespread alcohol and pornography bans, and “welfare quarantining”, which converts 50% of Aboriginal welfare recipients’ payments onto “Basics Cards”.
Basics Cards can only be used at certain stores, on certain things. Aboriginal workers, performing essential services on NT communities such as repairs and maintenance, are being forced to work for the dole — half of which is paid onto the Basics Cards.
The Alyawarr people said this was like a return to the rations days their elders lived through decades ago.
The intervention has led to a weakening of Aboriginal communities’ control over their affairs.
It has also increased unemployment. Before the intervention, there were 15-20 Aboriginal workers at Ampilatwatja. Now there are just two workers, paid with the Basics Card. Other work is contracted to outside, non-Aboriginal workers (who are well paid!).
After the community walked off, there was a successful east coast speaking tour in October, involving walk-off spokesperson Richard Downs and Yuendumu leader Uncle Harry Nelson.
They inspired audiences and built links with the trade union movement. One outcome of this tour was the launch of the Alyawarr people’s “protest house” early this year, which was built with donations and assistance from various unions.
For many, the intervention is not just a matter of frustrating and unfair government interference. Leaders of the anti-intervention campaign say the government's ultimate aim is to break up the communities and take over Aboriginal-owned land. The draconian intervention laws not only strip away land rights, but also any recognition of Aboriginal culture and heritage.
Meanwhile bilingual education in Aboriginal communities has been under attack in the NT.
So in early July, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people from across the NT and Australia will gather in Alice Springs for several important events. Aboriginal communities will discuss a way towards recognition of Aboriginal culture, heritage and self-determination.
They will be supported by non-Aboriginal people invited to take part, who will hear first-hand from elders and community members living under the intervention.
There will also be an international solidarity gathering over July 10-11, organised by Friends of the Earth and the Latin American Solidarity Network. The event, titled “Our land Our Culture, Our Sovereignty: Indigenous Self-Determination”, will feature guests from Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region titled “Our Land, Our Culture, Our Sovereignty: Indigenous Self-Determination”.
The Justice Bus Trips will join the gathering in Alice Springs. Those on the buses will also have the opportunity to visit the Alyawarr people's protest camp and town camps around Alice Springs.
Buses are setting off from Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia. The routes will take participants through many other Aboriginal communities and sites of interest.
It will be a great chance to hear about local campaigns waged by Aboriginal people. And we will take anyone interested to the activities in Alice Springs.
In New South Wales, for example, we will stop at Lake Cowal, where the Wiradjuri people have been fighting multinational goldmining company Barrick Gold for 14 years, in an attempt to stop the expansion of a mine that would destroy water systems and desecrate sacred land.
On-board forums and films screenings will mean the time spent travelling on the buses will be an event in itself.
There are many ways people can be involved in the bus trips. Find out if there is a bus leaving from your state — or help organise one — by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Get involved in your local Aboriginal rights groups to join the campaign against the NT intervention.
Donations to cover the cost of hiring buses are also needed and will be greatly appreciated. Organisations are being asked to “sponsor a seat” on the buses, to allow students and young Aboriginal people in the cities to participate.
Donations-in-kind to help with events in Alice Springs will also be welcome, such as blankets, clothes, camping equipment or food.
You could also donate your skills: are you a mechanic, first-aid officer or bus/truck driver? Your skills are needed!
The bus trips will be a great event for all those interested in Aboriginal rights. The trips, and the gathering in Alice, will be an important opportunity to show those affected by the intervention they have our support, and for Aboriginal people to come together as one to plan the way forward.
[For more information, email email@example.com . To donate to the Queensland bus fund, deposit details: Aboriginal Rights Coalition Brisbane, BSB 064 000, # 12671939.
For information about the gathering, or to register or make a donation, visit defendingindigenousrights.wordpress.com or phone Richard on 0428 611 169.]