The Ampilawatja walk-off national speaking tour is spreading the word about life under the Northern Territory intervention and the Aboriginal elders who have walked off their community in opposition.
On October 12 in Wollongong, walk-off spokesperson Richard Downs, addressed 50 people at the Aboriginal Cultural Centre, along with Uncle Harry Nelson from Yuendumu and Uncle Dootch Kennedy from the Illawarra Aboriginal Land Council.
Downs said the intervention is a land grab. "They used the army to take control of our communities", he said. "There's no employment, no training, no engagement with our people at a community level", and the practice of "welfare quarantining" is debilitating and embarrassing.
He said his people "don't want any part of this government anymore" and where they are staying now was home.
However, Downs was optimistic about the future of his community: "We're going to go down the path of permaculture and solar technology. It's about creating something sustainable that will take us forward."
He focused on building a movement strong enough to win justice for Aboriginal people, telling the meeting: "You are part of the uniting force to take the stand against racism … We will embrace all you people on this journey with us. [Together] we have the power to say 'no, we're not going to put up with this!'"
The following day, Nelson and Downs addressed a 45-strong meeting at the University of Sydney, organised by the anti-racism collective. He told students that, despite compulsorily acquiring Ampilatwatja on a five-year lease, the government had failed to repair or provide any new housing. To highlight this failure, he had discussed with unions the idea of building a "protest house" at the camp.
On October 16, 200 people packed out the Melbourne Youth Sport and Recreation Centre in Fitzroy to hear Downs and Nelson.
Downs praised the union support the tour had gained.
"We need to isolate the federal government: it's not the public that makes decisions, it's the government", he said.
"Find out about the words treaty and sovereignty. The focus has to be long-term self-determination. You have the power, not the government."
Nelson said: "[Prime Minister] Kevin Rudd has said sorry; it means nothing."
"The government is trying to bribe us to sign a 40 year lease. We will never sign. Our land is more important than money."
Other meetings in Melbourne were also well attended. Eighty attended a Monash University meeting and 100 attended a Melbourne University meeting, some of the biggest student meetings all year.
Downs and Nelson also visited many unions. The Victorian branch of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union donated $1000 to the protest camp, Geelong construction workers donated $500 and the National Tertiary Education Union donated $1000. A further $1150 was donated by NTEU council members.
The October 17 Brisbane meeting was attended by 90 people. Murri activist and Socialist Alliance member Sam Watson introduced the speakers, who also included Reverend Alex Gator.
[For details of Downs' tour, to make donations or for more information, visit www.interventionwalkoff.wordpress.com.]