First of all I have to say that I am not of Aboriginal descent. Although I feel that I have a strong passion for Aboriginal culture and way of life I cannot speak as one or write on behalf of and Indigenous community. What I have written is an account of my experience over the last few weeks and what I learned along the way.
The British Commonwealth is an association of 53 member states colonised by the British Empire including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, a number of African nations and many Island nations and other countries around the world. The British, despite claiming Australia to be “Terra Nullus” were not the first people to arrive on any of the lands which they conquered. The tactics they used to take over the land were a different in every situation in every case however it most often included force, murder, oppression, slavery and rape just to name a few.
When Captain Cook and the early “pioneers” first arrived in Australia they immediately refused to acknowledge the Indigenous people, grouping them as “flora and fauna”.
Australia’s First Nation’s People have been here for over 60 thousand years. Before European settlement they had very sophisticated civilisations which included complex agricultural and hunting practices and their own systems of law. The Australian landscape evolved with these systems and the huge loss of culture and knowledge means that the natural environment is no longer being managed and looked after how it has been used to for thousands of years. Life changed dramatically for Aboriginal people when the Europeans arrived; their numbers declined at an astounding rate as they were massacred, enslaved, raped, poisoned and forced off their land. In addition to this was the new diseases brought in such as small pox which they had no immunity to resulting in massive amounts of death sweeping over the land. Prior to settlement, Australia was made up of hundreds of different nations; Indigenous people had a system of nations, and smaller groups within nations which each had a unique language. Over 200 different languages were spoken in Australia prior to settlement. Although some of this knowledge remains there is only a small handful of languages which are still known today.
In the 1880’s the Australian Government implemented an ethnic cleansing regime; they removed Aboriginal children of mixed descent from their families to try and “integrate” them into what they believed was Australian civilised society. Thousands of children were torn away from their parents and taken away to learn Christian values and the white man’s education.
The list of atrocities brought upon Aboriginal people through colonialism goes on and on and is absolutely devastating. Unfortunately there has been only minimal interest from the Australian Government to make any amends. There is still no treaty signed, there is still inadequate (close to no) inclusion of Australia’s true history in the school curriculum, their incarceration and suicide rates are highest of any demographic in the country and what’s more is the Government is still taking away children at an even greater extent to the 1800’s (only justifying it by other means). Any rights to land use they are granted is unstable and government policy dependent, and the enormous amount of racism they receive from the Australian police force and the general public is plain disgusting.
Every four years since the 1930 “British Empire Games”, the Commonwealth has brought together its colonised nations in a celebration of the Crown though sports competition in what we now know as the Commonwealth Games. The games have now been held in Australia five times, all of which sparked protest from the Aboriginal Communities. We have just come to the end of the 2018 Commonwealth Games and as someone who participated in this year’s protests I am feeling particularly invigorated to share what I learned and experienced.
The Stolenwealth Games of 2018 claimed to “Respect and celebrate” Indigenous cultures by establishing a “Reconciliation Action Plan”. However when the Indigenous content of the opening ceremony is not even directed by a First Nation’s person it is hard to believe that they were taking these claims seriously at all. Cultural appropriation for tourism and money making; putting Australia on show how the Government wants Australia to look is not “respect” or a “celebration” of culture.
This year a couple hundred people gathered at a camp organised by the Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance and the Brisbane Aboriginal Sovereign Embassy to demonstrate “our non-acceptance of colonial rule, and the forced oppression of Aboriginal peoples….the imposition of paternalistic, colonial, common law policies that have been designed to retain the disadvantage for Aboriginal people throughout the entire Commonwealth history.” The sovereignty of Australia’s First Nations People has never been ceded, there are no treaties, no truth commission and they have not been given “fair and equal justice” or treatment of any kind from the Commonwealth. A so called “Reconciliation Action Plan” seems like a huge joke of a token gesture to cover up the misdeeds still going on today.
Over the two week course of the Stolenwealth Games we undertook demonstrations, protests and other such actions which included wins such as delaying the relay of the Queen’s Baton, disrupting Prince Charles’ prompt arrival at an important event, delaying various sports events by halting traffic outside Australia Fair shopping centre as well as protesting at the opening ceremony. These were amazing successes which were held as very proud moments, especially when remembering back to the 1982 Brisbane Stolenwealth Games protests where they were unable to walk 100 metres down the road without getting arrested.
Additional protests were also arranged; Channel 7’s Sunrise was being filmed at Surfers Paradise, so we decided to cause a commotion behind them with chanting and banners to be seen and heard behind the hosts. This was in reaction to the events which occurred in March when host Samantha Armytage had introduced a segment with Prue MacSween as “Post Stolen Generation, there’s been a huge move to leave Aboriginal Children where they are, even if they’re being neglected by their own families” to which panellist MacSween stated it was a “no brainer” to remove the kinds and that there was a “conspiracy of silence and fabricated PC outlook that it’s better to leave them in this dangerous environment.” She then went on to say “Don’t worry about the people who decry in handwriting and say, this will be another stolen generation…just like the first stolen generation, where a lot of children were taken because it was for their wellbeing, we need to do it again”
Sam Armytage said nothing against these horrifying statements during the discussion, so we took to the beach and stood behind them yelling, chanting, holding placards. The presenters sat there trying to smile and talk over the commotion behind them while attempting to keep the remainder of the supportive crowd happy during the very extended add breaks by handing out cheesy photos with autographs. Eventually they stopped broadcasting all together.
As a group, we were also part of a vigil and rally where we stood in solidarity with the Rohinghyan, West Papuan, Tamil and Palestinian people and demanded a sanction of Australia. Camp Freedom joined the Rohinghyan Community, RISE: Refugees, Survivors and Ex-detainees in a “rally against the ongoing illegal occupation of Yugambeh country”, the unfair and inhumane treatment of refugees and “the acts of genocide, dispossession and torture that has been carried out by the Commonwealth Government of Australia in the name of the Crown.”
The intensity of the Authority we experienced was a complete and utter demonstration of the patriarchal, patronising system we live in. However it also showed how scared they are of a little change in the status quo. The Gold Coast was of course crawling with cops for the games; at times there seemed to be more of them than there were civilians on the street! But whenever we would demonstrate we were met with a force of officers double or triple our numbers who did use force and brutality on multiple occasions.
On the last Friday of the games a group of roughly 100 of us were peacefully protesting around Surfers Paradise shopping mall. Hundreds of police officers were following us. To begin with a small group of us were making our way over to the larger group when a file of officers immediately made a beeline straight towards one from our group, Dylan and arrested him on the spot for apparently breaching his ever changing and very unclear bale conditions. The group of us followed them and a number of us, myself included were shoved off the footpath by officers on the way to the paddy wagon. After discussing the arrest we decided it would be best to join the larger group before heading over to the watch house. On our arrival we realised that the group had been led by the police into a narrow walkway. From here they were easily able to make a thick wall of cops and enclose the group, hoping to move them backwards; we were staunch in standing our ground and eventually some of the group were completely surrounded by the police in a tight volatile bunch being pulled and shoved around. One woman in our group (she had recently had a hip replacement) fell to the ground but was trampled as the officer in charge told the wall to keep pushing forwards regardless of the potential injury. The woman was arrested and taken to hospital. Five others were also subsequently arrested and the rest of us retreated while yelling “Too many coppers, not enough justice!”
We ended the protest standing in a park with a ring of police officers kittling us while we waited for our mini bus. During this time the Elders addressed the police over the megaphone; they talked to the genocide, the deaths in custody, the Stolen Generation both previous and new. Some of the women also did ceremony to protect us. The children also yelled out on the megaphone and asked the cops why they wanted to take them away from their parents.
When one young boy (whose mum had just been arrested) said over the megaphone “And if you don’t take our kids then you take our parents, where is my mum?! She’s not here! Where is she?!” I burst into tears. I had been trying to hold my emotions together and be strong like these people but I couldn’t hold these tears back.
When I hear the stories of the things that these people experience every day; the racism and hatred aimed at them, the suicide and oppression, I am amazed at how strong and staunch they remain. The oldest living culture in the world has evolved a resilience greater than any I had imagined.
Many white Australians have racist views of Aboriginal people; they blame them for the life situations that many of them are in. I would challenge any of these white people to go through what their culture went through in Australia’s genocidal history, and to live what they live every day while remaining so strong like these people remain today.
There are many things that this country needs to do to start understanding our true history and to wipe away the racism we seem to live by. Those at Camp Freedom that “seek to notify the assembly of the United Nations, to recognise the unbroken sovereign connection that our peoples have held over their lands, culture, traditions and values” which along with participation from other indigenous cultures in other colonised nations, will form the basis of an International Truth Commission “responsible for the investigative process… of determining the legal validity of colonial common law against our ancient Aboriginal laws, the first laws.”
Once the truth is recognised we must then incorporate this information into the Australian-wide school curriculums. We must teach students what really happened in Australia, instead of a romanticised false version of Australia’s history like we currently teach. Just as students in Germany learn about the Holocaust, we have the responsibility to do the same.
Australia is in fact the only commonwealth country that has not signed treaties with its Indigenous communities… yes, that is very shameful indeed! Treaties in themselves will obviously not fix all problems but treaties which are carefully thought out and have a continuing effect of improvement are a key factor in the building of a fair and equal Australian society.
These things, amongst others will make a huge difference to our country. White people are acting like we have been here forever when we have literally only been here for approximately 1/240 of the time that Aboriginal people have called this country home. It’s time we started respecting this fact!