Friday, March 20, 2015

Perth rally to defend Aboriginal communities: 'there is no price on culture'

In one of the largest Aboriginal rights protests in Perth for years, a diverse crowd of over 2000 people came out and took a stand against against the forced closure of Aboriginal communities in across WA, particularly in the Kimberley.

The government's policy of defunding communities means it will stop giving access to services like health and education while also cutting power and water.

The rally started off by filling out Forrest Place where Uncle Ben Taylor gave a passionate welcome to country.

Tammy Solonec - an Aboriginal woman and human rights lawyer from Amnesty International - spoke out strongly against the closures. Arguing that it will only make the situation for many Aboriginal people worse, not better.

“Moving Aboriginal people from their homelands will be harder than making these communities sustainable and viable. It will cause inter-generational trauma. It will break connections to land and culture. It will force people to move to larger towns and cities, that are already experiencing over crowding – where they will have greater exposure to drugs, alcohol, violence, crime and ultimately incarceration”

The march started behind a banner painted “Close the Gap, Not the Communities” which was also one of the most popular chants. Over the recent years the gap has actually being widening on most measures it is based on. Closing communities along with cuts to Aboriginal services in the federal budget will only exacerbate this problem.

A wide range of groups took part in the march including Deaths in Custody Watch Committee, Amnesty International, Nynoongar Tent Embassy, Socialist Alliance and the Greens, among others.

Popular slogans drawn onto placards include:

  • “Racism is a lifestyle choice”
  • “Stop the forced closure of Aboriginal communities”
  • “Always Was, Always will be Aboriginal Land”
  • “We are still here” (painted onto an Aboriginal flag)

And the one that really summed up the day: “There is no price on culture”

The rally wound it’s way out of the Perth CBD and up to the steps of Parliament House. Premier Colin Barnett came out and addressed the crowd but most people turned their backs calling out his policy as racist. One person even raised an Aboriginal flag onto one of the flagpoles that had only being showing the Australian flag.

Robin Chapel from the Greens and Alannah MacTiernan from the ALP were among the politicians who spoke out against the closure of communities.

Dennis Eggington, of the WA Aboriginal Legal Service spoke about the important cultural connection Aboriginal people have to the land and how disastrous breaking that connection would be. He said closure of the communities amounts to "genocide".

Actions have being held across Australia today with a 1000 people gathering in Melbourne and 500 people in Adelaide marching stopping traffic as they marched on parliament house. Protests continued in regional Western Australia, where many of the communities slated to be closed are located. Hundreds turned out in Broome, Port Headland, Halls Creek, Roebourne, Beagle Bay and Geraldton.

It even had international support with a mass online protest happening. People from around the world sent in photos of themselves with placards in support of the campaign to keep remote Aboriginal communities open.

With numerous people coming out to protest for the first time in their lives and only a few days of Facebook promotion in the wake of the Perth City Council sending in dozens of police officers to attack the Aboriginal camp at Matagarup Island, this is potentially the start of a mass campaign for Aboriginal Land Rights.

[Article by Zeb Parkes for Green Left Weekly. Photos by Alex Bainbridge and Zeb Parkes. Video by Zeb Parkes.]