Criminal leadership in W.A
Like usual it’s been a fair while since my last update. I’ve been flat out with an array of projects and obligations – exhibitions, working on country, teaching, painting, sculpting, and a bunch of other projects, spreading myself thin, and slowing the rate at which each project is completed, whilst also ensuring I’ve less chance for boredom. The varied projects have also resulted in my taking time out to relax, as deadlines and stresses are fine, but I do think one does need to occasionally take stock and recharge. So, every few months for a week or two I put everything on hold in order to recover and not burn out.
The Men’s Business exhibition at the Koorie Heritage Trust has come and gone, as has the Victorian Koorie Art exhibition at the same venue. Now my mind is turning to producing an entry for the Victorian Indigenous Art Awards, whilst I’m also currently working on a large commission piece, to be displayed in a laneway near Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station. Last Saturday I opened an exhibition for another artist by the name of Simon Normand, at Merrick’s General Store on the Mornington Peninsula. This weekend I’m keeping myself busy screen printing for the first time since high school, after having built a screen cabinet and an exposure lamp station two weeks earlier. I’m also in mid preparation for developing a two week long suite of programs for NAIDOC Week and Melbourne Museum, and am writing an article for the IMTAL Europe theatre magazine. Oh yeah, this is in addition to recently having carved/burnt a traditional burning vessel (Tarnoc) for use in smoking and repatriation ceremonies, after having collected it from Yorta Yorta country with my mate, J.D. Life is hectic – but fun!
Despite all of the usual artistic, family and work related busy-work, the matter which has held my interest for the longest amount of time of late has been the impending forced removals of Aboriginal people from their traditional homelands in Western Australia. This is an issue which has seen me take part in several protest rally’s in the past two months, which is unusual for me as I generally don’t believe that such rally’s achieve much, unless a very specific audience is being targeted and can be reached. In this case, the media has done its damnedest to try and sweep the matter under the rug, and where it has been forced to report rally’s of over 5,000 people shutting down Melbourne it has only reported it as a selfish act, which was delivered by socialists, not Aboriginal people and their allies/friends, and without explanation for why the action was taken, only describing it as an inconvenience to commuters.
The fact is – Aboriginal people in Western Australia are facing removals similar to what they already experienced in the 1950’s, which if they eventuate will see them removed to areas where resources will not be available to them, any more than the so-called “remote” areas in which they already live. People will be forced to leave their traditional countries, where they have lived for 75,000 years, where Aboriginal health is of a much greater standard than in urban centres, and where crime rates are reflective of community harmony (something which will be lost when numerous tribal groups are thrown together in unfamiliar surroundings). All of this isn’t in aid of closing unsustainable communities, it’s to make way for the numerous mining leases which correspond almost exactly to the homelands which are under threat.
People won’t technically be forced to leave, but there isn’t really an option when the government refuses to provide clean water and other essential amenities, which will still be provided to similarly sized and less than financially viable non-indigenous communities.
As a Goori whose family comes from New South Wales and Victoria, one might question why I am so concerned about bunarms (brothers) and nunung’s (sisters) on the other side of the continent. Well, the reason is quite simple – this isn’t the first time this has happened, it won’t be the last, and it’s likely to spread to where my family lives, here on the East Coast. History has shown that such reprehensible, unethical governmental behaviour if left unchecked, and unquestioned, will result in further oppresive measures against Aboriginal people, and other minorities.
Victoria’s history of forced closures and oppressive, racist legislation reads like a guide book to how the Barnett government in W.A are going about appeasing their buddies in Australia’s least sustainable or efficient industry. In the 1860’s the Kulin peoples of Melbourne, Bendigo, Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong and related regions were bereft of a means to continue to live on their traditional lands in the manner that they had for the previous 2,000 generations. Their murnong (yam) farms were destroyed by alien species, the waterways were polluted by those same species, along with their masters, and their game was shot in order to make way for fenced-in and almost mindless livestock. Faced with a choice of perishing, or adapting to the new law of the land, the Kulin like many other nations on the frontier chose to adapt. They left Melbourne and headed for the outer bounds of their country, in Healesville, where with the permission of the Aboriginal Protection Board they established Coranderrk, a farm which they named for the native Christmas bush which was found plentiful in the area.
Coranderrk was a station established by the Kulin and which quickly attracted people of other nations from across Victoria, parts of New South Wales and from as far away as Queensland. The Kulin lead farm was helped by the Kulin’s friend, a Scottish preacher by the name of John Green. Together the various Koorie and Murri people and Green saw the community farming the land for themselves, farming hops for export and soon they had a church, a dormitory for the many orphans whose parents had been massacred, a dairy, a bakery, a butchery and many other resources which would make the station almost completely self sustainable. Things were great. Which is where the problems began.
Eventually, white farmers in the vicinity of Coranderrk saw the enterprise shown by the Koorie people there and assumed that it had nothing to do with hard work, instead they believed it was because that land which they had shunned was in fact more fertile and productive then their own selections. To fix this the local white farmers petitioned the Aboriginal Protection Board (whose job it was, quite clearly, was to protect the interests of Aboriginal people). The white farmers asked the board to give them the land, to which the board agreed. Eventually so much of Coranderrk was handed over to the non-Indigenous community of Healesville that it eventually could no longer support its Aboriginal residents. A rebellion which fought against such actions was for naught, and eventually the station was forced to close for good in the early 1920’s. But that’s not where the story ends.
Coranderrk, and other Aboriginal stations around Victoria, including at Framlingham and Maloga saw their residents lose control of their own destinies due to the greed of the Government controlled Aboriginal Protection Board. Many of those who had farmed at Coranderrk through to the 1890’s were forced to leave for greener pastures (if they existed), with many settling at Cummeragunja. This was primarily due to both a lack of opportunity at Coranderrk, and for the fact that if they had any non-Indigenous heritage they were no longer allowed to stay on a station (half-caste law, 1888), even if it meant being torn from their families who were also resident there. For many, they were forced to leave and as young as the age of 13.
My own great grandfather was kicked out of Coranderrk at the age of 13, only to have the order rescinded due to his labour being required by the white station manager (the order written by Alfred Deakin). A few months later, his slave labour was no longer required and he was kicked out for good. He found his way first to Framlingham, then Warrangesda (Darlington Point, SW), and eventually to Cummeragunja, which is near Barmah VIC.
At Cummeragunja there was a thriving community. The local Yorta Yorta people and the refugees from other nations like my great grandfather built a new self sustaining farm for themselves. Each man had his own plot of land to farm and the community pulled together to build it further. Previously they had similar, but without heavy religious and paternalistic interference at Maloga station 2km down the road. However this was a start that was theirs alone. They could make of it what they would. Cummeragunja, Framlingham, Lake Tyers, Lake Condah, these were placed where the Koorie community were doing well for themselves, only to see it all taken away, for a third time.
In 1915, the Aborigines Protection Board appointed white managers to every Aboriginal station. The proceeds of farm work went to the board via the manager, and community members were forced to live on hand outs. Eventually, conditions were so bad that foul smelling fat, some tea, rancid milk and some flour and sugar were all the Aboriginal people living on such stations were provided, along with a bit of meat here and there. Anything else would require the men to go hunting or find work elsewhere, if they were even allowed to leave to find it.
By 1939 the community at Cummeragunja had seen too many infant deaths, increasing poverty, worse treatment than ever, and at the instigation of my grandfather, over 150 of the station’s 200 or so residents left Cummeragunja, never to return.
So, what I’m getting at is what we’re seeing in W.A is something that has happened before, and numerous times. Hell, my grandfather fought in WWII for this country, and when he returned he saw every non-Indigenous solider given a parcel of land to farm. Many of them received parcels of land that was once part of Cummeragunja. Because my grandfather was black he was not eligible. He could only look on and see his and his mother’s traditional country handed to others.
Where I was born in far Northern NSW, I come from a remote community. I shudder to think that the sort of insane policy in play over in Western Australia is going to expand into New South Wales, but given the amount of gas mining leases being contested in that area, I feel it’s only a matter of time before this shit happens all over again.
As a side note, related to a much less serious subject. The little smiley faces that appear as the feature image on this post are the drafts for a logo which I produced for an upcoming microbiology conference. It will be the first time the conference is held in Australia, and the crew running the show had asked if I’d design a logo that featured a microscopic life form, but illustrated with an Indigenous touch. So this is the end result. And yes, the microscopic life form actually does have a collection of what looks like tiny smiley faces all over it!