Showing posts with label Indigenous Australia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Indigenous Australia. Show all posts

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Sunday, 29 April 2018

HTLV-1 Infection: “I suspect we would have dealt with the problem before now if it was in Sydney”

The Guardian, 24 April 2018:

Researchers say HTLV-1 is more widespread across central and northern Australia than previously thought. Dr Lloyd Einsiedel is an infectious diseases clinician with the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute based at Alice Springs hospital.

“We cover all the way out to the western desert and we have patients from northern South Australia, and it’s endemic throughout our entire catchment area of a million square kilometres,” Einsiedel says.

“So it’s very suggestive that we have a major problem and it really pays no attention to borders, these very artificial constructs of Europeans.”

Einsiedel worries there will be “significant mortality” over the next five to 10 years from HTLV-1 related bronchiectasis (lung disease). The region already has the highest reported prevalence of adult bronchiectasis in the world.

I suspect we would have dealt with the problem before now if it was in Sydney
Dr Lloyd Einsiedel

Einsiedel says testing and treatment are a priority. There also needs to be a public awareness campaign in Aboriginal languages, and all remote area health workers need to be educated too.

However, HTLV1 presents a unique set of problems.

First, the world doesn’t know enough about it. In the early 1980s, HTLV-1 and HIV were discovered around the same time but HIV was a major global emergency that rightly got attention. HTLV-1 was thought to be asymptomatic; people might carry it their whole lives and never show any adverse effects. Five to 10% of patients might develop fatal lung disease or leukaemia in later life but most would be fine. A map of the world’s HTLV-1 hotspots reveals another clue as to why it’s so neglected. [my yellow highlighting]

Guardian graphic | Source: ECDC

Read the full aticle here.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

NSW Bar Association: “As members of the legal profession, we know indigenous Australians, proportionately, are the most incarcerated on earth. This diminishes us as a nation.”

The Australian, 29 March 2018, p.6:

As members of the legal profession, we know indigenous Australians, proportionately, are the most incarcerated on earth. This diminishes us as a nation.
Sovereignty and dispossession, recognition and representation of interests: they are different facets of the same problem. It is something that we, as lawyers, have a duty to help solve. It is because of this duty that the legal profession welcomed the government’s reference to the Australian Law Reform Commission to examine, among other issues, rates of incarceration for the indigenous.

The Pathways to Justice report of the ALRC represents a comprehensive blueprint to address the shameful over-representation of indigenous people in our prisons. Swift and decisive action is required from commonwealth, state and territory governments to ensure its recommendations are implemented.

ALRC recommendations relating to sentencing and bail regimes, the repeal of mandatory sentencing laws, an effective justice reinvestment framework, culturally appropriate community-based sentencing options, and so on, are all aimed at how substantive, not just formal, equality before the law can be achieved for indigenous people. All recommendations are supported by the NSW Bar Association as important initiatives which will contribute to addressing Aboriginal incarceration rates.

The NSW Bar is pleased the ALRC supports establishment of indigenous sentencing courts including the NSW Walama Court. The Walama Court is critical in reducing indigenous incarceration. The model involves community participation and greater supervision, resulting in reduced recidivism and increased compliance with court orders to better protect the community. It is not a “soft on crime” initiative but rather a more effective manner to supervise offenders post-sentence which would enhance rehabilitation and prevent re-offending.
At this stage the NSW government has not allocated funds to establish the Walama Court in the 2018-19 financial year, despite the fact it would have long-term economic cost savings for NSW as fewer indigenous people will be imprisoned and rates of recidivism would be reduced…..

Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) Pathways to Justice–Inquiry into the Incarceration Rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (ALRC Report 133) Final Report, published on 28 March 2018.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

International Women's Day, 8 March 2018

A voice I am listening to on International Women's Day 2018.....

IndigenousX, 7 March 2018:

“Racism is one that all women in the women’s movement must start to come to terms with. There is no doubt in my mind that racism is expressed by women in the movement. Its roots are many and they go deep.” – Pat O’Shane

Those words were written by former magistrate, First Nations woman Pat O’Shane more than two decades ago and yet still represent an uncomfortable truth for mainstream feminism. Similar criticisms have also been made by First Nations women like Jackie Huggins, Judy Atkinson and Aileen Morton-Robinson and are revived and re-spoken by younger feminists like Larissa Behrendt, Celeste Liddle, Nayuka Gorrie and many more who continue the fight to hold mainstream feminism to account.

The roots of racism within mainstream feminism are still there, under the soil. But that’s not to say there haven’t been changes in the mainstream feminist movement. Rather than outright denial on racism and how race impacts gender, an even more damaging phenomenon has taken hold: co-option.

Intersectionality, grounded in critical race theory, is now used by many white feminists but has been watered down to a buzzword: a superficial display of “inclusiveness” whereby it is used to deflect rather than interrogate the way race impacts the lived experience of gender, class, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability.  An example of this, is the way Aboriginal women are consigned to a footnote with no context in articles about domestic violence, aligning the staggering statistics with the continuing colonial portrayal of the Aboriginal ‘other’ as inherently violent.

Much like International Women’s Day, which has become a day for corporates and fancy breakfasts that few women outside of the upper and middle classes can attend – the term has been re-purposed to fit into a limited type of white feminist thought.
Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time being angry at the failings of white liberal feminism, largely because it is the type of feminism that finds the loudest voice in mainstream media. Because it has this voice it has become synonymous with ‘feminism’, despite the movement itself being a broad church. I even questioned whether to continue calling myself a feminist.

I have realised that as an Aboriginal feminist, I don’t have to continue reacting to these failures. There is already a foundation built by brilliant black women which allows us to continue developing an Aboriginal feminism. And the reason this is so important is because the unique experiences of Aboriginal people, the way racism impacts our lived experiences as women, brotherboys, sistergirls and non-binary peoples, is a matter of life and death.

While the national conversation around domestic violence and sexual assault is undoubtedly important, often Aboriginal voices are bypassed altogether. An example of this was the recent Our Watch media awards, where a white male journalist was given an accolade for reporting on “the violence no one talks about”. Aboriginal women have been talking about violence for decades – the ‘silence’ is not the issue. It is that no one listens unless it is spoken in a way that bypasses the role of white Australia, and places blame right back onto Aboriginal people themselves. 

That is why arguments about Aboriginal culture being inherently violent are so appealing. There may have been instances of violence in pre-colonial Aboriginal society –   but from my perspective, if Aboriginal people were participating in the level of violence we see now in many communities, we would not have survived for tens of thousands of years, and we would not have developed a sophisticated system of land management, astronomy and science that intertwined with our spirituality.

But the cultural arguments around Aboriginal violence find an audience in a white Australia that denies its continuing role in the current circumstances affecting our people. And white feminists can often be complicit in the perpetuation of the myth, particularly when it comes to ‘saving black women and children’ from the hands of Aboriginal men. The fact is, Aboriginal communities are not inhuman – we care deeply about violence and the impact on our people, particularly our children. But the conversation has become dangerous due to the centring of white outrage and the appetite for black pathology which borders on pornographic.

Meanwhile, Aboriginal women are painted as depraved for this perceived silence. Like the colonial images that rendered Aboriginal women as uncaring ‘infanticidal cannibals’ who did not love their children, we are again caricatured as powerless and unconcerned about our children. This is the real silence: the silencing of the strong Aboriginal women all across the country who have worked day in and day out on this problem in the face of continual slander. …..

Full article can be read here.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Quote of the Week 20 Jan 18

“Like it or not, Aboriginal Australians are the most disadvantaged, ostracised, criticised and victimised group in society. We experience racism pretty much on a daily basis. I speak from experience. This is Aboriginal life.” [Tauto Sansbury writing in The Advertiser, 31 December 2017]

Sunday, 10 December 2017

A Tweet To Remind Us All

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Singing the heavens, singing the land, singing the lore, singing the people and their history - weaving memory

And those of us whose forebears stumbled off a handful of British boats in 1788 are still trying and often failing to understand this rich, enduring culture.......

The Monthly, September 2017:

Epic of Gilgamesh” is Google’s answer to “what is the oldest known literature”. Unknown scribes in the city of Ur picked the poem out in cuneiform letters some 4500 years ago. These clay tablets preserved an older oral tradition, but that part of the story is usually left out. Instead, the Mesopotamian epic fits easily into that cartoonish diagram of the Ascent of Man, where civilisation means writing, a sequence of metals and a procession of capitals: Memphis, Babylon, Athens, Rome.

Compare this lineage to the ceremonial songs of Aboriginal Australia. Their absolute vintage is unknowable, but the best estimates run to at least 12,000 years old. At this distance in time, the study of literature needs not just linguists but geologists. There are songlines that accurately describe landscape features (like now-disappeared islands) from the end of the Pleistocene epoch. Their provenance may stretch even further back, all the way into the last ice age. They are also alive. The last person to hear Epic of Gilgamesh declaimed in her native culture died millennia ago. Songlines that may have been born 30,000 years ago are being sung right now.

Read the full article here.

Monday, 24 July 2017

The oldest continuous culture in the world just became est. 18,000 years older

Jabiru, Northern Territory: Aboriginal people have lived in Australia for a minimum of 65,000 years, a team of archaeologists has established - 18,000 years longer than had been proved previously and at least 5000 years longer than had been speculated by the most optimistic researchers.

The world-first finding, which follows years of archaeological digging in an ancient camp-site beneath a sandstone rock shelter within the Jabiru mining lease in Kakadu, Northern Territory, drastically alters the known history of the trek out of Africa by modern humans, according to the leader of the international team of archaeologists, associate professor Chris Clarkson of the University of Queensland.

The findings, which are already causing intense interest in archaeological circles across the world, have been peer reviewed by internationally recognised scientists and are published this week in the world's most prestigious science journal, Nature.

Among the trove of discoveries are the world's oldest stone axes with polished and sharpened edges, proving that the earliest Australians were among the most sophisticated tool-makers of their time: no other culture had such axes for another 20,000 years.

"The axes were perfectly preserved, tucked up against the back wall of the shelter as we dug further and further," Professor Clarkson told Fairfax Media.

"There was one on the surface, another further down that we dated at 10,000 years. Then there were quite a few further down still which were able to date at 35,000 to 40,000 years, and finally one at 65,000 years, surrounded by a whole bunch of stone flakes."

The team had also found the oldest known seed-grinding tools in Australia, a large buried midden of sea shells and animal bones, and evidence of finely made stone spear tips.

Professor Clarkson said one of the most striking finds was the huge quantity of ground ochre, right from the oldest layers. This suggested the first humans to populate Australia were already enthusiastic artists, and had continued to be so through their continuing culture in an area known for its spectacular rock art…..

The discovery also confirms that Australian Aborigines undertook the first major maritime migration in the world - they had to sail a minimum of 90 kilometres across open sea to reach their destination whatever route they took in their long journey out of Africa.

No other humans had undertaken such a journey 65,000 years ago. However, after crossing between islands, they could have walked the last stretch between Papua New Guinea and northern Australia because sea levels were so low at that time, Professor Clarkson said.

Nature, Published online 19 July 2017, Human occupation of northern Australia by 65,000 years ago:

The time of arrival of people in Australia is an unresolved question. It is relevant to debates about when modern humans first dispersed out of Africa and when their descendants incorporated genetic material from Neanderthals, Denisovans and possibly other hominins. Humans have also been implicated in the extinction of Australia’s megafauna. Here we report the results of new excavations conducted at Madjedbebe, a rock shelter in northern Australia. Artefacts in primary depositional context are concentrated in three dense bands, with the stratigraphic integrity of the deposit demonstrated by artefact refits and by optical dating and other analyses of the sediments. Human occupation began around 65,000 years ago, with a distinctive stone tool assemblage including grinding stones, ground ochres, reflective additives and ground-edge hatchet heads. This evidence sets a new minimum age for the arrival of humans in Australia, the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa, and the subsequent interactions of modern humans with Neanderthals and Denisovans.

Extended Data Figure 3: Grinding stones, residues and usewear of specimens collected from phase 2 at Madjedbebe.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Aboriginal Australia seeks more than the symbolic recognition of first peoples status on offer from the Liberal-Nationals Federal Government

“The Australian story began long before the arrival of the First Fleet on 26 January 1788. We Australians all know this. We have always known this.”


The Council recommends:
  1. That a referendum be held to provide in the Australian Constitution for a representative body that gives Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Nations a Voice to the Commonwealth Parliament. One of the specific functions of such a body, to be set out in legislation outside the Constitution, should include the function of monitoring the use of the heads of power in section 51 (xxvi) and section 122. The body will recognise the status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first peoples of Australia.
It will be for the Parliament to consider what further definition is required before the proposal is in a form appropriate to be put to a referendum. In that respect, the Council draws attention to the Guiding Principles that emerged from the National Constitutional Convention at Uluru on 23–26 May 2017 and advises that the support of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, in terms of both process and outcome, will be necessary for the success of a referendum.

In consequence of the First Nations Regional Dialogues, the Council is of the view that the only option for a referendum proposal that accords with the wishes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is that which has been described as providing, in the Constitution, for a Voice to Parliament.

In principle, the establishment by the Constitution of a body to be a Voice for First Peoples, with the structure and functions of the body to be defined by Parliament, may be seen as an appropriate form of recognition, of both substantive and symbolic value, of the unique place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australian history and in contemporary Australian society.

The Council recommends this option, understanding that finalizing a proposal will involve further consultation, including steps of the kind envisaged in the Guiding Principles adopted at the Uluru Convention.

The Council further recommends:
  1. That an extra-constitutional Declaration of Recognition be enacted by legislation passed by all Australian Parliaments, ideally on the same day, to articulate a symbolic statement of recognition to unify Australians.
A Declaration of Recognition should be developed, containing inspiring and unifying words articulating Australia’s shared history, heritage and aspirations. The Declaration should bring together the three parts of our Australian story: our ancient First Peoples’ heritage and culture, our British institutions, and our multicultural unity. It should be legislated by all Australian Parliaments, on the same day, either in the lead up to or on the same day as the referendum establishing the First Peoples’ Voice to Parliament, as an expression of national unity and reconciliation.

In addition, the Council reports that there are two matters of great importance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, as articulated in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, that can be addressed outside the Constitution. The Uluru Statement called for the establishment of a Makarrata Commission with the function of supervising agreement-making and facilitating a process of local and regional truth telling. The Council recognises that this is a legislative initiative for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to pursue with government. The Council is not in a position to make a specific recommendation on this because it does not fall within our terms of reference. However, we draw attention to this proposal and note that various state governments are engaged in agreement-making.

Pat Anderson AO
Mark Leibler AC
Megan Davis
Andrew Demetriou
Natasha Stott Despoja AM
Murray Gleeson AC
Tanya Hosch
Kristina Keneally
Jane McAloon
Noel Pearson
Michael Rose AM
Amanda Vanstone
Dalassa Yorkston
Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM

The Australian, 18 July 2017:

Two indigenous Labor MPs have expressed doubts about the Referendum Council’s proposal for indigenous constitutional recognition, saying the councils’ final report, delivered yesterday, does not provide a clear line of sight to constitutional change.

Malcolm Turnbull yesterday cautiously backed what he called “a very big new idea” put forward by the Referendum Council he and Bill Shorten appointed 18 months ago, namely their sole recommendation of a special indigenous advisory body to the parliament.

But WA Labor Senator Pat Dodson said the recommendation had surprised some people, while NSW Labor MP Linda Burney said the sole recommendation was “limiting”, and most Australians would be “shocked” to learn that it has ruled out addressing race powers in the constitution.

Prime Minister Turnbull yesterday promised to consider the Referendum Council’s proposal, but indicated he was cautious about putting it to a national vote.

“We do not want to embark in some sort of exercise of heroic failure. I have some experience in trying to change the constitution and know better than most how hard it is.”

Senator Dodson said he wasn’t sure that progress is being made on the recognition of indigenous Australians.

“Unfortunately I think we’re going in circles a bit at the moment,” he told 7.30.

“I don’t think we’ve got a clear line of sight as to where any constitutional change whether it’s going to take place or not. Certainly on our side of politics we’re open to that. I’m not sure whether the government side is quite open as we are to the proposition.”

UNSW Dean of Law George Williams said a strong process would be needed to convince the Australian electorate that the Referendum Council’s proposal is worth voting for.

The Guardian, 18 July 2017:

These powers, s.51xxvi, were inserted into the constitution as part of the 1967 referendum and give the commonwealth power to make laws for “the people of any race for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws”.

That allowed for the construction of laws such as native title and Aboriginal heritage laws but it also allowed the federal government to make discriminatory laws.
Burney said while the idea of an Indigenous voice to parliament was huge and important, it was limiting to consider it as the only option.

“I think that is very limiting,” Burney told the ABC. “I think that is more of a minimal approach when ... they don’t want us to address the issues of the race powers and recognition of first peoples in the constitution.

“I think the Australian community would be shocked to think that we are not going to deal with the archaic race powers in the constitution but that is what the Referendum Council is instructing the parliament.”

Burney underlined that it was unclear what the Indigenous voice would do, its structure or how people would be elected. 

She said the Coalition and Labor needed to consider the report. Labor’s Indigenous caucus meets on Wednesday. She warned that any idea needed to be passed in the parliament and the idea of enshrining a national body would be a “challenge for some people”.

Sky News, 20 July 2017:

Indigenous Liberal MP Ken Wyatt has expressed disappointment at the decision to abandon the push for constitutional recognition, saying the timeline for a referendum has now been pushed back to beyond this term of government.


(xxvi)  the people of any race , other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws;

Government of territories
                   The Parliament may make laws for the government of any territory surrendered by any State to and accepted by the Commonwealth, or of any territory placed by the Queen under the authority of and accepted by the Commonwealth, or otherwise acquired by the Commonwealth, and may allow the representation of such territory in either House of the Parliament to the extent and on the terms which it thinks fit.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

So you think it's OK to keep voting for your local Liberal or Nationals MP ?

So you think it’s OK to keep voting for your local Liberal or Nationals MP and return them to the federal parliament next year?

That all people on Centrelink income support need to do is pull up their socks and get on with it because many of those Coalition MPs have told their electorates that ‘the best welfare is a job’?

Perhaps it is time to pause and think about the possible relationship between states with low employment opportunities as well as high unemployment levels and states with high working-age suicide rates – and then consider the effect of those punitive welfare policies that first the Abbott and then the Turnbull governments have created or expanded.

Starting with this policy debacle......

ABC News, 15 July 2017:

Fines imposed on welfare recipients in a controversial work-for-the-dole scheme have soared to 300,000 in under two years, prompting renewed claims of poverty and hunger in Aboriginal communities.

Jobless people in remote Australia must work up to three times longer than other unemployed people to receive benefits.

The overwhelming majority of participants in the Community Development Programme (CDP) are Aboriginal.

The latest figures reveal about 54,000 financial penalties were slapped on participants in January, February and March alone for missing activities or being late.

"It's extraordinary," Australian National University researcher Lisa Fowkes said.

"Those 35,000 people have incurred more penalties than all of the 750,000 other Australians in the social security system.

"There is something really seriously wrong with the program, and that's showing up in these figures."

Unemployed people under the CDP must work 25 hours a week to receive welfare payments.

NSW - est. 4 job seekers for every job vacancy
Victoria - est.7 job seekers for every job vacancy
Queensland - est. 8 job seekers for every job vacancy
South Australia – est. 16 job seekers for every job vacancy
Western Australia – est. 10 job seekers for every job vacancy
Tasmania – est. 14 job seekers for every job vacancy
Northern Territory – est. 4 job seekers for every job vacancy
Australian Capital Territory – est. 3 job seekers for every job vacancy

The Australian Bureau of Statistics recorded a total of 2,540 people of workforce age took their own lives in 2015.

The all ages state suicide rates in that year were:

NSW 10.6
Vic     10.8
Qld     15.7
SA      13.4
WA     15.0
Tas     16.3
NT      21.0
ACT    11.6

In 2016 the Australian Youth Development Index reported the state 15-29 year-old suicide rates for 2015 were:

NSW 10.3
Vic     9.7
Qld    12.4
SA     11.6
Tas    13.4
NT     11.2
ACT   9.7

Australian Bureau of Statistics, Causes of Death, Australia, 2015: 

Intentional Self-Harm In Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander People
This section focuses on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide deaths for which the usual residence of the deceased was in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia or the Northern Territory. .....

In 2015, 152 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons died as a result of suicide. The standardised death rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons was 25.5 deaths per 100,000 persons, compared to 12.5 deaths per 100,000 for non-Indigenous persons. Suicide deaths also accounted for a greater proportion of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths (5.2%) compared with deaths of non-Indigenous Australians (1.8%). 

In the five years from 2011 to 2015, intentional self-harm was the leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons between 15 and 34 years of age, and was the second leading cause for those 35-44 years of age. The median age at death for suicide in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons over this period was 28.4 years, compared with 45.1 years in the non-Indigenous population. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females had a lower median age at death than males (26.9 years for females compared with 29.0 years for males). 

Australia's population pyramid is not so balanced that it can afford to lose its teenagers and young adults to an early death from despair.

So why are we tolerating a federal govenment which does its best to grind down some of the most vulnerable amongst them - those who cannot easily find paid employment.

Friday, 26 May 2017


We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart:
Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.
This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.
How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years?
With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.
Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.
These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.
We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.
We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.
Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.
We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.
In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.
26 May 2017

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Australia Past & Present: always was, always will be........ *This post may contain the names and links to voices of peope who have passed away*

River Peoples

Left to right: Evelyn Barker, Sharni Hooper, Kevin Hooper, Julie Johnston, Gloria Johnston, Phyllis Cubby, Fred Hooper(Chairman), Phillip Sullivan and Alison Salt.
(Absent from the picture are Sam Jefferies and Desmond Jones)

Sydney Criminal Lawyers, transcript of Paul Gregoire interview with Murrawarri Republic Chair Fred Hooper, 22 April 2017:

This weekend in Brisbane, the Referendum Council is holding the last of the Dialogues: a series of meetings with First Nations peoples to discuss the issue of recognising the nation’s Indigenous people within the Australian constitution.
The findings from the meetings will be reported at the First Nations Convention at Uluru in late May.
However, for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people constitutional recognition is a token gesture. And what needs to be established is a framework of treaties between the government and each of the continent’s Indigenous nations.
But over recent years, there are some First Peoples nations that have gone a step further and declared independence.

Never ceded
On March 30 2013, the Murrawarri Republic made a formal declaration of independence. The Murrawarri people pointed out that they’ve been living on their land – situated on the border of NSW and Queensland – for tens of thousands of years, and sovereignty had never been ceded.
The People’s Council of the Murrawarri Republic sent their declaration to the Queen of England requesting documents proving Crown title within 21 days. But no response was received and this was interpreted as proof that indeed the republic was an independent state.
According to the council, “there were three legally recognised doctrines that governed the taking over or acquiring of new land under 18th century British and international law.” These were a declaration of war, the negotiation of a treaty or the principle of terra nullius: the concept that the land had no owners.
The British didn’t declare war on the Murrawarri Nation, and the Murrawarri people never sign a treaty. Great Britain actually claimed the land was terra nullius, however, the local Murrawarri people were actually living there at the time.
And as the council further outlines, the High Court of Australia abolished the legal fiction of terra nullius in its 1992 Mabo versus Queensland (No 2) ruling. The court recognised native title – or that Indigenous people had a prior claim to the land – in Australia for the first time.

Sovereign Nations
The Murrawarri Republic encompasses an area of around 82,000 square kilometres and has a population of about 3,500 people. It was the first Indigenous nation on the continent to declare its independence, but others have followed.
The Euahlayi Nation declared their independence in August 2013. The Wiradjuri Central West Republic did so in January 2014. And the Yidindji Tribal Nation renounced legal ties with Australia that same year. All the nations have independent governments, and some have established police forces.
Fred Hooper is the chair of the People’s Council of the Murrawarri Republic. During his time, the Murrawarri elder served six years in the Australian Navy as a submariner and spent nine years working in the public service.
Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke with Fred Hooper about the process the republic went through to declare its independence, their guiding principles, and what he thinks about constitutional recognition.

The Murrawarri Republic declared independence from Australia in March 2013. Can you outline the process you undertook in order to do this, and the reasoning behind it?
Firstly, we didn’t declare our independence from Australia. We declared that we were always independent from Australia. We declared our continued independence and statehood. Because we’ve never ceded our sovereignty or allodial title to the Crown of Great Britain.
The process that we went through. First of all, it came out of the fortieth anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, where sovereignty was the main focus of the anniversary.
We then consulted other members of the Murrawarri people. We researched forms of independence and forms of republics as well.
From a meeting of Aboriginal people in Wollongong, we then went away and researched it. And found that a republic was the best for us, because we were never a kingdom. We didn’t have Kings and Queens. And we didn’t claim our seat to the throne through God.
We decided to go with a republic.
So the process was that we researched declarations of independence. How other countries declared their independence. And we decided to go with something similar to Israel’s declaration of independence through the United Nations in the creation of the state of Israel.
We wrote the declaration. And then it was a matter of getting people to sign it. We hit the road and went to sporting events and got Murrawarri people to actually sign the declaration.
From there we wrote to Queen Elizabeth II notifying her – because she is the head of state of the country – of our intentions and our declaration.

The High Court in the 1992 Mabo case recognised native title in Australia for the first time. In response to that judgement the federal government passed the Native Title Act 1993.
Can I ask why the people of the Murrawarri nation didn’t instead decide to make a native title claim under the provisions of this Act?
Well we found that the Act didn’t work. We found that the Act was established for white Australia and all the benefits went to white Australia. All the benefits, except for one right, the right to negotiate.
Then that right to negotiate within the Native Title Act, if you don’t negotiate with mining companies within six months, and you don’t come to an agreement, then the Federal Court or the judicial system of Australia can overturn the native title.
They can force you into arbitration or they can rule in terms of development. So it’s unjust and unfair legislation.
But also, we found that in Mabo there were a number of things that the High Court said. One was that the Crown did not gain absolute beneficial ownership to the land. The Crown did not gain allodial title to the land.
They did not gain the original title off the Murrawarri to our traditional land. So therefore, we felt that our ownership of that land has continued, and that’s supported by Mabo in that statement by the judges.
Mabo did two things. It overturned the fiction of terra nullius. And it created a new principle of occupation that was outside the international law and outside of international norms, because it created a principle of peaceful settlement. Nowhere else in the world is there a principle of peaceful settlement.
We believe that we have a much stronger case. The research that was done in terms of Murrawarri people found that we’re actually not citizens of Australia, because citizenship comes through the Citizenship and Naturalisation Act of 1948.
That Act actually screens First Nations people in this country from becoming citizens of Australia. So we felt that we were alien from this nation, and that our nation was here prior to 1788.
And there was one other very interesting thing that we looked at as well. There was this old farmer in Western Australia, who declared himself independent from Australia. He pays no taxes. He declared himself a principality.
So we thought, well, if somebody from Europe can come out here and declare their independence from Australia and consider themselves a micro-nation and get acceptance, then the First Peoples should have some claim to the land as well.
We felt that Mabo gave us that opportunity, because the High Court actually said that the Crown did not gain absolute beneficial ownership to the land.

The Murrawarri Republic has its own constitution drafted in April 2014, and its own government: the People’s Council of the Murrawarri Republic.
Can you tell us about the guiding principles of the republic?
We have the constitution. It’s a draft constitution. The declaration set up the principle of the People’s Council, which looks at different types of legislation, emblems, seals, symbols and negotiations.
Our principles are that we don’t exclude anybody from our nation. The constitution does not exclude non-Murrawarri people from living within our nation. And it does not exclude them from being a part of our nation, benefiting from it, living on our nation, or owning land.
We’re looking at the governance of that land, and how the Murrawarri can govern that land for all of its citizens, not only just the Murrawarri people that live there, and the Murrawarri people that don’t live on country as well.
Some of the guiding principles are based on sharing our country. The other thing we don’t want to do is kick people off our country. It’s about benefits for all our citizens, both ancestral and non-ancestral citizens.

It’s been four years since the Murrawarri Republic declared independence. How would you say life has changed over that period for the local people?
Life continues. This is a political process. It’s a fight that we’re taking on politically.
We’ve had no benefits from government. But one of the other things that happened is that some of the development that’s happening, they actually talk to us as well. They just don’t leave us alone. They talk to us.
Also our People’s Council is looking at how we can look at projects that can benefit the whole of the nation. We’re looking at renewable energies in some of our communities. We’re looking at how we can get those renewable energies into those areas. So those type of benefits.
We’re a little bit further down the track. We’re more recognised now as a nation.
I also sit on an organisation that recognises 22 Sovereign First Nations on what they call the Murray-Darling Basin.
And we’ve managed to get the traditional owners and our nations recognised in Commonwealth legislation, through the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. It’s recognised through statute law that sits under the Water Act.
From that we’re looking at doing other things with other Aboriginal nations, like the Euahlayi Nation.
And one of the big things that came out of a meeting in Canberra last year was that overall there’s 48 Sovereign First Nations in the Murray-Darling Basin. Those 48 nations are now looking at how and what are the processes of us negotiating treaties with each other.
Under international law, a nation can be recognised as treating with other nations if it has trade. So through those treaty negotiations, and those negotiations with those other nations, we’re looking at how we can look at trading amongst ourselves.
How we can look at overseas trade with other First Nations, say in America, Canada and Maori in New Zealand.
These some of the things that are coming out of what we did in 2013.

The Murrawarri Republic was the first Indigenous nation on this continent to declare independence, and there are a few others now.
Do you think there will be more Indigenous nations following suit in the future?
normal Yes. I think it’s people’s understanding, because they’ve been so colonised over the last 200-odd years.
It’s their understanding. And it’s showing those nations that we think we have a case here legally through international law.
We always say Australia is still a colony of Great Britain. And Australia’s constitution even says that, or be it a self-governing colony. There’s still a string there to Great Britain.
What we’re looking at is recognition from Great Britain that we have never ceded our sovereignty. That we have never ceded our lands.
Hopefully now, a lot more nations will come on board. People are ringing and asking about how we did it.
And we have a package that we send out to people that are looking at declaring as well. So we are assisting other nations around the country. And every now and then, another will pop up and declare their independence.

Can I ask how that process is going? And could you explain the benefits of being placed on the list?
We have written to the Decolonisation Committee. To date, we haven’t got a response and we’re planning to write to them again to request to be put on the decolonisation list.
By being placed on the list, there’s an international obligation for Great Britain as the colonising country of the continent of Australia to decolonise under United Nations Resolution 1541.
If you are placed on that list, you are in the process of decolonisation. And there are other small countries that are on the decolonisation list. There’s one in the Pacific that only has 50 citizens.
We’re looking at firstly, trying to get onto the list. And secondly, negotiating with Great Britain, through the Queen’s ministers in Australia, in regards, to decolonising and also, self-governing of our territory.
This will benefit the people that are living in our territory, instead a lot of the benefits of the funds and the revenue that are generated within our country, leaving our country.

At the time the British arrived on this continent there were over 500 different nations already existing here. There’s never been any formal treaties set up between the Commonwealth of Australia and the various First Peoples nations.
Instead of looking towards formal treaties, the federal government is pushing for recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian constitution.
What are your thoughts on constitutional recognition?

I attended the Dubbo Dialogue on constitutional recognition. And I was elected to go to Uluru in May for the Dialogue.
Our position is we need to talk sovereignty and treaty.
One of the other reasons we declared our independence was that John Howard made a statement when he was prime minister and they were talking treaty with Aboriginal people. He came out and said in public that we cannot treaty with our own citizens.
Being recognised in the constitution, we feel, will wipe out our identity. There will no longer be separate Indigenous nations within the continent of Australia. We will all be labelled Australian Aborigines. We won’t have identity back to country.
A lot of the services that are helping people that are recognised in the constitution will dry up.
But also, through the treaty process there is a real opportunity for us to negotiate tangible outcomes, in terms of revenue and looking at governing our own nations as well. Making decisions about that and providing health services. Which is a bottom up approach, and not a top down approach which is happening now.
For us, we can’t have real constitutional recognition without a treaty document to back it up. And a treaty document is a legal document registered with the United Nations.
The constitution forgot us when it was written and I don’t think being recognised in the constitution is going to change anything for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people around the country.

And lastly, Fred, it’s Anzac Day next week. On that day in 2015, you were stopped from marching alongside the Submarine Association in the Anzac parade in Canberra, because you were holding a Murrawarri Republic flag.
You were also stopped from laying a wreath because you’d been leading the Frontier Wars march, which honours those Indigenous people who lost their lives fighting the British as they took over the continent.
This First Peoples procession has followed the Anzac Day march for the past six years.
Could you tell us whether the Frontier Wars march will be taking place in Canberra this Anzac Day? And what it means to the Indigenous people of this continent that the government still won’t officially acknowledge that these wars took place?
Yes it will be happening this year. I’m hoping to get down to it.
For us, it’s the recognition that this country was not peacefully settled. They are saying this country was peacefully settled, but it wasn’t.
We fought the British. We fought the colonisers. And there were great warriors fighting all the way that aren’t being recognised in this country. They recognise conflicts overseas, but what about conflicts on our own soil?
For a lot of Aboriginal people that’s the issue. We know that these things happened. We know that people were massacred. We know that the British declared martial law.
If you look at America and you look at the Battle of Little Bighorn, a lot of that has been recognised by the Americans.
One of the things the War Memorial said was that they don’t recognise wars before Federation. But there’s one war they recognise and that they celebrate pre-Federation which is the Boer War. And there were Aboriginal people that were taken to that war as well.
So I think that’s not a very good excuse for not recognising that there were wars and conflicts in our own country.

Fred thanks very much for speaking with us today. And best of luck going into the future with further establishing the Murrawarri Republic as independent nation.
No worries. Thank you.

Essie Coffey was a Muruwari woman born in southern Queensland. She was co-founder of the Western Aboriginal Legal Service and served on a number of government bodies and Aboriginal community organisations.

Born at Essiena Goodgabah in southern Queensland, Essie Coffey and her family were fortunate to avoid forced relocation to a reserve. Instead they lived on the move, following seasonal rural work.

Coffey went on to be co-founder of the Western Aboriginal Legal Service and the Aboriginal Heritage and Cultural Museum in Brewarrina, serving on several government bodies and Aboriginal community organisations including the Aboriginal Lands Trust and the Aboriginal Advisory Council. She was an inaugural member of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation.

Coffey was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) on 10 June 1985, for service to the Aboriginal Community. She was nominated for an MBE but refused it, explaining "I knocked the MBE back because I'm not a member of the British Empire".

With Martha Ansara, Coffey made the award-winning film [“My Survival As An Aboriginal”] (1978), which she gave to Queen Elizabeth II as a gift at the opening of Australia's new Parliament House in 1988. The sequel, [“My Life As I Live It”] , was released in 1993. Coffey also appeared in the film 'Backroads'.

Essie Coffey and her husband, Doc, had 18 children, 10 of whom were adopted.

Parks Australia, 14 July 2012:

The Murrawarri people of central New South Wales have celebrated the return of their country and the declaration of the Weilmoringle Indigenous Protected Area. The Murrawarri have been working with the Indigenous Land Corporation for many years to purchase Weilmoringle, a 3,500 hectare property on the New South Wales and Queensland border.

Brewarrina Aboriginal Mission…..

Statement of significance:

The Brewarrina Aboriginal Mission was the oldest institutional-type community in the state that was still managed in 1965. Brewarrina Mission was the first institution formally established by the Aborigines Protection Board as part of its policy to segregate Aboriginal people. Over the years, the Brewarrina Mission was used to house other Aboriginal people from Tibooburra, Angledool, Goodooga and Culgoa to form the reserve which operated between 1886 - 1966 and was one of the longest running reserve stations in NSW. During the reserve period many Aboriginal people died and were buried in the reserve cemetery. The cemetery is no longer used by the community its integrity is held high within the values of the Aboriginal people. The entire site of Brewarrina Mission including its cemetery is a significant place to the many Aboriginal tribes including Ngemba and Murrawarri tribe as a 'place of belonging'. The place retains its high integrity in its cultural, spiritual, social and historical values to many Aboriginal people across NSW.

Paroo: Oral History of Lorna McNiven - an Indigenous woman who was born in Eulo in south-western Queensland. Her family, known as river people, are the Budjari and Murrawarri peoples.
Lorna and Liz McNiven's evidence to the Australian Parliament Joint Committee On Native Title AndThe Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Land Fund, 2 October 1996. 

Excerpt from McKellar on behalf of the Budjiti People v State of Queensland [2015] FCA 601 – Native Title consent determination, 23 June 2015:

A number of Budjiti People recall activities with their parents and grandparents on the waterways and lakes found within Budjiti country. Dinny McKellar was taken to Lake Wyara and Lake Numalla by his grandparents to collect swan eggs. The flowering of the gidgee trees was a signal that the swans were laying. Lorna McNiven remembered how she went on a rowboat with her parents to fish in Caiwarro Waterhole.

Fish from the lakes and the Paroo River has featured in the diet of generations of
Budjiti People. Analysis of material at archaeological sites in the application area found evidence that people included in their diets both fish and shellfish. The practice of utilising the waterways and lakes continues to the present today. As stated by Lorna McNiven,“Budjiti People are always fishing on the Paroo”. Nina Prasad goes fishing two or three days a week when the fish are biting. Dinny McKellar goes fishing and sometimes takes his cousin Dulla McKellar with him. Favoured fishing locations would be revisited several times a year.

Seasonal events such as the flooding of the Paroo River are remembered by many
witnesses as times of celebrations. People would walk upstream to meet the flood waters after rains as they signalled when fish stocks along the Paroo would be replenished and there would be food for everyone. Today people return to the river after heavy rains. Sam Eulo returns with his whole family, including his mother Ruby Eulo, to Caiwarro after a fresh flow of water passes down the Paroo.

These activities require care and respect as the landscape contains potential dangers. A story recounted to Philip Eulo was how Grandma Toogler had to swim back from an island on Lake Numulla after collecting swan eggs. The creature Muddan-gaddah had caused the lake to rise. Whilst fishing Nina Prasad and Rhonda Cavanough heard the slapping of the Muddan-gaddah in the river. They packed up and returned home as they were wary of the creature.

Smoking ceremonies involving burning leaves of the dogwood bush or sandalwood bush are used as protection by the Budjiti People. Millie Shillingsworth for example, smokes herself when near the Paroo River to ward off the Muddan-guddah. Smoking is a means of calling on the good spirits to offer protection to the performer of the ritual. Dinny McKellar conducted a smoking ceremony so that he would be safe when he swam amongst the reeds to collect swan eggs. The spirits would also bring good fortune. Dinny was taught to smoke his fishing line so that the ancestors would know who he was and assist with a catch.

Budjiti People perform other rituals when out on country. Judy Shillingsworth throws dirt into the water and calls out “Gouyoo Gouyoo” before throwing in her line. She learnt this from her mother Ruby as well as her grandmother. The same ritual is performed by Nina Prasad to attract the fish. Nina Prasad spits on her bait just as her mother once did.

Lorna McNiven remembers when Budjiti People used to meet with neighbouring
groups. They used to have ceremonies at the lakes, it had to be when there was an abundance of food. There would be meetings or ceremonies or anything after there had been “a big wet” and the lakes would be full of fish and birds. Millie Shillingsworth also recalls being told about a big ceremonial ground up at Caiwarro. In her outline of evidence she says that she remembers her “Granny saying that all the tribes have different ceremonial sites and the different tribes would meet and exchange things. Aunty Kate told me about ceremonies on Caiwarro, the men would all get out there and have a big feed and dance and do a corroboree and exchange things. Granny used to say it was men’s business, it was a meeting place”.