The fiery battle for Land Rights was the big news of the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games. Footage of massive protests by Aboriginal people and their supporters was beamed around the world. Aboriginal people in their hundreds occupied Musgrave Park in central Brisbane. Hundreds of demonstrators — such as Biri woman and story teller, Maureen Watson — defied Joh Bjelke-Peterson’s State of Emergency and ban on street marches and were arrested as part of a campaign of mass civil disobedience.
Nearly a quarter of a century later, the spotlight is again on the Commonwealth Games — or Stolenwealth Games as they have been aptly renamed. Marj Thorpe, a Gunai woman from East Gippsland, argues, “all of the Commonwealth countries are stolen from the original people and Australia is one of them.”
In March 2006, the Games will be staged in Melbourne. Watch out for a wave of protest.
The Black GST Collective is a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous activists who are appalled by the current state of affairs facing Black Australia. The group is calling for a boycott of the games and planning the largest Indigenous-led protest since those sparked by the Bi-centennial in 1988.
Activist and historian, Gary Foley, describes the Stolenwealth Games as “an international event that is too good an opportunity to miss.” He says, “we won the Bi-centennial battle and this is what we have to do again.”
Invasion Day launch. The collective made its public début at an Invasion Day concert in the Treasury Gardens on 26 January this year. The group launched a campaign T-shirt with a striking graphic depicting genocide. Its demand for a Black GST — genocide to be stopped, sovereignty to be restored and a treaty to be made — quickly captured the public imagination. The initial stock of T-shirts sold out rapidly, giving the campaign a very visual presence.
Collective members see the campaign as an opportunity to reach out and educate about the issues.
Australia was invaded, occupied and built on two centuries of genocidal policies and practices which continue to this day. Robbie Thorpe, from the Gunai Nation, argues that “weapons of mass destruction were used on the population, namely smallpox.” Marj Thorpe talks about living the genocide. She argues, “genocide is happening today. We are subjected to second-rate service.” The collective characterises both the ongoing Indigenous deaths in custody and the assimilationist policies of the Howard Government as contemporary acts of genocide.
Robbie Thorpe sees this campaign as an opportunity to raise demands for recognition of sovereignty directly with the Queen who will be in Australia to open the Games. He thinks that for Indigenous people, the question is about jurisdiction and about whose law shall prevail — Indigenous laws, or the law of the invaders?
He explains that Australia was not settled peacefully. When you stick your flag in the ground and claim the land for your King, that it an act of war.”
In 1983, the National Aboriginal and Islander Health Organisation produced a statement explaining sovereignty. They said, “Sovereignty is not a vague legal concept. Sovereignty is a practical and achievable goal. Sovereignty for Aboriginal people can be defined as recognition of our Aboriginal Rights. Sovereignty can be demonstrated as Aboriginal people controlling all aspects of our lives and destiny.”
As was the case in 1982, Land Rights remains a concrete element of the struggle for sovereignty. One slogan of the Black GST campaign declares that Native Title is not land rights. Foley describes Native Title as “the most inferior land title under British law.” Add to this the fact that fewer than 10% of Aborigines can successfully claim Native Title, it’s clear that it cannot provide solutions.
Another campaign slogan declares, “reconciliation is not justice.” Marj Thorpe criticises what the Howard Government imposes — so-called practical reconciliation and mutual obligation, which is in reality completely one-sided.
Marj Thorpe, who sat on the Reconciliation Council, is a strong advocate for a treaty and is optimistic about the level of community support. “When we saw more than a million people walk over the bridge in Sydney or march in Melbourne or in country towns what we saw was people demanding more. Yet, the Howard Government is serving us up assimilation. During the years of the Reconciliation Council, people said that we needed to have a treaty. People said that there was unfinished business. That’s what I heard when I sat around that Council table and that is what John Howard will not recognise.”
Challenging the misleaders. The Black GST Collective argues that part of the problem has been caused by Indigenous people being sold out by their “leadership.” Gary Foley argues, “much of the leadership of Black Australia stands completely discredited. Especially characters such as Noel Pearson who is the Howard Government’s favourite ‘pet Aborigine’ and the architect of the Native Title Act.” Foley says, “people are screaming out for a change of tactics.” We reject “the pinstriped brigade — the Noel Pearsons and the Warren Mundines — who’ve built a career on backroom discussions with governments.”
The Black GST Collective appeals to all who are interested in building grassroots resistance against the genocide and for recognition of sovereignty and the negotiation of a treaty to get involved.
At a standing room-only public meeting held at Trades Hall in Melbourne on May 18, the Black GST Collective invited all who care about the issue to join in. Foley said, “we need to know if there are people who are with us.” The size of the audience, the enthusiastic cheers and the rush to sign the contact list demonstrated without a doubt that there is broad support for the campaign.
Gary Foley told the public meeting, “there are blackfellas who are part of the problem and there are whitefellas who are not part of the problem.” Blackfellas and whitefellas who know that none of us can achieve our liberation until the sovereign rights of Australia’s Indigenous nations are recognised and a treaty signed, should mark March 2006 in their diaries now. Come to Melbourne and make history.
For news about the Black GST Campaign, bookmark www.kooriweb.org/gst/ which has links to a host of excellent resources. The collective can also be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to PO Box 4320, University of Melbourne Vic 3052.