Thousands rallied in Sydney and Melbourne yesterday evening, calling for the West Australian government to abandon its plans to close up to 150 remote Aboriginal communities and for a new, respectful, dialogue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.
“The message we’re sending out is coming direct form the people in WA communities,” Aunty Jenny Munro, one of the Sydney organisers, told New Matilda.
“This has got to stop. Australia is closed for business until we can sort this issue out, until we’re given the respect and recognition we deserve.”
The Melbourne rally – which started at Flinders St Station – drew 7,000 demonstrators while 2,000 turned out in drizzly Sydney, organisers say.
Vivian Malo, one of the Melbourne organisers, said the turnout was a powerful expression of the will of Aboriginal people to demand change.
“It was powerful,” she said, “the last few rallies we’ve had a really big presence of Aboriginal people.
“I’ve noticed the numbers build exponentially since this year, it’s incredibly empowering to be on the inside of that circle hearing people speak for the first time.”
“Empowerment of people,” she said, “that’s what I’m there for.”
“We’ve got to pick ourselves up rather than always being told what is happening to us. Enough is enough, that’s what’s happening here.”
In Sydney, a group from the Construction, Forestry, Mining, and Energy Union performed a Hakka in solidarity and children laid money on an Aboriginal flag, which will be used to fight the closure of remote communities.
“[The mood was] supportive, a very positive message out to the wider community,” Aunty Jenny Munro said.
“It made me cry a couple of times, just seeing the Maori brothers and sisters do the Hakka, and seeing all the babies come out and flipping the coins on to the flag,” she said.
“This fight back, we need to be able to fund it, so we asked for donations, put a flag down and all the children put the money there. It was magic to watch.”
“There’s hope for this country if those generations of children learn what they’re being taught now,” Aunty Jenny, who said the rally was the biggest she’d seen in Sydney for a long time, said.
There is new hope for a movement she has been key in building, too, with the CFMEU declaring it would not build student housing that the Aboriginal Housing Corporation is trying to develop on Redfern’s famous ‘Block’ unless affordable housing for Aboriginal people came first.
Mick Mundine, the CEO of the AHC, wants to build a $70 million office and retail development as well as student accommodation first, before housing for Aboriginal people.
A tent embassy has been set up at The Block to resist Mundine’s plans.
While the closure of remote Aboriginal communities by the Western Australian government came later, it too has fuelled the growing resistance among First Nations Peoples and their supporters.
The struggle has drawn more attention since Tony Abbott described Aboriginal people living in regional areas in WA as enjoying a taxpayer funded “lifestyle choice”.
The comments were “ridiculously racist”, Aunty Jenny said, and showed he was “very ill-informed for someone who is the ‘Prime Minister for Aboriginal affairs’.”
“This ‘lifestyle’ he talks about has been our way of life for thousands of years,” she said.
When Sydney-siders finished their demonstration at The Block, after marching from Belmore Park near Central Station, a declaration of sovereignty was read out.
“It was read out here and everyone affirmed their support for the declaration, raising their fists,” Aunty Jenny told New Matilda from The Block.
“So we’re all sovereign people working together to have justice for our mob,” she said.
In Melbourne, protestors started a fire pit at the intersection of Flinders and Swanston Street in the heart of the city, where they blocked traffic for a couple of hours, according to Malo.
“It was like if you can imagine the intersection, it’s already darkish or on dusk, it feels like a bubble,” she said.
“I think it was Robert Young who was revving up the crowd, and he said ‘I want everyone to yell’, and everyone was yelling there for a good minute,” Malo said, adding that the support from non-Indigenous Australians was encouraging.
“It was really welcoming, you know, no one was dissing the people, you know, it was inclusive,” she said.
“Despite the attack, despite the genocide, you know, we can still be welcoming.”
“I just want to see more of it – I don’t know, just keep continuing this dialogue and forcing our way through this insanity.”
“It encapsulated everybody there – we chanted at the end ‘we’ll be back, we’ll be back’.”
Nationwide protests against the forced closures, and for a new dialogue on Aboriginal sovereignty, will be held on the first of May.
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