On April 19th 2015, I met with Aboriginal citizens whom have been camping in protest on traditional Nyoongar land (Heirisson Island) here in Perth, Western Australia.
The people who live at the Matagarup Aboriginal Refugee Camp are protesting the impending forced closure of over 100 remote aboriginal communities throughout Western Australia. Currently there are 60 people from several tribes and organisations showing solidarity together over the uncertainty that these remote communities face. Vivianne, 48 Manjidar – “We need our communities. If they are closed down, we will lose everything. Our connection to the land could be lost.” Ruthie, 52 Nyoongah “To be pushed off the land we’ve been living on for thousands of years, it’s very sad” Bella, 54 Nyoongah “We are making a stand for those who will be forced into homelessness. Everybody has to stand up and make noise. These closures have got to stop.” Herbert, 49 Nyoongah – “I am an activist and elder. Colin Barnett needs to stop closing down these communities. He is creating more homelessness with this decision.” Trevor, 55 – “Western Australia is the most mineral rich state in Australia. The Pilbara and Kimberly have the greatest deposits. In just one year (2012-2013), the government collected five billion dollars in royalties. This is what people don’t see. Mining in these areas could affect heritage and cultural sites.” Clinton, 25 Nyoongah – “I am a young teacher, keeping the language alive. Our culture is in peril, the land holds our stories. Mother nature needs our protection.” Toogarr, 65 Bibbulmun Nation – “We are here because we want to be in contact again with the Mother Earth. This is our mother. The stars and moon are inside of us all.”
In November 2014, the State of Western Australia announced it has been forced to close between 100-150 regional Aboriginal communities. This was a reactive response as the Federal Government declared it would no longer be funding these remote regions (it had been previously supporting 2/3rd of the funding).
Many of these small communities were established in the 1970’s when Aboriginal people began to relocate from urban regions back to their traditional homeland. This relocation was due to a lack of employment and a great need to reconnect with the land. This migration was a supported by the Common Wealth in 1976 through the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which the Federal government agreed to pay for utilities such as water and electricity.
On March 11th of this year, The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott revealed publicly that he thought these communities were “a lifestyle choice” and in stating this, he single handily undermined the necessity of Aboriginal people to have their communities connected with the land.
In determining which communities will close, the state government of Western Australia (led by Premier Colin Barnett) has proposed that it will review and implement the closure of communities that are not financially self-sustainable. This has the potential to displace approximately 1300 people whom live in 274 of WA’s smaller communities.
Across the nation many people, political leaders and community organisations (including Greens Senators: Scott Ludlam and Rachel Seiwert, Senator Sue Lines (WA Labor), Terry Redman MLA (Nationals WA) and Ben Wyatt MLA) have spoken out and questioned the decision made by both the State and Federal Government. In Melbourne and Perth, thousands of people stood in protest in March when the media showed footage of the protesters at Heirrison Island being moved along by police.
Outside of Western Australia there has been progress for a number of other states who were in a similar position. South Australia recently reached an agreement with the Federal Government worth $15 million dollars of support for their remote communities. The Northern Territories had previously also been promised funding by the Federal Government, totalling $206 million over the next 10 years.
This video features the elders and community currently living on Heirrison Island
To show your support for the traditional owners and custodians of this land here in Western Australia, please share this video, blog or sign up for this petition. Alternately, this hashtag is bringing awareness and is arranging a march here in Perth through Instagram & Twitter:
Holly Martin Copyright – Redterrain 2015 For all enquires please email: firstname.lastname@example.org