Women gather at Matargarup to reclaim and re-establish Aboriginal Tent Embassy - Photo, Gerry Georgatos

Women gather at Matargarup to reclaim and re-establish Aboriginal Tent Embassy – Photo, Gerry Georgatos

The deplorable threat to close communities – homelands – should be one of the priorities of our time, of this generation. The future will damn any quiet on our part as we damn the quiet on the part of so many before us with the Stolen Generations, Stolen Wages, the dispossession, apartheid, the horrific racism and the litany of inhumanities. The threat to close the communities has resonated with many, with word coming today that the Western Australian Pilbara community of Warralong could be one of the first to be shut down. But the threat to close communities or to shut services and starve out the residents has also highlighted the homelessness crisis.

We have a humanitarian crisis, one that is now at the forefront, the dispossession of homelands, and one that has been swept under the carpet – homelessness. The richest jurisdiction in Australia – Western Australia – has one of the nation’s worst homelessness rates. Much of the homelessness is of its First Peoples who all up comprise less than 3 per cent of the State’s total population.

Seven percent of the Kimberley is homeless and outside of natural disasters and wars this is one of the world’s worst homeless rates – but in the world’s second wealthiest nation per capita, 12th largest economy. Perth has thousands who are homeless, with large homeless families, majorly First Peoples, on the streets, in squats, alleyways, parks, bush outskirts doing it tough. Draconian three-strike eviction laws see thousands dumped onto the streets. But local and State Government policies see them swept out of sight, out of mind – and exposed to one inhumanity after another.

Many First Peoples have had enough – and they set up Matargarup (Heirisson Island) refugee camp. It has become a vital place of refuge, respite for the homeless and symbolic of the dispossessed who will come to Perth with nowhere else to go, other than Matargarup, if their homelands are cruelly closed.

Matargarup established itself peacefully, civilly and with dignity. They took in the poor, the homeless, and cared for them. Gave them a swag, a tent, food and camaraderie. Matargarup shone its message lightning bright to the State and Federal Governments, that the homeless should not be forgotten and that it has to be a ‘no way’ with the sick idea to close homelands. It is both racism and inhumanity, also remembering that racism is inhumanity.

The disgraceful City of Perth local government stated that it is ‘illegal’ to camp on Matargarup. Up yours City of Perth. It should be illegal to shove the homeless around, to move them on, to sweep them under the proverbial carpet. The like-minded State Government supports the City of Perth. You know, if we do not tell it as it is there will be no prospect of any meaningful change, of any humanity. Ten days into the Matargarup refugee camp, the City of Perth rangers were escorted by 50 police officers, in militia-like formation. The police muscle came in as if the army, and with an infantry squad on horseback, but also with a dog squad. What a filthy response by the Western Australian police. If they had any honour they should have responded to the City of Perth with – “we are not your lackeys”.

The rangers confiscated swags, bedding, blankets, tents, pots and pans, you know, all the essentials, even a pram. Let us not hold back, effectively what they told the homeless was screw you, get out of sight, get back to the alleyways, just go die somewhere – we do not want to know.

Four days later the stalwarts of Matargarup re-established the refugee camp – the homeless were welcomed back. Donations poured in, the majority of people do care even if our governments do not. Actions speak more than words, and the actions of our governments – local, State, Federal – have shone through their racist and inhumane ideologies.

The founder, producer and principal editor of The Stringer, Jennifer Kaeshagen coordinates the First Nations Homelessness Project. Ms Kaeshagen has been doing the job of our governments, doing the job of government funded agencies and doing the job of housing departments. Ms Kaeshagen is succeeding where they fail, doing what they should be doing – she has been housing families and supporting the homeless.

If you want to keep Matargarup Refugee Camp going, contact Jennifer Kaeshagen at contact@thestringer.com.au or on 0449 655 282.

Ms Kaeshagen has secured donations of tents, swags, food and water, linen etc. to re-establish the refugee camp. She and Nadja Kubalsky of Fremantle coordinated community donations and secured a generator to power the camp.

“In just the last two days enough has been donated to care for 20 people.”

“I’m now working on sourcing huge pots for bulk cooking purposes… yeah, my cooking on a mass scale .. a scary thought really.”

“Anyway, The First Nations Homelessness Project has to support Matargarup, we have to do what we can here because Matargarup is telling Western Australia to get its act together with our homeless and to do a rethink on this cruelty of wanting to close down communities.”

“We want, we need the camp to grow – we will take in the homeless, everyone. Matargarup is vitally important and we need it, it’s getting the message out by its very presence. But without numbers, huge numbers the camp will be crushed once again.”

“So let us swell the camp. Tell all First Nations people experiencing homelessness that they are far more than welcome at the camp. That I will do all I can to care for their needs so long as they wish to stay there. My number is 0449 655 282.”

The City of Perth, the State Government and the Police shamefully, will do again what they have done in the past. But Ms Kaeshagen, The Stringer and The First Nations Homelessness Project will also continue to do what they are known to do – they will help Matargarup refugee camp re-establish itself again and again.

“Always was, always will be First Nations land.”