The 23 clans of the Nyungah/Bibbulman peoples of the southwest of Western Australia comprise the largest population of the descendants of First Peoples on this continent – more than 40,000. On Sunday, they re-established Nyungah Aboriginal Tent Embassy at Matargarup (Heirisson Island) in the heart of Perth. They declared it a place of refuge for all their homeless and “in addition as a refugee camp for all those who will be dispossessed and displaced from their homelands throughout this State by the Government.”
On the quiet, more than seventy Elders and community members gathered at Matargarup to re-establish the Embassy. Two years ago more than 150 police in militia-like formation stormed the then Embassy.
Elder Maureen Culbong said, “We will stand in even stronger numbers together than even the two years ago where we stood for so long. There are so many issues our peoples face that we need the Embassy as a place of sanctity for all those hurting, for all those who will be displaced and also for the rest of the nation to have highlighted to them what we are going through as a people.”
Nyungah man, Ryan Humphries said, “Our people have come out here in numbers, men and women, and the clans will stand together to protect one another.”
The Head of the Sovereign Union of Aboriginal Nations and Peoples in Australia, Eulayhi Elder, Michael Anderson flew from Goodooga in NSW to Perth for the re-establishment. With him arrived others too versed in ‘sovereign rights’, Eleanor Gilbert, Gary Simon Jagamara and Natalie Kotha.
Mr Jagamara welcomed the re-establishment of the Embassy.
“You have sovereignty, you have your rights, this is your land, it cannot be taken from you. Reclaim it as you have, peacefully. Do not fall into their traps of forcing retaliation. They will try everything to upset the Blackfella. You will be harassed, you will be attacked but do not retaliate. This happened to you last time, they started it, the passers-by and the racists but instead of retaliating you must do only one thing, pick up the phone and call the police. Because their law works this way, first in first served. If you complain first then they will be charged, if they complain first you will be charged.”
“Last time, they, the perpetrators hurled abuse at you, threw things at you from their passing cars and boats, but you retaliated and then the perpetrator called the police and it was you who was charged. Do not fall into their trap again and do not let them portray you as they want,” said Mr Jagamara.
After a smoking ceremony, speeches, and after a powerfully emotional circle gathering of the women alone who held hands and welcomed everyone to Matargarup, a small contingent from the re-established Tent Embassy, including Mr Anderson, attended the Perth Police Station. They gave notice of the peaceful reclamation of Matargarup as Aboriginal Tent Embassy.
Mr Anderson said, “There is a humanitarian crisis occurring in Western Australia, and the Embassy will also host a refugee camp for those who will be displaced from their communities.”
“This humanitarian crisis will unavoidably come to the attention of the nation as one community after another is closed down by the Western Australian Government – and up to 150 communities.”
“The Government’s policy to shut down up to 150 homelands and communities, which they have wrongly stated to be financially ‘unsustainable’ and economically unviable is in our view an act of war,” said Mr Anderson.
“These actions by the Western Australian Government are direct violations of all humanitarian laws and are counter to the international ambition of world peace and harmonious relations.”
“The majority of the people of these homelands have never been displaced and have at all material time maintained their cultural norms and beliefs to their Country and natural Law for millennia.”
“For the Western Australian Government to now dispossess and displace the Peoples of these homelands is designed to facilitate an expeditious expansion of mining interests and other developments.”
“The most despicable act of the Western Australian government is a repeat of clearing of the land so as to ensure no opposition to mining and other commercial developments. This action on the part of the Western Australian Government has now created community and personal despair, which has resulted in hundreds of Aboriginal people becoming refugees in their own country. The resulting dispossession and displacement of people from Country to the streets of large regional towns and cities has, and will, result in increased homelessness resulting in higher arrest rates, child removal, family breakdown, community distress, social ills, and the obvious increase in suicide.”
There was much solace and camaraderie on the first evening of the reborn Tent Embassy, and a salubrious investiture of hope. Those who are coming to stay feel empowered by the support of their eastern counterparts, by messages of solidarity from the nine-month long Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy, and believe they will swell in numbers. The support thus far, achieved on the quiet, has been huge. But it must be remembered that two years ago, a very well established Nyungah Tent Embassy at Matargarup was met with three police raids and finally three months into their stand, the then tent city at Matargarup was met by a never before seen exercise of Perth’s police muscle – more than 150 police officers marched in, dog squads, police on horseback, the tactical response squad, helicopters – the lot. It was obscene but it occurred. Anyone who stood their ground was arrested. Australia can hypocritically call on for instance Tunisia, Egypt, the Arab world, to not break up civil protests, for Governments to allow for the “Arab Spring” but when it comes to one’s own backyard Australia has a diabolical penchant for crushing civil protests – the Occupy protests, numerous Aboriginal Tent Embassies.
Let us see what 2015 brings.