Monthly Archives: May 2013

2013 Reconciliation Week Blog – symbolism, change and reconciliation

Castan Centre for Human Rights Law

Guest Blogger – Luke Pearson, IndigenousX

This post forms part of the Castan Centre’s 2013 Reconciliation Week guest blog series. You can also read the  post by Inala Cooper of Monash University, and the post by Shireen Morris of the Cape York Institute.

National Reconciliation Week is upon us… and Sorry Day is just behind us.And sadly it’s a been a bit of a sorry Reconciliation Week in the media so far. Recent events seem to have overshadowed the week, when it seems like now is probably the perfect time to highlight it.

These few acts being played out in public mirror what goes on out of the public eye every day, and while there is a lot of interest in these issues when they involve celebrities or high profile people, when it involves a boss and an employee, a teacher and a student, a police officer and…

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We and the land are one – Guboo Ted Thomas

The original Wallaga Lake and Mumbulla Mountain Aboriginal land rights claim documents submitted by Guboo Ted Thomas to the NSW Parliament in the 1970s were recently found at the Bega Aboriginal Land Council. The documents capture the tone of dispossession and emerging Aboriginal activism of the time. They are also the powerful submissions that ultimately led to the handing of title to the Yuin people of the Wallaga Lake Reserve and the protection of Mumbulla Mountain as an Aboriginal Place.

 In June 1978 Guboo Ted Thomas wrote to then NSW Premier Neville Wran:

“We, the Aboriginal people of Wallaga Lake and members of the Yuin tribe, do hereby place before you and the Government of New South Wales our claim for our Land Rights.”

The claim was for the title deeds of Yuin tribal lands at Wallaga Lake to be handed over to the Aboriginal people.

It was the beginning of a battle for lands rights that would last many years.

“When white people first came to Australia, they took all the land, with dreadful consequences for our people,” he wrote.

“Even though there was plenty of land for everyone, they took the lot!’

The Wallaga Lake Aboriginal Reserve had been created in 1891 by the NSW Aborigines Protection Board and run by a state appointed manager.

Aboriginal people from the Yuin tribe as well as people from the Monaro and Victoria were moved there.

The speaking of Aboriginal language was banned, traditional culture discouraged, and the managers controlled movement to and from the reserve.

Guboo Ted Thomas was born in 1909, grew up on the Wallaga Lake Aboriginal Reserve, and as a young man was educated in the rites, laws, and customs of the Yuin people.

He was 58 years old when all Aboriginal people were finally made Australian citizens following the 1967 referendum.

In the early 1970s he began campaigning for Aboriginal land rights and remained an activist until his death in 2002.

In his 1978 submission to then NSW Premier Neville Wran he wrote that almost all of land on which generations of Aboriginal people had lived had been taken from them, leaving them only a few acres of which did not even have title.

Original document

Original document

“We must always live in fear and insecurity, worrying if even the little we have will be taken away from us,” he wrote.

He pointed to section once part of the reserve, now the coastal suburb of Akolele, that in 1949 ‘was taken away from us and given to white people for their holiday homes’.

“This bit of land was very important to us because it contains one of our sacred burial grounds.”

The claim did not contest that land ‘as we do not wish to disturb these people’.

He expressed worry that with the white population increasing they would lose even more land.

The claim asked that the title deeds to the remaining reserve, as well as Merriman’s Island, and adjacent Crown Lands be handed over to the Yuin people in perpetuity.

“This land is part of us and we are part of it. It has always been so in the past and it will always be so in the future. We and the land are one.”

Five years later, after continued lobbying and demonstrations, the title deeds were handed over to the Yuin people.

Meanwhile, in 1979, Guboo Ted Thomas began seeking the support of the white community to recognise the cultural significance of Mumbulla Mountain, about 30 km south west of Wallaga Lake.

He explained how it was a sacred mountain where boys would be initiated and ‘taught about the Tribal Law and how they should behave, and they were taught the special secrets of our Culture’.

“They had to spend a long time on the Mountain away from their people, and they were put through special tests to prove that they were men.

“Then they were initiated and brought back to the tribe as young men who respected their Tribal Law and Culture.

“The law has been handed down from one generation to the next, ever since the Dreamtime.”

He wrote how the last initiations had been held around 1918 and how he had been too young.

He was concerned about logging destroying the sites and wrote of his distrust of the then Forestry Commission who he claimed were ignoring a provision to survey sacred sites before beginning logging operations.

He was successful in getting the logging stopped while an archaeological survey was carried out by archaeologist Brian Egloff.

He lobbied for support that the ‘whole area of Mumbulla Mountain in which sacred sites are located should be gazetted as an Aboriginal Place … administered by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.”

Mumbulla Mountain was gazetted as an Aboriginal Place in 1984.

In 2006, four years after Guboo’s death, it was incorporated into a complete handover of the Gulaga and Biamanga National Parks to the Yuin people, as he had envisaged, jointly managed by the Aboriginal owners and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Bill Brown

I’ll Keep it Brief Mia – Australian Blackface

1. As most of us know Delta Goodrem retweeted the other night a chap in blackface and thought it “Hilarious”

2. Mia Freedman uses her popular website Mamamia to defend Delta and suggesting “there is a huge difference between painting your face black to mock an entire race and painting yourself black to respectfully dress up as someone who has black skin.”

Well that is where you are dead wrong Mia, your whole article is wrong, but this is particularly offensive. There is a misconception in your article and in most of what is written about Blackface that it began as a way of white actors painting on the black and playing buffoonish characters. This is flatly incorrect! Although this is what would become of Blackface it actually started much earlier in serious theatre were the complete lack of black actors meant the roles were filled by white folk with their faces and arms painted black.

Now why couldn’t black people simply play those roles like we would expect now. Geez we got a whole season of Redfern Now with an Indigenous cast playing their own black roles. What on earth was going on back in the halcyon days of blackface that required white folk to black up.


This is what was happening Mia, this is where the black men were in this country! I know you probably think slavery was confined to the United States and ended with the Civil War and stamped out with the Civil Rights movement. But how about looking back at the history of your own country, the massacres, the forced labour, the removal of children, the brutality. This is why these men were not available down at the local theatre to play a black role, in Australia they were in chains!

So when blackface is used in Australia, when a famous person thinks it is “Hilarious” and when you believe in can be used “Respectfully” look back at this photo and have a think. This is the real past of where Blackface in this country comes. And now fast forward to today, a life expectancy for Aboriginal people at third world levels.

Look above at the photo again, they are black faces, they are slave chains around their necks and the use of Blackface is the re-attachment of those handcuffs and padlocks!

A Proving Ground for Proud Carers of Country

Murrandoo Yanner

A quiet evolution has been occurring in remote Aboriginal communities over the last decade, with ranger programs enabling people to earn a decent income, support their families and experience the pride that comes with that.

Marcia Langton is right – some Aboriginal people in north Australia are breaking into the middle class and mining companies have been forced, kicking and screaming, to contribute to this. My own family has benefited from the Century Mine near my homelands in the lower Gulf of Carpentaria.

I hope mining and other economic development will continue to provide opportunities for Aboriginal people, but a quiet evolution has been occurring in remote Aboriginal communities over the last decade that isn’t well understood.

Up to now, indigenous-ranger programs have had bipartisan support, starting under the former Howard government and greatly strengthened by Labor. It’s an evolution because ranger programs are increasing the capacity of our mob and bringing them out of poverty, while also contributing to the evolution of attitudes in remote regions and healing the land.

We live in a relatively pristine natural environment in the Lower Gulf of Carpentaria, with only minor development pressures on the landscape so far. But threats degrade this landscape gradually. It is death by a thousand cuts: damaging uncontrolled wildfires, eroded rivers and wetlands, weeds taking over and choking out the local plants. The landscape is changing from what we knew as kids, and feral animals damage our sacred places, predating on traditional foods and bringing disease.

Indigenous ranger groups have been going for decades in some remote communities but it wasn’t until the Howard government brought in what is now the Working on Country and Indigenous Protected Areas programs, and also when the Beattie government established the Wild River legislation that a reliable source of funds was available for local rangers.

In the past five years, Carpentaria Land Council rangers have lit hundreds of thousands of hectares to protect country from late season wildfires, shot over 40,000 feral pigs in sensitive habitat and prevented the spread of serious weeds into the Northern Territory. Most important of all, we have 20 rangers that are now professional land and sea managers.

Contracting indigenous people by government to manage country in remote Australia is just common sense. We have a cultural obligation to look after country. In the Gulf we rejected the early half-arsed CDEP ranger programs where people were given uniforms and then asked to paint rocks white (”green welfare”).

We wanted real ranger jobs for our people. We wanted to provide a meaningful service. Our rangers are taught by the best whitefella scientists, and mentored by the best characters we can muster. Now, we have some of the best-performing rangers in the country using both traditional knowledge and science.

Working in the Gulf means getting along with our pastoral neighbours. I have not exactly been a great fan of the pastoral industry over the years because of the racist way they have treated us. But I realise a lot of pastoralists are willing to work towards a common goal. Through years of hard work on the ground, we now have a solid relationship with many local pastoralists. It’s ”practical reconciliation” Gulf-style.

Working hard and earning a decent income enables people to support their family and experience the pride that comes with that. Our rangers know they are as good (if not better) than whitefellas at their work, and that makes a big difference to self-confidence.

In the 2012-13 series of Boyer lectures, Marcia Langton says that Aboriginal opportunity is ”constrained by limited human capital”. Our rangers are building that capital, and will be able to work in other land-based industries like mining, tourism or agriculture if they choose. We are building professionals that will be employable in their chosen field, and human capital that will provide for a future economy: one that will be carbon-constrained and changed by climate.

Building a work ethic through rewarding employment gets results, having a job is a much better way to deal with alcohol problems than the paternalism of the NT intervention.

Mining is here to stay in northern Australia, but it’s no silver bullet. Mining jobs are limited and all booms eventually bust. Building an economy in remote regions of Australia requires longer-term vision.

There is a lot of unmanaged country out here. Our people want to get to work managing it. Indigenous rangers and Indigenous Protected Areas are a great success story providing real jobs and good management for our country.

In a federal election year I am calling on all leaders of state and federal political parties to support increased funding for these programs over the next decade. That’s a vision we can all support.

  • Murrandoo Yanner is chairman of the Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation. He is a Gangalidda man of the Gunamulla clan.

Save the CNS – Prevent Black Deaths in Custody!

There have been no Aboriginal deaths in police custody in NSW and the ACT since the Custody Notification Service, a 24-hour legal advice phone line began in 2000.




Show how MASSIVE the support is for the government to fund this service by signing this petition and keeping a vital service alive.

Every time our lawyers speak to an Aboriginal person being detained, they check upon the welfare of the person by asking RU OK? Often people aren’t OK.

Threats of self- harm or suicide are common. Our lawyers are skilled at hearing ideation or real threats of self-harm or suicide. The lawyer talks carefully with the person, notifies the Police and the vulnerable person in custody is made safe.

The CNS is an extremely SUCCESSFUL program assisting vulnerable people with fair and equitable access to justice and welfare.


Since July 2012, when the government stopped funding it, ALS staff have covered the costs of the phone line however we are struggling and cannot afford to continue funding the service.

The CNS will cease to exist on the 30th of June 2013 unless government funding is urgently found.

The phone line costs the same to operate as holding two juveniles in detention for one year – $500,000 per annum.

The ALS is urgently calling on the NSW and/or Australian government to fund this essential service. Aboriginal incarceration rates are already too high. It is likely they will increase if the CNS does not exist.



– The police must contact the ALS every time they take on an Aboriginal person into custody. It was a recommendation from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and is now legislated under NSW law.

– In the NSW Attorney-General’s Second Reading Speech (2013) on the revised Right to Silence legalisation, the A-G stated the ALS 24-hour legal advice phone line WILL be available for Aboriginal people taken into custody, thereby removing none of the protections afforded to vulnerable Aboriginal people.

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Asking far too much of abused

The following is an article published in The Australian following their initial article on the prosecution of women who had retracted allegations in relation to  cases of Domestic Violence. Written by the brilliant Aboriginal Criminal Lawyer Louise Taylor.


REPORTS of the prosecution of women who retract domestic violence allegations has exposed tragic ignorance of the dynamics of intimate relationships characterised by violence.

When a woman lives her life through a prism of violence — perpetrated by a current or former partner — that violence is overwhelming. For many it is a time bomb, ominously ticking away on the kitchen bench.

Many women speak of the responsibility they carry to keep the peace, calm tempers, appease demands, cater to the emotional manipulation and manage the controlling behaviour. They speak of the secrets they ask their children to keep and the silent war they wage in their heads when they love the person who abuses them.

The criminal justice system, when and if it intervenes, asks much of these women. It demands their co-operation and damns them when it falls away. Underlying these assumptions are the loaded questions society poses. Why don’t they leave? Why can’t they help themselves? What sort of mother must they be? Rarely is it asked, Why don’t the abusers just stop abusing?

Charging women with a criminal offence for recanting allegations of domestic violence amounts to hanging them out to dry when they buckle to the relentless pressure of abusive relationships.

Yet when a woman finally makes the decision to contact police (often at a crisis or emergency point) she is rarely contemplating all the consequences that flow from that contact. Rarely does she imagine that she will give police a statement, have sometimes intimate photos taken, neighbours questioned, be summonsed to attend court and, finally, be required to give evidence and be cross examined by a skilled defence lawyer.

Quite simply, she is contacting police because she wants the violence to stop. But that desire is often trumped by the pressures of everyday life. Many face lifelong co-parenting association with their abuser coupled with significant financial dependence. Most are fearful of the violence of which he is capable. The impact of these factors is profound on the willingness of victims to co-operate with an intervention that might see her abuser jailed.

For Aboriginal women, these complexities are compounded by a historically fraught relationship with the justice system that requires them to sit in a courtroom (often filled with white men) and be cross examined on the most intimate details of their life. A system that jails Aboriginal men (their brothers, fathers, sons) disproportionately and increasingly in some jurisdictions apparently imposes harsher sentences on Aboriginal people.. Sometimes these women have little desire to play a role they see as complicit in this flawed and oppressive system.

Then there is the added pressure of living in a regional or remote community. In the absence of significant support systems, demanding co-operation is a rather ridiculous notion. And the outcome is predictable.

Since becoming aware of the cases reported by The Weekend Australian, my thoughts keep returning to the Aboriginal women in remote towns in western NSW whose prosecution for retracting domestic violence allegations may have left them forever cut off from the support from police to which they are entitled. The danger this poses to these women who may now think twice about seeking crisis intervention is real. When they just want the violence to stop, who will they call? A blanket approach to criminalising women who recant is lazy and simplistic.

I urge the adoption of practices that support all victims of violence without alienating them from the system charged with protecting them. Government representatives must assure these vulnerable women this practice will cease.

Louise Taylor, a Canberra-based Aboriginal criminal lawyer who once specialised in family violence, is Convenor of the ACT Women’s Legal Centre and a member of the Law Council of Australia Indigenous Legal Issues Committee.

Rough justice for victims too scared to testify against abusive partners

BY:NATASHA ROBINSON From: The Australian

ABORIGINAL women who are victims of violent domestic clashes have been sentenced to jail in regional NSW after retreating from their claims against their abuser – a trend that has sparked calls for an urgent review of police handling of false accusation cases.

The Weekend Australian has uncovered 20 cases in which 19 indigenous women and one 17-year-old girl from towns stretching from Walgett to Wagga Wagga were prosecuted after retracting the substance of police statements made immediately following an alleged domestic incident.

Three of the women were sentenced to prison – one for a period of 18 months – by country magistrates. The sentences were later overturned by a higher court.

The cases fly in the face of a recently rolled-out domestic violence justice strategy for NSW, which aims to ensure “victims have confidence in the justice system and are empowered to participate”.

One woman, 44-year-old Allyson Sullivan, from Gilgandra in the state’s central west, has taken the extraordinary step of speaking out publicly about her conviction on a false-accusation charge and the way it destroyed her faith in the justice system.

Ms Sullivan endured 20 years of violent assaults at the hands of her defacto partner, who at the height of the abuse threatened to cut off her fingers, and had locked her and her children in a car and then set it alight.

The mother of three was given an 18-month jail sentence – the second harshest for a false-accusation charge in recent NSW judicial statistics – after retracting her allegations of abuse against her partner.

“I feel that I was failed,” Ms Sullivan said. “I don’t have any faith in the police whatsoever anymore.”

Two other women were given five-month jail terms after being convicted of public mischief charges, also sentences that were among the harshest recently recorded. Those sentences were also overturned.

The 20 cases have come to light after the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT – alarmed after recently defending a woman who was sentenced to prison for retracting her evidence against a violent partner in court – undertook a review this month of its Western Zone case files.

The cases were prosecuted between 2006 and last year across the Castlereagh, Chifley, Darling River, Orana, Griffith and Wagga Wagga NSW local police commands.

Fifteen of the women were charged with public mischief offences under section 547B of the Crimes Act NSW. Four of the women and the 17-year-old girl were charged with making a false accusation to police under section 314 of the Crimes Act.

Fifteen of the women pleaded guilty and one had the charge dismissed under mental health diversion legislation. Of the four who pleaded not guilty, three were acquitted and one was fined.

A spokesman for NSW police defended the service’s handling of domestic violence cases: “In determining the appropriateness of charges relating to domestic violence incidents, the NSW police force gives careful consideration to such things as the vulnerability of the victim, the power imbalance that often exists in the domestic relationship and the pressure, actual or perceived, to which the victim is often subjected. Falsely accusing a person of a crime is a serious offence, and the NSWPF will take appropriate action where this has occurred. In all cases, the public interest is paramount.”

NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith and Director of Public Prosecutions Lloyd Babb declined to comment.

The ALS NSW/ACT case review also turned up extraordinary examples in which women had been refused certificates of immunity from prosecution in court, and one in which a magistrate failed to warn a woman who gave evidence that she had lied to police against incriminating herself. In that case, the magistrate, now-retired Howard Hamilton, later told the woman who had retracted the substance of her allegations in court that police may pursue action against her, despite expressing at the same time “significant doubts” that the mother of one was telling the truth when she claimed she had fallen over and injured her face rather than been punched.

In many of the cases, police cross-examined victims in court, alleging their retractions were false and the abuse incidents had indeed happened, but they later laid charges that relied on those very retractions.

ALS NSW/ACT chief legal officer John McKenzie said Aboriginal women making domestic violence allegations were highly vulnerable. “It is wrong-headed public policy and risks a real miscarriage of justice to prosecute them solely on the basis of the retraction of an allegation of domestic violence,” he said.

Nicholas Cowdery, who was NSW director of public prosecutions between 1994 and 2011, said he believed all state jurisdictions should follow the British example and refer false-accusation allegations to senior figures within offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions for review.

“It is not an appropriate response to automatically act upon a retraction of a complainant,” said Professor Cowdery, now a visiting fellow at the University of NSW.

“In these kinds of cases there needs to be greater examination of the circumstances behind it or reasons that have led to it.”

Academic Robyn Holder said community pressure and tight social bonds made it particularly difficult for Aboriginal women to proceed with domestic violence prosecutions.

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