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What Is Sacred?

Max “Duramunmun” Harrison, an elder of the Yuin Nation of Southeast Australia, explains why Aboriginal understandings of the land have no credibility in wider Australian society. Developers refuse to respect sacred land when they cannot see what is sacred about it. But Max asks, is sacredness something to be seen with the eyes or something to be felt and lived?

For more see:-

Hugh Jackman on Aboriginal Communities

For Aboriginal Elder Dr Berryl Carmichael the Darling River is her Livelihood.

For Dr Berryl Carmichael, the Darling River is her livelihood.

Berryl remembers a time when the river water was as clear as the ocean, a place where she played and learned the traditions of her people.

“We used to have great fun going down and pumping the yabbies out,” she said.

“We used to put our foot in the hole instead of setting traps and the yabbies would back out the other hole.

“We grabbed the yabbies and put them in the bucket so we had a feed.”

Over the years, Berryl has noticed different species come and go from the system, like the catfish.

“We used to always catch catfish and they were a beautiful food,” she said.

“Especially if it was your totem, you needed that catfish, a bit of your spirit food to feed your spiritual self.

“Now today you can hardly get a catfish in the river.

“Things like that connected the people to the water.

“It is fast disappearing, it’s very sad.”

On the longer term health of the Murray-Darling Basin, Beryl says he is concerned for the next generation.

“What about the fish dreaming?” she asked.

“This is when the Aboriginal people need to come together again and let our voices be heard loud and clear.

“It’s the life vein of our people.”

FMG Damaging Sacred Sites


MARK COLVIN: An Indigenous group from the Pilbara has gone to Canberra with its claim that the Fortescue Metals Group is destroying sacred sites. The Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation says Andrew Forrest’s ore company has desecrated an ochre quarry and destroyed part of a creek where stones are gathered for initiation ceremonies.
It’s called on the Federal Environment Minister to invoke emergency powers and protect sacred sites. The mining company has rejected the Aboriginal corporation’s claims, and described them as “offensive”.
David Weber reports.
DAVID WEBER: The Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation says it wants the Federal Environment Minister to protect what it calls “living heritage”. The corporation’s chief executive, Michael Woodley says the creek where sacred stones are found is important to maintaining culture.
MICHAEL WOODLEY: This particular area that sits on Yindjibarndi country, relates to the ceremony that we practice back home. If we don’t protect these sites and no one in this house cares to help us, then we can see our heritage wiped from the face of this earth forever.
DAVID WEBER: In a statement, the Environment Minister Tony Burke has said the application needs to go through a process under law. Mr Burke also says it will take some time to consider the matters raised and he’s offered a similar meeting with Fortescue.
But Michael Woodley says time is running out.
MICHAEL WOODLEY: We told him we would like to have a timeline in terms of when he would get back to us. We did raise that issue to him and said look it’s very concerning to us that while you sit on it and go through this process, that might take anywhere from four to five weeks, there are heritage being destroyed as we speak.
DAVID WEBER: An archaeologist contracted by FMG has claimed that she was pressured to alter surveys and reports. The company has said it only called for the correction of unqualified commentary, and in any case, both the original and new reports were submitted to the Department of Indigenous Affairs. The company has said it would cooperate with any investigation.
Michael Woodley says he spoke about the broader issue with Mr Burke today.
MICHAEL WOODLEY: We’ve touched on the overall situation that there are concerns from archaeologists and anthropologists in submitting reports, that some of them lacked the proper details for the ACMC (Aboriginal Cultural Materials Committee) or the Department of Indigenous Affairs to make a proper decision about the sites.

For more:-

Policeman Shot at Car? No, People!

After a great deal of coverage from most of the mainstream media comes news that a WA police officer has been charged in relation to a “Shooting”.

Sen-Const Niko Westergerling, 39, was charged on Wednesday with two counts of discharging a firearm in a manner likely to endanger life over the November 14 shooting. AAP

From news reports and statements given to a WA court it can be generally agreed that the officer pulled over a vehicle when he observed one of the occupants not wearing a seat belt. The car occupants were 3 adult women (including a pregnant woman) and 2 children, one of whom was just three years of age. After a brief disagreement over the identity of the driver the car took off.

Channel Seven reported that it was then that Constable Westergerling produced his police-issue Glock pistol and tried to smash a window with it, then fired the weapon twice as the car sped away. SMH

This is clearly not acceptable from any officer of the law and the serious charges laid show just how serious a criminal matter this is. How does a traffic incident so minor escalate into a potentially fatal police shooting. The officer was accompanied by colleagues, he was pulling over a car with women and children and although there was a disagreement surely he could not argue his life was in danger. Police Officers for the large part are just like you and I, they do a bloody tough job for not a great deal of pay. But could there have been any insight into this officer that could predict such an incident might occur?

Earlier this year…. Senior Constable Niko Westergerling, 38, who also worked as a male model, was fined $2000 by a Perth Magistrate after admitting to kicking and punching his wife in their Innaloo home during a heated argument. Constable Westergerling “snapped” and punched his wife, causing her a black eye, and threw her to the ground where he repeatedly kicked her to the body. SMH

Although confined to desk duties during the case he was back on operational duties once the matter had been finalised. How on earth he wasn’t in prison is anyones guess… “I want you to consider yourself lucky to be walking out of here today,” Magistrate Heaney said. Maybe it is hindsight that allows us to make the following observation, but is it any wonder that a man who beats and kicks his own wife would be willing to shoot at a car of women and children.

Now facing criminal charges and an internal investigation it is best if the rest of the particulars not reported widely are left to the courts to be dealt with. But it must be raised that while there has been coverage of the story, virtually all of it has referred to the incident as if  a policeman shot at a car. Would you, if anyone with a gun shot at your car, look at the damage to your car first or be more concerned about your own safety and your occupants. Bullets do not discriminate when fired, they can puncture steal, glass and find their way very easily into flesh. Nobody knows the intention of the officer, one can only hope that will come out in the court hearings, but people, not a car, was shot at!

It is important that we also consider the fact that the occupants of the car were Aboriginal. Would the media coverage have included far more outrage if the victims of the attempted shooting had been white? And can the victims feel they will get the justice they deserve given the colour of their skin?

It is easy to fob these issues off if you have never faced race based discrimination particularly by the police. But the Western Australian police service came into being as a full time operation after the massacre at Pinjarra in which men, women and children were slaughtered by the newly established force. Nearly 200 years later and having suffered other such massacres, brutality, deaths in custody and all round general poor treatment is it any wonder that Indigenous West Australians are concerned they wont see justice in this matter.

And perhaps, in this context, we must consider why many Aboriginal peoples do not feel safe when an “Intervention” sees police on mass roll into their land. Perhaps what they fear is not a new beginning, but an escalation of persecution!

Indigenous elders condemn intervention extension (ABC)

A group of Aboriginal leaders say they are furious about the Federal Government’s plan to extend the Northern Territory intervention next year.    ABC News

The intervention was meant to wrap up next year but last month Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin announced that measures including alcohol bans and welfare quarantining in remote communities will continue.

Ms Macklin has signalled legislation will be introduced into Parliament before Christmas.

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks wants control of her community back

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks from Utopia in Central Australia says communities around the Territory are angry the Government is extending the intervention.

“After almost five years of the oppression of the intervention we demand that the Government hand back to us control over our communities,” she said.

“We reject the Stronger Futures document. We reject it absolutely.

“We will not support an extension of the intervention legislation, we did not ask for it, in fact, we call for a genuine apology.”

Barbara Shaw from Alice Springs says the intervention is discriminatory and the Government has ignored the concerns of many people.

“We know what we want and the arrogance of the Australian Government as well as the Northern Territory Government, they just don’t want to listen to the views of the people like us,” she said.

The elders say the intervention is causing shame and embarrassment in Aboriginal communities.

To call on Minister Macklin to end the Intervention please use the contact form provided at the link below

Aboriginal health standards ‘third world’

© AAP 2011

Urgent changes are needed to improve the third world health standards among indigenous communities, the West Australian opposition says. Health Minister Kim Hames said in February that he would introduce a bill to amend the Public Health Act by the end of the year. But he told parliament on Tuesday that it was not urgent and may not be introduced until next year.

Opposition Health spokesman Roger Cook said improving Aboriginal public health should be a focus for the government. “The Health Department’s website said the current legislation, which is more than 100 years old, was ineffective at addressing Aboriginal environmental health issues and the exposure of indigenous people to disparate conditions affecting health,” he said. “Remote Aboriginal communities continue to be subject to poor community sewerage, lack of rubbish collection and problems with water supply, which contribute to poor health in these communities. “These loopholes that have allowed environmental health standards to remain at third world levels must be fixed as a matter of urgency.”

Mr Cook said there was no excuse for not introducing the bill, because it was already drafted and had been subject to extensive community consultation. The legislation would protect communities from diseases and other public health risks, encourage communities to maintain a healthy environment, provide for the prevention or early detection of diseases, and reduce health inequalities in the public health of disadvantaged communities.

Amnesty slams indigenous policy – Action required


The head of Amnesty International has strongly criticised the federal government’s efforts to improve living standards of Aboriginal Australians, saying it could learn from New Zealand’s dealings with its Maori people.

The human rights agency’s secretary-general, Salil Shetty, said the government’s “top-down externally driven” efforts to close the gap on Aboriginal socio-economic disadvantage were instead having the opposite effect.

Mr Shetty, who is the middle of a tour of Australia after a visit to New Zealand, said Amnesty was appalled that current policies had effectively “forced evictions from their traditional homelands”.

“They’re stripping funds for essentials services from these communities, effectively driving people away,” he told AAP in an interview.

Mr Shetty was to spend Saturday at the homeland communities of Utopia, 260 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs, before heading to Canberra next week to meet with Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin.

Far from what the name suggests, most Utopia communities are more like Third World slums.

An Amnesty report, released in August, profiled Utopia and claimed Aborigines were being driven off their homelands and herded into “hub towns” where the federal and Northern Territory governments were splashing out cash for resources and services.

Mr Shetty said there was strong evidence that indigenous people had “better health and a better state of mind” when they lived on their own lands.

Visit Amnesty online to take action -

The Amnesty chief praised New Zealand for its treatment of Maoris, saying the government there had done a “much better job than Australia”.

“There’s a lot to be learned from them, given the way they have given Maoris a voice in the political process and in decision-making,” he said.

“Aboriginal people need to be empowered to make their own choices.”

Mr Shetty said part of the problem was mainstream Australia’s lack of understanding about the extent of the disadvantage gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

“There’s a lack of political will,” he said.

Mr Shetty said Australia was one of the richest countries and should be able to find solutions “unless deep down we’re dealing with a lot of prejudice and discrimination”.

He is also concerned that the benefits of Australia’s mining boom are bypassing struggling indigenous communities.

“Where the benefits and revenue are going to is disproportionately in favour of large corporations, at the cost to Aboriginal communities,” Mr Shetty said.

In Canberra next week, Mr Shetty will urge Ms Macklin to end discrimination of homeland indigenous people and call on the government to ensure money is distributed equitably to include the homelands and address an under-investment in housing.

Amnesty has been a staunch critic of the Howard government’s Northern Territory Intervention plan, which has continued under Labor but is now under review.

Mr Shetty said the government should be looking at the recommendations of the Little Children are Sacred Report and its obligations under the United Nations declaration for indigenous people when planning its next move.

However, he applauded moves to recognise indigenous people in Australia’s constitution.

“There’s nothing wrong with symbolism as long as it doesn’t end there,” he said.

“What we need is accountability and justice, it’s not just a question of words.” – Take Action Now!

Wave Hill Walk Off back in our minds

For many years the Mainstream media hadn’t given much attention to the annual commemoration of the Wave Hill Walk Off and the years of strike that followed led by Vincent Lingiari and the Gurindji people. This year the efforts of those who organise the anniversary activities and the elders of the Gurindji who made all this possible are receiving the coverage they and this great part of Australian history deserve. Many radio stations and local newspapers carried stories of the strike, ABC’s The Drum published’s piece ( and SBS television news ran a story from the anniversary ceremony (see below)

In coming years we sincerely hope that more mainstream media is dedicated to this remarkable piece of Australian history and the lessons we can all learn from those events. With the 50th anniversary only five years away Government, media and education bodies have a responsibility to ensure the date is marked by the sort of national celebration the strikers deserve in recognition of their struggle, their commitment to justice and the sacrifices they made for all of us.

From Little Things Big Things Grow

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are warned that this website contains images of deceased people.

Gather round people let me tell you a story
An eight year long story of power and pride
British Lord Vestey and Vincent Lingiari
Were opposite men on opposite sides

You probably know these as the opening lyrics to the 1991 Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody song, From little things big things grow. It is one of Australia’s most important songs and most Aussies will know it if not from its radio play or performances from Paul and Kev around the nation, but also from its use by grass-roots movements around Australia and in advertising campaigns.

Two of our finest, Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly

“Paul Kelly and I had gone away on a camping trip in about ’91 or something and we just kind of pulled it out around the campfire. Paul had a good chord progression and I thought it would be good to tell a little story over it. So, by about 2 o’clock in the morning, we had a six-minute song.”—Kev Carmody, 2008
The story told by the song is one of the greatest this wide brown land has known and one that sadly too few Australian’s know. It’s a story that is everything we lionise in Australia, mateship, courage, the battler, a fair go, the under dog getting one over the powerful and a happy ending where the hero wins. This is the story of the Gurindji Stike! The hero; Aboriginal man Vincent Lingiari as he led the Gurindji, Ngarinman, Bilinara, Warlpiri and Mudbara peoples on a long, courageous battle for justice.
The Hero's we must know!
In the late 1800’s the lands of many Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory and Western Australia were being forcibly taken over (invaded) by pastoralists eager to exploit the large areas of grazing land the Indigenous Peoples had called home for thousands of years. In the 1880’s Gurindji land was taken and Wave Hill cattle station was establish with huge numbers of cattle brought into the area. A police station was built and Mounted constable  W.H. Wilshire began a process of killing the Aboriginal people who dared to stand up against the invasion of their lands. In 1914 the Vestey Brother’s group, a large British food production company, took over Wave Hill station and used Aboriginal labour to increase the size and capacity of the station. The term labour is not as we know it today, the Aboriginal people were used as slaves on the land and they only received rations for their work.
Over the next 50 years the Gurindji were treated appallingly, the women often used as sex slaves, men who would not bow to the command of the land owners beaten or killed and no wages ever provided to the workers. Throughout this period the people were often isolated from the change taking place in the rest of the nation by the geographical distance and the dictatorial manner in which the area was managed. However through meetings with visiting anthropologists, union officials and the message coming from other Indigenous people the Gurindji began formulating their plan to free themselves from Vesteys.
After the second World War and the collapse of centuries of colonialism the fight for independence, civil rights and rights to traditional lands was well under way for people around the world. Gandhi in India, Mandela in South Africa, Martin Luther King in the US and many many more took their fight for justice and equality to the streets and the courts. Many believe no such fight took place in Australia, but this is far from true. In 1965 the brilliant Aboriginal Activist, Sports Star and Public Servant Dr Charles Perkins led a brave group on a bus trip around NSW known as “The Freedom Ride”. The main focus of the ride was to protest the discrimination Aboriginal people faced in rural and regional NSW, but the significance of the journey and the leadership of Perkin’s meant the Freedom Rides became a driving force for awareness and a campaign for Indigenous rights across Australia.

In American they had Dr King and Malcolm X, in Australia we had Dr Perkins and Vincent Lingiari (pictured)

A year later, On 23 August 1966, led by spokesman Vicent Lingiari, the workers and their families walked off Wave Hill Station and began their strike. A report by the Northern Territory Government had found about Vesteys “It was obvious that they had been … quite ruthless in denying their Aboriginal labour proper access to basic human rights.” Billy Bunter Jampijinpa, who worked on Wave Hill Station – “We were treated just like dogs. We were lucky to get paid the 50 quid a month we were due, and we lived in tin humpies you had to crawl in and out on your knees. There was no running water. The food was bad – just flour, tea, sugar and bits of beef like the head or feet of a bullock. The Vesteys mob were hard men. They didn’t care about blackfellas.”
Vincent Lingiari, The Gurindji and other Aboriginal Peoples from the area left the station and formed a new settlement at nearby Wattie Creek (Daguragu). Many believed the action by the Aboriginal people would not last and was simply an attempt to gain slightly improved workers rights. There were many cynical attempts by Vestys, other pastoralist companies and those in Government to convince the people back to work. But they wouldn’t be moved and the price they sort was and would be nothing more than the rightful return of their lands. During the years of the strike, conditions were not easy for the Aboriginal people, but they did not waver. Vincent, Billy and others toured Australia with the assistance of a number of workers unions to educate the broader Australian community on the issues they faced and lobby politicians for changes that would improve the lives of all Aboriginal people. So impressed by a speech given by Vincent Lingiari one man who had never met an Aboriginal before, was moved to give $500 to the cause. This was a very sizeable donation at the time, that donor was a young Dr Fred Hollows.

Gurindji elder Billy Bunter Jampijinpa, with grandson Selwyn, at the site where he and other stockmen camped before they walked off Wave Hill cattle station on August 23, 1966.

During the period of the strike the cause of Aboriginal people was becoming, for the first time in the nation, an issue of national significance in politics. There was the 1967 Referendum in which 90.77% of all votes cast were in favour of the question on Aboriginal people, while the other question on the ballot raising issues on the composition of parliament was soundly defeated. Aboriginal people and many students, unions and other groups began large protests in the Southern States, not only to raise awareness of the strike in the North, but on broader issues facing Aboriginal people.
Many in the political establishment would ignore or go out of their way to sabotage these efforts and heavy-handed police tactics were used. With the election of the Whitlam Government Aboriginal people for the first time had a Prime Minister interested in their cause and willing to make changes. There was the 1972 Woodward Royal Commission, 1973–74 Gove land rights case in which the Yolngu people fought the mining of their land through the courts and finally the passing of the 1976 Aboriginal Land Rights Act.
But it was on 16 August 1975 when victory for the Gurindji arrived in the form of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. After nearly a decade of strike action, facing down one of the World’s largest land owners at the time, police brutality, Government interference and the ignorance of much of the broader community on the issue…, victory was won!

The rightful return of land

The Government had struck a deal with Vesteys to give the Gurindji a portion of their land back and in front of a crowd at Kalkaringi then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam rose to speak.
On this great day, I, Prime Minister of Australia, speak to you on behalf of all Australian people – all those who honour and love this land we live in. For them I want to say to you: I want this to acknowledge that we Australians have still much to do to redress the injustice and oppression that has for so long been the lot of Black Australians.

Vincent Lingiari, I solemnly hand to you these deeds as proof, in Australian law, that these lands belong to the Gurindji people and I put into your hands part of the earth itself as a sign that this land will be the possession of you and your children forever.

Now please take a few minutes to listen to the song and ponder the lessons we can learn from this tale of the Gurindji, from all Aboriginal people and from the legacy of one of our true Nation hero’s to both Black and White, Vincent Lingiari.

This year celebrates the 45th anniversary of the Walk Off. For more information please visit:-

And for an interview with Brenda Croft – a Gurindji woman and one of the organisers of the event

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