Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Invasion Day Brisbane 2008

Hamish Chitts, Brisbane

26 January 2008

Photo by Owain Lewis Jones

January 26 1788 is a day of infamy, a day when representatives of the British Government and Monarchy claiming the entire continent of Australia as their own, stole the land from the hundreds of nations who already lived there. Around 300 Murris and their supporters rallied and marched through Brisbane’s streets today to observe Invasion Day, to remember warriors who have passed on and to protest against the systemic racist oppression imposed by Federal, State and Territory governments.

In front of Queensland’s State Parliament leading Murri activist Sam Watson chaired the rally. He highlighted recent Aboriginal deaths in custody in Brisbane and Darwin and called for a minute silence to remember the many Aboriginal people who have died in police custody. After this was observed Watson introduced the first speaker, Dennis Walker of the Noonuccal people.

“The incarceration rates are up, the deaths in custody rates are up I don’t like it, I don’t know who does, except those who may profit from it I guess.” said Walker. Walker explained that Australia was claimed under false pretences and that by their own laws the British crown, parliament and subsequent Australian parliaments’ occupation of the land is illegal. He said that the only way to end this illegal occupation and to stop the genocide that is still being brought upon Aboriginal people is through a treaty. Walker spoke of his efforts to discuss a treaty with the Premier of Queensland, Anna Bligh and her hypocrisy refusing to talk now when she has claimed to support a treaty in the past (when she wasn’t Premier). He finished by calling on people to converge on Canberra on 11 and 12 February (the first days of Federal parliament) - joining people from around Australia to demand justice for Aboriginal people. “If Rudd won’t deal we should go overseas and ask for the overseas community to treaty with us so we can get rid of the oppressor.”

A full transcript of Walker’s speech can be read here.

Sam Watson reiterated the point that by their own laws the British and subsequent occupations of Aboriginal lands are illegal. In 1770 despite meeting many senior Aboriginal tribal leaders as he charted the East coast of Australia Captain Cook claimed the entire continent for King George III on the basis that it was "terra nullius" (uninhabited land). This legal lie remained in force until the 3rd of June 1992 when the Mabo Decision ruled that Cook had no basis to extinguish existing Aboriginal ownership of the land.

Wayne Wharton, of the Kooma people told the crowd how his children educate their school teachers about whose land this really is. He warned that the Rudd Government is no different from the previous one and that they’ll hand pick who they decide represents Aboriginal people and that they will pick them on the basis that these representatives will be willing to sell out their own people. Wharton urged the Brisbane community to became the ‘Brisbane Blacks’ of the 1970’s and 80’s, a strong cohesive militant community which set the example and took the lead in the struggle for Aboriginal rights. He highlighted the importance of Lex Wotton’s trial in April and the importance of people turning out in numbers to support him.

A full transcript of Wharton’s speech can be read here.

The crowd then marched from parliament through the city to Musgrave Park. The march stopped at several places along the way the hear speeches. In front of the Executive building of the state government there were speeches about the failure of the Queensland government to repay tens of millions of dollars it stole from Aboriginal workers under the so called protection laws. Outside the building that used to house the Department of Aboriginal and Islander Affairs Sam Watson remembered the many protests and confrontations with police that had happened there.

Photo: Dennis Walker falls as he runs across car roofs from police outside the old Department of Aboriginal and Islander Affairs, George Street, Brisbane, 23 November 1971. (the car drove off)

After crossing the river the protest marched to the edge of a government sponsored Australia Day festival at Southbank. Here Lionel Fogarty and Wayne Wharton educated festival goers with speeches on the true nature of Invasion Day. The protest chanted “thief, thief, thief!” before marching on to Musgrave Park where a festival of Aboriginal music and culture was held at Jagera Hall.

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