“Decolonisation, once viewed as the formal process of handing over the instruments of government, is now recognised as a long-term process involving the bureaucratic, cultural, linguistic and psychological divesting of colonial power” — linda tuhiwai-smith
Invasion Day speeches, Brisbane 2012
There was a strong call not to cede sovereign indigenous rights by an aboriginal woman at parliament house, Brisbane Invasion day 2012.
Her speech was followed by several non-indigenous people.
National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) Speaker
Short speech by non-indigenous woman at Invasion day rally
In the evening the dry wind blows
From the hills and across the plains
I close my eyes and I am standing
In a boat on the sea again
And I’m holding a long turtle spear
And I feel I’m close now to where it must be
My island home is waiting for me
— ‘My Island Home’ by Neil Murray
A big thankyou to the people who made Invasion Day 2012 in Brisbane a success. Aunty Jean Phillips, Aunty Alex Gator, Sam Watson (in Canberra), the fellas from Murri Watch, Mop & the dropouts (with a special call out to Angus Rabbitt) Wayne Saunders, Ricky Pascoe, Narelle and Nerita (who sang so well from the entrance to Jagara), Alf, Tina & Meredith who got the ball rolling from Parliament house, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and the political groups for their ongoing support of the struggle for land rights, for indigenous rights.
Invasion Day Story
At Invasion Day 2012 I was reminded of my great great grandfather, EM Curr, who in the 1840s as a twenty year old went to Bangerang (Yorta Yorta) country in northern Victoria near the Murray and Gouldburn Rivers .
There is a story handed down in our family about Yorta Yorta men threatening our grandfather with spears. Lucky for me, the Bangerang tribe decided not to kill Edward Curr on that day. I would not be telling this story if they did! The traditional owners tolerated Edward Curr and taught him many things about respect for the land and its inhabitants.
Colonialism brought the sheep farmer who settled on the Campaspe plains. By 1851 they had built roads, bridges, houses introduced stock and built three big towns in the Murray Gouldburn region. These people were known to the Bangerang and to each other.
Yorta Yorta case
The High Courts decision on the Yorta Yorta claim for native title was wrong — the court relied (in part) on an account by one of my ancestors, Edward Curr, to say that the Yorta Yorta people had traded away and lost connection with the land.
“I not only complimented the [Aboriginal] proprietor on his estate … I offered him on the spot, with the most serious face, a stick of tobacco for the fee-simple of his patrimonial property, which, after a short consultation with his elders, was accepted and paid.” — Edward M Curr as quoted in Federal Court of Australia (FCA), Members of Yorta Yorta Aboriginal Community V State of Victoria & Ors 1606, 18 December 1998.
This account and another (that the Bangerang had left their land because of smallpox) was relied upon in the federal court. It was only a part of the court’s consideration but was wrong-headed. The myth that the court took into account was based upon a memoir by my great great grandfather had written at the end of his life about his experiences with the Bangerang and other tribes (Yorta Yorta) people when he was a young man and sheep farmer in the years 1841-1851. His memoir was called Recollections of Squatting in Victoria.
In that case, the judges did not read in sufficient detail what Edward Curr described of his experience on Yorta Yorta land nor do they seem to have any real understanding of what the aboriginal first nation people have been saying for over 200 hundred years. Edward Curr still spoke of Lancashire in England as home, not the Campaspe plains near the Murray. The Yorta Yorta never ceded sovereignty over the land even when they were robbed of it by squatters like my great great grandfather.
There was never any doubt in Edward Curr’s mind who owned the land. The Bangerang people were right there at his doorstep every day to remind him of their ownership and ancient connection with the land. It was they who he relied upon to understand the land down under. He stated in his book how many thousands of years the Bangerang must have been there in the district near Tongala on the Murray River.
Edward Curr spent a large part of his life (1820-1889) learning the languages of the tribes that he met around the Murray River (Tongala). He later published what he learnt in a book called ‘The Australian Race’. I have no doubt his mind was clouded in part by ethnocentric bias (as mine is).
Edward Curr’s limited knowledge should never have been used to refute the Yorta Yorta claim to country. It was European-introduced-smallpox that decimated the population and drove Bangerang people from the banks of the Murray river.
One of my nieces who lived in Victoria visited Yorta Yorta elders on the Murray on several occasions.
And so I am proud to say that the connection between my family and the Yorta Yorta people of the Murray River (Tongala) is not entirely broken by the intervening 170 years since my great great grandfather went unannounced onto Aboriginal land.
On their heels of squatters in Victoria came the gold miners who dug holes in Bangerang land – the squatters called these people ‘new chums’ but thought of them as ‘blow-ins’.
One spruicker, a tall burley good-tempered looking Scot held forth on the wharf at Tongala one morning in January 1854 inveighing against the new comers:
‘Why these new chums (gold miners) who have overrun the country seem to think by George! that they are the first comers here and that … (all the things we built ) … grew of themselves like gum-trees“
How quickly we forget the first nation owners of the land who looked after it for centuries … the high court showed its collective amnesia in the Yorta Yorta case.
Minjerribah – Stradroke Island
Similarily the Queensland government is in denial about the Quandamooka claim on Minjerribah.
The state government and opponents of aboriginal land rights have made a big fuss about 8% of the land on Minjerriba being given back to the Quandamooka people. The government and mining companies will not permit the traditional owners to establish an economic base on their land, not even the 8%. Thus Quandamooka people’s land rights have been extinguished by the state government.
There are 12 clans still living on Minjerriba. The Native title process set up by the Keating labor government in the early 1990s and followed by subsequent governments of all persuasions has managed to whittle away the historic claims using anthropology so that only 1 clan of the 12 has established ongoing connection with the land of Minjerriba, 2 of the 12 have established connection with Moreton and the other 9 have been said to have only an ‘historic’ connection with the land. The same treatment was given to the Yorta Yorta people when the word of my great grandfather, Edward M. Curr was used by the judges to reject their claim in the High Court of Australia.**
We should organise and fight these injustices through community groups and establish practical ongoing links between these groups. This is my hope post invasion day 2012.
27 Jan 2012