Coco Wharton in defence of sovereignty

[Editor’s note: This speech by Coco Wharton given at the sovereign tent embassy in Musgrave park on 12 Dec 2012 was broadcast on PShift [Fridays at noon on 4ZZZ fm102.1 – Many thanks to KC for the transcription.]

This was the version, this is the piece of paper that the Mayor tried to pass around here yesterday and I want you’s to have a listen of this and I want you’s have a read of it, OK.

This one’s entitled “Version 1 – if they go today”

So what they did here was to give it to whoever was going to read it and those so called Black fellas who were there with him and this is how it reads, the statement:

Brisbane’s Indigenous elders have today formally asked Brisbane City council for assistance to move on the Aboriginal Tent Embassy from the Council managed Musgrave Park in South Brisbane. At about 3:30pm this afternoon, local elders and other members of Brisbane’s Indigenous community met with the Tent Embassy and formally requested its removal from the park. This request was denied by the members of the Tent Embassy. As such the elders asked Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, who also attended today’s meeting for Council’s formal assistance in closing down the embassy. The Lord Mayor agreed to the elders request and has such advised the Tent Embassy that the council has withdrawn its consent from them to locate in Musgrave Park. Council is currently assisting with the clean up of the site.

Today’s action follow and attempt at mediation meeting last week between the elders and tent Embassy members at which local elders raised serious concerns about the Embassy’s continued operation in Musgrave Park. This is the quotes: “This action is being taken strictly at the request of local elders who have come to me with various concerns about the Tent Embassy and asked that it be closed immediately”, Lord Mayor Graham Quirk.

Second Quote:

“We have a really good working relationship with Brisbane’s Indigenous community and if they tell me that the Tent Embassy goes its own way and needs to be closed then I respect the decision”. A futher quote “council has tried to work with the Tent Embassy since it was set up seven months ago however the local indigenous community has formally called time and we will assist with the closure as required”.

That’s his report, that’s his quotes.

I want all you Brisbane Blacks and Brisbane community people to put your hand up.

Were any of you involved in these meetings? Did any of you make these requests? Did any of your family make these requests. Well it’s fucking bullshit. It’s absolute bullshit.

This document here is the contempt in which he holds us. What we have to do today and this isn’t a black issue. Sovereignty is not a black issue. Sovereignty is an issue that all Australians have to address – black and white. Sovereignty is not two black fellas arguing over who gets the last bite of the sandwich. Sovereignty is a national issue that has to be addressed. By black, white, brindle. By new immigrants, old immigrants and anybody who calls this country home. What we have to do today is make some hard decisions on how we go from here, where we go.

Do we keep the embassy? Do we maintain the Embassy. And the embassy isn’t about bricks and mortar. It’s not about tents and carpets. It’s not about buildings. It’s not about meetings. It’s not about physical things. The Embassy is about people. Us people, working together towards sovereignty, towards answering the question of sovereignty.

It’s about looking after those young kids who’ve got problems with the glue and yarndi and the drugs.

It’s about looking after old people. It’s about looking after the people on Christmas day that won’t have any fuckin where to go, who won’t have anything to eat.

It’s about proving protection for our people, day in, day out. We have to ask ourselves first, where do we go with the Embassy and how the Embassy is going to be run now. Do we want more people going to jail or do we roll over and let these fellas here, these so called elders here take over and win?

Do we throw away the challenge we want to take up with Children’s Services and get our kids back and stop the next stolen generation?

Do we take up the next fight and do we still maintain the rage about the intervention?

These are the things we have achieved over the last eight months. Over the last eight months I could never be prouder than the things that I’ve seen come out of this embassy. The communal efforts. The ability to create something out of nothing. The ability to capture the attention of the world. The ability to impregnate the consciousness of every person in Australia. The ability to grab the attention of every thinking minded person in Australian – that came out of this Embassy. Over the last seven months we have achieved much. We have achieved untold.

From those kids, the advancement of the sovereignty discussion – the conferences, that’s where we go from here. It’s how we go from here. We have to decide what shape the Embassy takes now. If we decide to maintain the Embassy and I’ve been told and this is the most important factor – if we were asked by the sovereign people, the First Nations, the Jaggera people of this country to go, to close the Embassy, I’d be the first one to walk away. But the Jaggera people have asked us to maintain the Embassy and they totally support us.

As a group, as Embassy supporters and Embassy workers we have to answer one question – do we want the Embassy to be maintained and kept going. Do we want the Sovereign Embassy to be maintained and kept going. That’s the question.

All those in favour, put your hand up. [many vote for]

All those against. [none against]

Abstaining. [none abstain]

So we’re going to go ahead and we’re going to maintain the Embassy. What is it going to look like? How do we do it? Do we maintain the fire? I’m putting it out there, do we maintain the fire? If so, how do we do it. We’ve got to work out smarter ways to do it. Do we maintain our Wednesday night meetings? If so, we gotta work out how we do it?

Do we maintain our efforts to keep the Christmas party, if so, how do we do it?

Nothing changes. Just because we haven’t got a couple of tents here and we haven’t got our big parachute, doesn’t mean the Embassy has gone anywhere. We’ve still got other business. What people have got to understand, we’re just as responsibility to the Embassy in Canberra, the Embassy in Woolloongong and all those other countrymen that came from all over the state to sleep and sit here at the Embassy over the past seven months. People have been ringing up from Tasmania, from Townsville, from Doomadgee, all across the state, wishing us well and saying that they are with us. This is not just a Brisbane Embassy, this is the Embassy for Queensland and all those first nations people.

That’s not a fire, that’s a ceremony. It’s a ceremony where we maintain our pledge and we committed ourselves down the bottom and up the top. We’ve committed ourselves and many of us like me, I’m a Kooma man, we made a commitment on behalf of our countrymen and our nation to pursue sovereignty, to pursue the question of sovereignty. Many of the other non First-Nations people. As I’ve said all the time – this is not a Black question. This is an Australian question. This is a question that every person who calls this place home has a responsibility to answer. Has a responsibility to answer – we have a responsibility to make sure that the question is asked and answered.

We’ve got to get our stuff together. One of the things I want to put up

Hey Michael! Dickhead! That’s one of the council fellas, that’s Michael Burmeister, the main fella that came here.

So we’ve agreed that the Embassy gets going. We’ve got to get the working group together. We gotta start working out how we do it. How we keep the fire going.

I think one of things we should be doing as soon as possible is contacting each mob and try to get that ceremony back in here again. That’s a priority. The other thing we have to do is work out our rosters and how we take a message to Quirk. I think the one thing, if people agree is that we should take a message to Quirk and that Quirk should be asked to resign because of the way he’s behaved. His behavior is worse that a school kid. He has told lies, he has duplicated lies. He has worked with intent to disrupt the harmony between our community and the council.

He has created a situation where it’s very hostile and insulting. Our strategy and these people here and those people that went against the Embassy. That’s their problem. You can’t change their minds. Don’t try and change their minds They’ve got to work it out themselves. If we get caught up in playing personalities, and worrying about them, we’ll lose track of where we’re going, we lose track of where we should be at.

So what I say is that we talk about it and I ask the people to come forward, put their ideas up about how we keep the Embassy going and how we keep the fire going and a possible day for a march on Quirk’s office, a day of action against council and calling for his resignation.


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