The Queensland Acts and Award Wages

The first march in March
Thirty-seven years ago, in 1978, about a thousand people attempted to march illegally from King George Square defying the ban on street marches by the Bjelke-Peterson government. Only 50 were successful. Another 51 people were arrested for marching without a permit.

The march was preceded by speeches, comedy, song and street theatre.

There was a motion put to the rally that, in order to confuse the police, the exit march from the square be determined at the last moment by ten elected marshalls. The idea was that the right to march and organise could only be won back by direct action. The Bjelke-Petersen government had suffered a 10% swing against it since imposing the ban of street marches in order to prevent the anti-uranium movement from mobilising.

WBT has recovered an audio tape of what happened that morning immediately prior to the street march.

Sam Watson speaking at Democratic Rights rally King George Square 4 Mar 1978.  During the rally a young aboriginal activist Sam Watson spoke about the Queensland Acts a means of repressing aboriginal people. A key aspect of his talk at the rally was the denial of award wages to aboriginal workers on missions such as Cherbourg and Palm Island.

During his short speech Sam Watson spoke of the 1957 strike by workers on Palm Island – aboriginal people who had been denied a fair wage. The concept of award wages had meaning then – a time when unions had won real gains in the national wage case. This has all been eroded now by casualization and contract labor.

The Queensland Acts meant that an aboriginal person needed a permit to leave the mission at Cherbourg to go and buy a loaf of bread because the family was hungry. Without it they could be arrested by the Murgon police for being in town without permission. IF you spoke up, they would ship you out, as the authorities did on Palm Island in 1957. It happens to this day. Lex Wotton who stood up when Mulrunji was killed by Sgt Hurley was prohibited from returning to his home and family on the island by the Beattie Labor government.

During the recent election campaign the Labor Party promised to re-open the case of stolen wages.  Lets see if they keep their promise!

Listen to what Sam Watson had to say so long ago and ask yourself if things have changed much.

The social consequence of the repression that Sam describes still exists today in 2015. And none so greatly as in the young whose parents have come from or may still live in the reserves like Cherbourg. Juveniles resort to alcohol and drugs, they do not attend school, there is a high incidence of teenage pregnancy, they find refuge in being outside society, on the streets, in a world of rejection, their parents carrying their own trauma are losing touch, so much so that in a mire of ice, alcohol and despair many find the ultimate refuge in self harm and even suicide.

Where are the juvenile programs to address these issues in urban society cut off from land, language, culture and respect? Does government care, does it even know?

Ian Curr
Feb 2015

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