Queensland police may have regarded it as a rather bizarre, one-off incident when they recently arrested Murrumu Walubara Yidindji while he was driving with a licence and a car registration issued in the name of his north Queensland Indigenous nation.
But when a dozen or so other people take the Yidindji citizenship pledge in Cairns on Monday, the headache for Queensland police might really begin – especially if they decide to follow closely in the footsteps of Murrumu.
Since early 2014 Murrumu – formerly the National Indigenous Television journalist known as Jeremy Geia – has been living by the tribal law of his Indigenous Yidindji people. He has renounced his Australian citizenship and all associated documents and permits. He decided to forgo his bank and superannuation accounts, and has shunned money and other possessions beyond a few clothes.
While the details of how, precisely, he keeps body and soul together are vague, outside supporters of the Yidindji nation help with day-to-day basics. Murrumu is also a visual artist who sometimes uses his work for barter.
Sceptics (see their comments, among many hundreds of others, below the recent articles in Guardian Australia about him) have suggested Murrumu is a cynical publicity seeker – and worse. But there can be little doubt the guy has done more than merely talk the talk when it comes, as he puts it, to “abandoning the citizen-ship”.
In January Murrumu was arrested in Canberra on a trespass charge related to his use of public housing property as the Yidindji embassy. The car he was driving, fitted with black and gold number plates reading YID 001, had also come to police attention and the plates were taken. They have not been returned.
Last month police arrested Geia at a roadside stop at Gordonvale, north Queensland. He had again been driving a car with Yidindji plates and using a Yidindji licence. Police charged Geia with driving an unregistered and uninsured car with false plates, and driving without a licence while possessing “an article resembling a licence”.
Geia is due to reappear in court this month. But Murrumu – the Yidindji foreign affairs and trade minister – is unlikely to show: the Yidindji nation does not recognise the jurisdiction of the court. Murrumu and his attorney general, Gaan-Yarra Yalambara, insist the crown has no authority to impose its law on Yidindji citizens because the Australian constitution does not recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Besides helping to establish the fledgling Yidindji nation – which covers an area in North Queensland about one and a half times the size of Hong Kong – Murrumu is home schooling his infant son, Jeremy. No pre-school in the Cairns district would accept the child without an Australian birth certificate; Murrumu could only offer a tribal birth document.
Gaan-Yarra is one of about 12 people who will pledge their Yidindji citizenship tomorrow.
He says because Indigenous Australians are not recognised in the constitution, those who pledge themselves to the Yidindji can not be dual Australian citizens.
“It is recognised even by the federal court of Australia that ‘adoption’ is a method of recruitment in accordance with the traditional law and custom of the Yidindji Tribal People. The United Nations defines ‘Aboriginal’ people as: ‘Self-identification at the individual level and accepted by the community as their member’,” Gaan-Yarra said.
“The Australian people have not yet voted to ‘recognise’ the Aboriginal people into their Australian constitution. Due to this lack of recognition dual citizenship will not be possible until the Australians vote ‘yes’ to let the Aboriginal people take part in the social, cultural, economic and political life of the Commonwealth of Australia.”
Asked if the decision to quit Australia to join the Yidindji nation was a “lifestyle choice” (an echo, perhaps, of prime minister Tony Abbott’s controversial assertion that Indigenous Australians who live on some remote communities were exercising such discretion), he said: “This is not a lifestyle choice; this is about correcting the past injustices and securing the future for all people who call this great land home.”
Murrumu says Gaan-Yarra is one of several white skinned, soon to be former Australians, who were becoming Jidindji citizens on Monday.
“He has been adopted through the Yidindji tribal law,” Murrumu says.
He says those who become Yidindji citizens on Monday “can use whatever resources are in our territory” including “such resources that have been put there without Yidindji consent”.
“In general the citizen can go about their business as long as they cause no harm, injury or loss to anyone else. The sovereign Yidindji government is continuing to build its capacity to ensure it maintains peace, order and good governance of our territory and its citizens through an interim transition process which is being developed.”
Asked what standards of legal and political governance Yidindji would impose on its citizens, he said: “At this stage we are aiming for a western style democracy and our interim government will strive to have the best available democratic processes … we don’t expect to have a perfect system up and running immediately – however we are looking at great examples of people-powered government’s including the likes of Sweden, Switzerland, Cuba and other nation states.”
Murrumu insists he is not a proponent for either the “yes” or “no” cases on the question of constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians likely to be put to referendum in 2017 – 50 years after Australians voted to give the Commonwealth power to legislate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and to count them in the census. Regardless, his talk about constitutional recognition is unlikely to be welcomed by the “yes” campaigners.
“That question of changing the constitution – it’s got nothing to do with me. I’m not Australian, so I won’t be voting. But if Australians want to vote to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and then enter into trade negotiations and treaties with the Yidindji, then that’s fine,” he says.
The Yidindji government has an appointed chief minister – Gudju Gudju Gimuybara. The chief minister position “will become in time an elected position”.
A delight, perhaps, for political voyeurs.
Sunday 7 June 2015 12.02 AEST