National Aboriginal Day

Today is National Aboriginal Day known as NAIDOC (The acronym stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee).

Forty-two years ago Sam Watson Jnr gave a speech in King George Square about the Queensland Acts which kept Aboriginal people under control from birth through early life and death (and even after death). These ‘Protection’ Acts were in place from the 1890s.

Saying Sorry means you don’t do it again.
On Sorry Day 13 February 2008 Kevin Rudd gave his speech in parliament, meanwhile in Jagera Hall at Musgrave Park, Aunties and Uncles told their terrible living-memory stories of how they were treated under the ‘Acts’. Stolen wages, forced marches and transportation, in a word slavery. These were not merely stories of the past, they were current; children are still being stolen by Children’s Services.

A key aspect of Sam Watson’s talk at the 1978 rally was the denial of award wages to aboriginal workers on missions such as Cherbourg and Palm Island. 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. Here is Sam’s speech:

Sam Watson speaking prior to a march where 52 people were arrested on 4th march 1978. Sam died late last year and his erudition is sadly missed.

Democratic rights have always been under attack in Queensland. The rights of aboriginal people taken away by colonisation in the 1860s and replaced by paternalism and assimilation must be restored. We need to increase people’s awareness and encourage activists like Sam to take up the struggle.

This does not only mean suffrage in Qld which was given to aboriginal people in state legislation passed by the Nicklin country government in 1966 [not in the 1967 referendum as is widely thought]. 

Academics still make wild claims of the 1967 referendum one even going so far as to claim:

“Noonuccal, who had played one of the most public role in the 1967 referendum which finally ended constitutional discrimination against Indigenous Australians, recalls how she then told the surprised hijackers that “I am Aboriginal Australian and proud of it” – Jon Piccini in A whole new world: Global revolution and Australian social movements in the long
. Tell that to the proponents of ULURU STATEMENT FROM THE HEART. Their request for substantive constitutional change and structural reform was not even given a cursory review before being rejected by the Australian government in 2017.

Subsequently Aboriginal people in the far north voted in Eric Deeral (a Country Party member), the first aboriginal elected to a state parliament. That was in 1974 when the newly named Nationals had a landslide win against Labor which had held the seat of Cook that Deeral contested. 

Labor lost the seat because Whitlam tried to change the border between the Torres Strait Islands and PNG and it was thought this disadvantaged aboriginal and Torres strait island people.

People, even those working in these communities suffering from institutional racism, are sadly unaware of what went on and is still going on. Perhaps we could begin a process of awareness by making National Aboriginal Day a public holiday and having more attention focused on why black lives matter..

Ian Curr
10 July 2020