‘Sovereignty never ceded’

Header image: That T – shirt I am wearing in the banner picture (at far left [where else] taken by Gordon Curtis in the 2012 May Day march in Brisbane) came out of “Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance” – WAR campaign to save the sacred fire in Musgrave Park”.

I have been reading comments about NT cops beating up on aboriginal kids. Those comments have brought this recollection to mind. As part of the ‘Grandmothers against Removals‘ campaign I went out to the NT a few years back with two strong aboriginal women. Many of the kids I met out there were homeless, a lot had been stolen by DOCs and there was a lot of alcohol and drug use … especially after the NT intervention.

During my visit, I had the good fortune to be taken by an Aboriginal grandmother all over her country. We saw remnants of buildings where teenagers were once taught a trade and had a job to look forward to. The grandmother showed me where she went to school (long since fallen down and surrounded by barbed wire).

Even the teachers were racist back then (late 50s, early 1960s).

The traditional owner told me about on her first day at school where the headmaster told all the kids that he was sent out there to civilize them in the tradition of Captain Cook. Even at that age my aboriginal guide already spoke four languages including English and Pitjantjatjara.

At lunch time she went back home and told her mum about the way the headmaster had spoken down to all the aboriginal kids.

The mother immediately picked up her Nulla Nulla and went to the school and trashed the headmaster’s office telling him that her daughter was there to learn but that she already knew much about culture and civilisation from the old people.

I asked my friend what the teachers are like now and she said they are very good.

At the same time Raymond Evans, a friend was arriving from Wales. Ray was given this book about Australia.

Inside the book it reads: “Generally speaking, most things are exactly the same as in England, and if you walk down the street of an Australian town, you will probably post your letter in a letterbox which is the same in every way as the letterboxes in England, even to the red paint…
Summing it all up it can be said that living in Australia is much the same as living in England, but there is far more space and sun.”

“In Australian schools the children learn English and Empire history”. But Australian history itself was all about “a stirring series of explorations by stout-hearted Britishers … Do not forget that all these resolute and determined men came from the British Isles.”

Although Australia had only been discovered by white people a comparatively short time ago … it was inhabited by a race of black aborigines, but these have generally died out where the white man has settled. There are a few thousand left in the inhabited areas … They were a very wild people when they were first met and many a man has died by their spears. Now they are almost civilised and there is no need to be frightened if you should see one, which is most unlikely. They are often spoken of as “the blacks”.


When Sam Watson helped set up Brisbane Murri Watch it was so blackfellas were not taken to the watchouse, they were taken to MurriWatch in the Gabba instead.

For many years, the Brisbane watchouse was one of the few lockups in Australia where there were no aboriginal deaths in custody, for that very reason. It is the kind of harassment by the NT cops shown in the video below that lead to black deaths in custody.

It was only when Qld cops started putting kids in the watchouse that we got more deaths. Aboriginal Kids need a similar set-up that MurriWatch has for adults. Sam Watson tried to establish a juvenile centre in West End in 2011-12 but the Queensland Public Trustee squashed the plan. I suspect it was because it was right next door to West End Primary school and they did not want ‘juvees’ so close to privileged kids.


Back out on Pitjantjatjara land I noticed a book on the dashboard of my guide’s old beat-up 4-wheel drive that the aboriginal grandmother had bought for $3,000 in Adelaide.

I asked her: “Sis, what’s that you are reading?

The grandmother replied: “Oh that, I teaching myself French”.

Sovereignty never ceded.

Ian Curr
15 Dec 2020

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