Monthly Archives: September 2011

Freedom Riders Curators Matt Poll and Katie Yuill

Today marks the end of Freedom Riders: Art & Activism 1960’s to Now, a two-month-long art exhibition at the University of Sydney Art Gallery, curated by Matt Poll and Katie Yuill.

The exhibition, which celebrates both the history of Aboriginal activism in New South Wales and the work of some of the states leading Indigenous artists, takes as its inspiration a powerful portrait of Dr Charles Perkins by the artist Robert Campbell Jnr. Both the artist, who has a number of works in the exhibition, and his subject are today regarded as groundbreaking in their exposition of Indigenous inequalities. As Robert Campbell Jnr states, “I am painting to show people – Aboriginal people, and even the whites – what truths took place in my lifetime: for example, being fenced off at the pictures; the dog-tag system. I am telling the stories, the struggle of Aboriginal people, tribal and others, through my life”.

Portrait of Charles Perkins, by Robert Campbell Jnr

The well-received exhibition opened to a full house on the 3rd of July with many of the artists in attendance. Its aim was to pay tribute to what Professor Ann Curthoys, an original ‘freedom rider’  calls the “enduring legacy” of the 1965 Freedom Ride, organised by a group of University of Sydney students, including Charles Perkins, who went on to be the first Indigenous graduate of the University and a prominent leader of the Aboriginal rights movement. As Ann Curthoys states, students like Charles Perkins and Gary Williams, a Gumbaynggir man “helped unite two emerging forces that were beginning to change Australian society; the Aboriginal rights movement and student radicalism”.

Barred From the Baths, By Robert Campbell Jnr 1968

domestic lean-to, by Johnathon Jones 2008

Also bearing witness to the Freedom Ride of 1965 and the climate of segregation and exclusion that the student demonstrations were against, is the installation of the documentary film Blood Brothers- Freedom Ride, made by Rachel Perkins and Ned Landers. The inclusion of the film in the exhibition brings together the artworks not only conceptually, but also as politically informed artistic statements on the practical conditions and struggles of Indigenous people, then and now.

Adam Hill’s K9 vs. bloodline on the breadline, for example, speaks of the artist’s concerns for the contemporary struggle of both rural and urban Indigenous peoples in regards to the discriminatory behaviour of police and the Northern Territory Intervention specifically, saying the painting ”was produced in opposition to the racist John Howard’s [Northern Territory] Intervention implementation”. Adam Hill describes his painting, one of the most emotionally charged in the Freedom Riders exhibition, as one of “urban payback”, saying the image is “from the heart – mine and from the heart of Redfern, an ode to TJ [Hickey] and all local mob who in the course of Redfern history have gone unrecognised officially while the officials become more official. Redfern is the police punching bag of NSW”.

K9 vs. bloodline on the breadline, by Adam Hill 2008


Read a related story on the very recent resignation of Curator Hetti Perkins from the AGNSW due to the “sidelining” of Indigenous Art: here.


Yesterday marked the four-year anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples. The declaration was adopted on the 13th of September 2007, over 20 years after it was initially drafted in consultation with Indigenous groups and spokespeople across the world.

The non-binding document describes the rights of Indigenous peoples to self-determination, as well as their rights to express their cultures, identities and languages, while it also sets a universal standard for employment, education and health outcomes within Indigenous communities.

Australia, under the Howard Government, along with Canada, New Zealand and the United States originally voted against the Declaration, which was endorsed by 143 other nations. At the time, some conservative Australian political figures and the media voiced their concerns that the Declaration’s definition of self-determination would mean “we are prepared to have a separate Indigenous state”, as Alexander Downer stated in The Age.

A mural celebrating the ideal of equality, in Redfern, South Sydney.

After Kevin Rudd’s 2008 election promise to support the UN Declaration, the Australian Government officially endorsed it on the 3rd of April 2009, in a statement to Parliament by Minister for Families, Housing, Community Service and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin. Quoting the numerous articles in the Declaration that condemn forced assimilation and the destruction of Indigenous culture, as well as the removal of peoples from their lands, Jenny Macklin stated “Today Australia takes another important step to make sure that the flawed policies of the past will never be re-visited”.

In a joint statement to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Relating to the Declaration, held earlier this year, Deputy Secretary of the Department of FaHCSIA Cath Halbert, and Chairperson of the Torres Strait Regional Authority John Toshie Kris, were keen to stress the Australian Government’s continued support of the Declaration, saying “Australia’s Indigenous policies are consistent with the spirit of the Declaration…the Australian Government has worked hard to ensure that our commitment to open and collaborative engagement with Indigenous Australians is upheld.”

But UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Issues Professor James Anaya, has reported that Australia’s legal and policy landscape still needs reform, recommending that “Commonwealth and State Governments should review all legislation, policies, and programs that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, in light of the Declaration”. Upon visiting Australia in April of this year, his second trip to Australia in two years, Professor Anaya noted the continued importance of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, stating the Federal Government “should seek to fold into its initiatives the goal of advancing indigenous self-determination, in particular by encouraging indigenous self-governance at the local level, ensuring indigenous participation in the design, delivery, and monitoring of programs, and promoting culturally-appropriate programs that incorporate or build on indigenous peoples’ own initiatives. Additionally, further efforts are needed to secure indigenous peoples’ rights over lands, resources and heritage sites”.

While the Declaration is non-legally binding, Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda sees the article as illustrative of a moral framework through which Governments should act, saying “It is only when we can see these articles being translated from abstract concepts to practical improvements in our lives that the spirit and intent of the Declaration will be realised”.

An ABC report announcing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Australia’s then dissent.

For more information on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, click: here, and here.

On September the 1st, Gleebooks hosted the Sydney launch of the recently published, Walk With Us: Aboriginal Elders Call Out to the Australian People to Walk With Them in Their Quest For Justice.

The book articulates the views of Aboriginal elders who gathered in Melbourne earlier this year to discuss the impact of the Northern Territory Intervention on their communities. The opinions of some leading non-Indigenous Australians are also represented in the book.

"Walk With Us" was launched in Sydney on the 1st of September

The book is the sequel to the well-received This Is What We Said: Aboriginal People Give Their Views on the Northern Territory Intervention, which was based on video footage of Government consultations in 3 Aboriginal communities, community regional reports and 5 government regional reports.

Walk With Us also includes information on consultations with Navi Pillay, the UN Human Rights High Commissioner, who flew into Darwin to especially to meet with Aboriginal Elders and leaders from across the  Territory.  The Commissioner sensed the very, “… deep hurt and pain that they have sufferedand has joined other world and Australians leaders in their calling for immediate changes.

Conversation with Elders held at the Melbourne University Law School on 7 Feb 2011. From left to right: Dhanggal Gurruwiwi from Yirrkala, George Gaymarani Pascoe from Milingimbi, Rosalie Kunoth-Monks OAM from Utopia, Betty Pike, a Nyoonga woman from SW Australia, Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann AM from Nauiyu (Daly River), Djapirri Mununggirritj from Yirrkala, Rev Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra OAM from Galiwin'ku and Harry Jakamarra Nelson from Yuendumu

The book was launched by Nicole Watson, Research Fellow at Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, and Dr. Jeff McMullen of Ian Thorpe’s Fountain for Youth.

Walk With Us will be launched in Perth on the 14th of September, with nation-wide launches being organised by Concerned Australians, from whom these images were also sourced.

To watch videos from the launch, click here.

To read a related article about the launch at Gleebooks, click here.

The Federal Government’s proposal to roll-out income management in Bankstown was protested outside the office of MP Tanya Plibersek on the 26th August, with Indigenous spokespeople, activist groups and union representatives gathering to demand an end to the Northern Territory Intervention, as well as the expansion of income management nation-wide.

The plan to expand the BasicsCard in July 2012 will cost $117.5 million over five years and will see income management introduced to Bankstown and four other trial sites across Australia. Daphne Lake, Aboriginal Elder and Bankstown resident slammed the proposal stating, “We don’t want to go back to those days, the ration days… It’s just going backwards”.

Sue and Daphne Lake speaking at the Gurindji Freedom Day Rally, oustide the office of MP Tanya Plibersek

The rally marked the 45th anniversary of Gurindji Freedom Day, celebrating the Wave Hill Walk-off, with similar demonstrations being held around the country in solidarity with the 1000-strong protest and celebration at Kalkarindji in the Northern Territory, the original site of the 1966 walk-off. But Gurindji spokesman John Leemans says the Intervention has taken away many of the rights his people fought hard to win stating, “We want control of our land back. We want to be able to practice our culture and speak our language. We want jobs created so we can work in our community”. But rather than ‘closing the gap’, Government statistics show that in the last four years Indigenous incarceration rates have risen by almost 30 percent, school attendance is down in many places, and suicide has increased.

Currently in the Northern Territory, Indigenous people have fifty percent of their Centrelink payments quarantined onto the BasicsCard. This card can only be used to purchase goods at Woolworths or Coles in prescribed areas, making it difficult for Indigenous communities to remain living on their traditional homelands.

Many non-Indigenous Bankstown residents have expressed concern that they’ll also be put on the BasicsCard. Sue Gillett, daughter of Daphne Lake and member of the Public Service Association NSW, spoke about the de-racialisation of income management, saying the policy will potentially apply to refugee and migrant groups, “Now they’re looking at us as the big disadvantaged groups, not looking at the factors that might be contributing to disadvantage or the things that people need to help them out of that cycle,” adding that “consultation about this has been very woeful; Bankstown didn’t even know it was coming their way”.

“It’s a band aid effect to a very complex social issue, and managing the income of people is not going to solve anything. All it will do is drive the issues that compound disadvantage underground. People will not report if they’re victims of domestic violence, because that would mean an automatic referral to Centrelink to be on income management. And this will have a flow-on effect to frontline state services”, she said.

The protest was also attended by members of the newly-formed Say No to Government Income Management: Not in Bankstown, Not Anywhere Coalition, a group which has more than forty organisations including faith-based agencies, businesses and peak bodies endorsing their position against income management.

A satirical take on the Basicscard

Speaking on behalf of the Bankstown Coalition, Violet Roumeliotis of the Migrant Resource Centre said, “We are opposed to income management because it epitomises everything that is wrong with the Northern Territory Intervention. It is entrenched in racist assumptions about Aboriginal people. It assumes they’re incapable of managing their own lives and it imposes harsh measures that control, rather than create, opportunities. It demonises the most vulnerable and disempowered in our society”, and this is what the Bankstown Coalition fears will happen locally.

A recent report from the Equality and Rights Alliance, funded by the Government, interviewed hundreds of women on the BasicsCard in the Northern Territory. Most of those interviewed did not know why they had to receive the BasicsCard, stating they felt a lack of respect and a loss of self-dignity. 97 percent of the women felt that they did not need help managing their money. 91 percent said it did not change any circumstances within their lives. 79 percent said that they did not like the BasicsCard and wanted to stop using it now.

A protestor's placard, outside the Gurindji Freedom Day Rally

Organisers of the rally, the Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney, have praised the findings as evidence that the income management system is damaging. Dave Suttle of the Stop the Intervention Collective stated, “This is compulsorily pushed onto women and men in the Northern Territory, purely based on race. The Government thinks it can expand this policy nationally. They talk about ‘evidenced based policy’ but the reports that they are funding are showing the exact opposite of what they’re telling the world.”

John Leemans of Kalkarindji, who met with MP Jenny Macklin the day earlier to demand an end to the Intervention, sent his support to the Sydney protest, saying “We’re in this together, we’re gonna fight it together and we’ll win it together.”

Related articles on Sydney’s Gurindji Freedom Day protest: here and here.

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