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Aboriginal Australians' year of action


At the end of 2014, the scene for Indigenous politics in 2015 was truly set: it was going to be a year of increased fight and protest for Indigenous rights.

Herald Sun 'Selfish rabble' headlineWhile it is rare to see a year where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people don't take to the streets to challenge government policies, Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett's announcement in November 2014 of the proposed closure of remote communities led to a large scale movement.

If the idea of forcing Aboriginal people off their traditional lands was not enough to cause anger in the Aboriginal population, the comments made by the then Prime Minister and Minister for Indigenous Affairs sealed the deal.

Tony Abbott's suggestion that remaining connected with family and community on lands with which you have an intense religious connection going back several millennia was a mere lifestyle choice, which the Australian taxpayer was not obligated to supplement, revealed that despite his stated interest in Indigenous affairs, he had a lot to learn.

'Selfish rabble'

SOS Blak Australia — a vast network of Indigenous activists started by Sam Cook — sprang into action. November 2014 marked the beginning of an ongoing grassroots campaign of protest to stop the forced closure of Aboriginal communities. Throughout 2015, protests in Australia and across the world shut down major cities in order to highlight the right for Aboriginal people to retain their communities.

In April this year, the crowds in Melbourne, bolstered by solidarity campaigns from unions, political and community groups, swelled to over 4000 people. This CBD shutdown was so successful that it caused a traffic gridlock for several hours and led to Melbourne's Herald Sun labelling the protesters a 'selfish rabble' — a term which was then humorously embraced by the movement.

While Barnett seemed to backpedal slightly on his proposal in May, both his words and Abbott's served as a reminder that as Aboriginal people, rights to our lands and culture are precarious, and continuously under threat by governments. The fight must continue. It is certain that 2016 will see more sovereignty actions by Indigenous communities and their supporters.

Speaking of sovereignty actions, after 15 months occupying The Block, the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy had a win in August. The Tent Embassy had sprung up in protest to a development proposal greenlighted by the Aboriginal Housing Corporation which did not include affordable housing for Aboriginal people. This led to eviction notices (which were defied) and court action against the Embassy.

The spokesman for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion announced the development of 62 affordable dwellings for Aboriginal people and congratulated the Tent Embassy for its action and vigilance over such a prolonged period. It is pleasing that this key urban Indigenous community will thrive and continue its fight well into the future.

Adam Goodes, boos bad

This year also saw Adam Goodes hang up his football boots after an incredibly successful playing career which was, unfortunately, tainted by a series of racist actions against him during its final months.

Goodes, who holds the distinction of captaining the Sydney Swans from 2009–2012, winning the Brownlow Medal twice and being named Australian of the Year in 2014, attracted the ire of racist Australians when he dared to cause a young opposition fan to be ejected from the crowd after she yelled a racial slur at him in 2013.

This, coupled with the Australian of the Year announcement and his growing prominence in the Recognise campaign, led to Goodes being the target of racist actions by crowds, who continually booed him every time he took to the field.

Various non-Indigenous football figures and media commentators swore this targeting was not racism but rather just a normal part of football banter. However, when Goodes' post-football career as an ambassador for retailer David Jones was announced, the store's page was also flooded with racist slurs and calls to boycott, proving the slurs did not just exist within the confines of a game.

Throughout all this, Goodes continually showed class and stuck to his guns on issues of racism and is to be commended.

Roadblocks to constitutional recognition

2015 saw the idea of constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples make very little ground at all. Partly, this has been because though the government continues to fund the Recognise campaign in order to grow public support for a referendum, fundamental details such as the referendum questions and the form that this recognition will take are yet to be decided upon.

But it is also partly due to the growing awareness of Indigenous opposition to constitutional recognition for a range of reasons, including the ongoing push for a treaty.

Most recently, a Referendum Council was announced to oversee community consultations as the referendum details are finalised. While many Aboriginal people welcome a broader consultation on this topic, it is clear that consensus within the community is far from being reached.

A hope in 2016 is therefore that Indigenous voices and our debates on constitutional recognition will become front and centre in the discussion so that when Australia finally goes to the polls, they are making an informed decision based on the rights of Indigenous people.

Certainly, they should not be making their decisions based upon the continued profiling of conservative non-Indigenous voices.

Watch this space

2016 promises to be a year of continued action and protest in Indigenous politics, building upon the many actions this year.

As was showed by the 2015 Closing the Gap Report, the disparities remain. While Indigenous people continue to be the victims of government paternalism, to be incarcerated at exorbitant rates, and to have to fight for the right to culture, land and community, they will continue to rally on the streets.

Here's hoping that 2016 sees a commitment to change and collaboration from mainstream Australia in order to start a journey forward together.


Celeste LiddleCeleste Liddle is an Arrernte woman living in Melbourne, the National Indigenous Organiser of the NTEU, and a freelance opinion writer and social commentator. She blogs at Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist.

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Existing comments

Great article Celeste, you are a brilliant journalist and thank you for doing what you do. Is like to draw attention to the fact that the Aboriginal Housing Company was committed to affordable housing and has been for years however perhaps wrongly in the eyes of some sought to build these houses with private investment. They had had years of government trying to swindle them however it is a myth that this organisation exists to pull the wool over the eyes of the local community and make money for a select few. The actions of the tent embassy brought to attention the fact that houses were years from being built in the then situation. I can assure you the AHC is as happy about the outcome as anyone, it just happens that they went about reaching the end result in different ways.

Jk | 15 December 2015  

Firstly, I like the name of your blog! 2016 will offer many opportunities for Indigenous peoples to continue community work and advocacy. High profile community leaders like Noel Pearson and Adam Goodes will continue to speak up, SOS Blak Australia will continue to fight and win and the looming referendum will galvanise a proud people into consensus. Now mainstream Australia get your act together.

Pam | 16 December 2015  

Thank you & important to see this article in Eureka street. . It gives voice to indeed very many concerns of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Many views and concerns silenced. Continued solidarity in the upcoming year will be vital. There is much heartache on the ground across Aboriginal communities because of white dominant polices 'for' our First Nations Peoples'. In 2007 policy of self-determination was stripped in the N.T. The racist Intervention and its ten year extension Stronger [STOLEN] Futures (2012-2022) is profoundly damaging, and like polices impacting in other Aboriginal communities increasingly areas across Australia. The 2014-25 IAS is destructive. These polices are assimilationist ,punitive and deny fundamental freedoms and basic human rights of self-determination. Aboriginal Land control is being stripped away.The policies ARE failing miserably- as the Closing The Gap (CTG) has recently AGAIN pointed out. It is causing profound damage and despair. Indigenous incarcerations are skyrocketing (not included in CTG statistics);a reflection of socially unjust, punitive and racist policies. Indigenous Affairs is in disarray. It needs to be taken out of DPM&C and returned to the people. Consider also this article, “Recognition alone won’t fix indigenous affairs” (December 2015) by Professor Megan Davis https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2015/december/1448888400/megan-davis/gesture-politics?utm_source=Today&utm_campaign=0ad37c3594-Today_1_December_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_673b6b002d-0ad37c3594-303375681

George | 16 December 2015  

To indigenous Australians it's a day of mourning and remembrance of their ancestors who were raped, murdered and tortured. They were alienated from their land, culture , families and belief system. Herded up as cattle and placed as slaves on stations or missions to serve white people. Their children were stolen and it continues today, they continue to suffer from inter generational trauma and as a consequence they have very high stats for imprisonment, infant mortality rates, mental health, third world health complications, drug and alcohol addictions and a very low achievement rate in education. Deaths in prisons or in police cells continue to go unanswered. These atrocities and many more have not been addressed although Kevin Rudd attempted to address a few injustices. We can only support our black brothers and sisters and seek the truth through a lens of a black person not only what you read from a white mans perspective. They are a culture that survived 40 thousand plus years but since colonisation they were almost wiped out in 200 years.

Aggie | 29 January 2016  

"This CBD shutdown was so successful that it caused a traffic gridlock for several hours” Err, ok...well that’s some success!

Guy | 18 June 2017  

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