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Saving lives means saving culture

  • 25 June 2020
Strange times prevail us. The upheaval occurring in the United States is focusing a spotlight on the issues Aboriginal people in Australia have been facing for decades. Though I couldn’t help but feel that, at least initially the voices of compassion and support for Black lives in America, were silent in my homeland.

This changed when tens of thousands of Australians from all over the country and from all walks of life took to the streets to protest. Not only in support of the slain George Floyd, but also for the four hundred and thirty-seven lives lost to deaths in custody in Australia since 1991. It was overwhelming to see my fellow Australians marching in protest of the lives lost. It reminded me that while our media and government work to destroy my culture, there are still Australians who are willing to fight to save it.

People ask why it took the death of George Floyd to make so many Australians stand up. His experience mirrored that of so many Aboriginal people who have died while in custody. His dying words ‘I can’t breathe’ echo through our hearts, because this isn’t the first time a Bla(c)k man has uttered those words while being brutally arrested for a crime most white people would get a slap on the wrist for.

But what do I know?

I am a Murray man from the Kamilaroi tribe. My skin is white but my Aboriginality is a part of me. It runs deep, deeper than my skin colour. I don’t deny the colour of my skin still gives me a privilege that even my own family who are darker skinned do not have. I do not suffer the effects of interpersonal racism, but I still suffer from the absolute disrespect and destruction of my culture.

I worked for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) for the last four years of its existence. This was an organisation ripped to pieces by the Murdoch media with half-truths, full lies and fear mongering. This was nothing new. When Eddie Mabo won the historic Native Title claim, the Murdoch media made sure to instil in everyone a fear that ‘the Aboriginals’ would be coming for your backyard next. How does one fight against such shameless sensationalism?

'It seemed obvious to me that preventing deaths in custody was not just about ensuring the safety of any Aboriginal person taken into custody, but to stop