The material on this page provides direct access to the voices of traditional owners in the Northern Territory. We thank the Australian Student Environment Network and Holly Creenaune for providing this material.
I arrived in the country of Mutitjulu Traditional Owners a day before the military arrived. Days later, as a white person in Alice Springs, you could blink and miss the invasion by military, territory and federal cops, bureaucrats, and media happening in scores of communities. The locals kept working, the tourists kept shopping, and we kept drinking coffee. But when I started to talk to mob on the street, local Arrente activists, our friends, or any of the 30% of Alice Springs population that are Aboriginal, I found anger, incredible fear, isolation, resistance, and deep sadness.
It seemed, in most communities, the take-over process was not a community meeting and army playing football in the streets with black kids, as the Government and corporate media have kept painting. People in Town Camps in Alice Springs told me of 4am and dawn raids, use of capsicum spray, invasive media, Federal Police regularly entering the camps without warrants or permits, raiding homes, and taking photos of all adults and children in the camps.
I started talking to, and recording, Aboriginal peoples between Alice Springs and Darwin, and trying to share some views, responses, resistance and ideas for what we've gotta do.
Mitch, an Eastern Arrernte and Luritja woman, from the Engawala community (Harts Range, east of Alice Springs).
"By taking away the 90 leases he's talking about, once again, [Howard] is dictating to us what is gonna happen on Aboriginal land... Taking away land doesn't fix any problems, as we've known since colonisation. The problems are always there, the racism is always there, and having white people tell you what to do once again is just repeating history."
"By taking control of our land, he is taking control of our heart and spirit, and I think he really knows that. [Howard]'s planned to make sure people get sick, he's planned feel dispossessed and unwanted and uncared for. After 219 years of feeling that way, do we grow up another generation to fight for Aboriginal issues in Australia? Yes, we have to, because [Howard] is forcing us into that position.
"The link [between Howard's plan for a nuclear waste dump in the NT and the military intervention] is unbreakable. Because we have stood up so strongly saying we didn't want a waste dump. We have stood up strongly again against uranium mining. We have strongly said no to both issues. I think this is Mr Howard's way of saying 'we've gotta put those blackfellas back in their place, we have to take their land away from them, we've got to demoralise them, we have to break their self esteem, we have to break any connection they have with their lands by taking through leases."
"It's time now, it's time to bring the Aboriginal communities into town. It's time to be a political force."
In Alice Springs, hundreds of people attended the rally to mark the beginning of the fiftieth anniversary of the National Aboriginal Islander Day of Celebration (NAIDOC). Lhere Arthepe Native Title Holders chief executive officer Kenny Laughton told the crowd the plan is a grab for land:
"It's about taking away more rights and making more rules so Government can keep us under control more, and keep us poor...That's the name of the game. We're to remain the third-class citizens for ever in white Australia rule under John Howard."
Owen Cole from the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA):
"The mean-spirited Prime Minister does not care if Aboriginals, Muslims and Asians are demonised and ostracised as long as he can win the next election. I've got a message for you John Howard and Mal Brough: don't think that minority groups will forget what you have done to us come election time.
"Little Johnny, we all know that this intervention is part of an insidious plan to strip apart the hard-fought rights of Australia's Indigenous people. Demonising every Aboriginal, painting the picture of most of us as child sexual abusers is of little concern to you. Australian media seems to be jumping on the bandwagon without an iota of critical evaluation of the intervention.
"We call upon [Opposition Leader Kevin] Rudd and the Labor Party to show some gumption, instead of being led by the ears by Johnny Howard... Are Aboriginal people now dispensable to the Labor Party now it's fashionable to bash blacks?
"The time has come for us to fight back: otherwise there won't be no looking forward, looking black; instead I think we'll be in the middle of a railway track, and the train will run right over us.
"The five year leases will become fifty years, then a hundred years, then perpetual leases. Ultimately all our hard fought land rights will be taken away in the name of national interest."
Pat Turner, Arrente and Gurdanji woman, Head of National Indigenous Television and former administrator of ATSIC:
"Be under no illusions: the Government is using child sexual abuse as the Trojan horse to resume total control of our lands.
"We have known about the issues in our communities for several generations and governments have done nothing... We know what the situation is like, we live it every day... We have to stand up to this Government and we have to say "if you want to do anything to us, you negotiate. We're not interested in consultation, you negotiate. We have rights and we are not about to sacrifice them for anybody…
"We have, on Aboriginal land, inalienable freehold title. And we will keep it."
Barbara Shaw, Tangentyere Council, community and health worker, and resident at Mt Nancy Town Camp in Alice Springs:
"I'm proud to be a town camper. All my great grandfathers and grandmothers they fought for these town camps for years and years and years. And we're gonna hold onto them, not matter what. Not matter what colour you are, where you come from, and where you live; today all Aboriginal people are being painted by the same brush, with one colour. Aboriginal people are being jammed between a solid wall and a hard rock....
"In regards to welfare reform, Aboriginal women have had these programs already running out of their resource centres, for their children and their families. These programs worked for our communities. It made women stronger and gave them control in their communities... So let's put the lid back on the paint tin and toss it. Climb the wall in support of one another and smash the hard rock with a big bang. This big fight and struggle is not going to stop here, because it's going to carry on in the generations to come. Let's take a stand in solidarity today."
In Darwin, over 2000 people marched at the demonstration marking the end of NAIDOC week. Senior Traditional Owner of Larrakia Nation, NAIDOC patron and Senior Territorian of the Year Aunty Kathy Mills:
"Our status of traditional ownership is under attack, like never before. The recent emotive action by the Prime Minister to declare martial law in the Northern Territory, using the Wild/Anderson report, is simply a smokescreen for his mischievous plan. The report was intended to improve living conditions for Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people continue to suffer under starving wages, crowded living conditions, high cost of living, isolation from major health and services supply outlets, and inadequate travel service provisions. You name it, in 100% of unemployment in communities, and the jobs that are available are taken by people with qualifications. Aboriginal people are the industry: when do we stop being the industry? When do we become part of the industry?
"This is not about the social welfare of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, this is about getting rid of land rights.
"What the Prime Minister and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs should be doing is funding a national-wide program for law reform for Australia, including Aboriginal customary law, and a covenant compliant with the international law on indigenous rights. If they wanna spend their money, spend it properly! Short term measures and quick fix exercises have not worked in the past, they will not work now, or in the future. I call on the Prime Minister and his Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to reconsider his course for military intervention. This exercise under the guise of keeping the peace is an act of war! War on people who are defenceless, who offer no resistance or threat to Australia, no intent to wage war, and no weapons of destruction. Their sole attribute which is controversial is their outright ownership of Australia through their indigenous rights."
Yanyuwa activist and Member for Arnhem (NT Govt) Barbara McCarthy:
"This is the biggest political change that is happening right now in the Northern Territory. We don't have to wait for it, it is already around us, we are right in the midst of it.
"What is happening in the Northern Territory is happening at such a rate that we cannot sit by and not ask questions, and not insist on our democratic right as citizens in this country to stand up and be heard.
"Do not be afraid. Stand Strong. We have fought for thirty years for the land across the Northern Territory. There are people who only just recently received their country back. They did not receive their country back to se it dissolved by an Act of the Federal Parliament again.
"Of course we care for our children... Abuse knows no colour. It knows no region and no boundaries. Prime Minister, Mal Brough: Do not dehumanise the Aboriginal people of the Territory. Do not isolate us from our fellow citizens across Australia. We stand with dignity and with strength."
"The greatest tragedy after all this input from right across Australia, where all the eyes of this nation have been focused on our homelands, the greatest tragedy will be that nothing changes for the better for our people. Stay strong."
Recordings of the speeches are available from firstname.lastname@example.org or online at www.asen.org.au