Report from the Sydney leg of the Ampilatwatja walk-off speaking tour
(some photos are posted on the photo page- click here)
The recent visit to Sydney of Richard Downs, spokesperson for the Ampilatwatja walk-off in the Northern Territory and Harry Nelson from Yuendumu (NT) was a great success.
The strong stand taken by the community at Ampilatwatja and the clear leadership shown by Richard and Harry galvanised profound support for the fight against the Intervention. Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney has been able to more seriously engage with a range of progressive organisations and the campaign is building momentum within the trade union movement.
Following some significant contributions from unions and individual supporters, enough money has been raised to sink a bore to supply water for the walk-off camp.
Some highlights from the tour are reported below:
Solidarity from Trade Unions
The tour came just two weeks after the return of a Unions NSW delegation who visited NT communities, including Yuendumu and the Ampilatwatja protest camp, which STICS had helped to organise.
Adam Kerslake, deputy secretary of Unions NSW and chair of its Indigenous Committee, led that delegation. Outraged by what they had seen and heard, these delegates helped ensure that Richard and Harry had a supportive audience with unionists in Sydney.
Richard addressed the weekly meeting of Unions NSW affiliates and met with a Labor member from the NSW upper house. Along with Harry he met with some members of the ACTU executive including Paul Howes (AWU) and Angelo Gavrielatos (AEU) who have pledged to raise support for the walk-off with the ACTU and were keen to invite Richard to address their executive. There was also discussion of initiating more active and co-ordinated efforts from the ACTU in opposition to discriminatory intervention measures.
Adam also spoke alongside Richard and Harry to an inspiring meeting of about 40 trade unionists, co-sponsored by STICS, ANTaR and the Unions NSW Indigenous committee. Unionists present committed to mobilising union members, providing ongoing material support to the protest camp and carrying the campaign forward. The meeting included officials and staff from a wide range of unions including the Teachers Federation, NTEU, ASU, LHMU and CFMEU, aswell as some rank-and-file activists.
A great source of support through the tour was the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), who took Richard and Harry to work-sites at Port Botany to address workers on their lunch break. Passionate wharfies spoke about the role their union had played in supporting previous Aboriginal walk-offs and their responsibility to take-up this fight. There was also a meeting with the MUA in Wollongong and Arthur Rorris, Secretary of the South Coast Labor Council.
Richard and Harry spoke alongside Chris Graham from the National Indigenous Times to about 150 people at the University of Technology, Sydney (thanks to Jumbunna at UTS for support). The forum called for Jenny Macklin to resign and speeches can be found online at https://interventionwalkoff.wordpress.com/video/
A strong theme at the forum was the hypocrisy of the Rudd government’s apology to the stolen generations, given the ongoing implementation of the Intervention and other assimilation policies. There was lots of support for the idea of a national day of action against the Intervention on February 13 2010, coinciding with the second anniversary of Rudd’s apology.
A meeting of 70 people at the ANU in Canberra was addressed by Michael Anderson, alongside the NT guests. On their way back from Canberra, Richard and Harry spoke to a packed workshop at the ‘Climate Camp’ in Helensburgh, highlighting the links between struggles for Aboriginal rights and the environment.
STICS held its first meeting in Western Sydney during the tour – with a forum at the Wundunarrkoo Aboriginal Centre in the Mt Druitt area. About 50 local people, including many from the strong Aboriginal community attended and were very moved – speaking about the struggles facing their people in the area and the need to get active against the Intervention.
A strong meeting was held at the Illawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre in Wollongong, also attended by 50 people, building on STICS’ good relationship with the local Aboriginal Land Council and broader community there. Richard also spoke to a lunch for Elders and other locals at the Redfern Community Centre.
A forum at Sydney University brought together Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students, who were reminded of the important role students have played in the fight for Aboriginal rights.
Amnesty International held a forum about the walk-off attended by 80 people, including all of their staff in Sydney and a phone link-up for staff around the country. Since then, Amnesty have launched a solid campaign highlighting the disgraceful preparations by the Rudd government to characterise Intervention controls as “special measures” under the Racial Discrimination Act http://www.amnesty.org.au/action/action/21865/
Richard and Harry were also able to meet with Zalman Castel, national co-ordinator of ‘Together for Humanity’, an inter-faith group committed to combating discrimination.
The tour had great coverage in the Indigenous media – including interviews on Koori Radio, SBS Aboriginal Radio, 4k1g National Indigenous Radio, the NITV news and the ABC’s Message Stick (which will run a feature on the walk-off on November 8).
Other media coverage included Radio Adelaide and the St Mary’s Star article linked below:
Australian Associated Press (AAP) ran a good piece that got picked up by some major websites:
and Richard was featured on Philip Adam’s “Late Night Live”