Print this page


Irene Doutney - Address at the Block, in Redfern - 26 January 2011




I'd like to acknowledge that we are meeting on Aboriginal land, Cadigal land, Eora land and I pay my respects to the elders past and present and those here today.

We stand here today on Aboriginal land that was never ceded, sold, traded or given away. There was no agreement between the first Australians and the British invaders, no treaty was ever signed. In fact as far as the British were concerned there were no real people here. Terra Australis was Terra Nullius meaning that the land was empty of human beings.

This is the meaning of the 26th of January to Aboriginal people it is the day the invaders came and declared them to be non existant and then spent the next 222 years trying to make it happen. This day was the beginning of the end for the traditional custodians as the European settlers set about a slow genocide that would see 75% of mainland Aboriginals wiped out and over 90% lost in Tasmania.

While the vast majority of modern Australians are celebrating White Australia with their flags and barbies we here today know the truth and a terrible truth it really is. Instead of the tin pot nationalism that is sport, militarism, racism and intolerance we need to acknowledge the great wrong that has been done to Aboriginal Australians by colonisation.

The Aboriginal people had no single name for this country that would become Australia rather it was a rich complex land with 500 tribal groups and intricate songlines and customs that held the country together. There was no place for the nationalism, centralisation and militarism that became the dominant culture of the land under British domination.

Today as the majority of Australians deck out their cars and drape their bodies in flags we stand up to say stop for one moment and think about what Australia Day really means to the people who were here for tens of thousands of years before we arrived. Not a measly 222 years but over 40,000 years of occupation which must be celebrated, honoured and respected.

I personally am very uncomfortable with nationalism and flag waving. It always reminds me of Facism and Nazi Germany and I know for many Aboriginal Australians that comparison is very telling as they have also been the victims of oppression and attempted genocide ever since the arrival of the first fleet.

For many people here today Australia Day is an insult and if we must celebrate the founding of White Australia it should be done on another day, a different day from what is traditionally a day of mourning for the Aboriginal people. So we must make a change and move the date of this public holiday. This is essential if we want true reconciliation.

As well as changing the day we need to change the flag so it is more representative of the original Australians and less a token to British imperialism.

There are many steps that need to be taken if we are ever to right the wrongs done by the arrival of the British and their system of oppression.

The first of these is to acknowledge the sovereignty of Aboriginal people as the original inhabitants of this land. To cement this acknowledgement we must make Treaty with Aboriginal people and with Treaty must come just compensation for stolen land.

We must acknowledge and promote true land rights and end the terrible practice that is going on in Central Australia and the Northern Territory of forcing communities to sign leases on their land in exchange for substandard and non existent housing.

We must end the NT Intervention and return self determination to all Aboriginal people with the funding and education to run their own services and make their own decisions about what happens with Aboriginal land.

For over 40,000 years the Aboriginal people looked after this land and its plants and animals with respect and understanding instead of the rape and pillage of today that is turning our unique land into a bloody great quarry for the rest of the world.

We must support the traditional custodians in their dealings with these obscene mining companies and stop the use of remote communities like Muckaty as dumps for uranium and other industrial waste.

There must be a Truth and Justice Commission to bring all these wrongs out into the open and set a course for true justice and reconciliation and finally there must be a place made in Parliament for Aboriginal representatives so that for once Aboriginal people can be made part of the decision making processes of the land.

As a member of the Greens I promise you our party is committed to these principles and is fighting to support an end to the Intervention and the introduction of the ideas I have mentioned.

Finally I would like to acknowledge the wonderful artwork by Gary Grant that will lead our march to the Yabun festival.

A map of Aboriginal Australia made from 8,500 vials of sand from Kurnell where Captain James Cook landed in 1770 (?) beginning the British seizure of Aboriginal land. The vials are symbolic of the land and they will be given back to Aboriginal people at Yabun.

What a beautiful symbolic piece of art to take forward on this invasion day, a piece of work that embraces all our wishes for sovereignty, land rights, justice and respect.

It resonates with what we all know - that this is Aboriginal land, always was, always will be Aboriginal land.


Reproduced with the kind permission of Irene Doutney.