NT LAUNCH: LABOR FOR TREATY

June 08, 2017

It is significant that we are gathered here today in Darwin to launch Labor for Treaty in the Northern Territory, on the ancestral lands of the Larrakia people.  Everyone in the Northern Territory knows that the Larrakia are the traditional owners of Darwin, we have grown up in Darwin knowing this - that the Larrakia have been here since time immemorial.

But the Larrakia have had a tough road to recognition.

This much was specifically referred to in one of the founding documents bridging the gaping chasm between Indigenous Australia and the Commonwealth - the Yirrkala bark petitions.  These petitions were created in 1963 by the Yolgnu to protest the secrecy of negotiations between the Government's agreement with Nabalco, which wanted to mine bauxite on the Gove Peninsula. The painted texts proclaim Yolgnu law, with text in both English and Gumatj.  

The bark petitions also say this, which I found important for us to remember: 

‘That the people of this area fear that their needs and interests will be completely ignored as they have been ignored in the past, and they fear that the fate which has overtaken the Larrakeah tribe will overtake them.

And I pull that quote out because it is important that we who live on Larrakia country remember this mob here first.

It is often forgotten that the Larrakia, and the impacts upon them of colonisation, form an integral part of the powerful appeal contained in the Yirrkala bark petitions, that set in a chain a series of nation-changing events, including the 1967 referendum, the Gove land rights case, and land rights in the Northern Territory.

A few years later after the bark petitions 1972, the Larrakia created their own petition - the Larrakia petition.  In it, the Larrakia people protested the colonisation of their lands, arguing that the British settlers took away their land with no treaty. They called for land rights and political representation.  And they did call for a treaty.

I want to quote the words of the Larrakia petition to you today:  

Gwalwa Daraniki! This is our land!

The British settlers took our land. No treaties were signed with the tribes.  Today we are refugees.

Refugees in the country of our ancestors.  We live in REFUGEE CAMPS – without land, without employment, without justice.

The British Crown signed treaties with the Maoris in New Zealand and the Indians in North America.

We appeal to the Queen to help us, the Aboriginal people of Australia.

We need land rights and political representation now.’

- http://vrroom.naa.gov.au/print/?ID=19522

These words are as poignant today as they were in 1972.

The poet Judith Wright in her book wrote about the 1972 Larrakia call for treaty:

Little was heard of this petition in the troubled days of 1972 which followed, and it was not until June that Mr McMahon replied. It was not appropriate, he said, to negotiate with British subjects as though they were foreign powers; and the reason that treaties had never been negotiated with Aborigines was partly that of the difficulty of identifying the people and groups with whom negotiations could be conducted.

Again the excuse of not knowing who to go to, don’t we still hear that today.  

Much has occurred since those early years by way of meaningful recognition of Indigenous Australians, including the 1967 referendum, Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act, the Mabo case, and the Native Title Act.  We should be proud of all that Indigenous people have achieved in this country since the bark petitions were first signed.

And we in the Northern Terriotry should be even more proud because it is here that all of this begun.

It is, however, a terrible injustice that the Larrakia, so foundational to the land rights movement in Australia, have failed to be recognised by either the Native Title Act or the Land Rights Act, ironically due to the effects of colonisation on their law and culture.   

For the Larrakia, as for other Indigenous groups in Australia, the question of treaty, of formal recognition by the Australian state on terms, remains unresolved. 

I want to now move away from Larrakia country, to my Country, the Gulf country. To the kujika the songs and the songs and stories of the Yanyuwa, Garawa, the Mara and Gurdanji peoples, my peoples.

We talk about kujika and kujika is the map and the songline that we follow and have followed for thousanda and thousands of years. There are different names for it in different parts of the territory. In the Centre the Anangnu people call it tjukurpa we call it kujika. It is important it is our sacred law and tells of our laws. I remember the elders like  

As the wonderful Kuku Dinny McDinny told by my friend, anthropologist Kuku John Bradley:

Whitefella got that piece of paper – might be lease or something like that – but Yanyuwa and Garrwa mob they got to have kujika.  When whitefella ask them kids how you know this country belongs to you, they can say we got the kujika.  Kujika, you know, like that piece of paper.

As a Yanyuwa Garrawa woman from this country in the Gulf, I wonder what life would look like now for the Yanyuwa, Garrawa, Mara and Gurdanji peoples if the early calls for a treaty in this country had been heeded?   

  • Would the status of our kujika as the foundation of our laws be recognised across the whole region, not just in fragments recognised by native title and land rights?
  • Would the traditional governance practices of the Yanyuwa and Garrawa have real legal force and in a holistic sense?
  • Would we have a governing body that represented the Yanyuwa people, or Yanyuwa-Garrawa-Gurdanji and Mara people together?
  • Would that governing body formulate policy and make decisions about matters affecting people’s health, education, and housing?
  • Where would our elders, many of whom have now passed, have led us on the treaty journey? Where would they have led us?  People I have known for such a long time who are no longer here, like Kuku Dinny McDinny, Eileen McDinny, Annie Karrakyn, Old Tim Rakawurlma, Musso Harvey, Johnson Timothy, Gordon Lansen, Roy Hammer, Ginger Riley, and Harry Lansen?
  • Where would we be today as a people?

These are questions which I don’t know how to answer. But hey are questions I have to keep asking.  

I am given heart by the fact that the movement for a treaty is again gathering force, and I am excited about the possibilities that it might hold for my people in the Borroloola region and for all people, for the Larrakia people in particualr, and for First Nations across the country, for all Australians.  

Just what that looks like, including whether it will take the form of constitutional entrenchment of Indigenous rights or some other form, we do not yet know.  

I am also given heart by the Northern Territory Chief Minister’s commitment to put treaty discussions at the forefront in the Northern Territory, and its moves to implement local Indigenous decision-making, the true heart of any genuine move towards a treaty.

There is also much work being done in both the South Australian and Victorian Labor Government’s in steps towards treaty or treaties in their respective areas. 

South Australia has already appointed its very first Treaty Commissioner Dr Roger Thomas, a Kokatha and Mirning man, who is leading consultations between Indigenous South Australians and the State Government on a framework for a treaty.

On the eve of the Barunga Festival, that is this weekend, we remember the historic moment of former Prime Minister Bob Hawke receiving the Barunga Statement 29 years ago. For too long the dust from that dance ground of Barunga has truly settled itself on the statement which still sits behind a glass panel exhibited in Parliament House for all to see.

It’s time to kick that dust up again, it is way beyond time to kick that dust up again on the Barunga Statement, and remind our country that this is still unfinished business. 

I certainly acknowledge the work of the Referendum Council that led to the recent Uluru Statement from the Heart. Holding a large gathering of First Nations people on the sacred land of the Anangu was a significant moment for our country and I look forward to receiving the Referendum Council’s report on June 30. 

I also acknowledge how far governments in Australia have come on the question of constitutional recognition, and treaties with our First Nations peoples.

I acknowledge the hard work in recent years of the Recognise campaign who have worked tirelessly to try and give legal form and substance to these issues for all Australians. Irrespective of whatever debate is going on, the fact is we would not be having these discussions in this country had it not been for the work of those men and women in the Recognise campaign to galvanise Australians. There is going to be an evolution of thinking and thoughts that had to start somewhere.  

I want to leave with you something I was trying to think about. When I am standing in the Senate or when I am travelling across the Territory and indeed Australia. I am always conscious of traveling on peoples country. So I take with me the kujika, kujika is always centred me, and it is the storytelling.

After the announcement of Uluru was made, there seemed to be a bit of quietness and then a bit of an explosion of different viewpoints and different thoughts. And then everyone wanted to know what people thought. And yet the very people who are responsible for it still are trying to galvanise their own thinking to be able to finalise that report.

I look at it like this. The role of the Referendum Council in the lead up to the Uluru statement and beyond is one very important process but it is not the only process. The challenge for myself and others in the Senate and the House of Reps. is all the other politicians that we need to work with. And that is going to be another step in that kujika journey and we all have a role to play, a job to do, we have to do it from here, in the heart, we have to believe in. This isn’t something; the kujika isn’t something that you can walk without. The tjukurpa from that country is not going to travel unless people believe in what that message is.

So I put it like this. When we go out bush, we go fishing or hunting anywhere out on Country, you know everyone jumps in the troop carrier, and then as we are driving out bush someone wants to go this way, maybe if we go that way. But in that decision making process we get stuck in the mud, in the biggest bogg, and we are all sitting in that troopie and everyone is looking at each other, who is going to get out and get us out of here. That I show I feel we are as a country today. I feel like we are all trying to go on this ride we are not really sure if we really sure if we want to be on that ride, we aren’t event really sure who is driving it, we are not even sure if we want to be a passenger. But we all know we have to get out and fix it.

And I think that is what we are doing here – we are all sitting here looking, asking how are we going to fix this, how are we going to get this vehicle out of this mud – we are going to do it together.

Bauji Barra