Written by: Lindy Nolan on 1 February 2023
“We ain’t goin’ nowhere!” Lynda-June Coe’s declaration met thunderous applause from the 10,000 at Sydney’s January 26 protest. Round the country, almost 100,000 rallied, with 80-90,000 in Melbourne.
The Wiradjuri and Badu Islander woman introduced the day’s fiery thread, “What do we want? Land rights!” This demand confronts two centuries of criminality.
“They tried to wipe us out. They tried to breed us out by genocide. Still here! Still here! Still here!”
I come from a long line of Wiradjuri People. My leader Wirandyne lives in every single Aboriginal person today! In this place, Gadigal Country, it is Pemulwuy’s spirit that keeps this land going.”
We are all mobilising against the fallacy that is constitutional recognition,” she said.
Australian system’s bloodied hands
Bundjalung, Dunghutti, Gumbaynggirr compere Lizzie Jarrett joked on her own name, lifting spirits exhausted by warfare, “Just like old Lizzie, the queen is dead. Australia Day is dead with her.”
Gomeroi woman, Aunty Shirley Lomas laughed at politicians, “Albo says he grew up in housing commission. … When I become prime minister, I’m gonna tell them I grew up in a tin humpy at the top camp.”
“For those looking for the republic? Youse get it when we get it too,” she declared. The sticking points? The highest ever rate of child removals and deaths in custody.
Leetona Dungay, mother of murdered Dunghutti man David Dungay Jnr, retold his story, dignified as always in grief and demand for justice. “The death of my son, is not just a one-off event,” she said. “It goes back 235 years… He died at the hands of the Australian system. And no one has ever been held accountable.”
David’s Dunghutti nephew Paul Silva called the forces of the state “trained killers”.
As a young teen, he helped dress his uncle’s body for burial. “My uncle’s nose was flat to his face … eleven imprint boot marks on his back”. Even as David’s father first saw his son’s body, “the police department announced there were no suspicious circumstances”.
Paul Silva said, “The coroner said he had a heart attack, contributed to by the assault, but if you took six men off my uncle’s back, would he have had a heart attack? Fuck no!”
He demanded, “If they have not been given a death sentence, why are they coming home in body bags?”
A scathing Victorian Coroner’s Court statement asked almost the same question on January 30.
Every non-indigenous person in these lands should watch the footage of Veronica Nelson’s agonising last hours alone, abused as she begged for help.
It will explain to them exactly why First Peoples are often angry when they speak of their lives.
“We demand independent inquiries,” Paul Silva said, thanking people for coming. “I can see a lot of non-indigenous people here. Our message is getting out.”
Teenage Wiradjuri climate activist, Ethan Lyon, spoke of shame but also of direct action. He exposed the irony of governments destroying Country “saying they want to work with us”.
“Young people are going to spearhead the fight,” he said, announcing a March 3 Day of Action to defend Pilliga against Santos.
“The land is yours too,” the young leader said.
Emerging Gomeroi and Wiradjuri leader Kyana Hickey Coe told her Peoples’ truth, that despite a ten year battle, industrialisation of Pilliga threatening land and the Great Artesian Basin, has begun.
“People will not back down to save what little we have left,” she said. (1)
Young Yuin woman Iesha Simpson-Brown told of growing organisation against Shoalhaven City Council and NSW government approval for a $380m development permit for a massive Chinese Shaolin Buddhist Temple, hotel and golf course to be built on top of sacred birthing grounds and burial grounds.
Unity our future
Black Peoples Union’s Keiran Stewart-Assheton called on First Peoples to unite, declaring, “The government that committed these atrocities and stole our land cannot be trusted to uphold a treaty, or a Voice, or a constitution that would truly benefit our people or make any meaningful change. History has proved this time and time again.
“Instead, we must form a treaty between Indigenous Nations. … We must come together as one force capable of taking revolutionary action to forge our own path. Only by taking control of our own future can we truly heal from the trauma of colonization and move forward together as a sovereign and self-determining people,” Keiran Stewart-Assheton said. (2)
(1) Excerpts from the speech by Gomeroi Ian Brown from Gamilaraay Next Generation, and the statement by Suellyn Tighe from Coonabarabran will appear in an upcoming article.
(2) Keiran Stewart-Assheton’s speech can be read here