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Photographer's Note

I’ve been away from TE a lot during the past year. If you have the patience to read on, you’ll understand the reason why.

It is an undisputed fact that the land now known as Australia has been inhabited by its First Nations Peoples for at least 40,000 years. As such, they are the oldest surviving civilisation in the world. That civilisation continued unharmed and unhindered until 1770 when Captain Cook “discovered” the east coast of the Great South Land and later in 1788 when it was colonised and became a penal colony.

The closure and decimation of Aboriginal communities in Australia has been happening since 1788. The initial invasion saw the British commit outright, unashamed genocide. Food and water was deliberately poisoned. Aboriginal people were deliberately infected with diseases such as small pox. Massacres happened. Aboriginal women were raped and impregnated. Men and women were tortured, killed and their bodies mutilated. Or they were put to work as slaves in mines, farms and white businesses. Aboriginal children were either killed or forcibly removed from their parents and placed with white Australians, a practice which continued until the 1970s known as The Stolen Generations. Nuclear weapons were tested, detonated and dumped on Aboriginal populations and lands.

But above all, their land was taken. The land is their essence, their identity and their spirituality. It is their connection to everything and everyone. To take it and destroy it is to take them and destroy them.

To the white man, however, land is a commodity to be exploited. And Australia is rich in minerals. To the tune of 52 trillion dollars a year. The Blackfella is sitting on a gold mine. Literally.

18th Century international law provided 3 ways Britain could claim ownership of the land now known as Australia.

1. If the country was uninhabited, Britain could claim and settle that country. In this case, it could claim ownership of the land. This is a legal concept called "terra nullius".
2. If the country was already inhabited, Britain could ask for permission from the indigenous people to use some of their land. In this case, Britain could purchase land for its own use but it could not steal the land of the indigenous people.
3. If the country was inhabited, Britain could take over the country by invasion and conquest- in other words, defeat that country in war. However, even after winning a war, Britain would have to respect the rights of indigenous people.

Perversely, Britain did not follow any of these rules in respect of Australia. Since there were already people living in Australia, Britain could not take possession by "settling" this country. However from the time of Captain Cook's arrival the British Government acted as if Australia was uninhabited. So, instead of admitting that it was invading land that belonged to Aboriginal people, Britain acted as it were settling an empty land. This is what is meant by the myth of terra nullius.

This myth continued until 1992 when the High Court of Australia finally put paid to it in the case of Mabo. Yet the myth of terra nullius continues in practice and in the minds of racist Australians wishing to justify the unjustifiable. That thinking exists even in the tiny mind of our Prime Minister who this year saw fit to wipe the oldest culture in the world from our history books by declaring at the g20 summit that, “before 1788…Australia was unsettled, just bush”

So today, the genocide of First Nations Australians continues. One which masquerades as beneficial dictatorship but is in reality nothing but a merciless grab for land and resources. Children are being removed from their parents at a rate 10 times that seen during the Stolen Generations. Drugs and alcohol have been introduced into communities where the youth is dispossessed, discriminated against and without purpose. We have the highest rate of indigenous suicide in the world. We have the highest rate of youth suicide in the world. The Aboriginal people are now only 2.7% of the population, yet are 30% of the prison population. An Aboriginal person is killed in custody on an average of once every 5 weeks – at a rate 5 times that seen in Apartheid South Africa. Yet no police or corrections officer has ever been convicted of an offence. The average lifespan for an Aboriginal male is 45 years. Aboriginal people are suffering and dying from Third World diseases, diseases that have been eradicated from white communities for a century. Many communities have gone months without running water. Cancer clusters are prevalent in Aboriginal populations exposed to nuclear testing and dumping, from the spraying of pesticides on farm workers and from the existence of open asbestos mines. The present Australian Government has cut more than half a billion dollars from the indigenous budget and has disbanded the Ministry for Indigenous Affairs.

Since the mid- 1980s, the Australian Government has followed an insidious program of closing down and decimating Aboriginal communities, without making any provision for new communities or places to go. In urban communities, usually inner city suburbs, this has occurred where the value of the real estate has increased exponentially. In country areas, it invariably coincides with the discovery of uranium, gold, coal or gas.

Since a neo-Conservative Australian Government came to power in September 2013, this program is no longer insidious. It has become overt and has occurred on a scale never seen before. Over 100 remote Aboriginal communities have already been closed down. In the last week, the Prime Minister announced the planned closure of 150 more Aboriginal communities in the state of Western Australia alone. His thinking is mercenary and merciless, “I refuse to fund the lifestyle choices of those who choose to live in remote communities”.

In less than a week, the army and police have already occupied several of these communities and have forcibly removed the residents.

Since June 2014, along with many others, I’ve been camped out at the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy situated on The Block at Redfern in protest. The Embassy was established by the female elders of the community and is a protest against the ethnic cleansing of Aboriginal people from the suburb of Redfern. Historically, Redfern was occupied by the Gadigal people, was the hub and meeting place for Aboriginal people visiting the city from other Nations, was the birthplace of the black civil rights movement in Australia and was the heart and soul of a thriving black community. Redfern provided low cost housing for Aboriginal people during a time when segregation and Apartheid was flourishing in our country. Most significantly, The Block was the first piece of land to be bought back from the Government by the Aboriginal people. A development of multi-storey office blocks and overseas student accommodation has been approved for the Block. Construction was expected to start in July 2014. In February 2015, we were handed an eviction notice. Despite threats, assaults and daily acts of intimidation, we have not moved.

We are the first dominoe in the line and will not move voluntarily.

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Additional Photos by Lisa DP (delpeoples) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 5630 W: 351 N: 12436] (60288)
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