Barnett’s billion dollar deal or no deal in the wild, wild west
This is a guest post from anthropologist Ken Macintyre writen at the time of the announcement of the Barnett government’s billion dollar deal to purchase and extinguish all Native Title claims and connections to country throughout southwestern Australia.
It was (and still is) very unclear as to where the money will come from but it was made clear that it would not be accessible for ten years, that it would be entrusted to the South West Land and Sea Council (SWALSC) and its expenditure supervised by government authorities to facilitate and finance essential services such as mental health, education, cultural and economic enterprises to achieve what the government calls ‘indigenous self-determination.’
With regards to this billion dollar deal being negotiated by the WA State government and SWALSC representatives, this was my take of the situation.
I sent the letter below to the ABC morning radio (720) and the West Australian Newspaper expressing my concerns but it was never published or used by them.
Since then a Noongar tent embassy has been established on Heirisson Island on the Swan River in Perth. All road access to the island and public parking facilities have since been closed, the tent embassy participants have been constantly harassed by waves of up to 50 armed police at a time (some on horseback) usually at dawn or dusk etc. Barb and I were ourselves hassled by over-zealous stormtrooper police who were intent on removing all cars from the island last Friday.
About 40 armed police in their luminous vests linked arms to protect the car park while two council officials impounded and loaded one of the noisy demonstrator’s cars onto a tow truck to teach them a lesson.
The media, who were illegally parked on the reserve alongside the police vehicles, honed in like vultures to prey on the demonstrators. This was the third police raid on the demonstrators. Throughout this debacle one policeman filmed the confrontation as well as the number plates of all our legally-parked vehicles. There was no sign anywhere to say that the public car park was closed. Within an hour, however, large blocks of concrete blocked the entrance and exits to the island and it was declared “closed”. It was clear that the police under the direction of their political masters were being used to get rid of the embassy.
The message of the people on Heirisson Island is simply “no deal”.
They say: “Without land we have no culture, no identity.”
Unfortunately, this message is not getting through because the media, stirred up by their shock jocks on the radio and the local right wing pro-government newspapers, are going for sensationalism and generating negative racial sentiments, effectively fanning the fires of divisiveness. As a postscript I should add that the newspapers are now ignoring or playing down police visitations to the island as it is no longer considered ‘news’.
During the second police raid on the island (Thursday 23rd February at sunset) all tents and mattresses were confiscated and the sacred “kalla” or fire at the centre of the embassy was extinguished in front of the group by Perth City council rangers under the linked-arm-guard protection of about 50 armed police.
My article below which expresses my concerns and predictions (many of which have already come true) was never published or used in any commentary by the ABC. You may find it of some interest.
Deal or no deal?
In my 40 years as an anthropologist I have seen the same old patterns of division played out many times. As I see it this time, the much-touted billion dollar deal is just another example of causing major disputes between Aboriginal groups using the familiar colonial “divide and conquer” tactic.
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