The Ampilatwatja Walkoff and the “wake-up call” for Alison Anderson – an interview with Richard Downs
Macklin should resign as Minister - she has no results to show us, she doesn't - or doesn't know how to - listen or talk to Aboriginal people - she should go, and the sooner the better: Richard Downs, Alyawarra leader
The previous post to this discusses the provenance and content of a Media Release released last Thursday 27 August and co-signed by Richard Downs, Rosalie Kunoth Monks and the newly independent member for Macdonnell in the Northern Territory parliament, Alison Anderson.
Richard has been a vocal spokesman for the Alyawarra people living at the township of Ampilatwatcha, 350km north-east of Alice Springs.
But on July 15, with 25-year-old pipes broken and sewage running through the streets, residents left the township and set up a camp outside of the boundary of Ampilatwatja. They said the NT intervention had done nothing to solve their problems and had actually made things much worse.
Richard Downs, spokesperson for the camp, told Green Left Weekly: “Nothing has happened in the community in the last three or four years. There’s no consultation. People are pushed to one side and not involved in any of the discussions. We realised that the government is just ignoring people and we realised that this was just a waste of time.
“We’ve got no response from [Aboriginal affairs minister Jenny] Macklin, she hasn’t shown any interest or shown any courtesy or respect towards us. Discussions with her have become a waste of time so we said ‘bugger it’ and set up a permanent camp out there.”
Richard and his people have been at that camp ever since.
I asked him if he had heard back from Jenny Macklin:
Richard North: (laughs) No, nothing – I mean we got a letter about 5 or 6 weeks after we wrote to her but the letter clearly had nothing in it. And we had a consultation meeting with FaHCSIA staff but we virtually said “No, you people are not listening to us – so we are going to keep going with our walkout”. That was it.
And when they came to talk to us about that lease – the Commonwealth has that compulsory five-year lease that they didn’t even ask us about – but now they want to make a forty year lease. The lease they showed us was not a good deal at all – it was like a blackmail. Just a total blackmail. We just told them that we would not be renewing that lease.
We reckon that she should resign as Minister – she is just not suited to the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio – she has no results, she doesn’t – or doesn’t know how to – listen. I mean, she ignored the Review of the Intervention that Peter Yu did and we don’t think she will restore the Racial Discrimination Act. She should go, and the sooner the better.
And, as I’ve noted previously, Richard and his people weren’t very impressed with the no-show of his local member, Alison Anderson, up until recently a Minister in the NT Government and now an independent MLA.
But that has all changed since Anderson visited late last week:
Yes, we wanted to talk to her and to give her a wake-up call. Alison needed to listen to the people out here and we thought that she was on the wrong pathway. Alison needed to be bought back in and embrace us. The fight we are putting up here is the Aboriginal way, the traditional way, through the country, the dreaming and through the ground and so on and Alison needs, as a traditional woman, to come back on that line.
Alison has made a total 100% commitment to the traditional Aboriginal way. And we told her that if she goes off that line – that would be a big embarrassment that she’s gonna have to live with for the rest of her life.
It is our history you know, and she is seeing what is happening. We just aren’t seeing the results on the ground and its all controlled by the Federal government under the Northern Territory Emergency Response legislation. That’s what Alison was saying to us – “I watched it, and I seen what’s happening and and now I’m ready to go back to my people“.
I asked Richard about what he thought might have led people like Alison Anderson, and many other people who previously supported the NT Intervention, to change their minds:
Many Aboriginal people, even people like Galarrwuy Yunupingu, Alison Anderson and myself, we said “OK – this [the Intervention] could be good for our people“. So we said “Well, maybe we’ll see how it develops in the first eighteen months or two years“.
But what we are saying now is “We’ve given it a go – we’ve given the government’s a chance under the NTER measures to solve a lot of the housing and health issues and two years down the track now we’ve seen that there is nothing. It has just gone backwards.” That’s why people like Galarrwuy, Alison Anderson and me have changed our thinking about this Intervention. We’ve changed our minds and said “No, it’s not working so we need to be a lot harder on the governments.“
I’m not surprised that Alison Anderson has changed. It is just that after two years Alison hasn’t achieved any results within the Labor party in the NT. She hasn’t seen any fruitful outcomes from the NTER measures in the two years and now she is seeing that. And that is why she is one hundred per cent behind us. When she was sitting down with us she said “This is the happiest day of my life since 1982“.
I asked Richard about some of the Aboriginal people that are given space and time in the media and are generally accepted as “speaking for Aboriginal people”:
Nobody else speaks for us – we are taking control from the remote areas and our homelands. I started it, then Rosalie Kunoth-Monks came on board and then Alison Anderson came on board. Because all the Aboriginal leaders sound like they have shut up shop. They are hiding in hollow logs and nobody is saying anything anymore, nobody is pushing the issues to bring it to attention. We need to work on a two-way partnership between the Aboriginal people across the Territory and the government.
We don’t want any other Aboriginal leaders like bloody Warren Mundine or so on. This is gonna come from the grass roots here in our own country. And poor Warren, I don’t know what planet he is on! He needs to realise that he is isolated, he is on the Rudd side and Warren, and people like him, are going to be pushed out of there. Rudd and Macklin aren’t going to be supportive of Warren as soon as we start attacking him because he’s on our list.
I know Bess Price. [the Chair of the NT Indigenous Affairs Advisory Council] I haven’t spoken to her but I think she is all for the Intervention. Her and her husband Dave Price. That is fine…But it is a false vision from the Government and others like Bess Price. I don’t know what that NT government Indigenous Advisory Council does or what it stands for but they should come and tell us what they stand for.
I asked Richard what the group of himself, Roslaie Kunoth-Monks and Alison Anderson would be doing.
He explained that:
We are all going to get together in mid-September on our land, on Alyawarra land, and we will have anything from about two to three thousand people coming here from all the language groups.
Alison has been out bush and I’m going to try to contact her today because I’m back in ‘phone range and the same with Rosalie Kunoth-Monks and give them the dates that we’ve agreed on – the dates for the 16th to the 20th of September when we are going to get together and sit down out bush here at Ampilatwatja.
And the main thing is, we don’t want any other Aboriginal leaders speaking up for us on our behalf – if they do then they must go through us. This is from the grass roots.
I’ve spoken to people at Yuendumu over the past few weeks – they have their own problems there with the Intervention and I told them that we need to start getting together.
I explained to Richard that earlier today I’d called Alison Anderson’s office in Alice Springs and had spoken to an electorate officer there. I’d called her office on Friday last week to speak to her about the media release but she wasn’t available to answer my questions then so I called back earlier today but was told she was “out bush for the rest of the week.”
Alison’s electorate officer also told me that Alison:
“…now has concerns about the media release and would make no further comment”.
Her electorate officer also said that he was not sure about which part of the media release Alison had concerns with.
I asked Richard if Alison Anderson had said anything to him about any concerns that she may have with the contents of the media release?
No, no. She shouldn’t be because we, that is Alison, Rosalie and me agreed on doing that media release. Yes, between the three of us. We sat down and agreed, before we put out anything this is what the media release should include. And we ended up doing that one page media release. Alison was there just by herself. She went out there with Rosalie and me and we had a meeting looking at things. We agreed on where Alison stands and where we stand and where we are all going to go in the future.
Earlier in the interview, Richard had told me that:
Alison will be independent now. She realises that she is coming on board, which is really gonna give her that strength from the grass roots. Not only from the Aboriginals – but from the white people. So she is really gonna be a strong player there, more so than that Gerry Wood, that independent that is there now. If she steps out of that, if she goes off that line – she has automatically lost it.
Well, if Alison does that [goes off that line] she won’t get that support from me and my people. And that is why we are 100% behind Alison now with the way she is speaking. And she is going to be consulting with me, and Rosalie pretty well every week.
Definitely [we are confident she will stick by us]. Like I said, this is Aboriginal way we are doing now and she knows all the traditions and the customs and she will follow that line.
I thanked Richard for his time.
He told me that he and his people were trying to raise funds to buy and install a bore at the Alyawarra Intervention Walkoff camp so that they wouldn’t have to cart water from town.
If you want to donate some money to the cause of Richard and his people – or want to find out more about the reasons why Richard and his people have walked away from Ampilatwatja to their remote bush camp then you can read all about it at the group’s website at Interventionwalkoff.