Two years ago Kevin Rudd, in what appears to have now faded into a largely symbolic apology to Aboriginal Australia, told the nation that:
…symbolism is important but, unless the great symbolism of reconciliation is accompanied by an even greater substance, it is little more than a clanging gong. It is not sentiment that makes history; it is our actions that make history.
Yesterday Geoff Scott, CEO of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council made a gift to the Alyawarr people that was both symbolic and ironic and will ring a loud and clear rallying call to the Alyawarr people who just a few months ago walked off the literal cess-pit that the Ampilitawatja township had become after years of neglect from all levels of Government.
Geoff Scott gave the Alyawarr people a bright and shiny brass bell inscribed with the following message:
This Declaration Bell is presented to the Elders and families of the Alyawarra Nation by the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council on February 14, 2010 in recognition of their principled walk-off and continuing fight to uphold their land rights, culture and heritage. May it ring for justice and change.
I got up early yesterday morning to drive 300 kilometres – most of it over rough roads muddy and puddled by recent storms – from Alice Springs to the Ampilitawatja walk off camp, where a ceremony would be held to hand-over a house recently donated to the walk-off campers by a generous donor and good “friend in the south”.
Lots of other friends of the walk-off camp – from the north, south, east and west – also made the long, hot trek out to the walk-off camp to celebrate the occasion and to show Kevin Rudd just how hollow his “clanging gong” really was.
You can read more about the Ampilitawatja walk-off camp’s early days in my earlier posts on the walk-off and interviews with Ampilitawatja spokesman Richard Downs here and here.
The phrase “friends in the south” comes from the wonderful song by Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody, “From Little Things Big Things Grow” that tells the story of the fight for land by Vincent Lingiari and the Gurindji people when they walked off from the Vestey’s cattle station at Wave Hill in 1966 – a fight that continued for another nine years.
As Paul and Kev say in “From Little Things…”
Then Vincent Lingiarri returned in an aeroplane
Back to his country once more to sit down
And he told his people let the stars keep on turning
We have friends in the south, in the cities and towns
Eight years went by, eight long years of waiting
Till one day a tall stranger appeared in the land
And he came with lawyers and he came with great ceremony
And through Vincent’s fingers poured a handful of sand
Richard Downs and his fellow members of the Alyawarr people won’t have to wait 8 long years for a stranger to pour their land through their hands – they’ve taken action of their own and, in mid-2009 they walked away from the “prescribed area” of Ampilitawatja to camp on their own Aboriginal freehold land at Honeymoon Bore, a few kilometres to the north. In the few short months since they walked off, the Alyawarr have made progress, to borrow from another of Paul’s song, in “…leaps and bounds”.
You can read a little more about recent events at Ampilitawatja in this article by Lindsay Murdoch on the front page of last Saturday’s edition of The Age.
Later in the week I’ll post a bit more background from today’s ceremony and my interview with Richard Downs while we sat in Honeymoon Bore’s red dirt – but for now I’ll just post a few photos from today’s handover of the new house kindly donated by the good folks at Australian Portable Camps and constructed by local with help from members of the CFMEU, the MUA and a dedicated and very hard-working bunch of supporters.