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We had an excellent reaction to Jason Bryce’s first piece on the reconciliation walk and he has followed up with another terrific piece on Charles Perkins. Jason’s Aboriginal wife Tilly Crawford has followed up with her own personal account of the walk.

But I can’t agree with his “Call To Arms”. he should know better than anyone else in this country that it takes a lot to turn Aboriginal Australians violent and that it is irresponsible to try.

In fact this year marks the tenth anniversary of the last really violent aboriginal protest in this country and it was a protest against Charles Perkins himself.

I remember it well because I helped organise it for the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and we were protesting against “The Perkins Report”.

Charles Perkins had been dumped as head of DAA (now ATSIC) because of his business arrangements concerning pokies and a DAA owned Club at Woden Plaza in Canberra.

The new Greiner/Murray coalition government in NSW hired Perkins to help dismantle the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights system.

“The Perkins Report” recommended that the 13 members of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council no longer be elected from regional NSW, but be appointed by Premier Greiner.

The NSW Aboriginal Land Fund, accumulating since 1983, was to be removed from Land Councils with responsibility for all NSW Aboriginal Land Council functions to be taken over the “Office of Aboriginal Affairs” tucked away deep in the Premier’s Department. The Greiner government never appointed a Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.

Wal Murray’s dream, contained in Greiner’s campaign material, of taking back the compensation paid to Aborigines in NSW was to be realised through the good work of Mr Charles Perkins.

Aboriginal communities around NSW were outraged by the Perkins Report. They were even more incensed that one of their own people was the man putting forward these paternalistic proposals.

Land Councils often don’t enjoy much support from Aboriginal communities. They are the landlords of the slum houses inherited from the Aboriginal Lands Trust in 1983.

Local Land Councils are especially vulnerable to control by one family leading to jealousy and division in the community.

However in 1990 when the Perkins Report was released we had no trouble bussing thousands of Aboriginal people to Sydney to support their organisations.

What we did have trouble with was controlling people’s anger. We had no idea that our peaceful protest in Macquarie Street would turn so quickly and so violently.

People were screaming out for Perkins to come out and face his people. When the Iron Spiked Fence in front of Parliament House started to give way I was sure someone would end up dead or seriously hurt in hospital.

I remember TV journalists asking protestors: “are you going to do anything else? Is that all your going to do?” In 1990 journalists needed action to get an Aboriginal story on the 6pm bulletin.

Trying to appeal to a journalists sense of responsibility in those days was hard work. Aboriginal stories were largely ignored for lack of interest, for perceived lack of viewer interest or most commonly because it’s just not important enough.

Journalists told us bluntly that unless there was “action” their stories wouldn’t be worth filing and some of them intervened in events to help ensure that their day wasn’t wasted.

In the wash up the “action” did ensure that the issue got TV coverage and under the glare of the resulting attention, The Perkins Report was thoroughly discredited.

Violence does unfortunately attract media attention far more readily than peaceful protest. However the Walk for Reconciliation demonstrated that vast numbers, walking together in the same direction attract the most attention of all.

Hopefully we’ve all grown up a bit since 1990, the media included, and any Olympic protests will be peaceful and multi-coloured. If Charles Perkins organises a peaceful rally in support of compensation or a treaty I will attend. But if there is to be violence I only hope Mr Perkins has enough cash to bail out all the kids that get arrested because I’d hate to see them tread the well worn path of Aboriginal incarceration.

Ends

copyright Jason Bryce

Jason Bryce is a political journalist with fifteen years experience in Australian politics and the media.

Now self employed, he has worked for the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, the National Native Title Tribunal, ABC Television, and Gandangara Land Council in south western Sydney.

In 1989 he helped organise Rock for Land Rights at the Homebush Sports Centre, a reconciliation concert that featured crowded house, Jimmy Barnes, Paul Kelly Black Lace and Kev Karmody

In 1991 he assembled the first ever Aboriginal electoral roll for NSW and was a member of the Land Council/Government bureaucratic working party on Land Rights amendments.

In 1996 he broke the story of the aboriginal north – south split on the Indigineous Land Corp that led to a high court case affirming that ILC moneys must be prioritised to the most dispossessed.

In 1997 his story on regional agreements first highlighted the strength of the Wik peoples case for coexistence and predicted the downfall of the NNTT’s initial trip wire test that led to a flood of claims covering urban areas and southern Australia.

The Walk About Australia

One Aboriginal perspective on the Walk for Reconciliation

By Tilly Crawford

I’d been watching the whole thing on TV the day before. I turned it on out of curiosity but as speaker after speaker came onto the stage, I felt myself being drawn in. I wasn’t at home on my lounge. I was there.

I listened to two young Australians. One white, from Queensland and one black, from Arnhem Land. Jason hears the girl speaking and asks if she’s one of the Coffeys from Bre. But I knew she was white when I heard the white pronunciation “Koooorie”. This did not detract from the power of her words. They came naturally, and there was no doubt that this girl had come to learn a great deal about black people in this country.

That was when I felt the first lump in my throat?. The young man from Arnhem land stood silently beside her as she spoke. He himself had his own presence when he stood before the microphone. A strong reminder of the richness and purity of the country. He spoke his own language, and I could tell he was an articulate and respected man in his community. I pressed record on the video. When they dipped their hands in paint and placed their prints on the canvas I realised the important symbolism of the occasion.

I thought the traditional way of spraying the paint (from the mouth) onto the hand would have sufficed, but with this method you only had to wipe the inside of your hand. That was practical.

The big day arrives and a strong southern wind was blowing. It was the first real taste of winter in Sydney but I was to be warmed by the compassion, empathy and forgiveness that was in people’s hearts on Sunday.

We’re on the train, just pulling into Central station.

“There’s a lot of people out there, hey mum?” says Bindi. The excitement starts to build inside me. Moreover, I can’t quite put my finger on it. People are jostling to get on the train. The conductor blows his whistle, and still they come from almost nowhere, to get on. The door of the Tangara closes and, as the train pulls away the annoyance in their faces comes as a comfort to me. I know where it is they want to go.

Going through the tunnel that leads onto the Harbour Bridge, and I am feeling like a jack in the box who can’t wait to jump out. Bindi is making fun of my reflection, I look at the window to tell her to stop being silly. As I do, the train emerges from a dark tunnel out of the darkness and into the light. I saw people. Lots of people, walking and as the sun shone on them they looked happy. (I thought a second or two about that word, but no, that’s what it was). I took a deep breath. Gasps come from the mouths of the other packed in commuters. The gasps were promptly interrupted by a young white fulla, who called out “ONYA SYDNEY!!”. That was when I felt the second lump in my throat; only this one was stronger and came with teary eyes, (which I managed to blink back).

I looked out and I felt something I’ve never actually felt before. I felt fully and unreservedly proud of myself; for being witness to this site; for being on the train with all those strangers; but mostly, I felt proud of my people and for being black.

When the train pulled up at North Sydney station, Jason called out to someone. I see another friend of mine, a very good friend, and she is with her friends. We all start moving and after twenty minutes we make it to the start line of the walk

The breeze is strong and chilly, daring us to run back to something warm and toasty. But I can tell this is something that has been a long time coming, and Mother Nature doesn’t stand a chance of stopping us.

As we walk to the start line I look at the Harbour Bridge in the distance and see my flag shake in the wind from the top. I swear I could hear the sound it made from where I was in North Sydney. I only saw the black flag. At that point in time I thought, oh no, I’m gonna have to cry. I’d never seen that before. The crowd started a slow moving procession, and I moved too. I didn’t cry. But boy, did I feel like it.

The walk itself wasn’t like previous rally’s that I had been in. Everyone knew why they were there, and what it would do for the future. There weren’t a lot of banners in among the crowd that I walked in. The presence of so many said it all. But I will remember the Asian man carrying a banner that said “SAY SORRY HOWIE”.

I saw a white girl carry a sign that said “I’m Proud to say Sorry.” The vision that embedded in my mind though was the one that read, “I walk with Pride on Aboriginal land.” I couldn’t see who carried that sign, and it didn’t matter. I figured that from what I’d witnessed so far, anyone could be carrying it.

As we got to the end of the walk Jason turned to me and said, “Look Behind You!” I turned my head back and saw more people than I thought I’d ever see. I wished that we would have stopped and stood on the side of the road. I would have liked to remember that sight for a little while longer.

Last Sunday I was proud to be an Aboriginal Australian and walk with the whitefullas for reconciliation.

Ends

Peter Fray

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