Australia: Heirisson Island Aboriginal resist Police effort to clear camp

Photo: Aboriginal protesters stand their ground as police move in to clear camps at Heirisson Island. Mar 13, 2015 (ABC News: Rebecca Trigger).

Photo: Aboriginal protesters stand their ground as police move in to clear camps at Heirisson Island. Mar 13, 2015

By Rebecca Trigger, ABC News, March 13, 2015

Angry scenes erupted at Perth’s Heirisson Island today as police and the city moved to dismantle an Aboriginal camp, set up in response to the State Government’s plan to close remote communities.

Dozens of officers, including mounted police and the canine squad moved in on the island at about 3:00pm, after the Perth council gave the group until midday today to remove their belongings.

Firefighters also extinguished campfires, drawing angry protests from the crowd of about 60 people who had gathered in the area, who said the fires were sacred.

Police on horseback lined up metres from the group as council staff loaded camping equipment onto trucks.

The City of Perth left one fire burning in the centre of the main campsite.

Australia eviction protest 4The site, near Perth’s CBD, had been described by occupants as a “refugee camp” for people displaced by the Western Australian Government’s planned closure of up to 150 of the state’s 274 remote Indigenous communities.

The State Government flagged the withdrawal of services to remote Aboriginal communities last year, after the Commonwealth announced it was cutting its own funding.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Tuesday backed the State Government’s plan, saying “what we can’t continue to endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices”.

Noongar elder Margaret Colbung said the planned closures would only add to homelessness and dispossession of Aboriginal people in the state.

“What are they going to do, where are those community’s people going to go?” she asked.

“We’ve got homeless people on the streets here in Perth. They’ve been here for years.

“No accommodation was provided for them. We attempted many times over the years to find accommodation for those people, and what happened?

“None of the governments, both Labor and Liberal, came to the party to do anything about it.”

She says Heirisson Island, which sits on the banks of the Swan River and is known locally as Matagarup, is a significant site for local Aboriginal people.

“This is an Aboriginal traditional ground. This is traditional birthing ground that belongs to the Noongar people,” she said.

Australia eviction protest 3“Until they come across with a pact or a treaty or an agreement, this land belongs to the Noongar people.”

Noongar elder Ben Taylor also raised concerns about a $1.3 billion native title settlement currently being negotiated with the State Government.

The majority of police left the area shortly after the final campsite was dismantled.

A WA police statement said officers were present to assist the City of Perth to ensure no breaches of the peace occurred, and that the public officers were not obstructed in their duties.

No arrests were made and no move-on notices were issued, the statement said.

The City of Perth’s chief executive Gary Stevenson said the lighting of campfires and use of vehicles on the island breached local laws.

“It’s not about the people being there but about the camping and the vehicles which were being driven all over the island,” he said.

He said the city would monitor the situation closely over the weekend.

“People that sleep rough, so to speak, are not breaking our laws unless they establish a camp,” he said.

“If they have a peaceful enjoyment of the island, there’s no action that the City of Perth would intend to take, but if the tents are re-established, if vehicles are driven on the reserve, then that would be breaching the law.”

The protesters remained on the island on Friday afternoon.

Heirisson Island was the scene of a major confrontation between police and Aboriginal activists in 2012, after a Nyoongar tent embassy was set up on the site to protest a native title agreement for the state’s south-west.

That protest, which also saw people camping on the site for more than a month, was shut down after police removed tents and sleeping gear and moved people on.

Protesters “shut down Melbourne” to fight against closure of Aboriginal communities

Australia eviction protest 2

by Chloe Booker, The Age, March 13, 2015

More than a thousand protesters shut down traffic in Melbourne’s CBD to rally against the planned closure of remote Indigenous communities in West Australia.The group had hoped to confront Tony Abbott at the National Gallery, where he had been rumoured to be dining on Friday night. Mr Abbott has come under fire since he said it was a “lifestyle choice” to live in remote Indigenous communities. He made the comments on Tuesday while backing the West Australian government’s plan to close up to 150 of the communities.

After giving up on seeing Mr Abbott at about 6pm, the swarm of angry protesters walked up from the gallery to the State Library waving Aboriginal flags and chanting “shame, Abbott, shame”.  About half-a-dozen tram routes were disrupted and a number of roads closed as they made their way up Swanston Street.

Organiser Meriki Onus, from group Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance, said she set up a Facebook page promoting the protest on Thursday because she was angry at the proposed closures and Mr Abbott’s comments.  “They’re our most vulnerable group within Australia,” she said.  “None of what they do or their lifestyle is a choice. I can imagine that they are still close to their traditional lifestyles.”They’re been doing it since the first sunrise.”

Ms Onus said the group’s intention was to “shut down Melbourne in response to shutting down the communities”.”It was fired up. It was a loud march,” she said.”This is only just the beginning.”Australia eviction protest 1

Ms Onus said Indigenous groups in WA were predicting there would be 20,000 refugees if the communities were closed.She called images posted on social media on Friday night purporting police attempting to close the newly set up Nyoongar Tent Embassy in Perth’s Heirisson Island “disgusting”.

“They’re all homeless people that live there,” she said.”That council are evicting homeless women and children from that embassy. It’s a refuge.”

The embassy was set up a more than week ago as part of an Indigenous national sovereignty movement.  City of Perth chief executive Gary Stevenson said, on Wednesday, the campers would be evicted if they did not leave the island.

Weeks of protests were held on Heirisson Island in 2012 after a group of Aboriginal activists objected to the WA government’s $1.3 billion native title offer to the Nyoongar people.

A Victoria Police spokesman said there were no incidents with the protesters in Melbourne.

http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/protesters-shut-down-melbourne-to-fight-against-closure-of-aboriginal-communities-20150313-143uhe.html

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