by Kelly Tall
Monday, April 18, 2011
Tasmania Police today rubbed salt in to the wounds of Aboriginal Tasmania when they arrested Jim Everett – Tasmanian Aboriginal Elder, Aaron Everett, Nathan Maynard and Sky Maynard after a Smoke Healing Ceremony that was held out at the Kutalayna – lower Jordan River Levee/Brighton Bypass site today.
As a group of about a hundred people from both the Aboriginal and broader communities huddled together to safely escort out members of the Tasmanian Aboriginal community who had been arrested over previous weeks in protests held on the site, after a ceremony held there this afternoon. Protesters gathered united and linked arm in arm to prevent Tasmania Police from being able to reach members of the community who had been identified as having breached their bail just be being on the site.
Sara Maynard – Aboriginal Legal Field Officer made an impassioned plea to Inspector Lee Renshaw of Tasmania Police to use Police Discretion on this matter and not take them in to custody. Inspector Renshaw admitted that he did in fact have the ability to use Police Discretion on the matter, however further went on to state that “I can’t help it, I’m sorry, but they’ve backed me in to a corner”. Jim Everett spoke up after a few minutes and asked supporters to let allow him and the other community members through so as they could give themselves up peacefully to police, again, going to every length to ensure that this battle is being fought peacefully.
Speculatively I would suggest that Inspector Renshaw had likely been told from further up the food chain to make the arrests and not to use Police Discretion on the matter. It seems to me quite apparent after following this story for months and attending rallies and protests and Parliamentary sessions that the Tasmanian State Government has been keenly and actively pursuing this current course of action with gusto and vigilance and were determined not to let anyone or anything get in their way — not even 42,000 years of Indigenous Heritage & History, nor the proud and strong Aboriginal people who have stood and fought with peaceful resistance against the dogged determination of the Tasmanian State Government.
The mood on the way out to the Kutalayna site this morning travelling with the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre was one of emotional and physical exhaustion, and nervous anticipation of Tasmania Police blockades and arrests for breach of bail conditions. Everyone who had already been arrested over the past weeks at Kutalayna, had it placed in their bail release conditions that they were not to go back out on to the Kutalayna site at all. To the Aboriginal people of Tasmania, that’s like making it a bail condition that they can’t “go home”. It is not only unfair, but I believe socially unjust as well. You see, for the Tasmanian Aboriginal people this is probably the last time they’d get to see their land — this incredibly important site — in as close as possible to it’s original virgin state.
Fences were being put in place today out on the site to close off more areas around the site as construction on the bypass continues in earnest. Pylon support pad foundations have already been dug out, smack in the middle of arguably one of the most important pieces of land archaeologically in the Southern Hemisphere, and one of the most important to the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community. The damage is already done. The moment the excavators started digging on the morning of Friday the 15th of April — the damage was already done from that moment on from an archaeological viewpoint and from a Cultural Heritage perspective, and yet, Tasmania Police still rubbed salt in to the wounds of Aboriginal Tasmania this afternoon by re-arresting 4 members of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community who had gone out to the site to essentially, “Say Goodbye to it” as Jim Everett stated as members of the Tasmania Police force encircled around him ushering him over to one of the row of Paddy Wagons they had waiting, doors open and ready since the time we arrived in the morning.
Inspector Lee Renshaw stated to Sara Maynard and the crowd of protesters that “Look they’ve already been identified, we knew they were here, we didn’t come in to the ceremony and arrest them, we’ve waited for them to come out here”. Travelling out to Kutalayna with the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre this morning I had spoken on the bus with Sky Maynard who had been arrested last week in the protests. Sky was aware that she could be arrested for going back out on to the site again, and was clearly a bit nervous about that possibility, but she remained strong and determined to play her part in this important ceremony — something I personally believe was quite literally her “birthright” to attend, on a site where her people have held similar ceremonies for 42 millennia. You don’t get a much stronger birthright than that in my opinion. More power to her, and to all the members of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community and the members of the broader European and ethnic communities who support them!
I am appalled at the way these people have been treated, in general, and in relation to the Brighton Bypass issue. I think a lot of white people feel threatened by the Tasmanian Aboriginal people because of how strong they are. It’s their strength and determination to stand up and fight for what’s right, that scares a lot of people. Or maybe it’s just good old fear of what they don’t know anything about nor understand, or fear of difference. I don’t know, and I could spend all night ranting out theories, but that won’t get anyone far and will probably send you to sleep.
The Tasmanian broader community needs to really start changing it’s attitudes towards the indigenous peoples of this land. These people are proud and strong with an ancestry that stretches back farther than the rest of our cultures have even existed! Have some respect! People carry on with comments about how “oh yes but they only had stone tipped arrows and lived in bark humpys”. Well, even with Mack Hiking Boots, a windproof jacket, gloves, beanies, a heatbank and a solid brick house to live in, and I still struggle to survive Tasmania’s conditions, and I dare say I probably wouldn’t if I had to rough it down here long term….and yet these people survived the harsh conditions down here for 42 millennia and were still going strong until the British Invaders brought their flintlock guns and rifles and their diseases, colds and flus, and committed what under the United Nations definitions classifies as being the one of the earliest recorded Genocides.
Haven’t these people been through enough already? They’ve survived the guns and slaughter, the slavery, the rape and the murder, having the land that has been that of their ancestors for tens of thousands of years taken away from them by hostile force, and then survived generations of endemic racism, discrimination, marginalisation, and now we’re just going to build bridges straight through the guts of one of the most significant sites in the southern hemisphere? Has the Tasmanian State Government lost it’s collective mind? Certainly it has shown no humility, and barely so much as a hint of compassion towards the Aboriginal Community of Tasmania, and this is something that I think we all need to take issue with, and rectify it, because these people have already been through enough.
I must say, it can be a little bit intimidating listening to the anger towards white people in general by the Aboriginal people, however, I’m sure you would very quickly find, as did I, that this anger is well justified. The discrimination and vilification of these people still continues today. The lies and deceits perpetrated against them by the Government and the “powers that be” are both incomprehensible and reprehensible, and upon researching this issue I found myself sharing the anger that the Tasmanian Aboriginal people have been feeling.
However, whilst anger can be a great motivator, it’s also scary and intimidating and it puts people on guard and at arm’s length. This is an issue I’ve had to struggle with through my own battles against injustices and discrimination, and dealing with “the system”. No matter how warranted and justified, if you are coming from a space of feeling angry when expressing your situation, people either just “switch off”, or go straight on to the defensive.
I listened today as members of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community recognised these issues and spoke of them, and from everything that I have witnessed with attending the Rallies on Parliament House lawns, the Parliamentary Session, and the Protests on-site at Kutalayna, they have gone to every length to ensure that this battle has been fought with “peaceful resistance”, and certainly undertaken it with far more respect, I think, than what they’ve been in return shown by the Tasmanian State Government.
Today, Jim Everett – Tasmanian Aboriginal Elder, and other members of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community and supporters from the broader community held a Healing Ceremony at Kutalayna, calling on the spirits to bring healing to the land, healing to the Aboriginal people, and healing for all, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike. This was likely the last ceremony of it’s kind to be held at the Kutalayna – lower Jordan River Levee site before it has been forever destroyed. This was another of a great many very sad days in history, a history that’s been smeared in blood.