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NAIDOC Week: With Dr Elizabeth Burrows
Voices for Change
Talks / Lecture
Voices for Change
5 July 2019
NAIDOC Week celebrations (NAIDOC originally stood for ‘National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee’) on 7-14 July are held across Australia each July to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
NAIDOC is celebrated not only in Indigenous communities, but by Australians from all walks of life. The week is a great opportunity to participate in a range of activities and to support your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
Join Dr Elizabeth Burrows in part 1 of this presentation as she discusses her research.
Carry on to Part 2 with Shannan Dodson, Lynette Riley and Diane Riley-McNaboe for a seminar about the struggles of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in campaigning for their rights and recognition of their cultures.
NAIDOC Week: Voices for change
*Speakers: Marie-Louise Ayres (M), Tyrone Bell (T), Michael Bell (Mi),
*Location: National Library of Australia
*Date: 5 July 2019
M: Friends, frequent visitors, infrequent visitors, welcome to the National Library of Australia and thank you for joining us for this very special NAIDOC Week event, whether you are here with us or watching from across the country. I’m Marie-Louise Ayres and it’s my privilege to be the Director General of the National Library. As we begin this evening I would like to invite Tyrone who’s been with us often enough that he knows now how to close the doors now, please, to welcome us to your country.
T: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Tyrone Bell, I’m a descendent of the Ngunawal people and it’s my privilege tonight to welcome you to the country of the Ngunawal people. To begin with I would like to let you know that traditional Aboriginal law requires any visitors to the country being made welcome. This customary tradition has been passed on by all our generations. This ritual forms the belief of our belief system. Its purpose is for visitors to acknowledge whose country it is and then in turn being acknowledged as visitors and made welcome. This welcome custom has happened for thousands of years and we use it as protection of country against bad spirits.
The country on which you stand today is that of the Ngunawal people. Being a Ngunawal traditional custodian gives me pleasure to invite you onto the country of my people. [Speaks Aboriginal language]. In the language of my people means this is Ngunawal country, welcome to our meeting place. Enjoy. We call country the mother because as a mother cares for her children so does the land cares for us. This is why Aboriginal people have such close ties with the land.
On behalf of myself and my people I send a warm welcome to everyone here. I’m proud to be Aboriginal and one of the traditional carers of this land, I want you to feel welcome while on our country. Firstly I would like to acknowledge those that come to this area for the first time and warmly welcome you. For those that have come here before welcome back and of course for those that live here please continue to enjoy.
We want you to feel welcome while visiting Ngunawal country and ask that you respect the land that we have done for 60,000 years plus. So in keeping with our Ngunawal tradition and the true spirit of friendship and reconciliation treat everyone and everything with dignity and respect and by doing so it is our belief that your spirit will be harmonised with your stay on Ngunawal country. It is our belief that our ancestors will then in turn bless your stay on our spiritual land.
May the spirit of this land remain with you today, tomorrow and always. Once again on behalf of the Ngunawal people I welcome you to our traditional country. [Speaks Aboriginal language]. Thank you.
T: I just want to say one thing. I’m very proud of what I did last week. I actually worked with our new Governor-General to teach him our language and of course this week when the Governor-General was sworn in that was the first time ever in Australian history that a Governor-General got up and spoke in not just Ngunawal language but also in Aboriginal language and that’s a really big change for us as Aboriginal people and that. But also it’s – it also breaks down some barriers and all that and of course I worked two years ago with our ex-Prime Minister – don’t say which one. That was with Malcolm Turnbull for Closing the Gap speech but it’s all these people who are running the country and all that and for them to speak our native tongue is really a big thing and all that and it’s all about reconciliation. ‘Cause the Governor-General said to me I want to make a change and all that for you as first nations people. So I take my hat off to the Governor-General and hopefully and that - more things will happen and that where we can meet in the middle for reconciliation so you guys have a good night and I’ll see yous around. Thank you.
M: Thank you, Tyrone, we’re most grateful for your welcome and just before when we were speaking we were saying that it’s easy to despair about things not changing and then you hear of the Governor-General being sworn in and then speaking in language and you think five years ago it wouldn’t have happened, 10 years ago it wouldn’t have happened.
We are really grateful as ever to Tyrone for his welcome and in this International Year of Indigenous Languages we’re really especially grateful for the generosity that Tyrone and others have shown and the trust that they have placed in us by sharing their language and knowledge with many here at the Library. Later this year we will have a collections in focus in the Treasures Gallery which will be focusing on collection items with Ngunawal language and meanings.
So next week is NAIDOC Week, a time to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the National Library is proud to participate in this event. We’re honoured to play a role in preserving the history, culture and achievements and language of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. But preserving makes it sound as if they’re past, locked away, cared for in cotton wool and that’s not the case, they’re living collection materials, are around living languages and we’re working hard to make these available in consultation with communities and individuals.
We remain very proud many years later of having had a role in fulfilling the recommendations of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families. The Inquiry recommended the recording and preservation for future access of the testimonies of indigenous people affected by removal policies. We are privileged to be custodians of 340 interviews with families and children who experienced separation as well as those who cared for them, worked in institutions and were involved with administration, policy and implementation in a professional capacity. Thanks to the generosity of interviewees many of these interviews are available online.
This evening our guests are exploring how indigenous Australians have campaigned and continue to campaign for their rights and for recognition. Tonight begins with a presentation by Dr Elizabeth Burrows. Elizabeth is a senior lecturer and researcher at Griffith University and a member of the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research. She studied the role of indigenous print media in the public sphere from 1846 through to contemporary online publications. The Library’s also very pleased to claim her as one of our own as an alumni of the National Library’s fellowship program with her research project, Aboriginal Rights Movement Media from Origin to Online undertaken in 2018. Please join me in welcoming Dr Elizabeth Burrows to speak about how indigenous people had been using media to campaign since the earliest days of colonisation. Elizabeth.
E: Thank you. Can I begin by thanking the National Library of Australia for inviting me here to speak with you and for you all being here to listen to me this evening? As Marie-Louise said I’m a media historian and my research is into indigenous media and - from both a historic and a contemporary perspective so I’ve researched indigenous media going back to the 1800s and I’m currently interviewing indigenous media producers around the world about how they’re using media, why they’re using media, what they’re trying to achieve, who their audiences are and those sorts of questions. So my work goes from the 1800s right through to today.
Some of my research relies on the work of – well all of my research, really relies on the work of Aboriginal writers and media producers and I just want to acknowledge that and to publicly say thank you for that work because without them I wouldn’t be here talking to you today. I think their work is incredibly important and it’s not just about what it does on the day that it’s produced or the week that it’s produced. The media that they produce have left an indelible history that allows us to look back and hear those Aboriginal voices from a couple of hundred years ago which I think is really so important.
So today I’m just going to give you a very, very, very brief insight into four periods of time when Aboriginal media was used to campaign. It was used to influence people’s attitudes about Aboriginal people, to inform their own communities, to educate, to resist, to challenge and to entertain. The media I work with, while they’re political tools, they’re also community newsletters and community newspapers that keep communities connected and they provide as I mentioned a historic record that’s – of things that have gone on before but from an Aboriginal perspective.
So I’m going to start my talk in 1836 on Flinders Island which is a – not a small island, it’s actually quite a large island off the north coast of Tasmania or as it was known then Van Diemen’s Land and this is where the first Aboriginal publication, the Flinders Island Chronicle was produced from September 1836 to December 1837. Sometimes when I say to people oh I study indigenous media they go really? When I tell them that the first publication was produced in 1836 they’re surprised but to me it’s a very important publication and it really fits in with what we’re talking about today, people being able to tell their stories and have a voice.
So when the British arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1804 there are estimated to have been around three to 4,000 Aboriginal people in Van Diemen’s Land. By 1832 after fierce fighting only 300 people survived and only 134 eventually were settled on Flinders Island to live under the control of the Aboriginal Controller or Conciliator or Protector, George Augustus Robinson.
So this is a picture of the church on Flinders Island. Robinson had his own agenda, he wanted to use the Aboriginal people to make a name for himself. He wanted them to adopt Christianity, he wanted them to give up their own languages, to give up their cultural traditions and laws and the Flinders Island Chronicle was without a doubt a tool to help him achieve that goal. The newspaper was read out loud to the people in this church when they had lessons and all that’s left now of that settlement is this church, a garden with a table and the graveyard.
Some people have dismissed this publication as a PR exercise for Robinson and that’s certainly true, it was a PR exercise for him from his perspective. He wanted the newspaper to show people back in Van Diemen’s Land the success he was having in converting the Aboriginal people under his care. However I always thought that the newspaper had a different story to tell as well. The Flinders Island Chronicle was written by two Aboriginal men, Walter George Arthur and Thomas Brune or Bruney, depending on where it’s written, and I wanted to understand if they had injected their own story into the publication.
So I typed up all the publication, all the different pages of it and it took me quite a long time and then I processed it through some software which is called Leximancer, it’s qualitative analysis software. What it does, it looks at the relationships between words and ideas in a document and then develops – it pulls out the themes and the concepts within that document. I used that because I wanted to actually create some distance between myself and the document. I knew what I thought I was seeing but I actually wanted to look at it through a different pair of eyes and so I used this software.
So these are the themes that Leximancer pulled out and they confirm that the newspaper was indeed fulfilling Robinson’s goal so things like under the civilise theme you had things like bad, bed, behave, bread, [bite] 13:52 and these are all to do with – and then they show that the people were working, that they were playing British sorts of games, they were eating British food. They had property, they were also being punished when they didn’t follow those rules. So it shows that but it also shows that the Commandant was very important within that document so it was very much about him. But it also showed that death and sickness and this is where I think that the people started – the writers started to get their story into the document.
So it told the readers about the pain and the sadness that the Flinders Island people and community were experiencing, it showed their fear and their desire to be allowed to go home and the existence of the hunting and traditional culture themes showed that some people were resisting Robinson. So they were still going out hunting, they were still using ochre to decorate their skins. There was actually some research done - this was archaeological research and they excavated what was left of the settlement and they found that some of the houses had things like pots and games and those sorts of things but others, they could find the remnants of hunting, they could find the remnants of red ochre and those sorts of things so it demonstrated quite clearly that some people were saying no, we’re going to hold onto our languages, we’re going to hold onto our culture.
This is a couple of extracts from the document that show some of the – I’ll just give you a moment to read but how sad this document was but that the people who were writing it really were trying to get across to those people in Van Diemen’s Land and their own people recognition that they were dying and that they were sick and that things were not great for them.
This is a picture of Flinders Island ‘cause I was so touched by the document that I wanted to go there and I wanted to actually sense what it must have been like to be there or at least to feel what it was like to be on the island. This is a little beach that’s very close to Wybalenna which is the name of the settlement. I stood there on that beach and I – you can’t see Tasmania but I really had – it made me think how desolate it must have been. You can see how windy it is, the wind was knocking the tops off the waves and I tried to imagine what it must have been like for those people to have been taken there against their permission and then not been allowed to go home. I imagined them standing there looking back at their own country.
So in the 1800s the Finders Island people wrote a newspaper and Walter George Arthur, who was one of the writers of that newspaper, wrote letters on behalf of the community to prominent people around Van Diemen’s Land to seek their help and the Flinders Island community also sent a petition to Queen Victoria. So they were very much using media at the time to try and get their stories out, to get their perspective out and to try to change minds and to change attitudes and to influence social change.
So now hold onto your chairs ‘cause we’re going to fly forward through time a little way and we’re going to whiz through to 1923 in New South Wales and this was when the first formal Aboriginal rights organisation, the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association was formed. This is a picture of Charles Frederick Maynard or Fred Maynard, one of the two men who formed the AAPA. Now unfortunately there’s no picture of the other man, Thomas Lacey, but Maynard was a member of the Waterside Workers’ Federation and he’d worked in a range of occupations around New South Wales that had really given him an insight into the terrible conditions his people were experiencing at the time.
So Maynard and Lacy worked on the Woolloomooloo wharfs and while they were there they came into contact with an organisation called the Coloured Progressive Association and this is a photograph of a dinner that that association had. The man at the back there with the ring ‘round his head, that is Fred Maynard. The CPA introduced them, Lacey and Maynard, to the works of civil rights worker, Marcus Garvey. Marcus Garvey was born in Jamaica before moving to the United States but he wasn’t just a civil rights worker, he was also a journalist and an editor and he really knew how to use media to circulate his message.
So he produced a newspaper called The Negro World and this – through the Coloured Progressive Association Maynard and Lacey had come into contact with publications like The Negro World and Lacey had written to Garvey’s wife to ask for her to send him copies so he could distribute them to people around New South Wales so they learned about the civil rights movement and they also – he hoped that it would inspire them to fight for social change and to give them hope, I suppose, for social change.
Maynard and Lacey were also very quick learners and when they founded the AAPA in 1923 a major part of their work was a media campaign. They enlisted the help of this lady, Elizabeth McKenzie Hatton. They wanted to pressure governments to dismantle the protection system in New South Wales, they wanted Aboriginal communities to be in control of their own missions and reserves and for Aboriginal families to be granted their own land and they wanted the forced removal of children from families to be stopped.
Maynard and Lacey and the other AAPA members travelled to communities to spread their message and to encourage people to join their movement. Between the 1st of January 1923 and the 30th of December 1930 Hatton wrote more than 600 letters to newspaper journalists and editors around New South Wales. By August 1925 news coverage shows the AAPA’s membership had grown to 500 members and they had 11 branches. The newspaper coverage they generated also provides an enduring memory of their work, the AAPA’s work and also as Maynard said in The Maitland Daily Mercy on 5th of December 1925, that they believed the work they were doing was to prevent the extinction of their race.
So now we’re going to whiz forward again to 1982 to the Commonwealth Games and now we’re in Brisbane. By this time the Aboriginal rights movement that the AAPA had started back in 1923 had expanded significantly. There was now a network of Aboriginal rights organisation throughout the country and while they may not all have operated the same or they may not all have had the same idea about how things should happen they all believed in one thing, they wanted to improve the rights and the lives of Aboriginal people.
In 1982 Aboriginal people in Queensland were still living under the Act and this meant that their movements were controlled by the state governments, portions of their wages were – could be withheld as could any welfare payments and their choices in relation to healthcare, education and work were all restricted. The Queensland Government knew the Commonwealth Games were coming and was already showing it was going to try and ensure that there were no protests during the Games. The Government said – Government had already passed legislation that gave the police and security people the powers to stop and search anyone and people were banned from wearing clothing like t-shirts with political slogans on them.
Dr Ross Watson knew the Commonwealth Games provided an opportunity to raise international awareness of what Aboriginal people in Australia were enduring. He also knew that his people would be in danger if they protested and he knew they wouldn’t get a fair hearing from the mainstream media. Watson was another very savvy media man. He started Murray Radio, 98.9 radio station and he published a newspaper called Black Nation. I’m going to let him explain why he published this newspaper so listen to him speak on what he was trying to achieve from a video from the State Library of Queensland State of Emergency exhibition.
“Seeing those Commonwealth Games coming to Brisbane and they took them, they were going to call them the Goodwill Games. Gee whiz, the government we had at that time and the police force, the corruption was right through, top to bottom. Of course for corruption to be right through and to last that long it’s got to be – the media’s got to be complicit, the judiciary, law enforcement’s got to be complicit and all that sort of stuff. So it went through the whole system. When I saw this goodwill stuff I thought no, that’s not right term you stomach to see those - ‘cause they bring – a lot of black countries come, you know? I thought no, that’s terrible, they’re going to bring them in, tell them all this is a good place, we’re all good people and it’s a happy place and all goodwill. It’s the one thing it wasn’t, it’s not a goodwill place.
So I sort of set up a little committee, called it a protest committee and that – but that went off the rails after a while. I hadn’t been involved in things up ‘til then, I still don’t. I stood back a bit. My family was all there but those Commonwealth Games then brought me out of my comfort zone. The committee didn’t go too good, I sort of left that not long after I set it up and this one I started, I published a newspaper called Black Nation. I did one about six months before the Games and another one about the night before they started and then one just after they finished. I did five altogether between 1982 and 1985, the last one come out.
Yeah, no, the idea when it was set up - because early in 1982 they put out a front page of the weekend newspaper, there was a 500 strong black army in north Queensland training to come down and disrupt the Games, put blood on the streets and all that sort of stuff. That was a lot of rot. It turned out that there was one Maori fellow up there - I don’t think he was too bright – and a couple of nonaboriginal people and they had one broken rifle that didn’t work. This bloke, he was living like a hippie in the bush and he was a 500 strong army training. That was the sort of stuff that came out of the Government’s mouth that the media published on front page and when the truth come out there was no apology to our people for the misinformation or the - their attempts to destroy goodwill. There was no apology or even acknowledgement. Just the fact that they were wrong.
So we determined – we sort of worked it out that they wanted to see violence on the streets because they’d turn that back on us and they’d use that to avoid the issues we were talking about. So we made a determination that the protests would be peaceful, that we wouldn’t allow the distraction of protestors wrestling on the streets with police. We said no, that’s going to – the cameras will just focus on that and that’s all they going to talk about. We want them to talk about the issues, we want them to talk about the Act that’s still in force. People’s wages being stolen, kids being taken. No land rights, we wanted to talk about that sort of thing and they’re the things that we concentrated on.”
So Watson used Black Nation to attract international attention and to educate people about the Act, to challenge mainstream media coverage at the time and to protect his community and those who were protesting against the Act. He used Black Nation to educate readers about police powers during the Games and to encourage people to avoid violence, to keep attention on land rights and getting rid of the Act. This is a photo of one of the ways they did that, by just sitting down in front of the police. Despite attempts to keep protests peaceful people over 250 people were arrested during the 1982 Commonwealth Games.
So now we’re going to whiz forward again to 2013 and the G20 summit in Brisbane and the legacy of Watson’s work and Black Nation has endured. In the lead-up to the 2014 G20 a group of young people in Brisbane, the Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance, were inspired by his work and produced their own publication called Brisbane Blacks and it’s still going. It’s changed names a few times but it’s still going. While it’s an entirely separate publication the WAR group acknowledged Watson’s inspiration in their publication and this demonstrates how the work of people like Maynard and Lacey and Ross Watson have gone on to influence those who followed them in the fight for Aboriginal rights.
Dr Watson told me he believed Aboriginal people needed their own media. He said they needed and need a platform where our views, our perspectives, where indigenous perspectives could be expressed. There was no platform for us, we had to rely on the goodwill of the mainstream media.
So now we’re going to move onto the 2018 Commonwealth Games and I just want to touch on these protests. In 2018 Aboriginal people again used the Commonwealth Games as a platform through which to gain attention of the world. Rather than using a newspaper this time, though, and picking up on what Marie-Louise was saying about change, the media has changed too and this was an example really of how the media has changed because instead of using – they did publish a newspaper but the newspaper wasn’t a main focus of their communication. They used Facebook.
They used Facebook to reach their supporters, to document their campaign and they used a Facebook page called The Black Media Rising. This is that Facebook page. The campaigners shared information about the protests, they asked for community assistance. Some of you will remember the thing that went on with Channel 7 with the Sunrise program and they used their Facebook page to say where are they going to be broadcasting? So to ask for help like that. They used their Facebook page to encourage people to join their protest, to support them using Twitter and so forth. But it also documented events that occurred from an Aboriginal perspective and they used the Facebook page to document their interactions with the police. Like in their 1982 counterparts protestors at the 2018 Games were stopped by the police on a regular basis, went through pat down searches, were refused entry to the stadium if they were wearing shirts with political comments on them such as no justice, no Games or Stolenwealth Games.
[Precaria Rusker] 31:19 recorded video content of police activity and a point on camera that the only people from – sorry, only the people from Camp Freedom had a security or police escort into the stadium. She also called on people to Tweet their support for the Camp Freedom people. These are a couple of the posts so local police now targeting blackfellas. The Stolenwealth Games photograph. There were some really great photographs and some interesting videos as well.
So The Black Rising Facebook page shared information about the Camp Freedom community, it provided an opportunity for two-way communication. They didn’t take down the posts from people who criticised them, they left them there so it’s a document that shows not just Aboriginal people supporting them but also people who were saying this isn’t right, you shouldn’t be doing this. So it’s a record of what was happening and attitudes at the time. But it makes it very clear that people at and from Camp Freedom felt discriminated against and victimised and it’s also a record of their experiences during the 2018 Commonwealth Games protests.
So while this is a very short presentation and discussion of how Aboriginal people have used media I hope I’ve given you a sense - although I suspect most of you already know – how important Aboriginal media, media produced by Aboriginal people is. It’s important at the time of protest because it provides information, support and motivation for supporters. It provides an opportunity for Aboriginal people to speak in their own voice and to tell their own stories and present their own perspectives. But after the protests, and this is where I come in and it’s something I worry about now because of social media and new media, in 100 years when someone like me comes along, is the media that we’re producing and putting online or using through social media, is it going to be there as a record as the Flinders Island Chronicle was? But Aboriginal media also provide a document, a written record of Aboriginal perspectives at that time, what was happening through Aboriginal voices. So they document Aboriginal voices for change. Thank you.