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On a bright Spring day last week, 100 people gathered at the Broadway offices of Tanya Plibersek MP, Minister for Social Inclusion. The crowd as celebrating the 45th anniversary of the historic struggle for wages and land rights by the Gurindji people in the Northern Territory.
In August 1966, Gurindji workers at Wave Hill Station, NT walked off the job, on strike indefinitely against being paid in rations by cattle baron, Lord Vestey. They pushed for both equal pay and Aboriginal land rights, and made history in 1975, with the hand-back of land at Daguragu. The walk-off helped catalyse the modern Land Rights movement and was made famous by the Paul Kelly song, “From Little Things, Big Things Grow”.
Dave Suttle from the Stop the Intervention Collective, Sydney (STICS) told the crowd that 45 years on the NT Intervention has taken away many of these rights.
“The government has seized control of Aboriginal township land. The Daguragu local government council and community employment programs have been abolished. Under new CDEP arrangements, Aboriginal workers are being forced to work for a ‘BasicsCard’ which can only be used to buy ‘essential’ items at government-approved stores. Many say this is working for rations again,” Mr Suttle said.
The BasicsCard is being rolled out across Australia from 2012, including to Bankstown in south-western Sydney. Violet Roumeliotis, from the “Say No to Government’s Income Management: Not in Bankstown, Not Anywhere” campaign, spoke of the growing resistance to the BasicsCard, with more than 40 organisations endorsing the call to abolish it.
The protest was rounded out with a live phone link-up with a demonstration being held by the Gurindji people in the NT, who were celebrating their past, retracing the steps of the walk-off, and raising their voices for equality and justice. John Leemans, a key figure in the NT anti-Intervention struggle, gave greetings from the Gurindji gathering.
Mr Suttle said: “It’s very positive that actions in the NT are being supported here in Sydney, with people showing solidarity for the issues of land rights, and linking that to the attacks on welfare being rolled out through the BasicsCard”.